TLMI's 75th Anniversary

By Jack Kenny | October 7, 2008

The Tag & Label Manufacturers Institute receives tributes from some of its most active members.

The year was 1933, and the era was that of the Great Depression. Pressure sensitive labels were a thing of the future, and tags dominated a great part of the packaging landscape, such as it was. Businesses were struggling, so to bolster industry the US Government created the National Recovery Administration. The NRA decreed that every industry should have an association – or a code authority – to help its members rise out of the depression.

In June of that year, under the leadership of Frank Baxter, the Tag Manufacturers Institute was formed. Representatives of 19 tag companies were the founding members of the group.

Over the next three decades the group flourished, and alongside the tag business grew another industry, one that eventually would eclipse the founding group. Those were the label converters. In 1962, when flexo tape presses were still recent creations and self-adhesive labels were in their formative years, the TMI expanded to include the label printers and gave itself a new name – TLMI, the Tag & Label Manufacturers Institute. Since then the institute has been the main voice for all pressure sensitive label printers, and tag makers, and industry suppliers, throughout North America. Among its members are the largest and most influential converters on the continent and across the globe, and its members, though a minority among converters, produce a majority of the labels made in North America.

Today the institute is a wellspring of information and education for converters and suppliers alike. TLMI produces conferences and webinars, appoints committees to study industry trends and emerging technologies, and such pertinent topics as the environmental needs of industry and end users. The institute reports to its members on quarterly business trends, and measures performance within its membership through its ratio and labor studies.

For all active members, the association is valued for the networking opportunities it presents at its spring converter meetings and the annual meetings in the fall for suppliers and converters. It is a gathering of competitors and friends who dine and drink and laugh together, sharing their knowledge in an atmosphere of respect.

Label & Narrow Web, privileged to participate in the institute's events for many years, is pleased to wish TLMI a glorious 75th anniversary, a milestone well deserved for an association so dedicated to an industry and its people.

In tribute, we asked some members, both converters and suppliers (and one former member, now retired), to offer their thoughts about what TLMI means to them and to their businesses.

John Hickey, CEO, Smyth Companies, TLMI Chairman

Years ago, the TLMI was possibly thought of as a cost to party with other like minded owners within the label business, but today I can assure you that any money spent to participate in TLMI membership activities is an investment in the longevity and prosperity of your company.

Global pressure has rendered partying to a much smaller role as business has simply become a bit more like "business." As a TLMI board member for several years now, I have witnessed a threefold increase in the amount of valuable activity from when I began. The committee work has been impressive and the amount of time spent by those members in these committees is nothing short of heroic; all to further the cause for our industry.

The benefits you receive from this organization, simply put, can surely increase your profits but can also provide a place in your life for camaraderie with people who share the same challenges. I can assure you that this organization will grow on you like a familiar backyard and you will be hard pressed to ever leave.

Frank Sablone, TLMI President

The cornerstone of any structure serves as its fundamental support system. For TLMI, one of the cornerstones of our association is the board of directors and the nearly 200 member volunteers who serve so diligently on behalf of TLMI. For the past 75 years, TLMI has been directed by the key leaders and pioneers of our industry. Their primary goal has been to provide our membership with a range of programs and services that will help our members grow their own companies, and grow as individuals themselves. What has happened along the way is that close friendships were established and prosperous partnerships formed.

In 1998 I joined the staff of TLMI and learned quickly how dedicated people are to this association. This is exemplified in the fact that our association's officers serve an average of 10 to 12 years, working hard on behalf of the association and the advancement of the North American narrow web industry. I am confident that no other industry association comes close to that kind of time commitment from members who simultaneously run businesses of their own.

In 2000 I observed that TLMI was charting a new course. While at a board of directors retreat that included past presidents, discussions took place about the association's future. Central questions were asked that included topics such as: How do we grow the association yet not become too large and lose the relationships that have been built? How do we truly add value and improve the programming at our meetings? How do we better serve the membership, and what type of additional benefits can we offer? TLMI committees were given a new charge – to improve programming, add value, and create an association brand that will make other industry members want to join.

Since that time, TLMI has been able to maintain the association's dues structure. The Industry Trends Committee was given the task to present programs that are on the cutting edge, while the Technical Committee was asked to raise the bar. As our membership knows, we were able to make all of this happen, and last year we held a technical seminar attended by nearly 400 industry members – a 50 percent increase over the previous conference.

Recently TLMI members have begun receiving the new TLMI Quarterly Index and Trends Report, a true value added publication that provides vital industry benchmarking comparisons and economic data. This publication is free to our members and if individual companies had to pay for this type of extensive market research, it would cost them a great deal more than their annual dues. The feedback about the report from our members has been fantastic.

