Narrow Web Profile: Label Impressions

By Steve Katz, Editor | June 2, 2014

With consistency, the right culture and equipment upgrades, this California converter is expanding into new markets.

Label impressions
1831 W Sequoia Ave
Orange, CA 92868 USA

Jeff Salisbury has learned the label industry from the ground up, and as president and CEO of Label Impressions he is always looking for new ways to improve efficiencies and quality. Salisbury’s vision for the company has evolved, as has Label Impressions’ direction and capabilities.

Label Impressions President and CEO Jeff Salisbury
Located in Orange, CA, USA, Label Impressions began as a family business, founded in 1988 by Jeff’s father, Ted. The company started small – with one press and a little hot stamping unit, and became something of a foil specialist, finding a niche in the personal care market. Working with a broker who specialized in beauty and personal care packaging, Ted Salisbury produced challenging work and was content with his company’s modest success. “My dad pushed the envelope in terms of quality and intricacy, especially on foil,” Jeff Salisbury explains. “We became known in the business for our high quality foil labels – but Dad never wanted to grow much beyond that.”

Salisbury never intended to work for his dad, but after graduating college with a production and operations major and a graphics minor, Ted asked his son for help. Jeff agreed to give it a shot. At the same time, Carolyn Deyoe, Jeff’s sister, who had a background in HR and finance, started working for the company as well. Today she serves as Label Impressions’ vice president.

Salisbury walked in to his first day of work dressed to impress. Unimpressed, his dad said, “You might want to change your clothes, you’re going to get dirty.”

For three years, Salisbury ran Label Impressions’ rewinder, from 5 AM to 5 PM, and even on some Saturdays. Through this experience, he learned his first lessons in equipment troubleshooting. “Dad was never one to spend money,” he says. “When something went wrong, he would not spend a dime, but would flatly say, ‘figure it out’. While I didn’t appreciate it back then, the lessons learned during that time have proven invaluable to this very day.” After his stint at the rewinder, Salisbury became a press operator and then on to the darkroom and platemaking. He then built Label Impressions’ electronic prepress department.

Father and son had their differences. “Dad struggled to let me move from where I was, so I had to fight to ‘move up’ every step of the way – something I never appreciated until recently,” Salisbury says. “I begged him to let me do prepress, and he said only if my press work doesn’t suffer. So in order to do it, I still had to work 12 hours a day on the press – so I did.”

Salisbury bought a used Mac laptop, and while his press was running he learned Illustrator and Photoshop. Next – with his own cash – he purchased an imagesetter. “I told my dad we had to move into imagesetting, I explained how we can’t keep doing this film thing. Of course, he said ‘No way,’ so I bought it myself. Three years later, when he realized the value in it, he paid me back.” This was a pattern that would continue until 2005 when Jeff took over as company president.

While Label Impressions was content to continue to focus mostly on high quality hot stamping and basic one and two spot-color jobs, the brokers saw otherwise, and started to leave Label Impressions behind when the company couldn’t do four-process work.

Without the brokers, Label Impressions required a sales force. “Dad said, ‘No, we’re not hiring salespeople. If you want to sell, then sell, but only if your press work doesn’t suffer.’ So I would get to work at four in the morning, and I’d run my press as fast as it would run – typically 700+ fpm. This is how I learned the tricks to running fast – and it was only so I could get the job off press and go sell. I was committed. I’d clean up at 3 PM and then go door-to-door with a baggy full of labels. And the reason I was successful was because we had these gorgeous hot stamped labels, which is what we would push until we started getting other work in.”

Much to Ted’s dismay, when people would inquire with Jeff about label jobs, he’d say yes to everything – even process work. “I would come back and tell my dad about these new orders. Of course, he’d grumble and say, ‘you figure it out.’ So I’d talk to suppliers and learn as much as I could. It was during this time that I learned the value of good suppliers. I was a sponge and would read everything I could about materials, adhesives, inks and coatings, and I’d ask our suppliers to teach me everything they knew.”

