From left: Vincent Melapioni, VJ Melapioni, and Tom Savona
Beau Label is the quintessential family business. Its president is Vincent "VJ" Melapioni, and the company's origins date back to his grandfather, who owned and operated an offset printing business. VJ's grandfather sold the business to his father, Vincent, and two partners, and in 1967 a new company with a new direction was born – Beau Label. Vincent and his partners decided to focus their efforts on label printing, named the company after one of their dogs ("Why not? And it's the beginning of the word 'beautiful' "), and steadily grew the business.
VJ worked for his father's label company part-time throughout high school and college, learning all sides of the business, from press operations through sales; he came aboard full-time upon graduating from college. Over the years, Vincent's partners passed away, and Vincent and VJ became the sole owners of Beau Label. In 1985, VJ assumed the role as the company's president. Over the next two-plus decades, the company, through a series of partnerships and acquisitions, would position itself as a label company with a wide range of machinery, capability and capacity, and is today poised for tremendous growth.
Beau Label's first home was an old, cast-iron building on Grand Street in lower Manhattan, and it's location would come to present a multitude of challenges unique to the big city, which would eventually be the impetus for the move to Hillside. "It became far too difficult to do business in the city – at least our type of business," VJ recalls. "SoHo had become a very popular area. We'd be unloading paper on the sidewalk, and there would be people all over the place – it was just not conducive."
The Grand Street facility was also on multiple floors – multiple wooden floors, that is. "Until you work in an environment like what we're in now, on one level, you really can't appreciate it. Here, the work just flows. I grew up in the business on multiple floors, so I didn't know anything different. Then we come here and there are 14 machines operating on one level, you can open the door and see everything running, and you know where everything is. It's just so much better in so many ways – even just loading and unloading without an elevator makes a huge difference," VJ says, adding that keeping the old place clean was a seemingly impossible task. "You could sweep it three times a day, and it would just always appear to be dirty. It had these old wood floors and things would just creak and moan." As if this wasn't enough, there was also the traffic and a terrible parking situation to contend with.
While moving to New Jersey would prove to be pivotal, the preceding mergers and acquisitions that took place were major milestones too. In 1992, Vincent, VJ and two partners purchased New Era Label of Hoboken, NJ, and formed a partnership with Atlantic Label, of Belleville, NJ. "We had taken on two partners that owned the building in Belleville. Their business centered around rebuilding machinery, specifically letterpress presses. We still have two of them, which we use today for hot stamping, embossing and diecutting. They print too, but it's different – it's grease-based ink that prints with an intermittent feed," VJ explains.
In 2001, the company expanded the New York plant to 20,000 square feet and invested in an Indigo 1000 digital label press. The Indigo helped the company to compete in markets requiring short run, high quality labels, as well as other specialty printed products. Then, in December of 2004, Beau Label bought out the remaining Belleville partner, and the following January there was another acquisition – Armstrong Label in Brooklyn, NY. For a time, the three companies operated as three separate entities: Beau Label in Manhattan, Armstrong Label in Brooklyn, and Atlantic Label in Belleville.
"Then we brought Armstrong to Belleville, and consolidated Atlantic and New Era, putting it all under the Armstong and Beau Label names. Meanwhile, Manhattan was just brutal and getting worse and worse, there was blasting from construction 50 feet from our windows and you could hear the charges and big explosions – the whole building would shake. It was an experience. If you opened the window you could actually feel the blast," VJ recalls.
The situation had reached a boiling point. In 2006, the current facility was purchased, but it was another 18 months (and a series of renovations) before Beau Label could move into its new home, bringing all the entities under one roof and one name.
The timeline of Beau Label's history features several acquisitions, including the joining of forces of both machinery and people. While the people, whom many of them, as VJ says, were "great guys," and others not so great, came and went, the equipment remained, and today allows for Beau Label's vast array of capability.
An impressive pressroom
Beau Label's Hillside facility features a remarkable pressroom with a real blending of equipment – a byproduct of acquiring a few label companies and their assets. It's here where there's a veritable "who's who" of press manufacturers. There are 14 presses in all: two New Era letterpress machines that VJ estimates date back to the 1950s, three Gallus 160 rotary letterpress machines with silkscreen capability, two Webtrons (one with nine colors and the other with 12), a 10" Mark Andy 6-color, two 7" Propheteers (a 4-color and a 6-color), two 13" 1300L Propheteers (an 8-color and a 6-color), and finally two Nilpeter FB 3300s full servo presses, one with full UV and silkscreen capabilities.
