Companies to Watch

By John Penhallow, Steve Katz, and Jack Kenny | October 6, 2008

L&NW pays tribute to a select group of converters who are making noteworthy contributions to the health of the industry.

Artcraft Label has been in business since 1977. The original owner was a salesman for what eventually became CCL. In 1986, John and Edna Robinson acquired the company, which occupied a little shop in Burlington, ON, Canada, a suburb of Toronto. When they bought it, the business was bringing in about $600,000 per year, mostly from one customer.

Robinson's career acquainted him with a variety of printing processes, preparing him for the day when he would run his own company. He got his start in 1949 with a large box company in Canada. "Around the fall of 1960, when I first went on the road for them as a salesman, they were just getting into litho. They had one big litho press, and the rest were letterpress. After that I went with a company that was printing boxboard along with paper labels. So now I was getting a smattering of labels and packaging, and my exposure increased. That got my interest in what labeling was all about for containers and bottles."

He then worked for a folding carton company that manufactured its own polyethylene substrates, and he got exposure to flexo printing on film. His final stop before starting off on his own was with a sheetfed litho company that printed paper labels.

As a sideline, Robinson started his own print brokering business. His plan was to use it "for some insurance down the road," but a company called Nestlé changed all that.

A buyer from Nestlé showed Robinson a pressure sensitive label, saying he needed quite a few of them. Robinson found a local label printer who had the capability to print the required three colors plus varnish. "He had a Mark Andy four-color press. I was used to big litho presses, and had never seen anything like this before. All of a sudden the dark side of the moon began to show its face to me."
Two years later the Robinsons learned that Artcraft Label was for sale, and the rest is history.

Artcraft's first acquisition was a new Webtron 750, and its first big account was a peanut butter company. "I had people come in and say I couldn't run process color in flexo on a Webtron. We detailed the machine, fingerprinted it, and we ran it," Robinson says. "In 1987 we were producing 150 line screen, setting people on their ear wondering how we did it. People were coming up from the United States who couldn't believe what we were doing."

Growth for Artcraft was steady throughout the years. "We didn't have the money or the crew to let the industry know what we were doing," Robinson recalls. "We quietly did our thing. Slowly and nicely, people got to know us. It was all word of mouth."

Today the company occupies 12,000 square feet of space, has annual sales of $3.2 million, and employs 18 people.

"We still have the old Webtron 750," says Robinson. "It runs every day. It has a full schedule week after week. But along the way we knew we had to compete and go wider, and go longer, so we went to a seven color, 13.5" Roto Press, which we later increased to eight color. It's still here and doing a good job."

Two years ago the Artcraft team decided that yet another press was needed. They added a Nilpeter FB-3300, all UV equipped, with cold foil capability. "We are producing stuff on it now that blows you away," Robinson says.

One of the first things that the Robinsons accomplished when they acquired Artcraft was to switch from solvent to water based inks. Several years ago they took another step to avoid the use of chemicals by installing a water wash plate system. "It has done a really good job for us. Subsequently we put in EskoArtwork digital platemaking. We were the first, from what we were told by our suppliers, to have water-washed digital plates. Now we are turning plates around in a very short time."

Artcraft Label's customers are a healthy mix of small and big companies. The company produces a good amount of short run work, but the majority of the customers are large. "We are very big in food," says Robinson. "That was one of the things I have always told our salesmen: When you work in food people always have to eat. Concentrate a lot in that."

Robinson believes that it's important to service the customer who has a need for short run labels. "There is always the place for serving your customers with their smaller quantities," he says. "The little guys become bigger guys somewhere down the road, so we want to have a place in our domain to look after them."


— Jack Kenny




When HP Indigo invited an international group of prospective customers to its European headquarters and research center near Barcelona, they bussed everyone off to visit two of their local success stories. One of them was Germark, a label converter who is among the biggest in Spain. To call Germark a pioneer is no exaggeration: The present owner's father was the very first in the country to start selling, and then making, pressure sensitive labels. Today Germark can boast a total of 11 presses, comprising nearly 100 print stations, and a staff of 125.

