Companies to Watch: Inline Label Co., Inc.
By Steve Katz, Editor
Published October 14, 2013
Inline Label Co., Inc.
4720 Emerald Way, Middletown, OH, USA 45044
Inline Labels got its start the way many label companies do – in a garage. In this case, it was the garage of Dave Hechler, the owner and president of the company. The year was 1994, and for Dave, it was part-time work, running labels for his employer on a used Vandeburg 3-color press.
In 1998, Hechler brought on a partner, and the two invested in a Webtron 650 press with full UV capability. By then, orders were steady enough, and over the next two years, Hechler moved Inline to a 3500 square foot rental facility in West Chester, OH, USA, added an Arpeco rewinder, followed by a 10-inch Mark Andy 2200. At the end of 2000, he hired his first employee.
“Business began to grow, and by 2005, we were up to 4 full-time employees. We added another Mark Andy 2200 with full UV and this time a cold foiling unit, which allowed us to get business we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to do,” Hechler recalls.
Wanting more control of business decisions, Hechler bought out his partner in 2007. As Inline continued to grow, it needed a larger building. “I found the perfect building that was 10,000 square feet, close to the old location,” Hechler says. Inline moved into its new home in Middletown, OH in the spring of 2008, just when the economy came crashing down.
The company was at eight employees when Patti Hechler, Dave’s wife, joined the business as office manager in late 2008 and took over getting the front-end organized and up to date. “Production was always my strong point, so it was very nice to be able to hand off those chores that I really wasn’t suited to accomplish,” Hechler says.
By 2010, having weathered the recession, sales began steadily increasing. “I found myself having to make a decision on the direction of the company. Do we bring platemaking in-house or look at digital printing? I had been to Labelexpo in 2006, saw the emerging technology and knew I wanted to be part of the digital movement.
“I settled on the Jetrion 4830. It took a few months to integrate the digital machine into everyday production, with Patti and myself frantically working to learn the software and the press. But by the end of 2010, things were running quite smoothly.”
Inline had its best year to date in 2012, with sales increasing 45% from the previous year. “It was time to add another piece of equipment,” Hechler says. “Up until this point everything that went on the digital press had been pre-diecut, utilizing one of our other three flexo machines. This took time out of the flexo press schedule and with business ramping up on our flexo side, something had to be done – we needed the additional capabilities of a digital finishing machine.”
“After looking at and pricing equipment on the market, I made a call to a long-time friend, Tom Kirtz, from Telstar Engineering. I had known Tom way back in the 80s, when he was working on a SLI letterpress that I was running for a previous employer. I told Tom what I was looking for and what I wanted the machine to do. In no time, he had a conceptual drawing for me. After agreeing on price, Tom proceeded to build our custom finishing machine, and in December of 2012, ‘Big Red’ was put into operation.”
Big Red is a full-servo machine with one print station (with room to add another), a cold foil unit, a laminating unit, one die station, and one sheeting/die station. Explains Hechler, “The machine was built for all of our existing tooling for the Mark Andy 2200 to drop right in. Tom also built the sheeting die station to accept our conveyor for the Mark Andy. The machine is a wonderful addition to Inline Label. We have been able to utilize Big Red for many things besides just finishing off the digital press. Registration tolerances are so tight, we can apply cold foil and diecut pre-printed webs that were run on the other two Mark Andy presses. We are also able to do all the necessary lamination and finishing of materials printed on the Jetrion 4830. As an added bonus, this machine is modular – we can add just about anything to it at anytime.
Due to new technology, Inline’s business model has changed since its founding. Gone are the days of 4-week turnarounds, Hechler says. “We have customers expecting 3 days or less on digital jobs!”
Inline Label’s customer base is 75% to the trade and brokers and the remaining 25% to end users. “We really don’t have a niche market,” explains Hechler. “Without sales people to bring in specific work, I always figured out how to run whatever came in the door.”
Inline continues to provide high-quality process work, utilizing business acquaintances and networking. “We have our website at the ready for customers who may surf for a label supplier and artwork can be directly uploaded from there. In fact, 2013 has seen the first payouts from this, as we have picked up several new customers from the web. We have orders coming to us from California to New Jersey. We have even shipped work to several locations in Europe for one large customer.”
Inline’s work varies, ranging from blanks to 8-color hot or cold foil stamped labels. The digital press, in conjunction with Telstar’s Big Red finishing machine, allow Inline Label to produce work for manufacturing, health and beauty, pharmaceutical, and food and beverage customers in quantities from a couple of labels into the millions.
The future of Inline Label is bright. The company has had steady growth through 2013 and will soon be in need of adding an additional press. The current equipment inventory consists of three flexo presses (two Mark Andy 2200s, the Webtron 650), the Jetrion 4830, plus the Telstar finishing machine, and two slitter rewinders. “Our building is all but filled and we have 13 full-time employees at the ready every day. 2014 may be the year we expand our building and try to decide what equipment to add,” says Hechler.
Recently, Inline has seen its beverage label business pick up in particular, with the company adding several microbreweries to its customer list. “Most of the volumes these customers need are too large for our digital equipment. With technology moving so quickly, I can see an affordable combination of a digital/flexo press in the near future. Add to that the laser diecutters available these days and it can make your head swim as a small business owner,” Hechler says.
Inline Label is a quality-conscious print shop that prides itself on product repeatability. “Our employees take pride in the products they produce and we have virtually no employee turnover,” Hechler says. “I tend to keep things light in the shop, and teach the operators to be responsible for the work they produce. Documenting all jobs and setups in detail is the key to repeatability, and Inline has always done such. I’ve always said, ‘I don’t want the customer surprised when opening the box.’ We give our customers exactly what they ask for every time they place an order. No surprises.”