Companies To WATCH

October 13, 2015

Companies to Watch is a special feature of Label & Narrow Web that focuses on a select group of converters who are making noteworthy contributions to the health of the industry.

This is not a ranking of any kind, nor is it meant to be all-inclusive. If these companies share anything in common, it is that they are experiencing growth, producing high quality work, and using the latest technology to better serve their customers.

For 2015, we present:

Fortis Solutions Group • Great Lakes Label • Inland
ELC Etiquettes • Strouse Corporation • Flesh Co • Adhéprint

Fortis Solutions Group
2505 Hawkeye Court, Virginia Beach, VA 23452 USA

Fortis Solutions Group has been a company to watch since its owner, John Wynne, Jr., emerged in the label industry in 2010 with his purchase of Labels Unlimited, a label converter in Virginia Beach, VA, USA. In early 2015, Labels Unlimited acquired Wixom, MI-based A&M Label, a move that led the companies to rebrand, together, as Fortis Solutions Group.

According to Wynne, who also serves as the company’s CEO, the rebranding initiative united the company internally while speaking to the value it brings to customers. “We wanted to redevelop our go-to-market strategies, which would include a new website and marketing collateral. We chose Fortis, which means ‘strong’ in Latin, and Solutions, meaning ‘proactive, value-added providers,’ with Group referring to our being a multi-site and multi-faceted operation.”

In keeping in line with the business philosophy of multi-faceted strengths among several sites, in June 2015, Fortis Solutions Group acquired Kopco Graphics and Color Craft Label, expanding the company’s growth opportunities and its ability to serve its customers nationwide. Following these latest acquisitions, the company now has 235 employees at multiple manufacturing sites ranging in size from 16,000 to 37,500 square feet.

Wynne says, “We have expanded from a single site to one of the country’s largest label converters, with manufacturing and sales locations in Wixom, MI, West Chester, OH, Memphis, TN and Virginia Beach, VA. And we’ll continue to seek additional acquisition opportunities in attractive markets and geographic locations.”

With such a strong geographic presence, Fortis Solutions Group ships products to the Bahamas, Canada and every state in the US. The company has a dedicated sales team that is regionally and industry-focused, and complements the efforts of its various broker partners. “We’re focused on new business-generating activities while ensuring the continued success of our current customer base,” Wynne says. “Fortis seeks to continuously offer value to its customers by bringing proactive, innovative ideas to bear that take cost out of the supply chain and increase our customers’ market share.”

One of Fortis Solutions Group’s four HP Indigo digital label presses.
All told, the company has more than 20 flexographic presses, a combination of Nilpeter and Mark Andy machinery. Fortis also has four HP Indigo digital presses. Over the past few years, the company has invested heavily in new presses, Esko prepress and proofing software, High Definition flexo platemaking and a new EFI Radius ERP system.

With expertise in variable data printing, Fortis Solutions Group has become one of the largest HP Indigo label and packaging printers in the US. “We’ve adopted workflows that enable us to align with our customers’ go-to-market strategies along with changing consumer demands,” says Wynne. “These workflows minimize inventory obsolescence and allow quick leads times within a nimble production environment  – we can seamlessly switch SKUs between our digital and flexographic technology.”

Fortis Solutions Group had a strategic plan to respond to requests from customers in the Midwest to have facilities closer to them in order to reduce the transit time and costs associated with deliveries. With the purchase of A&M Label, the company acquired an HP Indigo WS6600 Digital Press – it’s fourth digital press. As demand for shorter runs, faster turnarounds and added value features like variable data content, microtext, metallic effects and special colors increased, so did Fortis Solutions Group’s requirement for additional digital capacity.

“The purchase of A&M Label gave us another digital press and a strategic manufacturing triangle of  Virginia Beach, Detroit and Memphis from which we could service the South, the Midwest and the East Coast,” Wynne explains.

For Fortis, digital labels account for 55% of jobs and 25% of revenue at its largest location in Virginia Beach. Wynne is noticing an increase in demand for shorter run lengths and lead times, while the number of absolute SKUs proliferates. Fortis is focused on driving cost out of its operations to ensure fast delivery of a competitively-priced, custom-made, quality product. He says, “Rather than a transactional relationship, we continue to differentiate ourselves in the marketplace by partnering with multiple facets of our customers’ organization including innovation teams, brand managers, marketing departments, procurement and manufacturing. We are known for our quick turnaround time, outstanding customer service and quality control,” Wynne says. “With four HP Indigo presses and over 20 flexo presses, we excel at both short and long-run printing, ensuring best-in-class color management across the different platforms.”

