Narrow Web Profile: Specialty Tape & Label Inc.

By Jack Kenny | July 20, 2005

Complex products from a Chicago-area converter that is looking toward the digital future.

The name says it all. Specialty Tape & Label has made its mark in the narrow web converting industry by taking on projects that call for unusual or complex configurations. Since its founding in the early 1980s, the company has grown to occupy a niche that has set it apart from others.

A family owned and operated business, Specialty Tape & Label is located in Lyons, IL, a suburb of Chicago. In a modest plant that has now grown too small (expansion is about to begin), the Paveza clan produces a variety of converted products for several different industries. Over the past two decades the company has evolved from letterpress to flexo, and now is beginning a new phase with the recent acquisition of an Indigo digital press.

"We've been told that we are the best kept secret in the Midwest," says Al Paveza, who heads the business. In 2003, he says, the company enjoyed a record year. Among the products the company is known for are those that feature integrated webs and cards. "We are well known for that," Paveza adds.

Specialty Tape & Label was launched in 1983 by Herman Reutter, who retired last year, and a partner. Reutter bought out the partner in 1985 and wanted to concentrate on printed products for hospitals, a business that Paveza says did not materialize at once." [Specialty Tape & Label is owned by a company called Hospital Health Care Systems (HHCS), of which Paveza is president; he is listed as vice president of Specialty, but runs both companies. HHCS, he says, is still active for sales of products to hospitals and pharmaceutical concerns.

Shane Krug, Specialty Tape & Label's top press operator, at the Aquaflex

"Herman was a friend of my father's," he recalls. "At the time I was a plant manager for a major company in the area, and he asked me to join him. So I invested in the company and found myself getting more involved. In March 1987 I bought a majority interest.

"I didn't know the label business," he says. "At first it was tough for me to grasp, because my history was as a plant manager for equipment manufacturers. And sales was a challenge as well. That was the motivation for me to turn Specialty Tape & Label into focusing on specialty jobs, instead of high volume sales."

The company had two years of flat business in the late 1980s, "but after that our worst year was one of 10 percent growth," Paveza says. One of the keys to the company's success, he notes, is customer diversity. "Because we work on customized products, nobody is more than 20 percent of our business at any time. "At most, it's 10 to 15 percent."

From letterpress to flexo
One of the company's original New Era letterpress machines.
In the early days, the company printed on New Era letterpress machines, which still occupy a room at the plant. Around 1993, Specialty Tape & Label acquired an Aquaflex flexographic press, a one-of-a-kind machine. "It was a custom design," Paveza says. "We worked on it with their engineers, so that it could handle multiple webs." In addition to the two New Era presses, which still are used, Specialty Tape & Label prints on customized 14" Aquaflex presses, one seven-color and one six-color; and two Webtron 750s, one eight-color and the other five-color. One of the Aquaflex machines is outfitted with die stations in the middle and at the end of the press, and up to four webs can be integrated.

"We push our presses to the limit," says Ken Paveza.

"We never went out to mass-market what we could produce," says Al Paveza. "When we did start marketing ourselves, more through word of mouth than anything else, we began attracting the attention of other label companies in the Chicago area. Some of those companies have become my best customers over the years. We handle the jobs that they can't do."

Specialty Tape & Label has no direct sales people. "Our best customers, so to speak, are the sales people from other companies who went out on their own, and now are independent brokers." The company also attracts business from its membership in direct marketing and forms associations.

Intricate combinations

Specialty Tape & Label's new Indigo digital press will be augmented by a Rotacom finishing unit.
EDP pinfeed labels were big in the beginning of the company's history, but these gave way to newer technologies. "Then direct thermal came along, then thermal transfer," says Paveza. "Now we're going in the direction of laser." The company's integrated label/form combinations involve several printing and converting steps, including the use of papers, films, specialty adhesives, and card stocks. "We do produce prime labels," he adds, "but we're not known for it."

Much of the production of combination products — for example, a printed piece that contains a diecut membership card — requires the use of variable information printing. Specialty Tape & Label has used several types of equipment for this purpose, but recently has taken delivery of a Domino inkjet unit, installed on one of its Aquaflex presses, which can print via UV inkjet at the speed of the flexo press. Paveza's company has acquired two print heads, which can be stitched together to print on a broader span of the web. "The width depends on the resolution," he says. "We can print at about 2.25 inches at low resolution. And we can change colors. The inks are proprietary, and we can mix PMS colors."

The digital advantage

Like many label printers today, Al Paveza and his sons, Ken and Rick, kept their eye on the digital print market. Unlike many, they made the decision to invest in an Indigo ws2000 digital offset press, which was delivered late last year and occupies its own room at the plant.

"We see the future as digital," says Paveza. "But nobody knows how long it will take to fully arrive. So we decided to act now and get involved.

The view from the end of a customized Aquaflex press
"What I have seen so far from this press is high quality — very, very high quality," Al Paveza says. "The operation and maintenance of that machine will be our biggest challenge. It's a complicated machine, and we have to have the right type of person to run it, a computer person who is very meticulous. You could operate that press wearing a suit — it's friendly, but also complex."

The Indigo press does not come with finishing equipment, so Specialty Tape & Label has chosen a diecutting and finishing unit from Rotacom, of Canada. "And we will have the ability to coat our own papers, if we need to," Paveza says.

The next generation is well in place at Specialty Tape & Label. Two Paveza sons are active in the company today, and have been for the past eight years. Ken Paveza is the sales manager, and Rick Paveza is the plant manager.

The company today employs 19 people and runs two shifts. Sales, says Al Paveza, are "well over $3 million."

Specialty Tape & Label Inc.
7830 West 47th Street
Lyons IL 60534 USA
Phone: 708-863-3800
email: hhsistl@aol.com
Web: www.specialtytapeandlabel.com