The Spanish Miracle has helped: Catalonia, the Spanish region of which Barcelona is the capital, saw Hemingway, Orwell and other authors reporting on the scenes of bitter fighting in the civil war which ended in 1939, only to be followed by 36 years of dismal dictatorship under Franco. When Spain joined the European Union in 1986 it was the poor relative – but not for long. Barcelona and its hinterland soon became one big building site as new industries and towns sprang up in chaotic but prosperous confusion. Germark was in the right place at the right time, and the present CEO and his father had what it takes to succeed.

Iban Cid
Although taking over progressively from his father at the head of a family business, Iban Cid came in as one of the new generation of professional managers. After studying economics he went on to receive an MBA from Barcelona's prestigious IESE Business School before joining the family firm. He spent some years getting hands-on experience in the production, administration and sales departments, then took over as commercial manager, in which position he remained for eight years, getting a thorough knowledge of every aspect of sales and marketing. On his father's retirement 12 years he took over as general manager of the company, and today is managing director.

World's longest label

Germark's 11 presses comprise letterpress, flexo, rotary screen and digital technologies for printing labels in up to 11 colors on the widest variety of substrates. Finishing processes include everything from varnishing, hot and cold foil, perforating, embossing, numbering, plasticizing, scratch-off overprinting, and invisible marking, to the application of scents and holograms – all in a single pass. Germark also has experience in the production of radio frequency identification (RFID) labels which are increasingly requested by Spanish manufacturers.

The company has over the years won many awards in competitions sponsored by TLMI, FINAT and even the Guinness Book of Records (for printing the World's Longest Label – over 300 feet). In September 2007, Germark invested in an ETI labelstock converting line so that it can produce its own pressure sensitive laminates. Many converters are hesitant about this technology, which can produce short-run PS laminates on demand with or without pre-printed facestock. However, Iban Cid is unequivocal. "We have mastered the technology, in particular the siliconizing, which needs to be fine tuned, and are now using the ETI to produce our own specialty complexes, particularly multi-ply substrates."

Germark still has a pioneering outlook on technology, so it will surprise no one to learn that the company launched itself into digital label printing back in 2001, and was the first in Spain to do so.
"Sometimes you can be just a little too enthusiastic," acknowledges Iban Cid. "We were right to take a risk, but the technology was not sufficiently developed; we were just too early. In 2006 we were ready to try again with another supplier. We took delivery of a ws4050 from HP Indigo and this time around we're happy. Our customers are all asking for reduced time to market, just-in-time deliveries and of course shorter and shorter runs, and this is what digital is tailor made to do."

For its finishing line, Germark chose a Digital Galaxie from SMAG with flatbed screen printing and semi-rotary foiling, varnishing and diecutting. Germark now uses the ws4050 plus the Galaxie to offer what it calls Etiqueta Express: This special service offers customers a limited choice of labelstocks, digital printing and standardized dies, and of course super-fast delivery. Says Iban Cid, "We still offer all our standard program, but the 48-hour service has brought us new business and cemented our relations with our more long-standing customers."

The company's original business was not labels but marking equipment (hence the name), and today coding machinery, together with a wide range of label applicators, still account for around one third of its sales. A hangover from the past? No, insists Sr. Cid: "We design and build all the range of applicators ourselves, selling over 100 per year, and it is a highly profitably part of our business, as are the coding machines."

Profitability is a word that crops up frequently when you talk to Iban Cid. "I'm not embarrassed by profit," he says. "We provide good service and good products, and it's profitability that will help us to continue growing, providing jobs, and investing."


— John Penhallow


HF Etiquettes

In common with many medium-sized French pressure-sensitive label converters, HF Etiquettes, founded in 1981, is a family business. Its offices and plant are in Willems, near Lille in Northern France and literally a stone's throw from the Belgian border.