While historically focused on the food and beverage markets, Fortis Solutions Group now has substantial business in the automotive, household, and transport and logistics industries as well. The company primarily produces multi-color pressure sensitive labels and has a growing flexible packaging division. Wynne sees additional growth in the health and beauty market, as well as considerable opportunity to leverage its ISO and quality certifications into the durables sector.

Fortis Solutions Group’s Nilpeter flexo press
With increased diversity comes the need for tighter process management and streamlined workflows. The HP Indigo digital presses’ inline primers are contributing to those goals, according to Ken Pizzuco, Fortis Solutions Group’s COO. “The inline primer enables stocks that are run on our narrow web flexo presses to be used on the HP Indigo digital presses,” he says. “About 75% of our labels are printed on paper. We’ve found the inline coater and Enhanced Productivity Mode (EPM) to be valuable tools that add to our productivity and profitability. We don’t have to stock unique substrates for digital printing, but can use the same as on the flexo presses. This is particularly good for customers who want five million feet of labels one month and five thousand the next – because we can use the same substrate.”

With its rapid growth, Fortis Solutions Group is well on its way to becoming a top 10 company within the North American labels and packaging space. Wynne emphasizes there are tremendous growth opportunities nationwide by Fortis continuing to acquire outstanding companies and leveraging differentiated sales strategies to capture additional market share. At the same time, he says, the company will continue to evaluate and invest in new product lines such as shrink sleeves, folding cartons and other new technologies which could benefit its customer base.  – Steve Katz

Great Lakes Label
910 Metzgar Dr NW, Comstock Park, MI 49321 USA

The entrepreneurial spirit lives on at Great Lakes Label, a high-end label printer and distributor of custom label applicators located in Comstock Park, MI, USA. The company’s roots go back to June 1994, when founder and CEO Tony Cook started a label brokerage business, along with a separate company to produce pressure sensitive tapes.

“I had one of Mark Andy’s very first presses, an MA50 tabletop tape press,” recalls Cook. “I brokered labels during the day and printed pressure sensitive tapes at night.” A Webtron press acquired in 1997 helped to expand his printing operation and in 2002, Great Lakes Label was formed when he merged the two companies.

Even today, Great Lakes Label has two complementing sides to its business. Pressure sensitive labels for a wide range of markets constitute the largest portion of its label printing business. This business also supplies tags for the textile industry and is experiencing growth in flexible packaging. The other side of the business is distributing label application equipment. This includes the company’s own Label Gator brand, in addition to supplying two European-made lines and two other US-made machines. The label application equipment accounts for about 20% of the business and Cook believes there is a lot of synergy with there being two sides to the company. “A lot of our customers want a one-stop shop so that they’ll know the labels are going to work through the machine. I think each of them [businesses] fuel each other’s growth. It makes us a full supplier to the customer. The customer gets the most benefit out of it.”

Great Lakes Label is committed to continuous improvement through Lean Manufacturing.

CEO Tony Cook.
About 20 to 25% of Great Lakes Label’s label business is for prime labels for food packaging. It also supplies industrial labels for appliances and furniture; horticultural labeling; and labels for household cleaners, health and beauty, and beer and wine. Since it added two rotary screen units last year, the company is also seeing growth in the spirits market.

Great Lakes Label jumped into Lean Manufacturing with both feet several years ago. Cook attended a three week University of Michigan training course and then hired a consultant to guide the formal efforts for the first year. “We’ve been doing Lean Manufacturing for four years now,” he says. “It takes a while to educate your people, but the people are the key.” Kaizen events are held routinely throughout the operation and the company is also working with some of its suppliers on Lean efforts.

An entrepreneurial spirit is engrained in the company’s mission. Cook says, “We are an innovative company and want to use our hi-tech bells and whistles and talent to be first-to-market with innovative solutions to challenging industry problems.”

To support this mission, Great Lakes Label offers its services as a beta site for several of its suppliers. Mark Andy is one of them on the equipment side, along with raw material suppliers such as Avery Dennison/Fasson, Actega coatings and various ink suppliers. “They like to work with us because of our technical knowhow and the fact that we can get projects on-press quickly,” Cook says. “We operate like a pilot plant. We help them figure out what works and what doesn’t and how to run it on the press.”

Great Lakes Label runs its operation seven days a week with 42 employees. It has five flexo presses including two Webtrons, a Mark Andy 4120, and two Mark Andy Performance Series presses, a P5 and P7. It also offers digital printing using a Primera Technology system with laminating and diecutting. Its finishing department consists of five inspection-rewinders (Rotoflex and Arpeco) and one CTC International turret-rewinder.