A custom-built Nilpeter press, optimized
for ECLs
Figuring it out
Jeff Salisbury learned the label industry by doing. Today, as CEO, he’s hands-on, working with his 44 employees in all facets of the business – sales, prepress, production and customer service.

Salisbury’s eagerness to find and win business brought Label Impressions to another level, and in 2000, under Jeff’s direction, the company started buying newer presses (capable of four-color process) and hiring talented people. Despite the success, as can happen to any business, but a family business in particular, there was drama.

Ted and Jeff had vastly differing viewpoints on the direction of the company. “It was one big family feud,” Salisbury says. “For years, day in and day out Dad and I would fight, and Carolyn would come in and try to be the voice of reason. In 2002, morale was at an all-time low. In 2005, I said to Dad, ‘It’s time – we either shrink or grow, and my vision is to grow, and we came to an agreement where Carolyn and I purchased the remainder of Ted’s shares and took over.”

With Jeff and Carolyn running the company, the culture changed. “We could now focus,” Salisbury says. “We were now a unified voice, with consistency, and a vision. The employees recognized this and we began to attract the kind of quality customers, suppliers and employees we needed to be successful.”

People & Culture
“Everybody says it’s about the people but I say first it’s about the culture. Without the right culture you won’t attract – and keep – the best people,” says Salisbury. “So when we bought out our other partners the first thing we did was focus on the culture, something we knew would take time, and something we work hard on every day.”

Label Impressions was able to attract some of the best talent away from its larger competitors, Salisbury says. “From prepress people to press operators to managers, we feel we have the some of the very best of the best and we’re always looking for people who have the desire and drive to succeed in the label and flexible packaging business – we have a lot to offer.”

This culture is evident to anyone who walks through the front (or back) door. Employees have smiles on their faces, greeting customers, suppliers and prospective employees with sincerity and pride. “I couldn’t do it alone,” Salisbury says. “Without the team’s dedication and commitment to our Core Values and to the success of the company, we’d be nothing. My job is to serve them – with the right vision and the right tools to achieve the success they know they are capable of.”

Expanding markets, consistent color
Though Label Impressions is a much different company than it was 20 years ago, its core market remains health and beauty. However, new converting equipment and award winning Esko HD Flexo four-color process proficiency has the company growing in the food, beverage and promotional label markets. Additionally, Label Impressions is broadening its scope to move beyond PS labels, and is making significant inroads in the flexible packaging space.

Label Impressions currently has five flexo presses. Four of them are servo-driven Nilpeters, in 10, 13, 16 and 17-inch web widths. Installed in December 2013, the two wider web Nilpeters are equipped with film packages, full servo technology, UV and water-based printing stations. Rotary screen printing, IR dryers, Martin Automatic butt splicers, foiling units and multi-web equipment were added to further enhance Label Impressions’ flexible package printing capabilities. The new equipment adds zippered pouches, stand-up, gusseted bags, blister packs and shrink film production to the product portfolio.

The company’s 13-inch Nilpter is custom built, and features dual unwinds, dual web guides, an overhead tower, adhesive system, as well as rotary screen and foil modules. With its capabilities and versatility, Label Impressions can offer its customers a wide range of products. Extended content labels are a specialty, as are special effects labels like scratch and sniff, window cards and game pieces.

Finishing equipment has been upgraded with the addition of three high-speed, servo-driven CEI rewinders, increasing throughout and improving inspection. For it’s short run work, Label Impressions uses a Mark Andy 830. As far as digital is concerned, Salisbury has done his research. “We did an extensive, six month study and found that digital is not a fit for us at this time,” he says. “As long as the implementation costs remain high, and as long as there are quality tradeoffs, digital is not in our plans.”

At Label Impressions, color consistency is of paramount importance. “And it’s the one thing digital can’t get right,” Salisbury says. “I have not seen a digital press that can give me the same PMS orange eight or nine times in a row. With the processes we have in place now, I can be one delta E away, while a digital press may be three delta or four delta. My customers will never go for that. Color has to match every time.

