Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 22nd 2017 Contents BG6 | NEWS
BUSINESS GUARDIAN guardian.co.tt JUNE 22 • 2017
Not daunted by the sharp
economic downturn T&T
has experienced in the last
three years, CEO of Label
House Group Ltd (LHG)
David Lewis says periods
of economic decline are the best times to in-
vest in new markets.
Lewis, who has been in printing and packag-
ing for four decades, has witnessed more than
one downturn in T&T, as well as changes in
the TT/US exchange rate from $3.60 to $4.80
and now at around TT$6.80.
He said his company has weathered the
storm through all three downturns from the
time it opened its doors in 1978, when T&T
was coming out of a recession in the late 1980s,
and then in the late 1990s.
The Label House Group (LHG) manufactures
and exports labels to more than 25 countries,
servicing the beverage, brewery, tobacco, pe-
troleum, personal care, household, alcohol and
Lewis spoke to the Business Guardian at his
company's Frederick Settlement, Industrial
Park, Caroni headquarters late last month,
about surviving in a downturn and the chal-
lenges that come with it.
He said trends are showing that there has
been a reduction in buying and therefore,
"what we expect is a rise in import substitu-
tion. Every time we went through a recession
our company grew but this time it did not hap-
pen. It's a very scary moment.
"It contracted so hard in T&T that the con-
sumers and the buying public, they almost
stopped buying. It's not like Kelloggs versus
Sunshine, when they could not get Kelloggs,
they bought Sunshine. They has been a reduc-
tion in purchasing Sunshine also."
Lewis added that his company is in a "most
true" recession compared to other decades as
a business, but he is not daunted.
"When T&T is in recession, Jamaica is
booming. When Jamaica is booming, Guy-
ana is in a recession, Suriname, Barbados, all
of them have different situations. There are
always some countries doing well. Right now
we are surviving on Haiti, Jamaica and Guy-
ana---they are doing well. Curacao is doing well
also, so we don't depend on T&T."
He added that even though his team was ex-
pecting growth and that did not happen, he
is satisfied that LHG invested in other coun-
tries because approximately 15 to 20 general
printers (or manufacturers of labels) who did
not specialise, and who existed when Label
House entered the market, got wiped out. Only
specialised printers exist in T&T and there are
fewer printers now.
An economic downturn for Lewis is not all
doom and gloom.
It is, rather, a time to invest as well as touch
base with importers who he believes should
change their strategy.
"It is a time to invest and try to come togeth-
er with the manufacturers in T&T who were
importing so boldly while there was money.
Now that there is limited US currency, these
importers are coming to the local sources and
they want to fight us with Chinese prices. But
this is not China and you (the importer) do not
have money. You only have TT dollars."
Lewis said telling consumers to buy local
would not make a difference as the young
people of today are "not listening to that an-
ymore; that was of the 80s. If everybody in
T&T switches to local items, I would not have
time because I would be so busy (with manu-
He added that consumers have not switched
to local brands and remain loyal to the inter-
national ones. Comparing the other three
downturns in T&T in the last 40 years, Lewis
said within the last two years consumers have
not switched to local brands as they did in the
"There is still money moving. The cut is not
you had to buy local. Foreign goods just were
not on the shelves. Today, I am still seeing on
the shelves Clorox, Heinz, I don't know if this
would continue for 2017 and 2018, normally
While there are no plans to retrench staff,
Lewis said workers must be seen as having a
career path as well as they must be treated like
family. Every six months employee appraisals
are done. The employees are told about their
performance after the appraisals.
"We're a very transparent company and if
you are not performing, we tell you like it is.
We know there are matters that have come up
in the Industrial Court and we try our best to
hide ourselves away from that. It is very dif-
ficult. We have a whole department dedicated
to human resources. It's four people working
to make sure we do not treat the employees
in a way where they will consider protesting."
Explaining through an example, he said,
there is a limit to treating employees nicely
as LHG was giving employees water bottles
rather than having the five gallon water stations
because the bottled water had a label on it and
the five gallon containers do not have a label.
The company then encountered a problem
of employees carrying home cases of water.
This action by the employees cost the company
money so it had to be stopped, but the workers
began to protest.
Safe and secure
Apart from the challenges of sourcing US
currency, there is the problem of security as
his company has been broken into and a great
deal of damage had been done to the premises
when the company had just moved into Caroni.
Disappointed with e-Teck's response to the
security issue, Lewis said: "We asked e-Teck,
who is the landlord, to help us protect this in-
dustrial park and we really had not had a good
response. E-Teck is saying they don't have
enough money, this is recession."
Meanwhile, e-Teck in emailed responses to
the Business Guardian said: "In accordance
with e-Teck's tenant/landlord lease agree-
ment, each tenant is responsible for secur-
ing his/her individual premises. Security
patrols are conducted on all parks inclusive
of Frederick Settlement over the long week-
ends. These patrols are to detect or prevent
squatting, dumping and other illegal activities
on the common areas over which e-Teck has
jurisdiction at the parks."
Asked whether overall, e-Teck provides se-
curity/police patrol for the various business
parks throughout T&T, e-Teck said each tenant
is responsible for securing his or individual
Referring specifically to when a security
breach occurs, e-Teck said: "If the security
breach occurs in an unoccupied factory shell
or common area, e-Teck's security personnel
investigates and reports same to police. If the
security breach is within the premises of a
tenant, then the responsibility lies with the
tenant to report to the police. Once e-Teck is
informed of this breach, the company provides
the necessary support to the tenant as part of
duty of care for its tenants."
Four decades, three economic downturns later...
PHOTOS: ABRAHAM DIAZ
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