Companies to Watch

By Penhallow, Kenny, Katz | October 11, 2010

A special feature of Label & Narrow Web that pays tribute to a select group of converters who are making noteworthy contributions to the health of the industry.

This is not a ranking of any kind, nor is it meant to be all inclusive. In making our selections, we did not consider company size or annual sales. If these companies share anything in common, it is that they are highly successful, that their work is of the highest quality, and that they are setting new industry standards every day.

For 2010 we present these Companies to Watch:

The Label Advantage
Advanced Web
Ray Press
Imprimerie Georges Paris

The Label Advantage

The Label Advantage expects to have growth of around 10 percent by the end of 2010. Not bad for a company that has no salespeople. For eight years since the company's founding in 1996 it had a salesman, but none since then. "Most of our growth has been word of mouth," says CEO Brian Patterson.

The Label Advantage
Des Moines IA USA
Founded: 1996
Employees: 14
Management: Tom Weisner, president; Brian Patterson, CEO
Presses: 2 Webtron, 1 Aquaflex, 1 HP Indigo 4050
Annual Sales: $2.5+ million
Located in Des Moines, IA, USA, The Label Advantage is a small flexo label shop that went digital a few years ago with the purchase of an HP Indigo 4050 press. That changed the way the company approached its competitive marketplace and has allowed the owners – Patterson and President Tom Weisner – to concentrate more fully on what they do best: produce top quality labels in any quantity.
Weisner and Patterson worked together at Spirit Label, now defunct. Weisner was production manager, and Patterson got to run the equipment. In the mid-1990s Patterson left to start his own business with a partner, and when the partner moved on, Weisner stepped in.

"Our company really started when Tom and I became partners," Patterson says. "We are service oriented; we like to produce the best quality and service. We have never striven to be the biggest guy on the block, just to meet our customers needs. One of our customers calls us 'the boutique' because we will do things that other converters won't do. We try to cater to customer's needs."

Price competition has never been much of an issue at The Label Advantage, he notes. "We are the small guy on the block, and we have always watched our overhead and our manufacturing is extremely lean. That allows us to have more of a profit than someone with huge overhead and lots of employees." The company has 14 workers and operates one shift five days a week.

Acknowledging that sales has always been a challenge, Patterson says that the company "could have gone out and gotten two or three salespeople, but size never really matttered to us. Today we have no salespeople, though we do work with a few brokers. Other converters utilize our digital capability. Right now one of our main goals is to establish more of an interactive online presence." That, he says, will include the capability for website users to utilize online images and die lines to create a label concept that they can upload to The Label Advantage. "That's down the line, but it's a goal to try to capture more of the individuals who are looking for labels who don't know about us."

In the production area are two Webtron 650s and one Aquaflex 10" press. Three years ago the HP Indigo was installed along with a Rotoflex Vericut 2 for finishing. Patterson recalls what went into the decision to go digital: "We had two competitors in town, and we knew that we wanted to be on one shift, and we were basically running two. Logistics-wise, we knew that one worked best for us, because of the quality we are trying to achieve. We knew that we needed a new press. I've always been the gadget guy, and I'd been watching the digital presses over the years. So if we want to set our selves apart from competitors, why get another conventional press?"

Mastering digital
When the digital press and finishing equipment was in place, "we were trying to compare too much, which was a digital job or flexo," Patterson recalls. "There's a learning curve to knowing what to put on the digital press and what not to. As we learned, we started looking for specific business that fits it, and it took six months to a year to get that nailed down. Pricing, ease of run and meeting customer expectations: These are why we moved to digital."

Sometimes a print run at The Label Advantage becomes a hybrid. "We had a job recently with 11 designs. On two of them they wanted 48,000 labels each, and on the other nine they wanted 2,000 to 3,000 each," says Patterson. " So we ran the smaller ones digital and the larger two on flexo presses. We end up making more profit." How do the prints compare? "It's an excellent comparison," he observes. "With a very trained eye you can tell a difference in the line screens, but not with an average eye."

The markets served by The Label Advantage are quite broad: medical, direct mail, beauty products, food and beverage. "We have never grown in leaps and bounds, only in small increments," notes Patterson. "That has to do with our customer diversity: One might be down, another up. "We're like a PT boat that can make swift changes in the water, rather than an aircraft carrier, which has to go through a whole chain of command to turn around."

