Tammy and Blake Wright, along with Ajax and Jpeg, Regency's official mascots.
Wright is the president and owner of Regency Flexographic, a label converter in Oklahoma City, OK, USA. Formerly Regency Labels, the company has come a long away since its inception in 1988, and there are several noteworthy aspects to the Regency story. But there's one underlying theme among the company's milestones and accomplishments over the years – they have all been driven by Blake Wright's ambition, determination, and attitude. He self-deprecatingly jokes about his ADD, and although Regency is small, Wright thinks big, and to borrow a poker table term, he's moved his chips "all-in" when it comes to producing high quality work.
A slow start
Next door to the company's 9,000 square foot facility is Mercury Press, a sheetfed/offset printer owned by Wright's father. In 1988, a young Blake Wright was working for his dad, albeit unhappily.
"I'd grown up working for my dad, but at this time I found myself wandering in search of a purpose. I had completed two years of college, but ended up working at Mercury full-time in the production department. The thing is, I had absolutely no interest in sheetfed printing. Actually, I despised it, and I still do to this day," Wright says.
Lacking passion and in a state of limbo as far as what he was going to do with his life, Wright's father got a phone call that would change everything. He explains: "Dad had gotten a call from an acquaintance regarding a company called Regency Press, a small, local one-press label company. It turns out this company was having tax problems and the IRS had locked the doors on them. And now they were desperately looking for a buyer."
With their interest piqued, Wright and his father took a drive over to this small, locked-down label company. "We drove over to take a look at the place and the equipment. There was even a job on the press, and it still had ink in the bins," Wright recalls. "They pretty much had one customer, a drugstore in Tulsa, and this company was still waiting for their order."
After talking it over, Wright and his father reached agreement, one with each other, the other with the tax burdened soon-to-be-former owner of Regency Press. "My dad really didn't want any part of it. He had heard of flexography, but didn't know too much about it. He was also ready to retire, and taking on a new business and a new industry wasn't something he wanted to get involved in. So he presented me with the opportunity, but not before he laid down the law and said, 'This is your baby. But if it doesn't work, I can't have you coming back.' And I understood and respected this," Wright says.
"I was game. I was ready, and didn't hesitate. I said, 'Let's do it,' without having a clue about what the label business was all about. I had never even paid attention to a label. Yet I knew it was a good opportunity for me, and I think Dad saw it as a pretty good idea too."
Shortly after taking over, Wright changed the name to Regency Labels. Equipment-wise, the press was a 7" three-color Mark Andy 820. They had a sewing machine that had been converted into a rewinder, and there was a small platemaker.
Oh, and that drugstore job that they found unfinished on press? Well, the first order of business was to finish that job. "We stayed there all night, using that sewing machine rewinder. We finished the job and got it out the door," Wright recalls.
Soon after, Blake Wright packed up his new company and brought it to its first home at Mercury Press. "The whole company fit into one office – the little platemaker, the Mark Andy, and the sewing machine rewinder, and off we went."
Not only was Wright now operating his own company, he also had to learn and absorb an industry entirely new to him. The fledgling company consisted of two people – Wright himself and the former owner's son, who stayed on as part of the original sales agreement. Thanks in part to getting that initial leftover drugstore job out the door, they maintained that first customer, and also had a specialty – pharmacy labels.
"We kept that customer for many years. That was the original business, making pharmacy labels on the Mark Andy 820. But eventually the pharmacy industry mandated that its labels were to be made using a dual web process, and when that became the industry standard, we were in trouble. So we started developing some new markets like grocery store labels – the typical fluorescent meat labels – very simple, one color labels."
Wright admits that the early days were slow and treacherous. However, he had a determination and a willingness to learn the industry. "I went to seminars and two and three week classes at Clemson and RIT. I was becoming educated. I was all-in. I knew that we were way behind, and we didn't have the money to invest in the latest and greatest equipment, but as long as I was learning and educating myself on the industry, and if my knowledge was keeping up with the technology, we stood a chance of catching up. And so I just kept learning. I was learning about the four color process and we had a three color press. So we took out a loan and went to our first Labelexpo in 1990. This was when we bought the Comco. We bought the show press, which has become the trend for us," he says.