 The Converter Ratio Study has nearly 100 companies participating, which is nearly 70 percent of the converter membership. We have been informed that no other association has that high a level of participation in this type of benchmarking resource. The board also commissioned a Global Benchmark Study that has provided our members with an understanding of the global market for narrow web converting, offering benchmarked comparisons of converting costs in other global regions.

To say that TLMI has changed for the better would be an understatement. The future is bright for both TLMI and for the industry. The board of directors has pledged to continue to foster change, to improve programming, and to provide our members with a unique and invaluable membership experience. Stay tuned for Project LIFE – Label Initiative For the Environment. This is a program of best practices for environmental responsibility throughout the labeling industry. You will learn more over the next few months.

Happy 75th, TLMI.

Frank Gerace, President, Multi-Color Corporation, TLMI Chairman-Elect

Having no connection to the tag and label industry prior to my joining Multi-Color in 1998, the TLMI created a great venue for me to meet other industry leaders and build industry relationships, many of which have developed into good friendships. Moreover, the TLMI, through numerous programs, is an excellent educational source of technical information, industry and general business trends, financial benchmarking, and mutual problem-solving. As a result of attending both the annual and converter meetings, I always leave each event with new ideas and a fresh perspective on our business.

Certainly, the ongoing consolidation and globalization of the tag and label industry will present new challenges in the form of membership profile and ensuring programming that supports the growth, health, and vitality of the overall general membership. I think if you take a deeper look at recent TLMI meeting programs and initiatives, you will see our leadership proactively addressing this issue, whereby the programming is developed to meet the needs of the general membership and not any particular size company. We need to keep it that way.

Additionally, we will need to determine what role the TLMI will have in the global arena and how we move forward relative to our relationship with other tag and label industry associations across the globe. The TLMI must continue to develop programs and initiatives that our membership can utilize as templates in such areas as safety, sustainability and environmental improvement, strategic planning, and other critical business drivers.

These are very dynamic and turbulent times that require well thought-out strategies, plans, execution, and strong relationships. The TLMI must continue to provide both the forum and leadership that will assist our members to successfully navigate through this challenging and complex environment.

Thomas Dahbura, Vice President, Hub Labels

I remember my first experience with TLMI. I was convinced to attend the event by my friend Ferd Rüesch. He said he would act as my mentor and would introduce me to the folks involved in the group. It was a terribly intimidating meeting. I remember the black tie affair that was held outdoors in this beautiful setting. There I was, surrounded by my peers, incredibly successful founders of companies and pioneers of the industry. On Ferd's introductions I met some fabulous people and discovered that their passions were similar to mine and they weren't that unapproachable.

Each event after that proved more rewarding than the next. The content of the meetings was what drove me to belong, but now it is the relationships that I have developed with industry friends, competitors and suppliers. It gives me an opportunity to talk about issues in the business and about technology.

My involvement with TLMI is a richer experience because of the friendships that I have developed. Business opportunities have been gained, and my understanding of how to conduct business better have all been part of my TLMI experience.

It's hard to believe that today I serve on the board of directors and chair the Education Committee. This has taken my TLMI experience to a new level. The opportunity to interact with some very bright business leaders has been a rich experience that I could not have gotten anywhere else.

Steve Lee, Vice President, RotoMetrics

Over the years, TLMI has been a great experience for both RotoMetrics and me personally. We have been involved with TLMI before and after the "committee" structure, and participation is, in my opinion, critical for the full benefits TLMI offers. We have built relationships with converters and suppliers that would never have taken place without TLMI.

Those who believe that TLMI is only a social group should spend time educating themselves about the vast amount of information TLMI has to offer. From the committees, publications, the highly successful biannual technical meeting and the various awards competitions – not to mention the networking at the meetings – and of course the sponsorship of Labelexpo – TLMI is well worth the time and money for membership.

Cindy White, President, Channeled Resources Group

TLMI has helped both my own personal development and improved the odds that my business is a success. Personally, I am a more confident, knowledgeable business leader due to TLMI. Networking with my peers, both suppliers and customers, has opened up my view of the industry and how to run my business. I can pick up the phone and call a multitude of people if I get in a jam. I have up-to-date information on the economy and its impact on the world of labels.

I am halfway through getting my MBA. Many of the classes I am taking are mirrored in seminars given during the TLMI annual and converter meetings. Reinforcing better business practices like Lean Manufacturing, business opportunity analysis, and marketing techniques are key to TLMI's impact on Channeled Resources. Probably the biggest benefit for me is my own self confidence. Running a business means you must know what is going on. I get knowledge from my sales team, and the sales calls I make with them. But it is the ability to reach out to other industry leaders, and have up to date information on the economy, that has helped make me a more confident leader for my own company. My confidence is reflected in the performance of all of our employees and the businesses bottom line.