Patterson says that the company has seen a change in customer behavior with respect to deliveries and prices over the past six months to a year. "They are demanding a lot more. Larger companies are trying to lower costs. We have been seeing our own costs increase and we have to be creative in order to lower the customers' costs. We have looked at our manufacturing processes, and have gone back to materials suppliers to see what they can do, to find different ways to purchase materials."

What used to be fairly quick turnarounds has now become very quick turnarounds, Patterson says. "During slow times the backlog was short – not just for us but for all of us. Now that orders are increasing they still want faster turnarounds. The digital press has responded to that demand. Our turnaround time went from a week to two weeks to 2-4 days."

The HP Indigo is now running eight to 10 hours a day, and is producing 35 to 40 percent of The Label Advantage's output. "It's growing more than flexo," says Patterson, "even though we are having record sales on the flexo side."

Is there another press in the company's future? "Probably the next press will be another digital press," he adds. "The ease of how the workflow goes – getting the job to the press –is more predictable. If an operator is having a bad day on the flexo press he can waste a lot of time and material, versus on the digital side you don't waste as much material."— Jack Kenny


Label converters worldwide are worried about stagnant sales and squeezed margins. Rauli Tkeshelashvili, sales manager of FlexoLabels, Georgia's biggest pressure sensitive label converter, has other concerns as well. It is just two years since the Russian invasion, and the climate is far from being one of "business as usual" for Georgians, who are less than happy to accept that some 20 percent of the state's territory is de facto still under Russian occupation.

Label exports have dried up, says FlexoLabels' Keti Asatiani, the company's export/import manager, but sales of labels to the domestic wineries are expanding. In the days of the Soviet Union, Georgian wines were highly prized from Moscow to Vladivostok, but were little known in the West. It took more than a decade after the end of communism for Georgia's wine industry to modernize its wineries and hone its marketing skills. It has now done both, and today FlexoLabels, says Asatiani, sells 9 million wine labels per year.Its plant and offices in the capital, Tbilisi, occupy 25,000 square feet.

Tbilisi Georgia

Employees: 30
Presses: Flexo, offset, letterpress, screen, foil
Annual Production: 3.5 million square meters (38 million square feet)
One of its biggest customers is Teliani Valley, also based in Tbilisi, which exports Georgian wines worldwide, including to the USA. Teliani's CEO Shota Kobelia told your correspondent, "Political tensions with Russia have contributed to a sharp decline in legal wine exports to that country, but our biggest problem as Georgia's leading wine exporter is counterfeiting. Counterfeiting problems stem from mislabeling by Georgian producers and falsified 'Georgian Wine' labels on wines produced outside of Georgia." To combat this problem, FlexoLabels supplies a range of security wine labels. Georgia today produces more than 110 million liters of wine per year, much of it for export, and high quality, hard-to-copy labels are a major plank of the wine industry's marketing strategy.

Apart from its wine label business, FlexoLabels also prints 4 million brandy and vodka labels, and 13 million labels for soft drinks to see Georgians through the hot summer months. "We are the only flexo printing company in Georgia, and we also have offset, letterpress and screen printing equipment," says Asatiani. "We have modern rotary presses, including Gallus and Nilpeter machines, and hotfoil equipment from Newfoil; no one else here is making self-adhesive labels." Unusual for an exclusive PS label supplier, the firm does not provide PS labeling equipment.

In all, FlexoLabels' 30 employees convert 3.5 million square meters of substrate (mostly PS labelstock) per year.

The company imports its labelstock from major European producers, including Avery Dennison and UPM Raflatac. Delivery delays for raw materials are long: The nearest slitting/distribution center is in Istanbul, 800 miles away, with transport by truck through the whole length of Turkey, or by sea via the Georgian port of Batumi.

FlexoLabels also makes wet glue labels for the beer industry; it prints more than 15 million of these annually using Heidelberg presses.

In few other places in the world does the future of the label and packaging business so depend on politics as in Georgia. The country's leader since 2003 is Mikhail Saakashvili, a 42 year old graduate of Columbia University. The economy has been liberalized, the Soviet-style bureaucracy cut down to size, and corruption curbed. The 2007 war has severely cut cross-border trade with Russia, Georgia's main trading partner, and its other neighbors – Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey – all have their own problems. Foreign investment into Georgia has taken a knock as foreign businessmen worry (needlessly, say the locals) that they might at any moment find themselves staring down the business end of a Russian cannon. However, Georgia continues to win approval from the world's major macroeconomic institutions, including the IMF and the BERD (Bank for European Reconstruction & Development), which has invested in many Georgian projects (including the wine industry).