The most recent press acquisitions are the 13" P5 (2013) and the 17" P7 (2014), which added significantly to the company’s capabilities and allowed it to pursue new business opportunities. “Many of our customers are moving some of their products to the short run flexible packaging market, and we wanted to be able to do both pressure sensitive labels and flexible packaging,” explains Cook. The servo technology on the Performance Series presses allows the company to run various materials on the press and save all the press settings for quick setup the next time a particular product is run.

One of Great Lakes Label’s two Mark Andy Performance Series presses

The Performance Series presses had been in operation only a short time when Cook decided to expand the capabilities of the machines to provide even more features in the products it was supplying its customers. “We wanted to do multiple, special effect coatings, some of which are two- and three-part coatings over top of a job that might be six or eight colors. We also wanted to expand our ability to provide three-panel hinge (extended content) labels and instant redeemable coupons.”

The P5, originally installed with eight colors, was expanded to 11 stations, plus the addition of a second unwind stand, cold foil, two rail-mounted rotary screen units (which are transportable to the P7), additional UV drying, hot-stamp embossing, and corona treating. This press can now print 13 colors, plus a hot stamp foil for a total of 14 colors. The P7 added an additional ink station, additional UV capability, corona treating and cold foil, giving the press nine colors and the two moveable independent rotary screen units for a total of 11 color possibilities.

Great Lakes Label also gets significant competitive advantage from both its digital printing technology and its use of high-definition (HD) flexo printing, says Cook. With the Primera Technology system, the company provides short run prototyping and short run labels up to 2,500 labels or even 5,000 labels, depending on the size. “We support a lot of our customers’ marketing efforts when they might need a couple hundred labels for new product launches. We can do them on the Primera, and we have the RIP on the digital system calibrated to the RIP for our flexo plates so we can reproduce what we print digitally on the flexo presses if the product takes off.”

The HD plate technology is a big factor in allowing Great Lakes Label to produce such high-quality, flexo-printed labels. The company uses both Esko’s HD Flexo and Kodak’s Flexcel NX technologies. “We use both. We’ve found that both are great and both have different advantages in different areas,” reports Cook.

Great Lakes Label provides labels to customers throughout the US. It also does business in Canada, Europe and Mexico, with its Mexican business currently expanding nicely, says Cook. The sales effort is supported by a marketing department, which employs in-bound marketing strategies to create leads for its direct sales force. Within the past year, it has also started online purchasing availability, mainly for the horticultural industry. “We are starting with stock products that are standardized for the horticultural industry. That seems to be a growth area for us in our online presence.”

Great Lakes Label has positioned itself to be a force in providing innovative products to the labeling industry. On one side, it works with its suppliers as a beta site on new developments that add value to the industry. On the other side, the company responds to its customers’ needs for more colors, new special-effects coatings, more label real estate with three-panel hinged labels and new product launches. What makes this possible is the willingness to invest in the latest technologies that allow it to fulfill this mission. This is just where Cook wants his company to be. He concludes, “As people in the industry find out that we have this capability, we are getting more and more inquiries for more and more complicated products.”

2009 West Avenue South, La Crosse, WI 54601 USA

Inland has seen its business expand with that of the label and packaging industry. Founded in 1903, Inland employs nearly 350 people at its two facilities in La Crosse, WI, USA. It also recently underwent a rebranding  initiative by dropping “Label” from its former name. The company’s goal is to be seen as a total packaging solutions provider.

In addition to the rebrand, Inland has announced that it will add 50,000 square feet of space near its Airport Road location in La Crosse. The upgraded facility will house Inland’s finished goods warehousing and distribution. The company has also internally invested $30 million since 2008 and continues to seek new employees.

“The rebrand was really more of a refresh,” says Jackie Kuehlmann, marketing manager at Inland. “We have excellent brand recognition in the beer industry, but as we expand into new markets, we wanted to be sure that our messaging was relevant to all of the markets in which we play. We also felt it was time for a change. As a company, we are going through a lot of changes and experiencing record growth. Since we’ve invested millions of dollars into new technology and equipment, it made sense for us to give our brand an update as well.”

Although Inland was founded in 1903, it did not take off until John Glendenning, a print broker from Detroit, MI, invested in the company with two other partners and moved his family to La Crosse. Glendenning became the sole owner in 1952 when he bought out his partners. His son Jack joined the company in 1960 and began to transform Inland from a commercial printer to a label and packaging specialist. The company moved to its current location in 1971.

