The Daniel family, from left: Kay Daniel, Marc Daniel, Irv Daniel, Julie Campbell, Kevin Daniel and Scout
On a summer day in Little Rock, you might find visitors and locals taking in an Arkansas Travelers minor league baseball game, or strolling the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park. Regardless of where you might roam in this city, you're sure to find friendly faces, Southern hospitality, and a family atmosphere. Across the river from the park, in North Little Rock, these things are in abundance at Arkansas' largest, oldest, and most prominent label converter, Daniel Label Printing.
Irv Daniel is the company's president, and he's been in the business a long time. In fact, Irv made the trip to St. Louis with his father, S.E. Daniel, the company's founder, to visit Mark Andy. This was around 1960, Irv recalls, and he had just returned from serving in the army and was a recent college graduate with a business degree. "My Dad had operated a little job shop that he started around 1930, with some letterpress equipment. But he had enough vision to visit that Mark Andy plant, and we bought a little bench-type label press. We actually brought it home in the back of our car," Irv remembers.
And that was how it all got started. "We began to do pretty well with it," he adds, and says that as business picked up over the next few years, they wound up buying five more. "They'd run, at most, maybe 250 feet per minute, and we had hair dryers set up to dry those first labels," Irv recalls.
Among the first customers was a bakery – one of the first companies to make "brown and serve" products. "They wound up buying labels from us for 50 years it must have been. So that got us started. And it was a good start."
A fixture in the Little Rock area, Daniel Label Printing is a true family business. Irv is there only part time now, having handed the reigns over to his sons and daughters, who grew up in the industry. His oldest son, Marc, is the plant manager, and along with daughters Kay and Julie, they make up the sales team. Kevin Daniel, Irv's youngest son, runs the shop floor. And of course, there's Scout, the family dog, who can be found roaming the plant, or finding a cool spot to laze.
The first Daniel Label Printing facility was in North Little Rock, and the family home was right across the street. Julie recalls that when Mom wanted the kids out of the house, they were sent off to help out in the plant. But with the company's growth, a move to a bigger facility became necessary, and in 1991, the business moved into the current plant, also inNorth Little Rock.
It's a big plant. All told, there's 60,000 square feet of space, divided into six separate pressrooms. There are 35 employees, many of whom have been with the Daniels for more than 20 years. Perhaps this is a testament to the loose, family atmosphere Irv Daniel has cultivated. No doubt about it, they work hard. But they also play hard. Hanging from the ceiling of the label plant are several past winners of the annual Cardboard Boat Races – there are replicas of the Batmobile, the Star Trek Enterprise, and the Red Baron's plane, just to name a few. Irv might even get more excited talking about his cardboard boat racing championships than his labels. But the recreational and working world are intertwined at Daniel Label. Irv's longtime buddies and fellow boat racing comrades are on hand at the plant, not just to bust his chops, but also to run some equipment.
The boats aside, the facility is impressive. Irv has been a faithful Mark Andy customer, and has upgraded significantly since those first presses that he and his dad hauled home from Missouri. The company now has five Mark Andy presses – four 4150s and one 4140. In addition, there are also six Webtrons. And most of these flexo presses have seven-color capabilities, some up to nine.
Irv Daniel checks out a wine label job on a Shiki hot foil stamping and embossing machine.
There's a full prepress department with three graphic artists, and the company makes its own plates utilizing a conventional solvent-wash platemaking system from DuPont. Irv Daniel is of the belief that if something's working out real well, there's not much sense in changing it. He's got reliable equipment and people, and the goal is simple: Provide the customers with high quality, creative and affordable labels.
While Irv isn't so much interested in acquiring a DuPont Cyrel FAST system, it's not to say that he doesn't embrace some technological breakthroughs. In fact, of the six pressrooms, there's one that's devoted to digitally printed, short run work, housing an HP Indigo ws4000, a Cartes laser diecutter for some truly intricate diecuts, and a Canadian made RotaCom digital finishing machine. This room brings a bit of international flavor to Arkansas.The Cartes laser die-cutter was made in Italy, and the one installed at Daniel was just the second one sold in North America.