This is a region that grew rich and dirty on its heavy industry – cotton, steel and above all coal, before becoming a rustbelt of abandoned factories and chronic unemployment. Over the past 20 years local initiatives and government money have helped establish new industrial zones for a range of light industries and services, but it is still an area where islands of prosperity are surrounded by sloughs of despond.

First surprise on entering HF's rather ramshackle buildings – this feels like a business that is dynamic and prosperous. By way of making conversation your correspondent asked on arrival, " I suppose your production has just started up again after the August break?" (Traditionally, August is the month when everything closes down in France) "No," came the reply, "The last time we closed in the summer was 15 years ago."

Proud to use letterpress

Second surprise: the company uses only letterpress, a technology that many companies in the label world consider to be old hat. Pierre Fiquoy, president and co-founder of the company, explains: "We started out with letterpress and we have stuck with it; today we have eight presses, some of them very recent, and we feel very comfortable with this technology, despite its limitations. All our presses now have UV drying, and most of our business is in short and medium runs, for which letterpress is ideally suited in our opinion. We can turn out a print quality close to offset, quite good enough for our customers.

Pierre Fiquoy
"A few years back we did look at buying a flexo press, but with flexo you have much higher costs for plates and dies, and at that time many of our competitors were having problems matching colors on flexo presses. All in all we felt it was not the right choice for us then, although of course today with modern UV flexo technology many of these problems have been solved," Fiquoy says.

And digital printing? Pierre Fiquoy does not rule it out, but any investment in a digital label press would be a few years down the road. "On our conventional equipment we can print as few as 1,000 labels and still make a profit, so why go to a technology we don't understand and which would probably mean us having to hire an IT person to maintain it?"

If this approach gives the impression of a rather conservative company strategy, the sales and prepress departments give quite a different image. HF Etiquettes specializes in handling a very large number of small orders, and also offers a full CAD design service for those customers who need it. Film and plate production are fully integrated into the workflow, and a brand new imager was installed two years ago. Full computer-to-plate processing will not be installed just yet.

Global shifts bring local pain

What are the main challenges and opportunities for a company like HF Etiquettes? "Like many other businesses, we are feeling the effects of globalization," says Fiquoy, "even though most of our customers are local. With so many mergers and acquisitions we frequently find that our customers' buying departments are being shifted away to Paris, Lyon or even abroad. That often works against us, particularly when buyers stipulate which printers their customers must use. This seems to be happening a lot in the supermarket sector where major retail chains contract deals with major label and packaging manufacturers and then just tell their suppliers they have to buy there and nowhere else."

Small is still beautiful in some respects, and HF Etiquettes plays this card to its advantage. "We have our own delivery vans and our own drivers," says Fiquoy. "It may not be the cheapest way of getting the goods to the customer, but it's the fastest and most reliable. There's no use printing a great roll of labels if some delivery man drops it carelessly on its edge. The other day we had an urgent delivery of just one roll and none of our vans was available, so I took it over in the trunk of my car. Customers appreciate that kind of service, which you don't get if you're buying from some big converter for whom you are just another reference on a long list of customers."

Despite the fact that the plant is right on the border with Belgium (and the French-speaking part of Belgium at that), 91 percent of HF Etiquettes' business comes from French customers. Neither Fiquoy nor his sister, Jacqueline Heuls, is able to explain this anomaly, except to say that in the past some of their customers from "over the line" were bad payers. The European Union, to which both France and Belgium belong, has swept away all obstacles to cross-border trade, but alas, old prejudices die hard.

Pierre Fiquoy set up the business with Jacqueline, and they ran it together until she retired from the day-to-day running of the firm last year. Fortunately, each of the co-founders has a son who has grown up with the business, and Alexandre and Thomas, both in their 20s, are on hand to ensure that the generational change can go smoothly.

