For the past 27 years, a label converting company in East Windsor, CT, USA, has quietly been building an empire. From humble beginnings (in a barn — where else?), Specialty Printing has created a name for itself among some of the largest label-buying customers on the North American continent. Perhaps these are familiar: Johnson & Johnson, the United States Postal Service, the US Department of Defense, NASA.
Growth for the company was steady for the first two decades under the leadership of the founder, the late Fran Poirier. In recent years, with son Bill Bailey at the helm along with four of his brothers, business has leaped forward and upward in the double digits each year. "In three years we have doubled in size," Bill says.
Specialty Printing has made a practice of going after big companies with high volume label demands. Clients today are in industries such as supermarket and retail, food service and distribution, poultry and meat processing, medical and pharmaceutical, transportation, mailer and package distribution, as well as government.
Quality is heavily policed in-house, and pricing is competitive. But where Specialty Printing has made an effort to stand apart is in delivery. For customers with long-term commitments, the company anticipates their label needs, warehouses printed inventory, and ships the next day. This practice has become so critical to Specialty Printing's success that this year it leased 25,000 square feet of warehouse space down the street from its printing plant for Just In Time delivery operations. The company has a warehouse and distribution center in Florida as well.
The founding father, who came from a sign and billboard background, built a barn in nearby Ellington, CT, in 1978 to house the first of his Manhasset flexo presses, on which he printed fishing reel labels. Eventually that barn grew from 1,200 square feet to 7,000, and is still part of the business. Fran Poirier's sons all worked in the plant. "Every one of us has operated a press," says Bill Bailey, "and can get out there today and run a job."
In the mid-1980s Specialty Printing made the decision to go after bigger fish. "The Government Printing Office and the postal service were among the first," Bill says. "We got some large contracts because we were efficient with large volumes, truckloads of labels."
Back then the company operated on one shift, but sometimes had to run 24/7 to meet a customer's needs. In 1995 Specialty Printing moved to its present location in East Windsor, and in 1998 added 20,000 square feet to the building, doubling its size. In the same year a second production shift was added, and that was followed by a third shift in 2001. Today the company employs about 100 people.
"It was easier for us to take on large accounts — big corporations and government — because of our efficiencies," Bill says. "By tweaking the presses we could make a dollar on high volumes without high overhead. In the early days, we found that our competitors had a six or seven week lead time, and we could ship tomorrow. So we compete nationally, not regionally."
The recession in the early years of this decade did not slow the growth at Specialty Printing. "The recession helped us," Bill says, "because companies were shopping. They like to look at new vendors, and that's why we grew in the recession." Price, he adds, "has to be competitive, but no longer do I have to be the low guy. I can be the second or third place bidder and get the job, because I have the quality and delivery to offer."
At work on a Mark Andy press
Throughout the industry today, label quality is exceptionally high. At Specialty Printing the quality of its products is put through hoops that are even more challenging than at other converting operations. The company has quality control personnel who are certified ISO auditors. Ed Poirier, one of the owners, holds the title vice president of quality and finance. So rigorous is the company's quality control that it has established its quality assurance programs in customers' operations — including the US Postal Service. The focus on quality has led to vendor certification by Johnson & Johnson, and the Supplier of the Year award from Hannaford, a 140-store supermarket chain that has operated in New England for more than 120 years.
"Our focus on medical and pharmaceutical products, beginning in 1999 and 2000, started the whole quality program that we have since implemented into our other product lines," says Bill. "We grade our products, and there are different quality levels that have to be obtained. We have quality holding areas, in which pallets are opened and checked. If necessary, we can go back to the actual roll of material if a defect is detected. You just can't ship to large retailers and have a product recall.
The newest flexo press - a Nilpeter
Growth in the direction chosen by Specialty Printing required strategic retooling as the company took on ever-larger customers and their inventories. "We stock custom work for anyone who wants next-day shipping," says Ed Poirier. "We make sure it's on the floor and out the door the next day. We monitor the shipments and pinpoint what they need. We are always a month ahead for custom orders."
In the case of one medical company, Specialty Printing manages its inventory the world over. "Every Monday we update their data online," says Ed, "and ship it out. We keep two weeks of stock on hand for them. Based on a job's cost curve we know whether we need to print a year's worth of labels, six months' worth, or one month's worth."
How is this accomplished? Specialty Printing shopped for a system to replace its old Excel-based estimating and scheduling procedures and turned to EFI (Electronics for Imaging) Inc. The printer acquired its PSI and PrintFlow for scheduling of its presses and finishing operations, as well as PrinterSite Fulfillment to offer customers online access to custom and stock labels.
"The PSI system helps us with cost accounting, and lets us know our efficiencies and our waste," says Bill.
"We can zero in on which press is making money, which finishing equipment is doing better," adds Ed. "Employees can earn bonus hours based on the data we now collect."
Specialty Printing's new offsite warehouse has 25,000 square feet of floor space.
In its new warehouse down the block, Specialty Printing had more than 2,000 SKUs in inventory for its customers just a couple of months after leasing the space.
"When we first looked at this space," says Ed Poirier, glancing around the capacious warehouse with its 30-foot ceiling, "we wondered if we'd ever be able to fill it. Now look: It's happening."
"Other label companies are getting away from inventory," says Bill. "It's against what everyone's doing today. But we are getting deeper into it. We don't have peaks and valleys during the day, and that gives us a good steady business platform. We'll run a three or six month supply of a customer's product and put it on the floor. We also can gang-run similar products — mix our efficiencies."
An operation of this type is possible only under certain conditions, Bill notes. "All of our inventoried products are committed with contracts of between two and five years," he says. "That's the only way we can accomplish our jobs and fulfill their needs efficiently. We want blanket commitments based on multiple year contracts. If we come up with cost-saving ideas, we will share the savings with them."
He adds, "We are careful in choosing our customers. They must have good ethics, good financial standards."
The sales operation at Specialty Printing involves about a half-dozen salaried sales people, some external sales reps, and a full internal customer service operation. When it comes to the large corporate customers, "we go in with a team," Bill says.
Mark Andy inline presses dominate the shop floor at Specialty Printing. A few old Manhasset machines are still in use, and the company recently acquired a 12-color Nilpeter flexo press.
Print capabilities focus on flexo, but the company also does screen printing, consecutive numbering, multi-web applications, sheeting, fanfolding, and custom coating with pattern adhesives.
In addition to its custom label production, Specialty Printing has its own line of weigh scale, merchandising and distribution labels for supermarkets and retail operations. The company produces catalogs, such as its "Gourmet Recipe Labels" publication, featuring hundreds of designs.
Another pursuit of efficiency has been paying off for the company over the past three years. All label material waste is trucked to a Trigen plant in upstate New York, where it is transformed into pellets for energy generation. Ash from the process, Bill notes, is used in road paving.
"We pay $20 a ton," he says. "We send a truckload every 48 hours, and it has saved us $100,000 a year."
4 Thompson Road
Easy Windsor, CT