Stixon Labels & New Mexico Plastics

By Steve Katz | May 7, 2009

Passion and an understanding of its markets are keys to the success of this family-run New Mexico converter.

From left, sisters Julie Chavez, Christina Tapia, Barbara Otero, and Beverly Chavez
Stixon Labels and New Mexico Plastics is a remarkable company, and because there are many noteworthy aspects of Stixon's story, it's hard to know where to begin. For starters, as its name implies, there are two distinct parts of the company – pressure sensitive labels (Stixon) and plastic bags (NM plastics). While the plastic bag component of the business is a distributorship, Stixon Labels is a full-service, award winning label converter that's become an integral part of the industries it serves. Based in New Mexico's largest city, Albuquerque, Stixon Labels is a company that is passionate about its work, and has established itself as a fixture in the business end of the food, drink, and culture of the Land of Enchantment – New Mexico.

The company got its start in 1985. At this time, it was just New Mexico Plastics, and just a distributorship. "We actually thought of manufacturing bags, rather than labels," says Beverly Chavez, Stixon's president. "But the machinery for bag manufacturing is much bigger than that for labels, and it's also two to three times the cost. Also, it wasn't something we were familiar with," she says.

The "we" Beverly refers to are her business partners, and they also happen to be her sisters – Barbara Otero, Julie Chavez, and Christina Tapia. This is a true family business, and the label industry is in their blood.

"We grew up around labels," recalls Julie Chavez. "When we were in high school, we'd help out at Dad's plant, even working with the machinery, like the slitting and rewinding equipment. I can even remember being very young, and having to stand on a chair to see the machines."

Robert W. Chavez's four daughters fondly remember helping out at National Distributors, the label company he owned, but eventually sold upon his retirement. During his retirement, he was an instrumental figure in bringing Stixon Labels together. In fact, the company's name, Stixon, was his idea, a clever play on the pressure sensitive phrase "Sticks on." "He said all successful companies have an 'x' in their name," Beverly recalls with a smile.

In 1991 Stixon Labels bought its first press, a five color 7½" Webtron. The beginnings were humble. "We had this one press, one slitter/rewinder, a tiny platemaker, and we were set up in a 4,000 square foot building that we were leasing," says Julie.

In the early years, its management team primarily filled departments, and Dad was there with his advice and council. "He said, Julie, you're good at computers, why don't you do the artwork. And so I did, and then in 1995, Cristina, after she graduated from college, took over that job," Julie says.

Success had come in those years, and the company was gaining more and more business, thus prompting a major equipment acquisition. Stixon's second press – a 9½" seven color Nilpeter 2400 – was purchased in 1994.

Stixon's 10,000 square foot facility in Albuquerque
The company's growing and expanding business eventually preempted a move to a new facility. In 1999 Stixon moved into its current 10,000 square foot home. Additional equipment was also purchased at this time, including foil stamping and embossing units, capabilities which play a key role in the markets the company serves.

Stixon Labels has steadily evolved over the years, as has its arsenal of equipment and capabilities. The company has added an Anderson & Vreeland analog platemaker, and the presses are equipped with UV coating units, laminating stations, and turnbars. The most recent addition is a Xanté prepress system, and the team is contemplating adding a tabletop digital printer for use on some of their short run jobs.

Quality control is another area where Stixon has evolved, Beverly Chavez says. "Our quality control has come a long way. We utilize a series of checklists through every step in the workflow, from the time we send a proof until the product goes out the door."

Taste the Tradition

A look into Stixon's label business is a look into New Mexican cuisine. Not new Mexican, but New Mexican. This is a region that has its own culinary traditions, and while it's similar to Mexican food, it stands apart on its own. The defining ingredient of New Mexican cuisine is New Mexican chiles. They come in two varieties, green or red, depending on the stage of ripeness in which they are picked. New Mexican food manufacturers count on Stixon Labels in the branding of their products.

The company's New Mexican food business even pre-dates Stixon Labels. As a new company in the mid '80s, New Mexico Plastics primarily distributed plastic bags used in the packaging of another New Mexican staple – tortillas. "Our tortilla bag business is still very strong today," says Barbara Otero, who is the primary person in charge of the bag business, also affectionately and playfully called the "bag lady" by her sisters.

Artwork is a strength, and the company does the graphic design work for a number of different bag applications as well as for flexible packaging. "We've gotten into other forms of packaging besides bags and labels," Beverly says, referring to design jobs they have with food cartons. "We'll do the artwork, and then farm out the actual packaging job."

While the design and bag business is solid, the majority of the company's business is in labels. "Prime labels is what we really like to do, and I think it's our strength," Beverly says, adding, "New Mexican cuisine is such a big industry here, and it's really become a great market for us."

Many of Stixon's labels feature a special logo emblazoned with the phrase "Taste the Tradition." The insignia illustrates the importance of the local food industry, and is part of a larger state-run program. In order to promote and encourage homegrown products, New Mexican food manufacturers receive a stipend from the state's government when they incorporate the Taste the Tradition logo on their product's labels.