— John Penhallow

KDV Label

KDV Label's beginning couldn't be much more humble, but it speaks volumes as to  how far this company has come. In 1974, label production manager Dick Vaughn, and his wife Karen, a nurse, decided to borrow $1,700 and buy a 4.25" wide, four color Multi Flex press made by Webtron. They installed it in the garage of their home and began making labels. KDV Label was born, a true "Mom and Pop" operation.

Four years later, KDV moved into its first manufacturing facility, and again moved in 1982, this time into a 10,000 square foot space. Today, KDV label is housed in two facilities in Waukesha, WI, USA, with over 85,000 square feet of space combined. That one press, two person, garage-based operation has evolved into a 13 press, multifaceted label company with 110 employees and annual sales of $25 million. Using mostly Aquaflex presses, KDV Label produces mainly prime labels, with pressure sensitive, unsupported film, cut and stack or sheeted products.

The company prints the majority of its labels for its milk and dairy customers that include the likes of Hood, Dean, and NDH. KDV President Shane Vaughn estimates that 70 percent of the company's business comes from food and dairy, with the remainder of the business found in the converting of promotional applications such as scratch-off game pieces and coupons. The 20,000 square foot second facility purchased in 2002 is a secure environment, set up for direct food contact applications as well as its gaming products.

While the dairy market has been dominant, Vaughn says there are no limits to KDV's flexibility. "We'll pretty much print anything for anybody, and we'll create a customized program for our customers," says Vaughn. "When it comes to lead times, we take a look at our customer's needs, and develop a program to meet those needs. We're set up for both long and short runs. It all depends on the needs of our customers."

Apparently KDV's customers are satisfied, as the company acquires most of its business through word of mouth advertising. KDV employs only 3 salespeople. Also employed among the 110 employees are CEO Dick Vaughn (the company's co-founder still has an active role), VP of Operations Keith Seidel, who has been with KDV since 1974, and CFO Andy Hulen.

"We're a fairly lean organization," says Vaughn, referring to the company's organizational structure. There's an ink department that mixes KDV's inks, press operators work in teams with press helpers, and a plate mounting department. One department that Vaughn is particularly proud of is the prepress department. KDV began utilizing the DuPont FAST plate making system in 2003, which Vaughn says took KDV's plates "to a new level."

The prepress department is also responsible for some of the innovative features on the KDV website. The site, www.kdvlabel.com, features a "New Product Gallery" where the company's label applications are showcased in detail in an original, interactive format.

KDV Label has also launched its own line of proprietary printing technology that the company has high hopes for. The company recently developed a special effect it calls Reflections. It is designed as a cost effective replacement for conventional holo-prismatic material. Using conventional holo-prismatic materials, opaque white is almost always used to "block" out a portion of the effect. With KDV reflections you only use the effect where you need it and only pay for what you use, generating savings. Spot or isolated areas can be coated, allowing the customer the ability to customize the effect. KDV offers 18 different Reflections finishes designed to provide eye catching effects to any label. Reflections is also used as a means of enhancing security. KDV showcased Reflections at last month's Labelexpo Americas in Chicago in conjunction with Breit Technologies and Telstar under the name Cast & Cure.

KDV Label continues to grow. Vaughn estimates the company has been growing between 12 and 15 percent a year over the last four years. Interestingly, since its inception, the company has never laid out a specific, concrete game plan for its future. Vaughn says that his father, Dick, would often make important decisions, such as press acquisitions, simply based on a "gut feeling." It seems that initial gut feeling that inspired that first press, purchased with borrowed money, turned out pretty well.

While gut feelings have proven successful, there's another factor at play that simply makes good business sense. The majority of KDV's business is in the milk and dairy markets. In today's uncertain economic climate, KDV doesn't suffer the effects of downtimes in the economy, as there is always a demand for milk and dairy staples.