Inland’s facility in La Crosse, WI, USA
Inland has more than doubled its sales each decade in business. Today, Jack’s son, Mark Glendenning, is operating Inland. “We’ve built a successful and stable family-owned business by investing back into our company, bringing in state-of-the-art equipment, continuously finding ways to improve our processes, and hiring great people who work hard and strive to grow and develop,” says Kuehlmann. “We continue to have aggressive growth goals for the future.”

Inland provides its customers with solutions for cut and stack, in-mold, pressure sensitive, blow mold and shrink labels, along with some flexible packaging. As a one-stop shop for labels and packaging, the company operates a diverse range of equipment, including offset, gravure, flexographic and digital presses. It is well regarded for its work in the food, beverage and consumer product markets, as well as big beer and craft beer.

The company has made plans for a new Heidelberg press to further its IML business, as well as several finishing options. Inland is also welcoming two new XL-D rotary diecutters. Inland’s R&D team employs a Stage Gate process to launch new products. Technical resources include a fully equipped lab and a full-time chemist on staff.

Inland has recently developed new products for the IML market. Barrier IML is a barrier packaging solution that replaces metal cans and glass containers, while security IML features overt, covert and forensic levels of label security for fighting against counterfeit goods. Inland has also developed a transport IML package that allows consumers to see the product through the packaging. Opti-Clear IML provides a no-label look for plastic containers. Outside of the IML market, the company offers NuLabel, a glue-free, liner-free label with a patented coating that provides the ease of pressure sensitive labeling at the price of cut-and-stack labels. In addition, roll-fed shrink labels allow versatility on many different surfaces, suitable for high volume, low SKU applications.

Due to its continued growth, Inland updated its logo and theme along with the name. “Today’s reality is, we’re a packaging manufacturer,” says Kuelmann. “We felt that one word – Inland – and one phrase – ‘We power great packaging’ – keep the equity of our long standing brand, while clearly explaining what we do now and where we’re going in the future.”

The company’s customers have played a large role in its expansion. “We believe our customers choose us because of four primary characteristics – collaboration, expertise, drive and integrity,” adds Kuehlmann. “Our company’s commitment to customer objectives, paired with our deep expertise and continuous improvement processes, create value that goes beyond our customer’s packaging. In return, we have a drive in pursuing breakthrough solutions that disrupt the status quo and value our core relationships with customers, strategic partners and employees.”

Inland’s Heidelberg Speedmaster press

Inland’s goal is to reduce costs for its customers while adding shelf appeal. It not only offers an in-house R&D team, but an on-site technical support team is designed to help customers progress with Inland’s products and services. “We’re proud of our long standing local presence as a community employer, our printing heritage and our past and current products – including labels,” says Kuehlmann.

The company is also receiving recognition for its efforts. In July 2015, Inland was awarded the annual Diamond Recognition Award from La Crosse Area Development Corporation (LADCO). LADCO bestows the honor, also known as the Manufacturer of the Year award, to a local company that has demonstrated growth, leadership, quality, innovation, expansion and job creation.

“Inland’s vision is growth – for our customers, our team members and our community,” explains Kuehlmann. “We can say for certain that Inland’s future will include both organic and inorganic growth. We are currently pursuing M&A opportunities and feel we are on the verge of some very exciting times as an organization.”  – Greg Hrinya

ELC Etiquettes
Route de la croix Bachaud 87170 Isle, Limoges, France

Who said that digital printing was too expensive and too complicated for a small outfit? Not ELC, a label printer in Isle, a suburb of the town of Limoges, France.

The Limousin region in central France is best known for its porcelain, and has also given its name to those elegant, elongated automobiles that rich people like to ride around in. The region is also home to ELC, a fast-growing label converter who recently took the plunge into digital printing. In fact, ELC is the story of three musketeers in their early forties who, in 2009, pooled their resources with the goal of starting their own business. All three had spent 20 years working for one of France’s bigger label companies, now part of Stratus Packaging Group, and had in mind to set up in business themselves as digital label converters. Their first idea was to start from scratch, but the banks would not play ball – a frequent problem in France ever since the start of the banking crisis. Paradoxically, the same bank that had earlier refused a loan agreed to finance the musketeers’ acquisition of a small company near Limoges, printing letterpress and flexo labels.

The ambition to go digital was put on hold until early 2015, with the commissioning of a Xeikon 3030. “It took us a few years,” says Christophe Seguin, one of three partners and general manager of the company, “But we got there at last and can now offer the market, and primarily our customers, the new services that digital printing allows.” Gilles Bersoult and Didier Leonardo (Leo to his friends), the two other partners who deal with the commercial side, are both proud and apprehensive of this new challenge.

