After years in the corporate sector, Kevin Peterson broke out on his own – and is enjoying small business success.
CT Labeling Solutions
5 Center Road West, Unit B
Old Saybrook, CT 06475
Kevin Peterson is not the type of guy to leap without looking. After working for nearly 15 years at a Connecticut label company – which enjoys revenues of more than $100 million per year – he began thinking of opening his own business. Rather than quickly cut his ties with his employer and take the plunge into small business ownership, however, Peterson decided to buy a small press and test the waters.
The CT Labeling Solutions shop floor in Old Saybrook, CT
In January 2011, Peterson bought a 7", six-color Comco Cadet. He started printing his own labels on nights and weekends while still working at his full-time job. Peterson not only enjoyed the autonomy of the work, but could clearly see the potential for success. Luckily, a family member agreed with his assessment and gave him the money for a down payment on the company. By February of that year, Peterson started the process of registering CT Labeling Solutions as a full-fledged company in Connecticut.
“We started with very little capital,” he says. “A lot of companies have banks or deep pockets backing them. They want the full staff of people and the showpiece press. It’s hard. At my last job, if I said we needed something, we had it. Not so much anymore.”
For the last year and a half, Peterson has been running CT Labeling Solutions full time as its vice president of operations. Today, the company is located just a mile from the ocean in Old Saybrook, CT, not far from where Peterson grew up. It employs ten people and runs two shifts per day. Peterson says the company is already on track to earn $2 million this year.
Peterson credits his experience at his former employer with giving him the foundation to get his business started. He still maintains a great relationship with them. “They were my education and my inspiration,” he says. “I don’t necessarily want to be that big, but I definitely learned a lot working there.”
Not long after opening CT Labeling Solutions, Peterson sold his Comco press and bought a Mark Andy 2200. Later, he sold the 2200 and bought a Mark Andy Scout.
“I only buy used presses,” Peterson says. “I’ve run every platform that Mark Andy makes, and that Scout is the neatest little press I’ve ever run. It had a 15" repeat, it was a great little press that was great for small, short run jobs.”
CT Labeling Solutions focuses on pressure sensitive labels for the food and beverage, beauty, household and industrial, and nutraceuticals markets. Because the company does a lot of work specifically for the cosmetics market, Peterson says a lot of his print runs were largely water-based, but they are now fully UV.
The company has two ten-color Mark Andy 4150 presses. Additional capabilities include Stork rotary screen units and cold foil.
“A lot of the work I have is clear, pressure sensitive, so we needed the Stork rotary screens. Some people like to do straight flexo, but I think it gets washed out. It doesn’t have the same vibrancy.
“Cold foil has come so far over the last 6-8 years, it’s almost comparable to hot foil,” he says. “I’m not sure why people still invest in hot foil when cold has come so far.”
Kevin Peterson, VP of operations at CT Labeling Solutions
Peterson says that because of the growth his company is enjoying, he is in the market for another press. Specifically he’s looking for a used Mark Andy 2200.
“I’m a Mark Andy person and probably always will be,” he says. “And for me, used equipment fits. I stick with Mark Andy because they work. I’m hands on, and buying a used Mark Andy is like buying a classic car and restoring it.”
Peterson says that he’d also like to have a digital press within the next six months, but he is taking his time to evaluate which press he’d like to purchase. In the meantime, Peterson works with another local printer, Label One Privateer, to outsource some digital work on their HP Indigo press. In exchange, Peterson does eight-color (and up) work for them.
“We’re looking into high-end cosmetic labels, and we’re not blind to where this market is going. We’re very aware of what digital has done for this industry. Ten to 15 years from now, it will be everywhere,” he says. “The digital press that we’ll get is not going to be new and it’s not going to be fancy, but it will get the work done. Hopefully I’ll make a profit from it and eventually I’ll be able to sell that and get a bigger one.
“I’m a small shop, so I still have to try and grow before I can make the investment. I can’t go after the work until I have the equipment on the floor. A lot of companies do this backwards – they bid on work and then they can’t print it.”
While Peterson believes very firmly in the abilities of quality, used presses, there is one area that he is unwilling to skimp on – suppliers. He says that the risks associated with more budget-friendly suppliers – including the stress and the potential damage to a company’s reputation – is simply bad business.
Peterson previously worked with the late Gene Mallows, a longtime industry veteran, who he says gave him one very pointed piece of advice about success in printing: “He said, ‘don’t screw around with who you’re buying from’. I probably pay a premium for my suppliers,” Peterson says. “I use Fasson, all of my inks are Environmental Inks, and my foils are ITW. I have a great relationship with all of my suppliers. I don’t have to worry about any issues at all. For me, paying a little more for good materials is insurance, it’s quality control. I don’t have worry about it. I have to buy products that are proven to me and that I know will work.”
Because the CT Labeling Solutions operation is small – just ten employees, total – Peterson has focused on his industry connections to grow the business.
Currently, CT Labeling Solutions has a limited sales force, but Peterson has been weighing the pros and cons of print sales brokers. However, the costs may be more than he’s willing to spend right now. “But at the same time, I have a company to grow and sustain,” he says. “Sales is definitely my next big focus.”
Until Peterson makes a decision about his sales department, he enjoys a hands-on role with all of his customers. “I’m honest with them. Sometimes, maybe too honest,” he says with a laugh. “They can call me and ask me technical questions, process questions – anything they need to know, I can help them out. I think its nice for them to have all of their information in one place.”
In order to continually offer his customers real-time access to their job information – 24 hours per day, seven days per week – Peterson is working with a local programmer in Saybrook. He is in the process of implementing a customized management information system. One of his main priorities in designing the system is a feature that will allow his customers to log in and see the status of their jobs at any time.
That kind of transparency has afforded Peterson the luxury of genuine relationships with his customers. The company’s largest customer, in fact, is one of his closest professional relationships.
“We have one customer, and we are just so blessed to have them, they’re about 70% of our business,” he says. “They believed in us when we were really just a warehouse, when we were just starting out. It really means a lot that they’ve stuck with us.
“They’re fantastic to work with. They come here, stay at a hotel near the beach, they pop in with their flip flops on – its great! People are just people, you know? I spent a lot of time in a corporate environment, so this is really nice.”
In fact, most of CT Labeling Solutions’ employees came from the corporate sector. And just like his customers, his employees are people that Peterson has known for a number of years.
“Everybody involved with this, I’ve worked with them for a long time,” he says. “Everyone knows what needs to get done and how to do it. They’ve all previously worked at big companies and realized that, along with the benefits, there were certain limitations there.”
A major point of pride for Peterson is the level of involvement and commitment that he sees from CT Labeling Solutions’ employees. He says that he offers them flexibility, and they respond with the same. “They work around our production schedules, not their personal schedules. That’s huge,” he says. “As this grows and succeeds, we all grow and succeed, and every one of us knows it.”
Peterson spent nearly all of his adult life working in the printing industry, so he understands the importance of these relationships. And he also learned – at a very young age – just how important is it to maintain focus and to work extremely hard.
“My dad was a printer,” he says, “but I really got into this by coincidence.
“During my senior year of high school, he got sick. It was pretty bad. He passed away, so, even though I was accepted to SUNY Purchase, two weeks after high school, I got a job and started printing.
“My dad worked in printing for more than 30 years. I miss him every day. I wish that he was here to see this. I’d probably have him out here on the floor working!”