Stixon Labels has taken its food labeling business to other areas. The company has gotten involved in printing labels featuring various celebrities and dignitaries on salsas and other products produced by a local restaurant – and a hotspot for visitors. A recent job was the "Hot Stuff" salsa label made for singing star Katy Perry. "Lately we've been working on putting together labels for a lot of entertainers. In addition to the Katy Perry job, we've done labels for rapper Lil Wayne, football star Terrell Owens, the sportscaster Jim Rome, and actor Mel Gibson," Beverly Chavez says.

While food is certainly big business for Stixon, there's also drink, particularly wine, and this is an area where the company's foil stamping and embossing capabilities are put to extensive use. "New Mexico is the oldest wine country in the US and wine grapes have been growing here even before the wineries of Northern California became popular. There are a lot of wineries here, and we do the labels for almost all of them," Beverly explains.

Julie Chavez discusses what makes New Mexico an ideal region not only for winemaking but also for the sparkling wine produced following strict guidelines ofmethode champenoise: "New Mexico's climate is supposed to be remarkably similar to that of France. It has the same characteristics of having warm days and cool nights, and the two regions share the same latitude," she says.

Dine in one of Albuquerque's restaurants, or stroll through a grocery aisle, and you will most definitely come across more than a few Stixon labels. The company holds the distinction of being New Mexico's only pressure sensitive label converter, and Stixon is heavily involved and focused on the design and branding of many food and beverage products. But the business is more than that. "While food and beverage is our main market, we really do it all. We have pharmaceutical customers, cosmetics, pet products and foods, and nutraceuticals too, both short and long run. We'll run jobs from 5,000 labels to over two million," Beverly says.

Stixon's customers are both local and loyal. Beverly Chavez estimates that 85 percent are from New Mexico, "from the very north to the very south of the state."

"Our customers are also very loyal," adds Julie Chavez. "We've had some of our customers for 20 years, since day one, since we opened the doors. In addition to that, we also reacquired some of Dad's former customers, some that were with him from as far back as the 1960s."

Passionate people

The four sisters who run Stixon Labels are passionate about what they do. The management team takes a true hands-on approach, and has developed close relationships with customers. It's common for any one of the sisters to drop in on a client, whether it's to drop off a label proof, or simply see how things are going. This personal touch is appreciated, and it's also a big part of the positive reputation Stixon has developed. The company's labels and business practices speak for themselves, and it plays a key role in generating new business.

"Word of mouth is big for us," Beverly Chavez says. "We get lots of referrals by our own customers. They'll be working with another company in some capacity and will spread the word about our capabilities. So we get a lot of new customers that way, particularly with our out-of-state business. We have some distributors, but it's mostly word of mouth."

Beverly emphasizes that it's their people who are so important to the success of the company. Stixon employs 12 people, and nobody has been with the company for less than seven years. In fact, the company's newest employee is one of its pressman, Mike Eyster, and he just celebrated his seventh year with Stixon.

"Our employees are so special to us. They are so loyal and they all care so much. Our people are so quality conscious and take such pride in their work. The people who work for us are a huge part of our success," she says.

Like the four sisters themselves, Stixon's employees have "the label business in their blood," as Beverly says. "They've all come from other label companies, and they're all so passionate about the business."

Family ties are strong. "Mike Lopez, one of our press operators, has been working with our family going on 32 years, since he was 17 years old. He worked with Dad during the National Distributors days. He's part of our family," Julie Chavez says. Also, Production Manager Steve Otero, who's Barbara's husband, is another family member heavily involved in Stixon's operations.

Pressman Mike Lopez and Stixon's Webtron
Robert Chavez, while instilling in his daughters a passion for the label business, was also a member of the Tag and Label Manufacturers Institute (TLMI), and the sisters picked up from Dad the importance of being part of the organization. Julie Chavez has served on TLMI's board of directors. Not only is Stixon Labels an active member of TLMI, but it has also been recognized by the organization in a big way, on more than one occasion. For three consecutive years, from 2004-2006, Stixon Labels was the recipient of the prestigious Eugene Singer Award for Management Excellence. This award recognizes excellence in business management, and is measured by TLMI's established set of growth and profitability ratios.

"We feel honored to be a member of TLMI. Not only for the recognition we have received, but for the quality of the companies we are amongst. It is an organization where you can talk freely with your peers, share ideas, and help each other out in tackling industry-related issues. The ratio studies are a great tool in helping us know where we stand in various areas within the industry, and we use them as a benchmark for many things," Beverly says.

Stixon Labels has also been recognized locally, having been named among the top 25 women-owned businesses in New Mexico by New Mexico Woman magazine.

Room to grow

Julie Chavez estimates annual growth to be between 5 and 10 percent, and the company would like to see that number grow. To achieve this, one strategy being looked into is through expanding the business outside of New Mexico.

"We want to grow, and we're exploring the idea of having off-site, outside sales personnel outside of New Mexico. We'd like to really tap into other states more so than we are now," Barbara Otero says.
Stixon Labels is a lot of things. It's a family business. It's a women-owned business. It's tapped into the culture and fabric of New Mexico. But it also has the right attitude, one that is brimming with excitement and passion for the industry, and a sense of fun and adventure.

Perhaps Beverly Chavez sums it up best when she says, "It's fun. It's fun to watch the customer come in and get started, especially if it's a new label, and if it's our design. We're a part of their image, and their brand. This is what we love to do."

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