Until recently, the company had just seven people (including the co-owners) and had sales of $1.4 million in 2014. For 2015, ELC is on target to increase this by 25-30% thanks to the arrival of the Xeikon press and the hiring of two extra employees: Sebastian to look after the prepress and Joris as digital press operator. Although things are going well so far, the pressure is on the three partners to keep the finances on an even keel: a small business cannot easily absorb an investment of this magnitude (around $400,000 for the press plus $180,000 for a new iCut diecutting line from SMAG).

But this is where the company’s management was prudent, deciding to take two bites at the cherry. The Xeikon 3030 chosen is the entry-level model: a 13.5" web width, with 5 colors (4 + white) and a speed of 30 fpm. But if all goes well, this model will be upgraded to twice the speed within 12 to 18 months. “We have a learning curve with the press, but also with the market,” says Didier Leonard. “Choosing the slower model reduced the investment. And considering the run lengths we’re doing on the digital press, we don’t need anything faster at present. Hopefully, within a year, we will feel confident enough to upgrade to double the speed to meet the expected demand!”

From left, ELC owners Gilles Bersoult, Christophe Seguin, Didier Léonard
Christophe Evrard of Xeikon France points out that this upgrade option will cost an additional investment of no more than 25%. The press was bought using credit from Xeikon Finance, and the whole thing went through very quickly, according to Christophe Seguin. He says, “We bought the press in March, and it was delivered in April. The installation took a week, followed by two weeks of training, and then we let the wagons roll,” he says. “One week was given over to learning about the machine, and one week to mastering the software: file management, registration, color management and so on. This was essential for us as relative newcomers to Xeikon’s technology, although it’s good for our peace of mind to know we have a year’s guarantee, including free maintenance and support.”

In addition to the Xeikon, ELC has a 10" 4-color Mark Andy Scout that generally runs one or two colors, and a 5-color letterpress Viva 340 from Codimag which – before the arrival of the Xeikon – accounted for 70% of the company’s business. The three partners are confident that they can squeeze out extra business thanks to the Xeikon, in particular by being able to run heat-sensitive filmic labelstock (this was a decisive factor in the choice of Xeikon’s new ICE toner). With the digital press, they can now show their clients “real” proofs before running each order.

“Customers are demanding more and faster reactivity. In the old days we would quote delivery times of three weeks, now it’s 8-10 days if we’re lucky,” says Seguin. “With ever shorter lead times, the digital proof saves time and money.”

With its digital press, ELC now has no problem handling shorter run lengths, and managing its customers’ inventory requirements, but with promotions, special offers and changes in labeling legislation, it does have problems keeping sufficient raw materials at hand while at the same time stopping its working capital from spiraling out of control. Explains Gilles Bersoult, “We want to move forward, and the Xeikon will allow us to move forward. We wanted to go digital for a long time, and now we’re there. We have a real business plan and the entire staff is committed to this development.”

ELC services both local and national customers, in a wide range of end-user sectors, including food, health and beauty and industrial. The new business is coming in, but it’s hard work every inch of the way, according to Bersoult. “We may be in the Limousin, but we’re not driving around in limousines yet,” he says. “So just give us another year or two.”  – John Penhallow

Strouse Corporation
1130 Business Parkway South, Westminster, MD 21157 USA

In a competitive marketplace, Strouse is finding growth with an optimistic and aggressive culture. Operating in a 50,000 square foot facility located in Westminster, MD, USA, the company employs 62 people and focuses on manufacturing pressure sensitive tapes and other self adhesive materials.

Strouse originated in 1986 and made its mark as one of 3M’s original converter partners. As a member of 3M’s Preferred Converter Program, Strouse began providing customized products for specific applications. The company’s philosophy has focused on saving customers time and money by using design and manufacturing techniques intended to get the highest-quality products to market quickly. Its experienced team of engineers and product designers maintains a strong problem solving skillset, with the intention of building products from the ground up. According to Strouse, customers often consult the company in the design stages of a product.

“Any converter can claim to have the right adhesives and say they can cut accurately with tight tolerances,” says Mark Cheatham, director of engineering at Strouse. “Those are the basics. But what really matters is whether they can go deep into an application and understand its use and purpose.”

The company now produces over 1,000 applications for customers in the medical, automotive, electronics, general industrial and government fields. Strouse has partnered with industry-leading suppliers, including Avery Dennison, Mactac and tesa. Strouse also utilizes equipment from Delta ModTech, Dusenbery, Pace, Preco, Allied Gear, Aquaflex, Siat, VanderStahl, Quadrel, Atom, Quick Pouch, Ram Optical, PC Industries and Web Techniques. The company can convert adhesives, PE foams, copper foil tapes or any tape product into usable parts.

