Horizon Label

By Steve Katz | November 12, 2008

A commitment to quality and customer service is integral to the success of this small but growing New Jersey converter

Paul Falkowski, owner and president of Horizon Label
Horizon Label is a great example of what a small label company can accomplish with a hands-on approach and a strong commitment to quality and service. Such is the philosophy of this label converter located in the Philadelphia suburb of West Berlin, NJ, USA.

Paul Falkowski was a label salesman for Dennison, and when the company merged with Avery in 1990, he felt it was time to go out on his own. Falkowski started a label brokerage business called Taunton Graphics. The business venture was successful, and grew to the point where he determined he needed his own manufacturing facility. In 1999, after spending a couple of years searching for the right fit, he finally completed his purchase of Bicen Label, a tag and label company that had been primarily servicing the garment industry since 1976.

Now the owner, Falkowski changed the company's name to Horizon Label and quickly began a major overhaul of the 10,000 square foot facility that led to success and growth, which continues today.
"Since I purchased the place, everything's been turned around. We've reworked old equipment, bought a lot of new equipment, and the company is run very economically," Falkowski says. His changes have paid dividends in a relatively short period of time. When he took over, Bicen Label's annual sales figures were roughly around $900,000. Nine years later, Horizon Label's sales are $3 million, and on the verge of increasing.

The company's success is a testament to how Falkowski runs his business, which includes Lean concepts, sound equipment acquisitions, and exceptional customer service. "Once we get a customer, they don't leave," he says.

Falkowski recently hired a salesman to help the company grow further. But until that point, it was he alone who was responsible for Horizon's sales. Yes, the sales force was the owner himself – truly a one man show.

"I'm principally the salesman for the company. We just hired a new salesman, because I can't grow it any more myself. I'm stretched thin," Falkowski says, adding that the company's sales have hovered around that $3 million mark for the last couple of years.

The pressroom
Falkowski stresses that a key to Horizon's success is its loyal customer base, which comes from a broad range of markets. "We sell labels to the automotive industry, chemicals, food, beverage, nutraceuticals, and cosmetics. We even have garment industry customers that have held over from the Bicen days," he says.

Falkowski notes that Horizon's food business has been consistently steady, which helps to offset the recent up and down nature of the chemical business. Yet it's from its cosmetics customers that Horizon is enjoying the most growth.

"It seems the growth portion of our business has been in the cosmetics market. We've experienced a lot of inroads there, and we've had a lot of success with our specialty products," he says.

Customers and service

Horizon gets its customers through Falkowski's straightforward approach. "When we see a company that looks like they could use our type of services, I make a concerted effort to see them – and see if we could do something for them. We'll notice a particular label in a market, and explain how we can improve upon it. For prospective customers, maybe price is a big factor – we're not the cheapest people on the block. But for us, it's all about quality and service. And I'd say a lot of our customers are also word of mouth referrals. We get recommended quite a bit."

The majority of Horizon's customers come from the tri-state area of New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, yet it also has customers as far away as California and Texas.

Falkowski also cites vertical marketing as an effective method of acquiring customers. "We happen to have gotten into a teamwork situation with one company, and subsequently were recommended to other companies in that area of the market."

Horizon produces a wide variety of different types of labels for its customers. Its product line includes prime and non-prime, as well as instructional and promotional labels. Servicing both long and short run orders, the company has the equipment and capability of producing just about any type of special effect and construction, thanks in part to the equipment on hand.

People and presses

Falkowski jokingly describes the scene he inherited as having equipment from the 17th century. "We had to update everything," he says, noting that the Bicen presses were not even equipped with ceramic anilox rolls but chrome rollers. "We also needed a wider web to compete. The more you can run in terms of throughput, the better the price you can give a customer."

Press operator Gary Piper at work on one of Horizon's Nilpeter presses.
The current arsenal of machinery is fully functional. The pressroom consists of five printing presses: two six-color 7" Mark Andys, one with a UV station for coating and the other with three UV forced air stations; two eight-color Nilpeters, a 10" with five UV stations and a 10.75" with hot stamping capability. The Nilpeters have folding capability as well as cold foil. In addition, there's an eight-color 7" Gallus R160 that includes six letterpress, two screen, and a hot stamp station.

Horizon's presses are capable of running multiple webs for a variety of constructions and can print front and back as well as over-laminate. Press tooling has been made to facilitate running the same job on different machines as a backup contingency.

Running the machinery, Horizon employs five press operators that work one daily shift. There are two setup men responsible for plate mixing and mounting, and one person holding down the fort in the prepress, graphics and artwork department.

Horizon makes its own plates with a water washout system using Anderson & Vreeland's Cosmolyte products. "When we need to, we farm out to get digital plates made," Falkowski says. For finishing, the company has two Rotoflex rewind/inspection systems, a Nielssen & Petersen, and a Web Techniques tabletop machine.

Recently, the company has undertaken a move from solid dies to flexible magnetic dies, a process that Falkowski says has been quite an improvement, both economically and in practice. The switch has also freed up space in the pressroom. The dies and magnetic cylinders come from RotoMetrics.

General Manager Ron Davis
Falkowski stresses Horizon's lean operating structure, in addition to quality and service, as a reason for the company's success and continued growth. All told, there are 14 employees on staff covering the basic departments – customer service, sales, production, pre- and post-production, quality control and shipping.

Employees from the various departments working together and wearing different hats is an important characteristic of the production workflow at Horizon. "Everybody can sort of overlap everybody's job here, helping out where needed," Falkowski explains, and chides, "Except me, I can't run a press. I don't even know how to turn the thing on."

Ron Davis, general manager, is hands-on in the pressroom, operating machinery as well as overseeing quality control, a duty that Falkowski also handles when needed.

The benefits of being small

When talking about the slumping economy, Falkowski points out that being a relatively small company can be an asset to maintaining stability and growth. "We're a small company, and I think that's an advantage. We don't have the huge accounts that are more volatile. A lot of our business comes from specialty products – they're not from large manufacturers. We're not dealing with Kraft or P&G."

Discussing the marketplace's current demands, Falkowski says, "Turnaround has really become very tight. People want to be able to order a label and have it within five days. I think that's the biggest thing – the 'just in time' label delivery. Nobody wants to have an inventory, so you're always rushing to get certain jobs out or you're tearing down a press in the middle of a big run to get something for one of your better customers out the door. And then there's quality. Everybody wants a Cadillac for the price of a Volkswagen. So that's a constant struggle. People want to get more bang for their buck, just like what we want from our suppliers," he says,  lamenting with a smile, "but our suppliers want to get paid in 30 days, and our customers want to pay us in 90."

Falkowski expects Horizon Label to grow and he has the same expectations for the industry as a whole. "I think there's nothing but an upside in the labeling industry. The forecast is good. Everybody has to label a product, have information on a product, and tell their story. A label is still the least expensive way of doing it. Our industry keeps on growing."
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