The tag business in North America might be flat, but that doesn't mean it isn't healthy. Being a major player in the tag market means steady income and profit, and the joy of producing hundreds of millions of tags a year. Allen-Bailey Tag & Label Inc., of Caledonia, NY, has been a force in the tag arena since early in the last century, and the company produces hundreds of millions of tags a year. Joyfully.
It helps to have name recognition that dates back 91 years. It helps to have members of the same family knocking on customers' doors for 76 of those years. It also helps to be very good at what you do. Allen-Bailey possesses all of those advantages, and has enjoyed steady growth over the years, even through difficult times.
Allen-Bailey Tag & Label's headquarters is nestled on a side street in a quiet town 20 miles southwest of Rochester. It was in 1913, two years after the founding of the business by Sam Allen and James Bailey, that the town of Caledonia offered the partners a tax incentive to relocate there. The original building still stands, and serves as the main office. Business growth has meant physical growth, and over the years structures were added. Most recent is a large building that houses the label converting operation.
The original name was Allen-Bailey Tag Co., because neither pressure sensitive labels nor flexography were around back in 1911. The founding partners made wooden tags, used in the plant nursery business. They did not succeed, however, and by 1926 a regional bank owned all of the company stock. On the scene that year came Elmer Floback, a machinery man, and George Phelps, the company's first salesman. Not long after they took over the company, Phelps bought out Floback. The company remains in the Phelps family today.
"By the 1920s, the company was making paper tags with reinforced holes," says the company president, also named George Phelps, and grandson of George I. "But there were no automatic wiring and stringing machines. Back in those days, people in town took the tags home and attached strings or wires in the evenings to make some extra money. They were collected in the mornings."
Richard Phelps, son of the founder, joined the business and became a salesman in New York City. When the founder went into semi-retirement in the 1960s, Richard took over the operation. In 1969 he had a heart attack and had to scale back his role in the business.
George Phelps II, who had grown up in regions around New York City, had worked for a couple of years in the Caledonia plant and knew his way around the machinery. When his father fell ill, young George assumed the primary sales role in that region. When his father died in 1989, George moved to Caledonia.
The company is now owned by four third-generation siblings and one spouse: George Phelps is president and CEO; brother Richard Phelps is director of marketing and distributor sales; sister Jennifer Warne is director of customer service, and sister Laurie Beardsley also is in customer service. Laurie's husband, David Beardsley, is director of operations at the company.
Though he returned to Caledonia in 1989, George didn't head the company at that time, instead serving as vice president of sales. A former Kodak executive served the next four years as president.
In 1993, when Avery Corporation merged with Dennison Manufacturing, Allen-Bailey acquired Dennison's industrial tag division, and Hugo Marchi of Dennison became president. Marchi stayed until his retirement in January 2001. "He had a good perspective on our business," George says. "He made us much more professional than we had been."
Also in 1993, the company expanded its operations by establishing a production plant in Whitinsville, MA. The year 1998 saw the erection of the new building in Caledonia for production of pressure sensitive and thermal labels.
"Most of what we do is industrial tags and labels," says Richard. "The consumer doesn't see most of those products." Among the many markets served by Allen-Bailey are agriculture, automotive, chemicals, hospitality, industrial, lumber, packaging, and retail.
The company today, including the label division, has annual sales between $10 and $15 million, and employs 105 people. The production staff works two shifts. Richard Phelps oversees the work of up to 500 distributors around the country, about 300 of which are active regulars.
The equipment used to produce tags at Allen-Bailey, and at tag manufacturing plants elsewhere, is unusual in that the various machines were custom designed and built many years ago, and are no longer being made. Many of the machines, made in the good old days of cast iron and other extremely durable parts, have been modified over the decades, and still work as they should, day and night.
Allen-Bailey's tag production capabilities include simple blank tags with strings and wires, printed tags in one or more colors, tags with patches (to reinforce the string or wire holes) and/or grommets, perforated tags, and manifold tags, which can feature several layers of paper separated by carbons for multiple copies.
The company makes use of standard tag stocks for the bulk of its products, but also takes advantages of the properties of specialized substrates, such as DuPont's Tyvek and Valéron. Allen-Bailey has also produced tags from another DuPont product, Nomex, which can resist heat up to 400° F.
The label side of the business, which accounts for approximately 45 percent of the company's revenue, gets its work accomplished by three 10" Mark Andy presses and one 16.5" Aquaflex. The company began making labels as early as the 1960s, back when flexography was a less refined printing process.
"The label department started as an adjunct to tags," says George. "It has become its own business here." Phelps credits Label Foreman Steve Brandt with bringing solid organizational skills and knowledge to the production department.
Most of the pressure sensitive substrates used at Allen-Bailey come from Avery Dennison. Anilox rolls are from Harper, and inks are from Environmental Inks & Coatings. The company has its own prepress department, and processes its own photopolymer plates.
Tags might not be around forever. New companies that want to use tags aren't showing up on the scope any more. The people at Allen-Bailey aren't too concerned, however. The label side is strong, and when the last tag rolls off the press some day, the tireless machines can easily be put to another purpose. "We have equipment that we can adapt," says George Phelps.
"Expansion in tags is in taking market share," he adds. "If we can stay the low cost producer, then we will stay the leader."