From left, Tim Evans and Mark Cheatham of Strouse Corp.
Strouse prides itself on its ability to form successful business relationships with these suppliers. Its relationship with Delta ModTech has been beneficial for both companies. Strouse has six machines from Delta ModTech that were installed between 2000 and 2014, all designed to perform a specific task. The Human Machine Interface in the equipment enables the cross-training of operators and valuable feedback. Jobs are web-fed through the machine, with all parameters specified in the computer. The machines’ sensors constantly monitor web tension, die positions and cut accuracy, as well as alerting the operator to any part of the process that is out of tolerance. “No press or machine can simply be loaded up and use the same program you used the last time you ran the job without making a number of adjustments,” Cheatham explains. “There’s simply not enough consistency in the raw materials. Having the operator be able to look at the HMI, understand the error and make adjustments is key to making a really excellent product.”

“In order to grow and prosper in this niche industry, it is imperative to invest in the most sophisticated technology in order to position the company to compete in the most complex products,” says Shawn Doyle, vice president of sales and marketing, Strouse. “Investing in technology and people in order to focus on innovation and solutions to complex challenges has always been part of the Strouse vision.”

With the help of these companies, Strouse offers precision registered rotary diecutting and inline laser fabricating to 13" width, flexographic process printing, large format digital cutting, high-speed reregistered flat bed and tape printing, as well as narrow roll slitting. In addition, Strouse’s capabilities extend to packaging, pouching, labeling and sealing. Rewind and inspection systems are used for real time metrics and process reporting as well.

Strouse has also achieved ISO 9001 certification, 3M Preferred Converter certificationand 3M Master Masking Converter certification. Strouse is also certified as a Women Business Enterprise.

The company is committed to continuous growth in revenue, capabilities and production. According to Doyle, customers choose Strouse because of its engineering and production capabilities, along with an emphasis on customer service and support. “It’s not just producing parts that meet a drawing or specification,” Doyle adds. “Our customers rely on us to ensure that what we produce addresses elements and features that make their overall business more successful. They need to be able to integrate these parts into their production environment in a way that increases efficiency and accuracy overall. Strouse works with companies to identify and implement solutions that take all of this into account from the very beginning.”

In addition to quality, speed-to-market is a pivotal part of Strouse’s business model. Recognizing the importance of quick prototyping, the company offers a Sample Express Program to provide one of the industry’s quickest turnarounds. The Sample Express Program strives to ship samples in 24 hours.  

“Positioned as the industry innovator, it is our corporate objective to further build the Strouse technical innovation advantage and implement a continuous improvement plan to improve processes, customer satisfaction and employee skills,” says Doyle. “Growth has been a result of the optimistic and aggressive culture of the company and the extensive capabilities in the production of pressure sensitive materials.” – Greg Hrinya

Flesh Co
2118 59th Street, St. Louis, MO 63110 USA

Flesh Co got its start in 1913 in St. Louis, MO, USA, as a distributor for garment tags and documents when R. V. Flesh, the company’s founder, discovered it difficult to buy quality business forms. To solve the problem, he opened a printing operation to better serve his customers, and named the new business The Flesh Company.

In the 1960s, The Flesh Company began specializing in the production of custom continuous forms and checks. In the 1990s, full color print capability was added, along with digital variable imaging, which was the driving force behind the company’s growth into bar code applications such as chain of custody documents, where image quality and accuracy is critical.

The company evolved to have a full production facility producing unit set, continuous, laser cut sheets and forms and, eventually, establishing label production capabilities in 2008 with the addition of a 16" Mark Andy 4150 and a 10" Roto Tec press. Roger Buck, Flesh Co’s director of marketing, explains, “We were producing form and label products prior to that, but that required us to purchase the labels from other sources. We entered the label market for better quality control of our form and label products, and also to have better control over our delivery time frames.”

At left: Phillip Sparks with Flesh Co’s Domino K600i inkjet unit affixed to a Mark Andy press
Flesh Co continues to be a family-owned company. Roy V. Flesh, the founder’s grandson, is the current CEO, and his daughter Jillian Flesh serves as executive vice president, becoming the fourth generation of the Flesh family to continue the legacy. In 2013, celebrating 100 years of continuous operation, The Flesh Company changed its name and rebranded as Flesh Co.