“When speaking with prospective customers, I ask them how important color matching is to them. If they say it’s not very important, then we’re probably not a fit,” Salisbury says. “We pride ourselves on working with challenging customers. The tougher they are the better, because as the difficulty level increases, so do the margins, and the loyalty factor.”

While a digital press is not in the plans, wider web machinery is – perhaps in the form of a 26-inch press. Salisbury says, “We want to do more pouch and film work, that’s where it’s at for us.”

To make room for such a press, Label Impressions is in the midst of expanding its facility to 30,000 square feet. The company is also actively on the lookout to expand via strategic partnerships. “We’re buying equipment and looking at companies that fit the type of work we do and the patents we are working on,” Salisbury says. “We’re looing at merging – I want to find a company that is similar in size, whose strengths match our weaknesses and vice versa. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be a label company.”

Selling programs
Today, Label Impressions has five salespeople. In addition to steering the company as CEO, Salisbury also continues to sell, and his approach is centered on building “programs” for clients. And he won’t take on just anyone.

“The selling process is about awareness,” he says. “We take a look at who the prospective customer is, and whether they’re a fit for us. We turn away a lot of business that doesn’t fit us, and the times that we don’t do that, I’m miserable. Last year we did a study with a team of MBA students, and we concluded that our ideal customer is one that has some understanding of the label process. We can’t add value if the client doesn’t understand and appreciate what we do. We turn away from customers who don’t understand or take the time to get educated on the process.

“So it takes some time to find the right customers,” Salisbury adds. “But once we do, we work like heck for them and we don’t lose them. We do whatever it takes for them.”

Salisbury wants his customers to invest in Label Impressions, and in return his team builds programs specifically tailored to their needs. He is straightforward on what he will and will not do for prospective clients. He won’t give away free plates or produce samples without some form of written commitment – and it pays off for the customer in the long run.

Label Impressions excels at building programs for its clients that are custom built for their specific jobs. “That’s what ties them up,” Salisbury explains. “Competitors can’t do what we do because we invest a lot time in servicing our client’s needs. We have an online proofing system where customers have their own portal. It’s a unique system, and we train our clients to use it. By the time they’re trained, they love it, and they won’t go anywhere else. Our customers also get text notifications when a proof has been approved. We get them hooked on our program, and it’s hard for them to leave,” Salisbury says, adding that they’ll also set up Lean Manufacturing-based kanban systems for clients to improve logistics and avoid inventory.

While high quality labels, a wide range of products, and tailor-made programs are great selling points, at the end of the day, it’s still all about being competitive, Salisbury says. “It doesn’t matter how consistent you are how or how good the quality is. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that we always have to stay competitive. If my customers find out I’m not, then I’m out.”

At Label Impressions, every job gets scrutinized for costing and profitability. “We’re always trying to drive costs down,” Salisbury says. “That said, we don’t raise prices – we’re always trying to figure out how we can lower them, or keep them tighter.”

Sustainability is another element of a label that Label Impressions can help its customers figure out. Within the label industry, the company has a well-deserved reputation of being an environmental leader, and offers consulting services on how companies can become more eco-friendly.

Label Impressions is part of the 15% of label printers in the US that have the capability to print extended content labels (ECL) in-house. Providing more space for text on a label, ECLs can reduce a product’s packaging footprint by potentially eliminating inserts or an outer carton. Also, part of Label Impressions’ eco-friendly product line is FiberStone paper, a tree-free paper substrate that’s made from stone and uses no water or chemical bleaching. New developments in sustainability and sustainable materials are in the works.

A member of TLMI’s Environmental Committee, Salisbury is an advocate for greening the label industry, though he’s grown frustrated with the reality of the situation. He says, “No matter what they say, clients don’t want to pay for it. They’re waiting for the Holy Grail – a perfectly sustainable material that doesn’t cost more. So we have to work to accommodate that need. We’re hard at work on something very exciting and plan to make an announcement by mid-2015 on an amazing new sustainable material.”
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