Companies to Watch: MEI Labels
By Steve Katz, Editor
Published October 14, 2013
19014 E Admiral Place, Catoosa, OK, USA 74015
918-258-8321 • www.meilabels.com
MEI Labels is embarking on its next chapter, with new leadership, equipment, an acquisition, and a growth strategy that reflects the latest trends and shifts within the industry.
Tom Martin founded MEI Labels in 1996, in Catoosa, OK, USA, just outside of Tulsa. He had been in the label business for many years, and along with four partners, decided to start out on his own. With a focus on customer service and quick turnaround time, Martin grew the business from a fledgling one-press operation to a sizable prime label company, serving mainly food and food-related markets.
As MEI Labels grew, it maintained a family-type atmosphere, something Martin took great pride in. In 2012, after having grown his business and enjoyed its success, Martin was looking to step aside and sell the company. However, finding a buyer that would grow MEI Labels was important to him.
Enter Lynn Higgs, a native Texan and label industry veteran – he worked for Nashua Corporation (which was acquired by Cenveo) for 23 years. In late 2012, Higgs, along with a group of investors, formed MEI Labels Holdings LLC, and purchased MEI Labels from Martin. As president and CEO, Higgs is leading the company into the future, as well as a new direction, while keeping in tact the core values established by its original founder.
“Since buying the company, we have kept virtually all of the employees, as well as hired staff for newly created positions. It continues to feel like a family atmosphere for a good-sized company, and its been a thrill to be a part of it,” Higgs says.
While new to MEI Labels, Higgs has wasted no time in forging a new path for the company’s future. In June 2013, MEI acquired Dallas-based TVC Label, a company whose strengths complement those of MEI. With the acquisition, the new combined company is comprised of 150 employees – around 100 in Tulsa and another 50 in Dallas. Gary Dunlap, who sold TVC, will stay on to run that side of the business, and he’s also an investor with the new MEI ownership.
MEI Labels is a flexo house, specializing in longer runs. At the 64,000 square foot manufacturing space in Oklahoma, there are 13 water-based flexo presses, with the company leaning heavily on Nilpeter’s FB line technology. “The workhorses we use are Nilpeter FB 3300 servo presses, and we have five of them,” Higgs says. In addition, MEI uses two Mark Andy machines – a 2200 and a 4120, and also five Webtrons.
Higgs points out that food is still the main market for the Tulsa operation. He says, “While food is still big, we’re also now strong in retail, consumer products, nutraceuticals, and what we call Auto ID, which is our line of warehouse labels. We mostly run prime label jobs, but we also do direct thermal and thermal transfer for manufacturing and distribution. The grocery market is also big for us, printing prime labels that end up on bakery, deli or produce items,” explains Higgs.
Meanwhile, in Dallas, it’s a much different type of operation at TVC Label. There, they have complete shrink sleeve capability and also digital printing with an HP Indigo WS6600, which was HP’s first installation in Texas. For flexo printing, they use four Nilpeter presses with up to ten colors, using plates made in-house with the latest digital computer-to-plate technology.
Employing different technologies and servicing different markets, TVC made for an ideal fit as a company to acquire. “When we bought TVC, there was zero overlap among our customers. While it’s a focus at MEI in Oklahoma, in Dallas, we are very consumer products driven, and that’s where the shrink sleeves come in. With the technology we have there, we’re making some real high-end products,” Higgs says.
MEI has just completed the purchase of a new 8-color Nilpeter press to be installed at the Dallas site, to give the company more capacity for its shrink sleeve printing. The acquisition and the new printing press are strategic parts of MEI’s growth plan. “I see the label and packaging worlds coming together quickly. With press manufacturers continuing to launch wider footprint presses, this is where the industry is headed, and it’s where we’re headed. In Dallas, we’re focusing on shrink sleeves and flexible packaging products like film pouches. And in the next few years we’ll be looking at acquisitions and additional equipment to get us more immersed in the packaging world,” says Higgs.
With the acquisition of TVC, MEI Labels has totally expanded its offerings. For the time being, each company will maintain its own brand and sales force, marketing labels, for the most part, to end users, who make up the company’s largest customers.
“Our goal is to cross sell,” explains Higgs. “If I’m an MEI guy, now I’m selling shrink sleeves and the highest quality prime labels. If I’m a TVC guy, I’m now also selling longer runs, and can focus on large food label jobs.”
Both operations are regional in scope, with its 13 salespeople mostly servicing customers in Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Missouri and Louisiana. Sales have grown year over year, despite fluctuations in the economy, which Higgs attributes to geography, the reliable food market, and a highly diverse customer base. “We deal with everyone from Fortune 10 companies to small family-run businesses,” he says.
Diversification is the key to MEI Label’s future, and the TVC acquisition is a precursor for things to come. “The synergy between the companies is unbelievable. We’re going to use TVC’s digital press for short runs, and especially their capability for shrink labels and film pouches. We were not looking for an acquisition this quickly, but when this one came along, it was just a perfect fit. With shrink labels being our fastest growing market, our plan is to go wide and open the door to more packaging opportunities. The lines are getting blurred between the two industries,” adds Higgs. “In the old days, you were either a label or a packaging company, and now you can be both.”