Perhaps, above all, the success of KDV Label can be attributed to its basic underlying philosophy, summed up by its CEO Dick Vaughn: "Meeting the challenge of delivering a quality product, with a competitive price, on time, has been the goal of our company since its inception. Support from our valued customers, coupled with the determination and hard work on the part of our employees, has led to our continued growth."

— Steve Katz

McCourt Label

McCourt Label, located in Lewis Run, PA, USA, was a company to watch over a hundred years ago, when it was known as the McCourt Label Cabinet Company, which got its start in 1896. Back then, the company was known for producing large wooden druggists cabinets in the back of a grocery store in Bradford, PA. Since then, the company has evolved to become what it is today, a label company specializing in high quality, long-run printed labels, with annual sales totaling $11 million.

McCourt Label's history as a label manufacturer began in the early 1900s, just a few years after the company began making druggists cabinets. It was then when Newton W. McCourt filed for a US patent as a "Druggist Label Holder." The company has been printing labels ever since, and it continues to evolve, particularly with the types of labels being made.

Bradford, McCourt Label's first home, is located in Western Pennsylvania. At one point, the region was a hotbed of oil production. So, naturally, in the first half of the 20th Century, the company was producing many oil-related labels, including those for Gulf and Brad Penn, the oldest continuously operating lube oil refinery in the US. Sure enough, remaining true to its roots, McCourt still has some business in the oil industry. "It's kind of a niche business for us," says Dave Ferguson, one of the McCourt's owners along with Mary Reiley and Jane Luzzi, both of the original McCourt family.

"We produce a lot of oil change reminder labels," Ferguson says, referring to the small labels placed at the corner of a vehicle's windshield that inform the car owner of the date and mileage for the next recommended oil change. In fact, McCourt Label has a national contract with Valvoline, manufacturing the reminder stickers for all of Valvoline's oil change facilities nationwide.

McCourt's biggest market, Ferguson says, is in its laser sheets and direct thermal business. He attributes the company's growth spurt of the 1980s to computerization, which lead to the creation of data processing labels. "What we do in this area is prominent in grocery stores and logistics, such as warehouse operations," he says. "We really saw a lot of growth in the 1980s when PCs came out. It's over half of our business. It used to be thermal transfer, and now it's laser." It was also during this period that the company moved from Bradford to its current 45,000 square foot facility in Lewis Run.

Today, McCourt Label employs 75 people. There are three production shifts five days a week. The company has a total of nine presses: six Webtrons, two Mark Andys, and its most recent addition, a Nilpeter FB3500 with full UV, silk screen and foil stamping capabilities. Ferguson says the Nilpeter press is ideal for its prime and health and beauty label customers, such as Mary Kay cosmetics.

"We're now trying to get more into the printing side of the business," Ferguson says, adding that the company is really putting an emphasis on producing the highest quality products. "If we had a niche market today, it's anywhere where quality is 'mission critical' to our customers," he says.

Sharon Zampogna, VP of sales, talks about the wide variety of products McCourt is producing for its customers as it focuses more and more on printing. "We used to produce a lot of blank thermal transfer products, but now we're really emphasizing printing. We've had a lot of success with some niche applications. Direct mail has been a huge growth market for us. We've also been printing a lot of membership cards, mailing inserts and piggyback labels," she says.

The company has been promoting its green initiatives as well, having recently achieved ISO 14001 environmental certification. According to Bert Clark, McCourt's environmental management representative and operations manager, "All McCourt employees did a great job during the environmental audit. They performed flawlessly – no major findings, no minor findings, and no improvement opportunities. McCourt Label is leading the way, having become one of the first label manufacturing companies in the United States to achieve the ISO 14001 accreditation."

In addition to its environmental management department, there's also an art and prepress department that uses DuPont's analog plate making system, headed by Art Director Patty Taylor. McCourt goes outside the company when the need for digital plates arises.

Having been in business for over 100 years, the company's sales database is huge, more than compensating for a small advertising budget. Customers actually serve as brokers. Sales representatives give presentations to customers, who will go on joint calls along with the distributors to visit end users.