One of Beau Label's two Nilpeter 3300 servo presses
The array of machinery has opened doors and allowed Beau Label to fill several markets. "The Gallus presses are pretty neat. They are rotary letterpress, or rotary silkscreen, and the reason we bought those was because they really work well for the health and beauty markets. You can interchange the heads and print any combination of screen and letterpress," says VJ.
And speaking of the markets the company serves, he notes that recently they're doing more and more health and beauty labels. He adds, however, "We cover it all. We do everything from blank thermal transfer, to pinfeed computer labels, prime product labels, cold foil stamping, nutraceuticals, and couponing booklets. Everything we do is here and we don't go outside for anything but our cutting dies. We use both flexible dies as well as engraved, because there are some substrates we print on that require it."
Finding a way
In light of the recession, the company has recently placed an emphasis on certain markets in particular. "We've vigorously pursued the food business lately," VJ says. "It's a steady market, and it's really been a great thing for us. Health and beauty is another area that we've focused on. One customer of ours supplies the dollar stores. These days people don't want to buy a $9 bottle of shampoo, so he's been very busy. On the other side, we do a lot of couponing for our broker business – and they're competing with the dollar stores – so we're getting business on both sides."
When it comes to the customers, "I don't say no," VJ says. "If you're my customer and you come to me with a unique project, I'll find a way to get it done. And the reason I do that is I feel that if I tell you 'no', and I'm already doing other work for you, I don't want to expose the business we are doing to anyone else," he says, noting that they once found a way to convert a job for pressure sensitive bathing suit tops.
Beau Label was always a provider to the trade, working predominantly with brokers, but since the move to the new facility in Hillside, in conjunction with the acquisitions, there's been marked growth in direct business with end users. "And it's here where I know who I'm competing with," says VJ. "There's so much manufacturing here in New Jersey, and they're very price sensitive when dealing directly with a label company.
"The brokers will always be there, but its changing now. With brokers there are relationships – you don't know who knows who – and they also put out a lot of fires. They can make life easier because they often overlap a number of markets," he says, adding that brokers account for the majority of Beau Label's couponing business.
A New Era letterpress machine is used for hot stamping, embossing and diecutting.
And the Beau Label pressroom is, well, impressive. Aside from the machinery, the room is air-conditioned (a great asset when dealing with the Northeast's humidity), and features an off-centered, peaked ceiling, one side of which has clear, corrugated fiberglass, allowing for natural illumination – energy savings abound.
Of course, in the label industry, what makes a company is a lot more than just equipment and the space it's in. More than anything, it's about people. Beau Label employs 30, and among the crew is the man who started the business, Vincent Sr. Though now retired, he's often found working six days a week at the plant, and marvels at how far the business has come since the beginning.
VJ says, "All of our employees except maybe two came over here with us when we moved. They make the trip, and that's a huge benefit – having loyal employees is just tremendous. Some of my press operators have been with us for 20 years. And with our business growing, we're hiring. In fact, we just added two people to our finishing department."
One recent change among the staff is the creation of a new quality control position, whose sole purpose is to move from press to press, providing quality control and the supporting documentation. "It's helped a lot, to spot things before they go to the customer and even before the job runs," he says.
Overseeing the pressroom is Plant Manager Tom Savona, and there's also a prepress department where Beau Label makes its own analog plates. VJ acknowledges the proliferation of digital systems, but for now is happy to stand pat. "We're getting amazing results from our analog plates, so we're not ready to make the leap just yet. Plus, I'd rather not be married to one supplier, such as with the dry thermal system," he says.
An area he is looking to get into, however, is shrink labels. "We've been asked about it by a couple of our existing customers, and it's something we're seriously considering," he says.
And shrink equipment would be a natural complement to Beau Label's already well-rounded capabilities, as the company, now settled into its new home, is in a great position. Says VJ, "We have a lot of capacity here, and I see us as being positioned for tremendous growth."