Narrow Web Profile: Creative Labels Inc.

By Steve Katz, Editor | July 17, 2013

The California converter leads the way, embracing new markets and technologies.

Creative Labels Inc.
6670 Silacci Way, Gilroy, CA, USA 95020

When it comes to new products and technologies, many companies take a “wait and see” approach. Not Creative Labels. The Gilroy, CA-based label converter is far from timid about taking chances on entering new markets or adopting new technologies. And these chances have helped the company both survive and thrive.  

Sandy Franzen started Creative Labels in 1980. Prior to this, she was the top salesperson for a Northern California label company that ran into some financial difficulties, which led the company into making some poor business decisions – decisions that Sandy outwardly disagreed with. Instead of waiting to see how the company would move forward, she resigned. But Sandy was far from done with the label business, and decided to start her own company.

Creative Labels started small, leasing a 700 square foot facility with a single Mark Andy 810 flexo press. The staff consisted of two – Sandy, and a lone press operator who was also a partner. At the time, Chris Martin, Sandy’s son, was 15 years old and a high school student, and began working at Creative Labels to earn gas money. Today, Chris serves as vice president, and is a co-owner of the company.

The city of Gilroy is known for its garlic, but its geography is also distinctive due to its close proximity to Silicon Valley. The company that Sandy had sold labels for was heavily into supplying the growing (at the time) computer hardware and software technology industry with labels, and Sandy had retained contacts.

“I had gone back to some of the customers I had worked with who liked and trusted me, and earned their business. However, when I started the new company, I had gone from doing sales upwards of $120K per month to $20K a month. It took a while for us to get off the ground,” she says.

Owners Sandy Franzen and Chris Martin with their new Epson SurePress L-4033A
Through her label sales career, Sandy Franzen developed a strong relationship with Memorex, at the time one of Silicon Valley’s leading companies, and Creative Labels started growing by providing Memorex with floppy disk labels. Though it’s a market that today no longer exists, during the 1980s, computer disks was big business.

The young label company teemed with an entrepreneurial, hardworking spirit, traits that Sandy saw lacking in her partner, whose share of the business she promptly bought out.

With Creative Label’s growth came a new production manager and office staff, as well as a move to a bigger facility. In fact, at the time, it was a bit too big. “We kind of overshot, moving into a 4,000 square foot building – there was a lot of space. The rent was fairly high and it was a bit of a struggle,” Sandy recalls. “But there happened to have been a cheese company in front of our building – and they wanted our space. So we sold off our lease to them and moved into a more affordable plant. And with the money we got from the buyout, we went ahead and bought another used flexo press.”

Creative labels found opportunity out of a situation that had been a financial burden. The business kept growing, though much of it was reliant on two large customers in the computer technology industries. So Creative Labels leveraged its location and diversified into the food market, which would prove to be fortuitous, as computer disk labels became obsolete, and food was – and is – strong and steady.

Today at the Creative Labels facility in Gilroy, the company has around 30 employees and runs two shifts, five days a week. In terms of markets, the focus has shifted. “We are no longer on the high-tech side,” confirims Chris. “After 9-11, and the then the ‘dot com’ bust, the high-tech stuff we were doing really slowed down. Today, our biggest markets are food, medical devices, health and beauty, and nutraceuticals.”

On the forefront

The Creative Labels pressroom is equipped with five flexo presses and a sixth on the way.

Although Creative Labels has left the high-tech industry, the labels they’re printing are not exactly simple jobs. “Our biggest growth market is produce and produce traceability,” Chris explains. “Two of our presses have variable inkjet heads, one an MCS Eagle and another a monochrome Jetrion unit. And we work with HarvestMark data matrix and QR codes as well as other track and trace solutions, for strawberries, melons and grapes. These codes are used for marketing and promotional purposes as well as traceability. By using these codes, the brand can track how long it’s taking the produce to get to the retailer, and the time lapse between the distribution center and the retailer. Each label has a unique code on it, and they can use the data to create a scorecard by grading the different farms and other places the product has been to,” he says.

