Roll Flex Label

By Jack Kenny | August 27, 2010

A small, regional label converter stays profitable in difficult times by cutting costs and investing in basic digital printing equipment.

Bill Zink, president of Roll Flex Label, with a recently acquired Allen Datagraph diecutting station.
Bill Zink has been in the label business for his entire career. He began his career selling pressure sensitive label products, and has stayed in the industry ever since. For the past 27 years he has run Roll Flex Label Company, located in Hackensack, NJ, USA, which he founded, and which continues to be a profitable enterprise.

Zink's business is typical of countless label companies the world over. It started small and remains so, it operates with a handful of employees, it has weathered the ups and downs of the economy, it has maintained a satisfied customer base throughout the years. Small operations might have few, if any, direct sales people, and their customers tend to be regional. At Roll Flex, sales are handled through brokers, many of whom have worked with the company for decades. Business is mostly regional, Zink says, but Roll Flex labels are also found on cigar products in countries around the world.

Early in Bill Zink's career he was a salesman for Avery Labels. "We had a dozen salesman out of New York City, and three in New Jersey," Zink recalls. "I always liked it. I'd come home from a day on the road and do some order work, and get to the post office before it closed at 8 o'clock." He had a fairly large territory in northern New Jersey at the start, but the more successful he became the more the company shrunk his territory. Eventually he decided to become his own boss.

"I was partners with two other people in Tri-Graphic, a New Jersey label printing company, which we started in 1970. After 10 or 12 years we split up," he says. "I took my accounts and left, the other fellow took money and left, and the third fellow took the business, which he later sold to someone elsewhere in New Jersey. So I decided to hang on, and I'm glad I did. All my friends are retired now, and they ask me what I'm working for, but I enjoy it."

Roll Flex Label was launched in 1983 with just one Mark Andy 830 press. The company was in South Hackensack, then in Wykoff, NJ, and 17 years ago it relocated to its current address.

The Mark Andy 2100 at Roll Flex
Today, Roll Flex operates two Mark Andy 830 presses (both three-color) and one four-color Mark Andy 2100. "The 830 is a great press," says Zink. "We do a lot of short runs – jobs go on and off the presses all day – and these presses are ideal for that. The newer generation of label printers wants all the bells and whistles on their equipment. They have big runs, and they want more of them. We will run all day on a couple of jobs, but it's not like I'm going to run all week on something." Most of the printing at Roll Flex Label is line work in one, two and three colors, with a small percentage of four color process.

Most of the printing work is pressure sensitive – "We still do a few tags," says Zink – along with some thermal transfer products. The bulk of the work is paper labels, with polyester and vinyl in the mix.

About 10 years ago, Zink installed a new system on the 830 presses that had a significant impact on production speeds. "It's a system that allows us to change the anilox rolls and doctor blades in five to 10 minutes, instead of 40 minutes, which is what it takes normally. This was unheard of, and for us it was a bonanza. I don't know what happened to the product, whether it was sold to Mark Andy or not, but it still works for us."

Even for a small printer, the advent of digital label printing has been unavoidable. Those for whom the HP Indigo, Xeikon and EFI Jetrion presses are not affordable have alternatives in smaller equipment. Roll Flex invested in a Degrava digital press, and recently acquired another from Allen Datagraph. The company's latest acquisition is a tabletop diecutting system, also from Allen Datagraph.

At work on a Mark Andy 830 CI press
"Sometimes we run our digital press all week, doing very short runs," says Zink. "At our size we can't be competitive on bigger labels in the 5,000 to 10,000 run range, because it's difficult to go up against HP. But it's constantly changing, and there certainly is a market for this."

Roll Flex uses anilox rolls from CTS Industries, inks from Alden and Ott, and substrates from Fasson, Spinnaker and Green Bay Packaging. The dies are purchased from Lederle Machine Company, and Zink says that he is highly pleased with the results from the use of flexible dies.

"This is a big thing," he says, holding up a small flexible die. "Here's one that cost $136, and it was delivered here in two days. These work, no problem. We used this one on vinyl with a polypropylene overlam just this morning, and the job is out the door already. These are a godsend, in my opinion. They makeus competitive, and they make the brokers competitive. It's good for business, and it's here to stay, that's for sure."

Roll Flex Label will take in about $1.2 million in sales revenue this year. The company employs seven people. And as with any size business, the past two years have been educational.

"Business is generally tighter," Zink reflects. "You do a lot of quoting, sometimes you get the job and sometimes you don't. Everyone has certain customers they can rely on, who like to do business with you because they like the service. You have to have first-rate service. Many times the difference gets down to 'When can I have the labels?' It always was important and it still is. Quality is a given today; you can't mess around, not like years ago with rubber plates, when you could get away with a lot of stuff."

Zink says his company has benefited from programs like Fasson's Exact and Ready Width, which lets a printer order materials in smaller, specific quantities. "There are great freight rates, and I get the materials in two days without having to buy a master roll."

The Mark Andy 830 presses at Roll Flex are equipped with quick-change anilox and doctor blade systems.
In the first half of 2009, Roll Flex enjoyed a windfall that kept the company working overtime. The second half dropped off, but the summer of 2010 has been steady, and Zink says he expects the company to end this year ahead of last year.

Prices from suppliers are not going down, yet like most converters Zink weighs the benefit of passing along price increases. "I am very hesitant to raise prices," he says. "If we have to do it, we will raise prices incrementally. I'd hate to bump up a customer if he ordered last year and orders the same thing this year."

"The way we have built this business is strictly through service," says Bill Zink. "A lot of the labels we produce end up in the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Florida. Florida is loaded with label guys but they just can't do what we do. They call up today and need something tomorrow. They need it, and they get it from us right away."
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