Ferguson says that when it comes to forecasting the company's future, he sees an emphasis on quality. "We're looking at higher quality markets emphasizing label constructions. We're better at longer runs where the need for quality is very high. Higher value adds are more profitable for us versus low end commodity type labeling," he says.

In order to succeed in this industry, Ferguson says, "You have to find your niches."  

— Steve Katz



Nuceria Adesivi




Two thousand years ago Mount Vesuvius exploded, burying the surrounding town and villages in immense layers of ash and mud. Today the expressway from Naples to Salerno skirts round dormant Vesuvius through a landscape of small towns and rolling farmland. Tourist buses press on to Amalfi and Ravello; few of them take the exit to Nocera, an industrial town little known outside Southern Italy. But Nocera is home to one of Italy's biggest self-adhesive label converters, Nuceria Adesivi.

Like most of Italy's medium-sized businesses, Nuceria Adesivi is family-owned and managed. Company President Antonio Iannone created the business in 1980, and is now actively assisted in management by his son and daughter.  Geography would appear to be loading the dice against any company trying to "go European" from a base south of Naples, at the end of the long Italian peninsula. Not so, says Iannone: "Remember, we have an excellent network of fast motorways linking us to the industrial regions of northern Italy, and beyond into France and Germany. We can offer next day delivery to customers in Milan or Turin, just a little longer for deliveries into neighboring countries."

How does Nuceria survive in the cutthroat world of the Italian label scene? "Flexibility is the key," says Iannone "We have a lot of big international consumer goods manufacturers among our customers. They won't buy their labels from the very small converters with just a couple of presses, because they fear that the quality and delivery may be inconsistent. The big multi-national label converters are as good as we are in quality, but they can't match us for speed of reaction. With just 82 employees at our three plants we can keep our overheads low and that's another secret of our profitability despite rising raw materials prices and intense price pressure from competition."

Presses and people

Nuceria has a total of 20 presses, including a formidable array of Gallus letterpress machines, some with combined technologies including rotary screen. Offset accounts for over half of Nuceria's total output, and three Nilpeters and one Codimag – all with eight to 10 color stations – are the company's faithful offset workhorses. One of these is a combination press, recently upgraded, which now runs offset, flexo and screen with cold stamping and plastification. Unusual for a European label converter is that flexo accounts for only a small part (some 15 percent) of the company's production, and for this technology the company uses two GIDUE Combat presses, both with UV drying and rotary screen capability.

But it's not mainly about machinery. "It is a cliché to say that our employees are our biggest asset," says Sr Iannone "But for Nuceria it's true. We grew up in this region, as did most of our staff, and we make a point of training, motivating and promoting internally with the aim of letting each one achieve his or her maximum potential."

Antonio Iannone and his daughter, Paola
What hopes and fears does Iannone have for his company's future? "Fears I don't have," he says, "but there are things we and other label converters need to watch carefully. One of them is the risk that more of our big customers will relocate their production to lower-cost countries in Eastern Europe or elsewhere. Another question, particularly for us, is the size of our operations. Today we are one of the biggest label converters in Italy, and we are already exporting 40 percent of our production, but we remain essentially an Italian rather than a European player. We are seeing the growth of pan-European and even global competitors, so Nuceria must, over the coming years, grow by creating or acquiring production facilities outside Italy, most probably in Northern Europe. But we must achieve this without losing our flexibility. Above all, we must avoid letting our overheads grow faster than our sales."

Nuceria is already well established as an exporter to the countries of North Africa (Tunis is a mere 600 miles by sea from Naples), but the company reckons that these markets have only limited potential when compared with Western Europe.

Europe-wide expansion could cause Nuceria to diversify its product range. At present the company's strength lies in labels for body care and household products, which account for 60 percent of total production.