Creative Labels is equipped with five flexo presses, and recently entered the inkjet arena by being one of the first converters in North America to purchase an Epson SurePress L-4033A inkjet label press. The press complements a high-end finishing unit equipped with semi-rotary diecutting, laminating and a UV station. “And it runs fast,” Sandy says. “So we needed something to feed it, and the Epson does just that.”

The Epson SurePress was not the company’s first foray into digital technology. Previously, Creative Labels invested in a Primera printer, but growth prompted a need for something additional. “Either we were turning down business or we weren’t being competitive with our short runs, so we started looking at options. The Epson was at an in-between price point, and we weren’t in tabletop mode anymore,” Sandy says.

“We were impressed with the quality of the press, with labels looking as if they could have been printed on a flexo press, but in perfect register, without the quality problems associated with flexo. In addition, the price point is something we can actually see a return on investment from in the short run label market,” adds Sandy. “We just acquired a new customer that had such complex graphic files for three labels that we would have had to not accept the job if it had not been for our SurePress. These labels had reversed out four point type in what was supplied as a four color process graphic file with the label backgrounds done in various screens and shades of either orange, green or brown. Printing in Hexachrome made these colors really pop, and when compared to a four color process print from our press proofer, we were blown away not only by the oranges and greens, but the depth and warmth of the browns as well.”  

Creative Labels owns its recently expanded 18,000 square foot manufacturing facility, and the space allows ample room for adding capacity, which the company has done with its sixth and most recent flexo press purchase – a 13" 8-color Legacy press from the newly formed Legacy Press Company. Founded by industry veteran Art Fields, Legacy’s modular presses are designed to be able to quickly take out complete print and die sections and place in different positions, without the use of servo technology.

“I have always looked to Art Fields as one of the experts in the flexographic field and knew that when he decided to build a press it would be something special. Like the Epson SurePress, when a piece of equipment comes along with this kind of value and the support and knowledge to back it up, I’m ‘in’, and pleased to be at the forefront,” she says. 

Reinforcing Sandy’s belief in her new Legacy press, Creative Labels is now the press manufacturer’s West Coast Showroom. She says, “Tentatively, this press will be on the floor by the end of July or early August. Once up and running, we expect our pressmen will be fighting over who gets to run it when they see some of the features that Art has incorporated. It’s very exciting.”

At Creative Labels, platemaking is done in-house using Esko CtP DuPont Cyrel FAST systems. The company also employs LabelTraxx software for estimating, order processing and job tracking. The company runs four Mark Andy flexo presses and also a Rotopress. Variable data capabilities are achieved with the MCS Eagle and the Jetrion, and its Rapid Hot Stamp press adds detailed embossing and hot stamp foil for wine and other high-end labels. To ensure optimal quality control, Creative Labels has a Guardian inspection system from PC Industries, and two 100% on-press inspection systems with roll-mapping for rewind so that defective labels can be easily removed.

An MCS Eagle is used for variable data printing.
Label printing, converting and finishing equipment are not the only areas where Sandy and Chris have Creative Labels embracing new technologies. Their forward-thinking approach also applies to interaction with customers throughout a job. Creative Labels utilizes GoToMeeting.com, where its graphic designers work directly with customers in making changes to files or developing new designs. Through this service, customers are allowed to see the file while it’s being worked on, and have the opportunity to give their suggestions and input.

“When incomplete files are received or new layouts are to be worked on and proofed, often there may be several changes made and multiple proofs sent,” Sandy explains. “This increases costs for art time and can delay the order. With GoToMeeting, our customers are ‘hands-on’ – they can see the file being developed in real time and have adjustments made on-the-fly. They then feel ‘partnered’ with us on a project and get exactly what they want, while saving both time and money.”

Not a company content to sit still, continuous improvement is a theme at Creative Labels. In addition to the new presses, the company has also recently launched a new website designed to make it easier for our clients to request estimates, place orders, check proofs, or transfer files online.The company’s mission statement is “To work together as a team in harmony,” and is led by its guiding principles: “We will continue to evolve as a diversely skilled, fast-moving team of professionals ready to learn from each other and meet whatever challenges our clients may face."
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