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Technical service firms fills the Webtron gap

July 18, 2005

Over the past year, some narrow web converters have
been concerned about getting service for their old reliable
Webtron presses. The former owner, Didde Corporation,
was suffering financially and looking for a buyer for
the brand; PCMC, which acquired the Webtron brand in
March, has been busy creating a manufacturing operation
and establishing itself as the new brand owner.
Many Webtron turned to such companies as Sarni/Bria
Flexographic, of Monroe, CT, and to AAA Press International,
of Arlington Heights, IL, for service and parts.
“We have assumed the role of sole independent supporter
for all makes, models and vintages of Webtron presses.
Our expertise goes that deep,” says owner Mike Sarni. “We
are highly trained and skilled in all Webtron product lines,”
he notes. The company also represents Nilpeter and Tru-
Color Video.
Sarni was hired by Webtron in 1978 as a service technician,
moved onto global service manager, and spent 10 years
selling presses. He launched his own company in 1997.
Peter Bria also joined Webtron in 1978 as senior service rep,
and joined Sarni as a partner three years ago.
“We have made ourselves very visible,” Sarni says. “We
have developed a reputable name, and offer independent
support at all levels.” The company offers emergency repairs,
preventive maintenance, total press overhauls, operator
training, and maintenance training programs. “Upgrades
and retrofits are our specialty because of our expertise in the
capabilities and the applications that can be configured onto
a web flexo press.” The company has 225 active customers in
the U.S., including such converting operations as The John
Henry Company, MPI, and Label Art.
AAA Press manufactures Webtron parts, and also services
and rebuilds the presses, primarily the 650s and 750s.
“There was a lot of concern that Webtron would fall off the
face of the earth,” says Mark Hahn, director of sales and
marketing. “A lot of Webtrons are on the used press market
today, not because they are bad presses, but because people
were concerned about standardizing their operations with
that brand if it’s not going to be built any more.”
Sarni estimates that around 6,000 Webtron presses are
in operation today, “some going back to the mid-1960s. They
have a high reputation for reliability and durability. It’s like
a Harley Davidson: When it wears out, you take it apart and
put it back together, and it’s like new again.”
Peter Bria died in an automobile crash in Connecticut on
August 24. (Please see Industry People, facing page.) Mike
Sarni says that the response from industry people and
friends was overwhelming. “Pete was a good worker and a
recognized name in the industry. I would just like people to
know that we’re doing OK — we can handle the work load.”
Sarni/Bria can be reached at 800-932-8766. AAA Press
International’s phone number is 800-678-7222.trends, and see a migration from
wide web into narrow web; we
wanted to be prepared for the
long term by staying connected.”
Webtron dropped from the
industry radar screen over the
past year, and its future was
uncertain until PCMC acquired
the brand in March. Webtron had
been owned by Didde Corporation
since the late 1980s and were
manufactured in Florida. Didde
also owned the Aquaflex brand of
presses, which were made in
Canada. In 1999 Webtron and
Aquaflex divisions were merged
under the name Chromas Technologies.
Didde and Chromas suffered
from financial problems, and
in the summer of 2000 Chromas was sold to American Capital
Strategies. The Webtron brand, however, was not part
of the sale, and stayed with the ailing Didde until PCMC
stepped in.
“The troubles Webtron encountered with the break-off of
Chromas and Didde management stained the product,”
Gillis says. “There had been no innovations for some time.”
Yet, he adds, the Webtron and Zigzag products “have a terrific
reputation. They perform for customers day in and day
out. They are good, reliable production hallmarks.”
PCMC has built and sold a couple of Webtron machines
recently. “We are busy at work, committed to building and
stocking various models.” Among these are the Model 750
and the wider converting machines.
According to Colleen Canale, a marketing consultant for
PCMC, the company estimates that between 4,000 and
5,000 Webtron presses are in operation today. “A lot of them
are older even than the Didde era of production,” she says.
“They are so reliable.”
In mid-summer of this year, PCMC began to reach out to
those printers who had purchased Webtrons during the
Didde era. “There was a lot of uncertainty about the acquisition,”
says Andy Gillis, Mark’s
son and the head of Midwest
sales. “Our focus at PCMC has
been on relationships, trust, and
taking a counselor approach to
selling. It’s an uphill battle with
customers who don’t know who
you are, but we are slowly gaining
their confidence, following
through when we say we will.
“We’re trying to earn their business,
going in humbly and asking
for a shot at earning the business.
A lot of people have expressed
happiness to have PCMC behind
the Webtron name.”
The PCMC acquisition of Webtron
has generated some positive
comments. Bruce Bell is president
of Belmark Inc., a large label converter in DePere, WI, and
owner of many Webtron presses: “I am excited that PCMC
has acquired the brand and will produce Webtron presses,”
Bell says. “They have a very strong service organization,
and their engineering skills are known throughout the
world. It’s really a good move, very powerful. They have the
money and the resources and the desire to make it happen.”