However, specialty label products are being developed more and more, including security and multi-page labeling, wipes, and re-closables. Nuceria plans to continue to invest in new skills and equipment in order to break into new and high value-added end-user sectors, including sleeve labels and RFID.

What price quality?

"We have IS0 9000 certification, and are continually striving to improve and individualize the quality of our goods and services," says Iannone. "But paradoxically, quality is less important than in the past, because today all the leading players in the label scene work to pretty much the same high standard of quality. So top quality no longer commands a premium price. What counts more and more is service – if the customer wants an even faster service we have to provide it – and frequently at the same price! Faster setup is the key, along with even closer customer contact."  Nuceria has looked at the possibility of investing in digital presses, but has decided that the time is not yet ripe to embark on this new technology.

The environment is a different matter. The company has ISO 14000 certification, and Iannone takes his company's responsibilities seriously. "We are responsible to the community in which we live and work, and to the world community as well. We must maintain in good order the environment and natural resources we are privileged to use."

There is one concern for the future that Iannone does not have: succession. "With my son and daughter already active in our management," he says, "the generation change when it comes should be smooth and efficient."

— John Penhallow

Steinhauser Printing

Steinhauser Printing is 103 years old. Since 1905 the company has produced top quality sheetfed offset products – including quite a few labels – from its plant in the Cincinnati, OH, USA, region. A few years ago, when the company was 99 years old, a major customer made a change to its product packaging, and Steinhauser found itself facing a change that its owners suspected would become reality sooner or later: Go flexo.

Steinhauser Printing has annual sales of $7 million. Today, 60 percent of that revenue comes from flexographic printing.

"Getting into the flexo market solidified us in the label game," says Trevor Steinhauser, vice president. "Flexo can offer more capabilities than sheet fed printing can. We still print a portion of our labels sheet-fed."

Trevor Steinhauser and Tara Steinhauser Halpin
with a portrait of their father, Robert Steinhauser
Trevor and his sister, Tara Steinhauser Halpin, who is president of the company, are fourth generation owners. The business was founded by Albert Steinhauser in Cincinnati. In the early days a big part of the business was devoted to printing government bonds. One of Albert's sons was to be the successor, but was killed in the line of duty during World War II. His other son, Wilbur, got involved and took over.

"At one point the company was probably going to go out of business, but then Hank Williams died," Trevor says. "My grandfather didn't even know who he was, but a friend of his had an idea for a hillbilly book about the country singer. We produced it and it was a raving success, with print runs in the tens of thousands. That got the company into commercial printing, mostly of smaller publications, and away from government printing. It was a second wind."

In 1983, Wilbur's son Robert bought his father out. "We had a printing division producing general commercial work, but we also had customer for whom we printed soap and lotion labels," Trevor says. In 1995 Steinhauser entered the in-mold label field, printing labels for lotions and other products on HDPE. "That got us into packaging," says Trevor. "We printed the labels offset until we got into flexo."

In 2005, when the foray into flexo had begun, Robert Steinhauser named his daughter president of the company. A week later he was diagnosed with brain cancer, and died not long afterward. The siblings found themselves at the helm of a company in transition.

"We had worked there during summers when we were young," Trevor recalls. Tara's been with the business for 12 years, and I've been here for seven. We have been involved with every facet of the company, such as estimating, customer service, and marketing. We've had a taste of everything." Tara's focus today is on operations and administration. Trevor handles sales and new business development.

The change to flexo happened this way: "For years we printed soap packages, then paper and laminated labels, and then sheet-fed in-mold labels. In 2004, a long-time customer – one that we have had for 60 years – changed its graphics and litho could not produce what they wanted. That's when we moved into flexo. We had been conducting R&D on flexographic presses for several years, because we knew that we would eventually have to make the switch," Trevor says.

The team at Steinhauser looked at many press brands and models. Their choice was a Comco ProGlide, a 10-color UV press for production of pressure sensitive film labels.

