All American Label
6958 Sierra Ct, Dublin, CA, USA
Brad Brown doesn’t sit at his desk. The energetic, “hands-on” owner of All American Label spends his days all over his 30,000 square foot manufacturing plant in Dublin, CA, working directly with his most important assets – his people.
At the Dublin facility, which is located in the San Francisco Bay area, there are 47 employees. The company has come a long way since its humble beginnings in 1995, when it was just Brad, the company’s founder, running the business part time, and doing it all.
Working for Chevron in the mid 1990s, Brown had an epiphany. His job was in operations and purchasing, and part of his responsibilities was buying packaging. One of his vendors turned him on to the label business, something he had previously not paid much attention too. He went home, visited a grocery store with his wife, and the two acknowledged that just about every product had a label on it. And just like that, the idea for All American Label was born.
The company officially started in 1995, and the fledgling days of All American Label was part-time work for Brown. Housed in a small building was a Mark Andy 830, which a buddy of his taught him how to operate. Brown continued to work for Chevron. After his workday, he would switch gears and run his label company. “I’d be wearing a tie to work, and my co-workers would ask, ‘Are you interviewing?’ But I would be going to meet my label customers after work. I never ran a label for anyone conflicting with my day job. If you don’t have morals and ethics, you’ve got nothing,” Brown says.
He continued to work both jobs until 1999, which is when he began focusing solely on his label business. “For five years, I didn’t take a paycheck from All American Label. Everything went back into the business,” he says, “and over that period of time I gained some great people, who are the key to everything we do.”
More than just labels
All American does a lot. Since the early days, the company’s trademarked slogan has been “More Than Just Labels,” and it was coined during that first year in 1995. Brown recalls, “We ran a job for AT&T where we printed a label and applied it to a little piece of plastic, someone took note of it and said, ‘Hey, you’re more than just labels!’ And the phrase stuck with us.”
A look at All American’s product portfolio illustrates how far the company has evolved over the years. In addition to pressure sensitive labels, All American manufactures shrink sleeves, folding cartons and flexible packaging. There’s also the All American Signs division, where the company produces banners, vehicle wraps, interior and exterior signs, and even sandblasting and architectural signage.
But wait, there’s more. All American Label is a true one-stop-shop. In addition to the label, packaging and sign business, they also offer photo and design services, complete with an in-house photo studio for mocking up product samples and photographing them for websites, catalogs and marketing materials.
There’s also a fulfillment side of the business. The company has its License 14 from the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, which allows it to provide warehouse services for alcohol, including letting imports into the facility for packaging purposes. “So if someone says, ‘Here’s my rum bottle – I need a label.’ We can design it, print it, and apply it right here in-house,” explains Brown.
While All American can pretty much do it all when it comes to packaging, the bulk of the business is still labels, and Brown says that since the beginning, the company prints everything for everybody. “Being close to Silicon Valley, we’ve always done a lot of electronics labels, and being in the heart of California, of course we’re touching on food – you have 35 million people to feed here. Nutraceuticals is a particular area of growth. But we’ll run anything for anyone – we don’t focus on specific markets, we touch it all,” he says.
Brad Brown owns All American Label along with his wife, which makes the company both a woman-owned and minority-owned business. Brown speaks fluent Spanish, and throughout the plant his frequent rapid-fire exchanges with personnel occur bilingually.
During the workday, Brad Brown is all over place, advising and working with all departments. (A pedometer has clocked him at walking six miles a day at the plant.) He’s old-school, and runs his business as such. Brown detests text messaging, but his phone is always on and he can be reached 24/7. “Regardless of the order, our customers are getting nothing but the best quality and service. We don’t have voicemail here. A customer will call and someone will answer the phone every single time. If you call after hours and no one answers, it’s because no one is here – so you reach us on our cell phones,” Brown says, adding, “Customer service is gone in the US, but we’re bringing it back. I want to talk to someone that can help me, and I need customer service to do that. It’s the key for what we do. We live by our customer service.”
In lieu of an MIS system, communication is constant between the various departments. “We go through all our jobs every day, twice a day, at 8:30 and 3:30 to make sure every job is rotating,” Brown says. “We run in what I call a state of ‘controlled chaos.’ I’m the only one here that runs in uncontrolled chaos, and it’s my job to keep everyone in controlled chaos.”
The atmosphere at All American label is lively, and the Dublin facility outputs half a million feet of labels per day. While not a proponent of Lean Manufacturing per se, the company runs lean, which is what Brown attributes its annual growth to year over year.
“We talk about how we can circumvent the globe every year in the amount of label material we run – we do five million labels a day here, and our Tennessee plant does another million, and we do it lean, with just 47 people here at this plant,” Brown says. “When it comes to my staff, I tell them, let me work on my strengths, you work on yours, and we’ll cover each others weaknesses – controlled chaos.
“And you won’t find better service. Our turnaround is quick – two or three days – and that’s because of running lean, and the dedication of our people.”
Despite the “chaos,” All American’s growth has been pragmatic, marked by both strategic business and equipment acquisitions.
In 2001, only a couple short years after Brown started working the business full-time, All American purchased its first new press, a 10-inch Mark Andy 2200. “Then we bought another, and we ran with those for awhile. In 2005, we bought a Nilpeter when we moved into this building, and a year later added an HP Indigo ws4050, which is great for our short and medium run customers.”
Platemaking is done in-house with an Esko HD Flexo CDI with DuPont FAST Platemaking system. There are 12 printing machines in Dublin, including two HP Indigo’s and two AB Graphic Omega finishing machines.
The most recent equipment acquisition, and the showpiece of the Dublin plant, is a brand new Omet Xflex X6 flexo press. Acknowledging the importance and proliferation of digital, Brown is a believer in today’s evolving flexo technology. He says, “I think in today’s label market you have to go digital, but company’s like Omet are figuring out how to compete in the short run market. It’s not all about digital. I would put our new Omet press against any digital press, any day of the week.”
Brad Brown is a car enthusiast, and All American’s California facility has some extra space that doubles as garage space for some of his favorite toys – a classic Mustang, Chevelle and Corvette. So, with that said, he offers high praise for his newest flexo press. “I think it’s the Ferrari of presses, and I’d put it toe-to-toe with anyone,” he says.
Acquisitions, and a facelift
In addition to new equipment, growth by acquisition has also been a recurring theme. In 2007, All American acquired Rotocolor, a label converter in nearby Hayward, CA. And in 2010, All American Label went nationwide through the acquisition of Art Craft in Memphis, TN.
“You can’t go wrong establishing a national presence,” Brown says, adding that the Memphis operation is strictly a flexo house. “We moved them to another location, but kept all the same personnel in place, and they are wonderful,” he says, adding that the 50-year-old company’s management team has decades of experience. In addition to label acquisitions, All American also purchased four different sign companies in the Bay Area in order to mold and grow that side of the business.
Today, the company is undergoing a facelift. Amidst the chaos and the half a million feet per day of label converting is a construction project. The renovations will provide a way to showcase the company’s equipment and expanding capabilities, but also significantly enhance its sustainability footprint. Once the work is complete, All American Label’s California rooftop will be equipped with solar panels, and the company will be able to boast that it is running on solar energy – a strong selling point, particularly in the State of California.
The move to solar energy is innovative one, and an example of the mantra Brown imparted to his people this year – Innovate or Die. He says, “In today’s label market, I believe you have to innovate. The days of slapping on two and three color labels are gone. You need to make your small customers look big. The customer ordering ten thousand labels, we can make you look as big and bad as the guy down the road needing ten thousand a day. That’s what we do for our customers, and we do it really well.”