The Comco purchase would prove to be a major learning experience. "They shipped it down here and set it up. We had our plates ready, and we were ready to run, and the technicians asked, 'Okay, where are your print cylinders?'I thought, 'Whoops!' I hadn't considered that. I hadn't thought about if our Mark Andy cylinders would work on the Comco. That was a bad day. So we ordered a few of them and had some adaptors built, but it was horrible quality."
The Regency Labels team was truly learning on the fly. Over the next couple of years, Wright hired a couple of old high school buddies to operate the presses, and its cylinder library began to grow. As the array of equipment and capabilities grew, so did Regency's customer base, as well as the dollar amounts of the orders they were getting. But this was just the beginning.
A pressman and a press
Label industry professionals often throw around terms like "unique" and "state-of-the-art," and in many cases these descriptors can be dismissed as simply sales and marketing lingo. This is not the case at Regency Flexographic. A look at their newest press acquisition, and the person that operates it, makes the case that Regency incorporates innovative machinery and employs impressive people.
By the mid-1990s, Regency Labels' business had picked up considerably. "We started doing business with other printers, ad agencies, distributors and resellers, and the Comco played a key role in developing this new business," he says.
The increase in business prompted Wright to make a move to improve upon Regency's printing capabilities. In 1995, the Comco was traded in for an 11" seven color Roto Press."We felt it was time to expand to more colors and we desperately needed to be able to UV coat. A lot of our customers were requesting that," Wright says.
By 1999, the company had come a long way, and Wright bought the company from his father for "a lot more than what it was purchased for," he says. Soon after, another Roto Press was added to the arsenal, this one an 11" eight color press, and the company moved into its own space, its current 9,000 square foot facility. It was also around this time that Regency began being recognized for its work. Since 1999, Regency has received the Printing Industry of America's Premier Print Award on five occasions. Also, the FTA recognized Regency with its Graphic Excellence Awards in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007.
Wright points to Regency's versatility and its superior print quality as the company's formula for success. "We produce the highest quality, most cost-effective products for our customers. We have the ability to print on a wide variety of substrates including foil, vinyl, polyester, Kimdura, hologram, clear polystyrene, board stock, fluorescent, thermal transfer and direct thermal transfer."
Both Roto Press machines have UV capabilities and an 11" x 24" image area and sheet size with a laminating-sheeter/stacker pin-feed and turnbar for backside printing. The Mark Andy is still called upon when the need arises.
Surely the company's equipment upgrades played a role in producing award winning labels. But equipment alone doesn't make a print shop, and up to this point, Wright had been employing a couple buddies from high school to run the presses. Finding and keeping the right press operator had become a problem, but through Wright's determination, this would all change.
"It was just really hard to find people with experience and know-how. But there was this one guy, Saul, a press operator for one of our competitors, that I kept hearing about. Customers knew of him and were even requesting him. So I wound up putting a lot of effort in trying to recruit this guy," Wright says.
Press Operator Saul Lagunaz and the Omet X-Flex
"Saul is irreplaceable, and working the press is really what he likes to do. He enjoys being here, and he's definitely worth more to this company than I am," jokes Wright.
Regency employs 18 people, and among those are two of Saul's siblings, who also happen to be deaf. This is a unique situation, but it's one that works, and illustrates the sense of teamwork and camaraderie found at Regency. Blake Wright, as well as other members of the staff, have since taken courses in American Sign Language, and now work seamlessly with their hearing impaired colleagues.
Saul's skill plays a tremendous role in Regency's success in manufacturing high quality products. Saul is the company's sole operator of the pressroom's centerpiece and latest equipment acquisition – an Omet X-Flex 430. The press is the winner of the 2008 Flexographic Technical Association's Innovation Award. It has a 17" web width, will print on a wide variety of substrates in thicknesses ranging from a very thin 0.5 mil all the way up to 12 point board stock, a maximum speed of 660 feet per minute, a screen unit for greater texture on labels, all UV ink units, a patented automatic registration system and an extremely short web path that dramatically reduces waste.