Irv says that while adapting to the digital print method was a learning experience, and "had some surprises," he adds that "the way it's worked out, we couldn't get along without that press now. You'd be surprised at the number of people who want just 1,000 labels. And it's a great way for us to deal with high quality short runs," he says, adding that if the order is for more than 5,000 labels, it usually runs on a flexo machine.
Apart from the presses, Daniel Label also has a couple of Japanese-made Shiki hot foil stamping and embossing units, which Irv says works real well for the company's growing number of wine customers – some of which come from as far as upstate New York.
The company serves a variety of markets. "We don't just make chicken labels," jokes Irv. But he takes a serious tone when discussing how a once-reliable niche of the business has fallen off. Irv laments the loss of manufacturing business to cheaper converters overseas or across the border in Mexico, as well the auto industry's recent struggles in the US. Yet Daniel Label Printing has found ways to offset this business.
"There has been a saving grace," Irv says. "I have an account in North Little Rock that does a ton of work for Walmart, and they started buying a bunch of products in China that came already labeled – but they're not doing a proper job over there. So we get to come along and print the right labels," he says.
Wine has been a healthy market in recent years for the company, as have food and health and beauty labels. "The food side of our business has held up remarkably well for us – we do a lot of work for meat packers. And we're well equipped for wine labels. The bottled water industry is also pretty big for us," he says.
The Cartes 350 laser diecutter
The company lists among its customers many big name brands, including L'Oreal, Rubbermaid, Sanford, Jacuzzi and Odom's Sausage, just to name a few. "Printing upscale labels through process color work is really what we try to focus on. That's our specialty," adds Marc Daniel.
The customer base runs the gamut, and they often acquire them the old-fashioned way – word of mouth. But the company runs some ads in packaging trade magazines, gets business through brokers, and they also do some work for the trade. The digital and hot stamping equipment allow Daniel Label to be a good friend to have among other area printers.
"We have a good rapport with all of the commercial printers here in Little Rock, for instance, and I'd guess that we run most of their labels," Irv says.
The company is also linked online for customers to place orders through the website, but Daniel Label is founded on developing personal relationships, with old-fashioned courtesy and friendliness.
"Some orders are coming through the web, maybe not as much as we'd like – but to tell you the truth, I'd rather talk to people," says Marc. "Because that's how we've grown – by building relationships and communicating with our customers."
Adds Irv, "We spend a lot of time talking to customers on the phone, and we'll go and see them too. We'll do whatever we have to do. And I'd say most of our stuff is shipped out of state."
And if it means staying late or working around the clock, then that's what they'll do. Marc recalls a particular instance a few years ago when they had to do just that.
"We had an order for 38 million labels. And they needed something like 100 to 250 per roll, each with different labels. It took us forever to roll up. But we have some great press operators, and we worked round the clock for that one. If need be, we'll double up, come in early and stay late. You've got to have some good people, and we have some great people working here," he says.
Being in the pressure sensitive label industry from its beginnings has allowed Irv Daniels to really see it evolve, and it's interesting to note how he sees some of the major changes. "We jumped in pretty early on computer technology, and that just changed everything about the printing industry. Before computers came along, we'd sit at a drawing board pasting up stuff here and there, and we'd use the vulcanizing process to make our rubber plates. When the anilox roll came along – that was a major breakthrough. It gave us so much more control of the process. The anilox and computer graphics are the two biggest things that have improved the quality of our labels. And the equipment, too," he says.
Another change he's seen is in turnaround time. "Not too long ago, it was not uncommon to have 10 days to two weeks to get a job out. Now, we've got these just-in-time orders. Money's gotten tight and people don't want to inventory. But it's usually no problem for us. Three days is lifetime to get a job out," he says.
Quality and customer service are the benchmarks of Daniel Label Printing, and Irv Daniel has set the stage for the company to carry on and thrive into the future.Irv says, "We want to be proud of every label that goes out of here. And the young people here are talented, dedicated, and more than capable of meeting that challenge."