Bob Biava, Former Owner of Driscoll Label

Before I joined TLMI, I was focused solely on my business. What happened in my shop and with my customers occupied all of my time. Becoming a member of TLMI changed that narrow perspective completely. Suddenly I was aware that there was a big industry out there filled with narrow web converters, all with problems and challenges similar to mine. I found myself in a group of like-minded people who were willing to share their opinions and ideas about improving the industry. That was a revelation to me, and it really broadened my perspective.

The other major contribution that TLMI provides to its members is a network of strong relationships between converters and suppliers. In day-to-day operations, we get to know a company's sales reps, and most of them are very helpful people. But a business relationship with a top executive at a supplier company can be a truly valuable resource for a converter. Those kinds of relationships make the wheels of business turn much more smoothly and rapidly.

I enjoyed all of my years as a member of TLMI. It's an association that continues to grow in many ways, and I know that those who are actively involved are the winning companies in the label industry.

Craig Moreland, President, Coast Label

As the owner of a regional business, participation in TLMI events and programs has given me an important national and international perspective that I simply would not otherwise have. It has been invaluable to meet and share ideas with the owners and top executives of converting companies and suppliers from all over the world. I have also found that the relationships developed at TLMI have given us enhanced attention from our suppliers, and the ability at any time to contact and share ideas with my peers has been invaluable.

We have also benefited significantly from the many TLMI information sharing programs such as the ratio study, quarterly trends reports, and the wage and salary surveys, to name a few. These and other valuable reports have been worth the cost of membership dues alone. But having said all of the foregoing, I would say the best thing about belonging to TLMI has been the friendships I've developed with fun and interesting people. This has been a great and unexpected bonus from belonging to TLMI.

Joel Carmany, President, Consolidated Label

When I got into the label business back in 1984 and didn't know anything about it, I looked to TLMI to help give me a perspective on what the industry was all about. The asssociation sponsored a tour through Label America, and that was a real eye opener to see a successful and growing company in action.

Since that time I have had many discussions with other label company owners both in answering questions and asking questions on various practices and label products we have in the industry. The key is having great relationships with individuals who will go out of their way to help you be successful.

I have also run my company based upon the findings in the annual TLMI ratio study. This has been a great tool in keeping profitability where it needs to be. Overall, TLMI has been a great asset for us and we'll be looking into the future.

Cheryl Caudill, Corporate Communications Manager, Multi-Plastics

As a converter of unsupported thin gauge films, Multi-Plastics made a strategic decision to become involved in an industry association that represents the top label converters and suppliers in the narrow web flexo market. One of the most beneficial and valuable assets of being a supplier member is the ability to network with co-suppliers. The ability for us to work together with ink, coatings, and die manufacturers to solve a joint customer's processing problem or develop a new project is invaluable.

From a personal standpoint, the experiences, the ability to strengthen customer relationships on multiple levels, the shared knowledge, the introduction to new technologies and to new potential customers has proven repeatedly to be a tremendous benefit. Being involved in the TLMI does take a conscious effort to stay active and be willing to work, but by doing so, the rewards are plentiful.

Elisha Tropper, President, T3 Associates, Former Owner of Prestige Label

TLMI is as relevant to its membership as any trade organization to which I've ever been exposed. It is truly a member-driven organization. Unlike other trade groups, at TLMI size truly does not matter, as it makes no distinction between companies with 10 employees and companies with a thousand.

On a personal note, I developed several outstanding friendships through my association with the TLMI, which without a doubt provided me with many of the ideas, access, and contacts that enabled me to succeed in the label industry.

Paul Brauss, President, Mark Andy

After only nine years, I still consider myself a new kid on the block when it comes to my association with the TLMI. When I started in this dynamic label and converting industry, I was looking for the best ways to get involved with our market and to quickly learn the important factors to be successful. I was fortunate to be introduced to the TLMI, which has led to many great friendships with luminaries and leaders in the industry.

I have always believed in the value of networking, and the TLMI has over-delivered in this aspect. I love hearing the stories from the early years, sharing the trials and rewards of our ever-changing market, and to see the transition from one generation to the next. These cycles of learning, as I like to call them, are the most valuable lessons of all.

Now, as I continue to learn more, I see how the TLMI mission promotes and encourages individuals to participate, share and learn with their peers. The sharing of real world case studies through TLMI technical conferences, meetings and other events has proven to be a comprehensive way to focus in on key issues and topics. The various TLMI committees foster education in a fashion that welcomes ideas to support the development of our industry for both converters and supplier companies.

It's easy to see that I have become an advocate for this organization because I believe in how it serves its members. And I sincerely appreciate how they have helped me, and Mark Andy, along the way. What an organization. Congratulations to TLMI for 75 years of success, and thanks a million!