Narrow Web Profile: Century Label

By Jack Kenny | March 27, 2007

A husband and wife have transformed a small Texas label house into a high quality converting company with hard work and brains.

Randy Wise has a great deal of stamina. Some years back he survived a confrontation with a bull on the property of a customer when he was making a sales call. But apparently that was mild compared with his triumph in negotiations with Bob Byers, from whom he acquired Century Label Inc. back in 1999.

"Those were eight months of really tough negotiations," Randy says. "He was a really tough business guy, tough as nails. But he was a solid businessman, and what I got was a fiscally sound company with a stellar reputation. He was ethical, and he had really loyal customers."

Mounting a roll of material on the Nilpeter press
Century Label is located in Red Oak, TX, USA, about 20 miles south of Dallas. It's always been a small company, one of perhaps 60 or so label converters in the greater Dallas region, but in the past half dozen years it has begun to grow.  Since Randy Wise acquired it, revenues have increased an average of 25 percent a year.

Randy and his wife, Geri, are the owners of Century Label. Geri, a career sales executive with M&M Mars, the candy manufacturer, retired two years ago to oversee the sales effort at the label company. Randy, who has spent most of his life in the converting industry, runs the rest of it.

When he was about 20 years old, Randy realized that he had a head for organization and systems. "I took a job driving a delivery truck for Z-Label in Kansas City, Missouri," he says. "I lasted about three weeks; it was supposed to be a full time job, but because I structured it and routed it, I got it down to two and a half hours. I spent a lot of time just hanging out in the shop, so they put me to work doing other things. I quickly moved up, got into the graphics department. I had a mechanical background and was always around the presses, and became assistant production manager in short order. Within a couple of years I was production manager."

Randy spent seven years at Z-Label, now Z-International. While he was working there he enrolled at the University of Kansas City, and got married. Geri, meanwhile, was rising through the ranks in the candy industry, and was offered a job at headquarters in New Jersey. They uprooted and stayed in the Northeast US for the next three years.

Randy was hired by Bob Biava, president of Driscoll Label, in Fairfield, NJ, as production manager. "At Driscoll I needed to learn a lot about high end quality issues. There hadn't been much of a focus on that where I'd come from. I learned a lot more from Bob and his people than they learned from me. Bob was really into empowering, making people accountable, even if they were a department of one. That was new to me. At the other place I was responsible for everybody in every department."

One of several Mark Andy 830 presses at Century Label
In 1990, Geri was promoted again and relocated to Texas. Randy found work at Craftmark Label (now Inovar) in a sales position. "The one thing I didn't have in my background was sales. For several years I had been thinking about running my own company some day. I had several offers in Texas but I held out for a sales job because I knew I didn't know how to do that and I needed to understand what those guys went through. Up until then they were my worst pain. They always wanted things too quickly, and made things too difficult. I needed to understand what they faced, what the challenges were. I was moderately successful at it.

"Sales takes a tremendous talent, great drive and incredible skills. There's a certain mentality that excels at sales, and I don't have it, I just don't. To this day, after having done it, I have a tremendous respect for good sales people. They have my absolute respect."

An entrepreneur is born

After a year and a half at Craftmark he found himself responsible for production again. The company acquired another operation in Dallas, and Randy went there to get that business organized. "My background was always in getting companies straightened out — the systems, the databases, all that, so that we knew what to do and what we had. I worked for five years getting them organized, then we all merged together in Arlington, where Inovar is now, and I left about a year later."

By this time he had taught himself to read financial statements, and had learned as much as he could, on his own and from his mentors, about how to run a business. Now it was time to shop for a company.

Bob Byers and Century Label were not on his initial list of companies that he was shopping. But he liked Byers and liked what he saw at Century, and the rest — after eight months of really tough negotiations — is history.

What he acquired was five Mark Andy 830 presses and a Markem hot stamp press. He had one old Macintosh computer, five people and 5,000 cramped square feet of space. Century had been producing "straightforward labels, line copy, one to three colors," says Randy. "We had to upgrade everything. We had two pressmen and we were lucky if the presses ran half a day. We got all five running like clockwork. We started investing in infrastructure.

Randy and Geri Wise
"One of the first things we did was buy Label Traxx, the job management software. It's a beautiful thing. We bought an Arpeco slitter rewinder, a Kelleigh plate system, and just when we moved into our new building we bought a six-color Nilpeter inline press."

Five years ago Century Label moved into a new 15,000 square foot building on Century Way in Red Oak. The name of the street is coincidental, but the Wises like it, and it looks good on the business card. Today the company employs 15 people.

"We still have the 830 presses, but we're planning to roll them over in a package deal," says Randy. Another serious investment was an Esko Spark plate engraver. "It's worth every penny," says Randy. "It speeds things up, raises our quality level, and lets us have complete control in-house."

During his negotiations with Bob Byers, Randy Wise made a five year plan that projected budgets, time frames, equipment needs, upgrades, everything. "I was green, I didn't know what I was doing, but we worked it out to a tee, and looking back realized it was a perfectly well thought-out plan. Today they are working on a second plan, which includes more equipment acquisitions and moves into new markets.

Sales and networking

Geri Wise says that the Century Label today is focusing on entertainment markets, nutraceuticals, cosmetics, and food. "It's not something that we can do overnight," she says about penetrating new markets. "We're still working on it. We have narrowed the field down to the specific industries we want to target."

She adds, "One of my biggest challenges coming into this industry is finding those good quality hard driven sales people who want to go out there and do the job that needs to be done," Geri says.

Century Label joined TLMI in 2000, a move not many tiny companies undertake. Today Randy is a member of the board of directors.

"I joined for one reason only — to get my hands on the ratio study. TLMI has turned out to be a tremendous organization," he says. "The study is a great tool, and we look forward to it every year. But the networking and the mentoring is fantastic — people are willing to share. It's surprising for competitors; within reason they will tell you whatever you want to know and help you get through all of your problems. Whatever you are facing they are willing to talk about it with you and guide you through it. I am just so impressed with the organization."

The grand plan at Century Label is to "focus more on marketing and targeting. Our vision of ourselves is as a premier supplier of high-end four-color multi-process labels," Randy says. "We are going for the higher end markets to separate ourselves from the crowd.

"The goal always has been to build a great company. We focus on organization and structure. We want to be strong and viable, something that will live beyond what we do. It's all becoming pretty clear now."



Century Label Inc.

421 Century Way
Red Oak TX 75154 USA