Flesh Co is a trade only manufacturer and works with about 3000 distributors. With 185 employees, corporate headquarters remain in St. Louis, with manufacturing taking place in a 100,000 square foot plant in Parsons, KS, USA. The labels Flesh Co produces are primarily used in warehousing, distribution, packaging and healthcare. “In the packaging arena we produce prime labels. For warehouse and distribution, it’s normally bar coded labels in rolls or possibly integrated labels for pick/pack/ship applications at high volume E-tailer locations,” says Buck.

Serving both short to very long run applications, Flesh Co has a strong presence in the healthcare market, with chain of custody and lab forms requiring one or more bar coded labels either integrated or affixed to the form. “These are used for accurate tracking of patient care,” Buck says. “The healthcare and distribution markets have driven a need for high levels of quality in both bar code imaging and label production, due to the need for accuracy and high speed scanning. We have a very good reputation in our niche of the industry for meeting these specific customer needs.”

Flesh Co has an internal sales group at its plant to assist its distributor customers with orders, product design and development. “We also have a remote sales manager covering the mid-Atlantic area and our EVP of sales and marketing covering the Midwest and other areas,” Buck adds. “Our customers are nationwide, with a majority stretched from the Midwest to the East Coast. Many of our value added products, which combine a form and label into more effective and efficient applications, have no real geographic boundaries. We literally ship coast-to-coast from our central location in Kansas.”

Flesh Co’s two flexo presses have eight colors, and both have inline digital imaging units, in addition to inline lamination and diecutting. After visiting Labelexpo 2014 in Chicago, the company opted to invest in a new Domino K600i inkjet printing system. The unit is installed on the 16" Mark Andy press in order to increase efficiency and production capacity for bar coded labels. “Our trade partner’s demands drove that purchase,” Buck says. “Their customers are implementing shipping and tracking processes that required high quality imaging for variable bar codes and/or human readable numbering. We researched options for inline imaging solutions and came to the conclusion that the Domino, though expensive, was the only real answer to meet those demands.

“In addition to quality, we had to address delivery time,” Buck adds. “This is another area where we’ve seen our customer demands migrate to shorter delivery times in order to meet their end customers’ needs.”

At left: The leadership team for Flesh Co – a fourth generation, family-owned printing company.

Phillip Sparks, Flesh Co’s production coordinator, adds, “When we bought the K600i, we knew our downtime would significantly be decreased. However, the biggest surprise has been on the consumables. We had no idea how much we would save on ink usage by going to the Domino. For example, on one of our larger orders we saved $1,000 just on consumables alone.”

Executive VP Jillian Flesh emphasizes that one of the founding principles that her great grandfather adopted when he started the company was to stay on the cutting edge of technology. “And that was 102 years ago,” she says. “He, my grandfather and my father have done a great job of investing in the company and realizing that to stay stagnant is a company’s death.

“The challenge today with business and technology changing so fast, is to determine which investments are right. The Domino offers us so many different avenues that we haven’t been able to go into before – it was a worthwhile investment,” says Flesh.

Flesh Co’s label business continues to grow, and the company is adding new products, such as IRC’s (instant redeemable coupons). “Some of our growth products are due to customer demand, while others are driven by our goal to supply our customers with new products they can sell to current customers or use to drive new customer acquisition,” Buck says. “We see the label market as a long term investment, and will continue to invest in additional technologies to improve our offering and capabilities. Currently, 40% of our label production is affixed to business documents produced in our forms division. These products are also in a growth mode, so we see a very good future for Flesh Co in label production.  We’re especially interested in growing our variable imaged label area.”

Flesh Co has been involved in Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma processes for many years. “We hold several kaizen events during each year to update and rebuild legacy equipment,” Buck says. “At the same time, we’ve invested several million dollars in new equipment over the past few years to enter new markets and increase efficiencies. This includes maintaining our FSC and FSI certifications. All of this investment has generated more product and market information that must be shared quickly with our distributor partners, resulting in our marketing team moving to new media channels using email, social media, video and other digital communication processes.”

Concludes Buck, “Our success is, and has been, due to a great team of managers and associates who remain focused on the three pillars set down by R. V. Flesh when he founded the company in 1913: Stay on the cutting edge of new technologies; Always provide customers with the best service our industry has to offer; and stand behind every order we produce, thereby providing customers with total peace of mind.”  – Steve Katz

25 Avenue de Saint-Germain des Noyers, 77400 Saint-Thibault-des-Vignes, France

They take refuse collection seriously in the Paris region. Six days a week, households are invited to put out a bin of appropriate color,and both the bins and the refuse trucks carry stickers and posters that are changed regularly, inciting citizens to use their bins, sort their refuse, scoop their dog-poop and pick up all the good habits that Parisians have such difficulty in acquiring. All this needs small quantities of labels, stickers, posters and billboards, and in the suburb of Saint-Thibault-des-Vignes, there is a modest but growing print company eager to provide them.