The Omet X-Flex was acquired in September 2008, when Blake Wright, for the second time, bought a show press at Labelexpo in Chicago. Although he intended to buy a press, the purchase of the Omet came as a surprise. "Prior to the show, I had flown around the country and looked at a lot of presses. But none of them were really jumping ahead of the others. Six of us went to Chicago and we all had our lists of things we were going to check out, and I knew I wanted to buy a servo press. We went to about five different booths and watched demos, and would then meet and discuss the various pros and cons of each press. We had looked at the Omet, but hadn't watched the demo yet. During our meetings about the different presses we'd seen, our conversations would keep ending with the sentence 'but it's not like the Omet.' So finally I said 'Hey, let's go watch it run,' andit was very impressive," Wright says.
He was sold. "Right then, I knew. I didn't tell anybody, but I knew that was the press we were going to buy. But I didn't think we'd be able to buy it right then. I thought we'd have to wait a couple of years and save some money," Wright says. Yet, after working out a deal with Matik, Omet's North American distributor, the press, instead of being shipped back to Italy, was packed up and sent to its new home in Oklahoma City.
The X-Flex has been a perfect fit for Regency, as the markets the company now serves demand superior quality and sometimes rather large labels.
Markets and vision
Tammy Wright is Regency's vice president in charge of sales and customer service, and also Blake's wife, and her personal pursuits have indirectly opened doors for one of the company's largest markets – nutraceuticals labels. "Tammy was a competitive bodybuilder. And when she went to her first show, I realized quickly, looking at all the booths that were set up, that all these companies were in need of labels. After talking with the brand owners, I discovered that they were having a difficult time with their label purchasing. I knew the market was good, but I didn't realize how difficult a time they were having. Labels for these products are really intricate and nice, befitting an industry that's all about appearance. They don't fit any one style, but they're all difficult to run. It's been a fantastic market for us," Wright says. These labels are often large. A look at the stock that Regency inventories for some its customers reveal some large labels, perfect for printing on the Omet's 17" web width.
In addition to the nutraceuticals market, Regency also manufactures labels for the food, beverage, pet care, health and beauty, industrial and chemicals markets. There are also agricultural products customers – a result of Oklahoma's geography and economy. Geography indeed plays a key role in the development of Regency's customer base, and the company uses it to its advantage. Oklahoma is situated in the middle of the United States, with easy access to all points north, south, east and west, and Regency has customers throughout the country and the world. Wright estimates that only about 20 percent of its business is in Oklahoma.
Regency counts on "word of mouth" along with its growing reputation as a high quality printer to find new customers. There are no sales representatives at the company. Blake Wright does a lot of the sales and marketing himself, simply by getting out there and talking to people, much the way he acquired the nutraceuticals business.
Wright and Lagunaz discuss a job being run on the Omet X-Flex.
Wright's philosophy defies standing still, watching, or waiting. "All of our profits go back into the business," he says. "We're always looking to upgrade in order to have the most efficient equipment available for what we're doing."
Chris Hartman, Regency's prepress manager, plays a pivotal role, and one that Wright has visions of expanding.In the works is a new stand-alone company that would provide the industry with plates, support, and premedia service,and Hartman would lead this effort.
Wright has a specific vision for Regency Flexographic, and it includes using its array of equipment, expertise and capabilities to serve the flexo industry in a variety of ways. The X-Flex plays a major role in this endeavor. "I want to make this company available to people in our industry that perhaps want to, down the road, have a servo press of their own. We are providing fellow converters a source to grow their business and prepare for future investments in servo presses or direct-to-plate technology.If someone wants to run a job on our machine to see what it's like, we'll provide everything they need to do that," he says.
"With the economy down, many label companies have put capital investments on hold.They can start selling jobs now, which will allow them to have a head start when they buy the equipment needed to run unsupported films, and make a nice profit by marking up their discounted prices.The thing that sets us apart from other printers that market to the trade," he continues, "is that we're here to support the growth of the industry, not just to make money on it. If the trade buys plates from us, they own them. If they want to learn on our equipment, we'll teach them."
Regency Flexographic is an example what a small company can accomplish with the right plan, and the drive to see it through. Blake Wright says the company is poised to clear $3 million in 2009, and based on his approach to the business, those profits will turn into resources and equipment that will continue to make Regency a converter thatpushes the envelope. Wright says, "I can't not think about investing in new technology and trying to improve and expand our services. It's just the way my mind works."