"It was a very successful transition," notes Trevor. "The people at Comco said that it's easier to make the transition with offset operators as long as they are willing to make changes and move to a new process. It can be unsuccessful if the operators are not willing to change because it's a completely different machine, and if they have preconceived notions about flexo. They will be extremely successful if they take the high end printing mindset into flexo. We have the guys to do that. We have been printing some amazing graphics, and a lot of people have said they have never seen that type of quality in flexo."

In July of this year the company took delivery of its second Comco press, an eight-color, 16" ProGlide with UV and water base print capability. "These presses have so many capabilities," Trevor adds. "They are amazing."

Steinhauser Printing has 30 employees, about 10 of them working on flexo projects. On the offset side, the company has Komori and Heidelberg presses. Flexo plates are jobbed out, but Trevor says that prepress improvements for flexo are in the company's three-year plan.

Does Steinhauser see digital printing in its future? "Absolutely," Trevor declares. "We are currently researching several digital presses for future investments, as the technology would be a perfect complement to our business."



— Jack Kenny

Western Shield Label

Western Shield Label, located in Rancho Dominguez, CA, USA, is a company well worth watching. Since a change in ownership in 2001, the company's annual sales figures have jumped from $3.25 million to $6.5 million. These figures point to a label company that is clearly making good business decisions.

The origins of Western Shield date to 1970, when a disgruntled label broker decided to buy a press and go into business for himself. During its earlier years, food labels were the primary market for Western Shield's business, along with some labels for various commodities and textiles. In 2001, the investment group Alpine Holdings purchased the company. It was also around this time that Frank Connelly was appointed Western Shield's president, and the company entered a period of terrific growth, which endures today.

Western Shield, in its 17,000 square foot plant, employs 27 people and works two shifts. While maintaining a strong foothold in the food market, the company has found recent success in the health and beauty, beverage and nutraceuticals sectors. "We've branched out by getting into some higher value adds," Connelly says. "We're running a lot more film," Connelly says. We've branched out by getting into some higher value added products, like expanded content labels and some unique coupon constructions."

The company has two Mark Andy presses – an eight color 2200 and a 10 color LP3000 with a screen unit. Two rotary presses, a six and a seven color, round out the arsenal. Post press, the company has five rewinders – three Arpecos and two Mark Andy VSRs. Connelly points to the acquisition of a DuPont Cyrel FAST plate making system two years ago as a beneficial investment. "This system gives us exceptional plate quality with great speed and reliability. In addition, it has allowed us to eliminate approximately $60,000 in chemistry from our process on an annual basis," he says.

While the company has found success in certain niche markets, Western Shield isn't content to rest on its laurels. "We want to diversify into some other markets. We'd like to do more with beverage and security items in particular," Connelly says. "We're also getting into some interesting small format packaging applications. One timely product we're handling is a single-use pouch for a fuel additive which improves fuel economy."

Speaking of the economy, Connelly discusses the topic and its effect on Western Shield's business. "Maybe we've seen a slowdown in higher end health and beauty products. But food is a really nice market. It doesn't slow down. People need to eat. It's a safe place to be, as long as we take care of our customers."

Western Shield has had success in keeping accounts as well targeting new ones. Connelly says new business has been added by working with brokers and other printers, but credits the marketing arm of the company for a great increase in leads due to search engine optimization.

So Western Shield continues to grow. Connelly says the company plans on adding to its sales force, a sure sign of a healthy business.

Connelly's outlook for the future of the labeling industry includes a good dose of healthy optimism: "I see it as a real healthy industry. Some of the themes I think are going to be digital printing's feasibility, consolidation, and perhaps more corporate ownership."

It's no surprise that Western Shield has been approached, and its interest gauged in being acquired. But Connelly says Western Shield's thinking is the other way, looking to be the buyer. "We are actively looking for the right acquisition opportunity, an our ambition is to acquire something in the next six to 12 months," Connelly says.

— Steve Katz