Adhéprint was mainly in the wide-format business when Yannick Vivier, the present owner, acquired the business six years ago.  When labels were ordered, they were run on Adhéprint’s SMAG semi-rotary screen press, or if the order was too urgent, the business was contracted out. Vivier saw the opportunity to print short run labels in-house, and took himself to Labelexpo to see what the market had to offer.

“Six years ago there was already a wide choice,” Vivier explains. “We’re a small outfit and we count every euro before we spend it, so rightly or wrongly I ruled out the market leaders in the digital label press business. I wanted a digital press that would pay for itself even if it only runs for a few hours per day and provides total reliability. Call me prejudiced if you like, but I reckoned that German technology was the best for me, and I eventually bought from CSAT its ITS600 digital inkjet press; I think I was first in France to do so.”

At this point, we need to digress to recount the unusual tale of CSAT, which some readers may not know. CSAT’s digital inkjet technology was developed in-house more than 10 years ago and designed to offer narrow web converters a robust, medium-priced machine. At that time, Heidelberg was deliberating whether to re-enter the narrow web digital market and if so, how. Putting its in-house research on the back burner, Heidelberg bought CSAT. For Adhéprint this made little difference as CSAT’s French distributor AP Graphics was not immediately affected by the change. However, just two years later, Heidelberg had second, or possibly third, thoughts.
In early 2014 the company sold CSAT on to the Franco-American group Markem-Imaje. After some frank discussions with the existing distributor, Markem-Imaje took over sales and service for the CSAT presses in France. All this to-ing and fro-ing, curiously, didn’t seem to worry Adhéprint. “In the nearly two years since these changes, we’ve had little or no need for technical support or repairs to the CSAT press,” says Yannick Vivier.

Adhéprint stickers withstand the conditions of the Rallye des Gazelles.
The company’s business is expanding slowly but surely. Wide-format still accounts for over half of Adhéprint’s business, but the label side is growing, meeting orders from a range of public utilities and local government offices. A new venture has taken Adhéprint into luxury cosmetics labels.

Although still very satisfied with the CSAT press’ performance, Vivier recognizes that six years is a long time in the digital world, and that the time may come soon to invest in more recent equipment. So how does he feel about today’s market? “I’ve looked around,” he says, “And I reckon all the digital presses in my price range are pretty much the same in print quality and service. Before acquiring Adhéprint, I spent many years working for a printing ink manufacturer, so there’s not much anyone can teach me about inks. Then there’s the inkjet printheads – the CSAT uses Kyocera heads, and though I’m sure the competing manufacturers are good, let’s say I’m prejudiced in favor of the make I know. For diecutting, we use an ICUTT that operates rotary or semi-rotary. It’s a ‘classic’ tool, but for us it serves its purpose. Finishing is getting increasingly important, however, and I could be in the market soon for a full digital finishing line. The other key criterion for me is to make labels which are light and weatherproof, since many of them are displayed in the open air.”

Vivier has been taking a critical look at the digital white inks on the market, and also at water-based digital. “There are not so many press manufacturers offering water-based digital, which looks to me to have certain advantages. Once I’m back from Labelexpo in Brussels I’ll have a better idea of what’s on offer.”

Vivier stresses that Adhéprint is a small outfit – just 12 people. Any new equipment he buys must be simple to operate. Asked about the problems encountered with digital label printing, he says: “You often hear it said that digital label converting is a piece of cake – you download the customer’s file, press the button, wait a bit, then deliver the finished roll. It’s not like that, at any rate, not for us. Few files can be run without retouching, and we spend a lot of time correcting and refining. As to colors, don’t let any smart salesman tell you it’s easy to reproduce exact colors – and I’m not specifically talking about CSAT – I think other brands are the same.

“We make it a rule always to get a signed ‘ready for press’ regardless of the urgency of the order. Some customers don’t care about small differences in colors, but with others the color has to be 100% right.”

Yannick Vivier’s moment of glory was when his company sponsored one of the cars in the Rallye des Gazelles. “The stickers on the car had to withstand the blistering heat and sandstorms of the Moroccan Sahara and still come out looking good,” he says. “By and large, they did, which is more than can be said for some of the drivers.”  Was he never tempted to take part in the Rallye himself? “Could be tricky,” he admits, “It’s a women-only event!” – John Penhallow
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