Narrow Web Profile: Lauterbach Group

By Jack Kenny | July 20, 2005

A Wisconsin converter focuses on its people, and invites suppliers on a grand tour.

How many label converting companies invite all of their major suppliers to spend a day with top managers, exploring the plant, discussing operations, sales, growth, products, and plans for the future? Not many. One company that does is the Lauterbach Group, a flexo printer in Waukesha, WI, USA. In January the people from Lauterbach collected about 45 people representing 32 of its vendors, rented a ballroom at a local hotel and produced its second annual Supplier Summit. Guests were from companies big and small in the label business, as well as other providers such as UPS and FedEx. L&NW was also invited to attend this unusual industry event.

Visitors were treated to presentations by company executives on the overall state of the Lauterbach Group, on operations, product development and product standardization. After lunch the suppliers divided into break-out sessions to focus on new products and industry trends, product standardization, and to give their thoughts on what it's like to do business with Lauterbach. The afternoon concluded with a visit to the plant, followed by dinner for all.

In short, it was an opportunity for suppliers to get an intimate look at how one customer conducts its business and where it is heading. For Lauterbach it was an opportunity to improve relations with its vendors and to learn — first-hand and in plain English — what they're doing right and what they're doing otherwise.

Located in an area of southeastern Wisconsin that boasts its fair share of successful label printers, Lauterbach Group was known for years as Mail Advertising Supply. Now it bears the name of the family that owns and runs it, and last year registered sales revenue of about $10 million, a jump of about 37 percent.

Lauterbach Group is a company that decided a couple of years ago to turn its product mix around 180 degrees. For a dozen years, under the leadership of the late Bill Lauterbach, the company had been successful in stock products, sales to distributors, strong in converting and less so in printing. The focus today is on new products, complex printing and converting, and 21st Century technology.

Shane, Heath and Brent Lauterbach are leaders in the business, and though Shane is president none of the managers focuses on titles and hierarchy. The word "Group" is in the company name for a reason, and Shane explained it to the summit attendees this way:

"Our people — The Group — our most important asset, are special in their uniqueness, and share the following values: They commit to success, cherish accountability, are passionate about daily improvement, provide total service, treat everyone with respect, are honest and fair, act in The Group's best interest, maintain a safe and healthy work environment," and more.

Rebecca Kerschinske, VP sales & marketing,
solicits opinions about doing business with
Lauterbach during one of the break-out sessions.

"The Group," he added, "strives to understand and be responsive to our customers' opportunities and needs. We master the specific rather than the general. We market products and services which allow our customers to be successful. We believe in earning our customers' respect and goodwill. The Group never accepts the status quo.

"The Group brings innovation to our customers' businesses through open discussion and feedback on product, service and quality indicatives. The Group is a company of people dedicated to being a company of choice."

Lauterbach today makes labels in a variety of categories, including direct response, food and beverage, health and beauty, retail and security, industrial, and medical packaging. The company, Shane said, has undergone a major shift in volume from stock to custom products, has reorganized the shop into cells that focus on specific product types, has invested nearly $2 million in new equipment and processes, and has reorganized inside sales and production control into service teams.

The Group's "big hairy audacious goal," in his words, is to achieve an annual growth rate of 25 percent.

Machines and products
The company employs about 50 people who work multiple shifts day and night. The plant is about 50,000 square feet in area.

Out on the shop floor stand several Mark Andy presses ranging in widths from 13" to 20". Each is devoted to the work of a cell, such as cut sheet, fanfolded, direct response, or prime and new product. Two are outfitted with new KTI turret rewinders.

Toward the back of the plant is the newest press, described by Mark Andy's Chip Costello as one of the most complex presses that the company has ever manufactured. It's a 10-color 13" press with UV capability and a multitude of other features.

In the past year the company has rebuilt two of its presses and added print capacity to a third. It has acquired equipment to manufacture temporary cards and has beefed up its prepress department with color measuring technology. According to Dave Warczytowa, VP of product development, Lauterbach Group can produce custom booklets, promotional labels, coupons, direct food contact inserts, destructible labels, time sensitive labels, and blister cards, among many other products.

"We're working on the creation of our own adhesive so that we can create our own coupon base," he added.

Product standardization is a major topic at Lauterbach. During his presentation to summit attendees, Heath said that the Group has established estimating and order entry standards, production standards and quality standards. In production, for example, each product line has specific setup times and material footage for setup, and established run rates and waste percentages. Each job is reviewed and compared against the standard to see where improvements can be made. Each job also receives a quality review before, during and after each production run.

Another step in the standardization process is the offering of a specific range of readily available label stocks in most of the various label groups. These published standards, Heath explained, allow for faster turnaround.

Product Development VP Dave Warczytowa explains
some of the features of the newest Mark Andy press.

Asking questions
Beyond the who, what and how of the Group, Lauterbach managers asked their vendors to help them meet challenges and figure out better ways to satisfy everyone in the product chain. What, they asked, are the 20 percent of the products that will support 80 percent of the markets the company has identified? How can suppliers help the company manage inventory levels? How can Lauterbach develop programs with suppliers to test new materials?

They wanted to know how to communicate better with suppliers on such topics as purchase orders, confirmations and quality issues. And a big question: "How do we make doing business with Lauterbach easier?"

Suppliers responded willingly. During the break-out sessions they told company managers that they appreciated the accessibility and openness of group members, their willingness to embrace new ideas, and their ability to listen.

Suggestions for improvement also were voiced: Fix problems with short lead times, polish forecasts, strive for greater technological understanding.

Just about everyone at Lauterbach was involved in planning and executing the supplier summit, including designing the invitations, helping out with registration, participating in the breakout sessions, and facilitating plant tours. "Our goal was that each group member had the opportunity to meet with at least 10 representatives from our supplier partner base," says Kerschinske.

Beyond its capabilities and successes in the label industry, the Lauterbach Group and its people are community minded and willing contributors to the well being of their neighborhood.

That commitment was strongly evident at the summit. The company asked each supplier in attendance to make a contribution of at least $100 to the Women's Center, a nonprofit agency that provides safety and support to women and their families. The Lauterbach Group, Shane told the assembled guests, has supported the center for several years, and a representative of the agency was on hand to thank contributors for their generosity.

Lauterbach Group
1450 S. West Avenue
Waukesha WI 53189 USA