"We are a small country but with plenty of entrepreneurial talent," says FlexoLabels' Rauli Tkeshelashvili. "FlexoLabels, like hundreds of other small and medium Georgian companies, can expand and prosper. Politics permitting." — John Penhallow

Imprimerie Georges Paris (IGP)

Employees: 65
Annual Sales: €11.3 million ($15.3 million)
Imprimerie Georges Paris

If, despite the financial crisis, a medium-sized label converter manages to increase sales by 6 percent in 2008-2009 and keep them at the same level this year, maybe that company has found a few lucrative niche markets. This appears to be the case for Imprimerie Georges Paris (IGP) in Nuits-Saint-Georges, in the French wine-growing region of Burgundy.

The company was founded in 1922, when Georges Paris set up his Lithographic and Letterpress Label Company to provide growers and vintners of Burgundy's grands crus with bespoke labels destined to grace the bottles that graced the tables of Europe's elite. This was the beginning of the golden age of Burgundy, and Paris soon found that he could turn an honest franc or two by making labels for the local vin de table as well.

We move forward to 1970, when the business was acquired by the present owners, Régis Pauck and his brother Noel. They set about modernizing the company's offset presses and finishing equipment to meet the existing and future quality requirements of the label market. This investment policy culminated in the purchase, in 2009 and 2010, of a second automated finishing line from Polar and another MAN Roland 700 sheet offset press with six colors plus varnish.

"If we've been able to survive the economic crisis of the past two years without losing too many feathers," says Régis Pauck, "it's partly due to our policy of diversification, and partly due to finding new export markets. The wine label is still an important market for us, but over the last 10 years we have significantly expanded our business in labels for beer and soft drinks, as well as for a range of food products. As for our export business, we now have customers in Belgium, Switzerland and throughout Africa, where the production of bottled water and soft drinks far outstrips the capacity of local converters to supply labels."

The decision to diversify was partly due to the fact that the local wine growers, cooperatives and commercial wineries have been turning increasingly to self-adhesive labels. IPG has preferred to remain faithful to the sheetfed offset label business, which is where its technical expertise lies. "When our customers ask for pressure sensitives or filmic labels, we subcontract to a small number of local partners who specialize in these areas," says Pauck.

However, within the specialized field of sheetfed offset paper labels, IGP can do almost anything. The company has installed a PECOM CIP3 software system (inking data transfer from prepress to press) which, according to Pauck, speeds setup, improves quality and reduces manufacturing costs. Hot foil stamping, embossing and serial numbering hold no secrets for IGP, which can also claim to be one of the most experienced French specialists in printing on metal coated and other specialty papers. In 2002 the company qualified for ISO 9001 certification.

Pauck is not caught up by the present wave of enthusiasm for digital printing, "Okay, digital lets you make very small orders, for things like market testing, proofs and trials, but generally these are not things that our customers are asking for. At the other end of the scale for very long print runs, as for example for some beer labels, we are not equipped to compete. Fortunately between these two extremes there is sufficient elbow room for a company of our size."

What about the risk for a company like IGP of seeing its export markets snaffled by Asian competitors with labor costs a third or even a quarter of those in France? Régis Pauck is confident: "The risk exists," he says, "but given the delivery time from 30 to 50 days, not to mention the quality problems, I do not see a mass defection of our clients to Chinese or Indian competitors. The flow is rather in the opposite direction, with European printers exporting certain types of labels to the countries of the Far East. When it comes to raw materials, and in particular paper, on the other hand, we scan the world to get best value for money, and for certain paper grades, in addition to our traditional European suppliers – and with the consent of our customers – we can and do buy from Chinese or Indian mills."

IGP is a family business. Is this a good thing or a bad thing in today's economic climate? Yes and no, says Régis Pauck, "We certainly have more difficulty than international groups when it comes to raising money for investments. On the other hand, we are a successful company with 65 employees and sales of €11.3 million ($15.3 million) this year, with a modestly profitable bottom line.

"A little anecdote may do something to explain our good customer relations: a few years' back, one 31st December when everyone was getting into party mood, a customer called to say his warehouse had been flooded. Could we do anything? We, and volunteers on our staff, worked all day and all night, and the customer got his labels in time to start his January production. That's the service you can get from a family business.

"As to the future, well, with my brother, we have a son and a daughter in the management, and if you know of a better form of corporate sustainability than that, I'd like to hear it." — John Penhallow



Growth: 30 percent per year
Annual Sales: Undisclosed
Employees: Undisclosed
Presses: Undisclosed
Dot Com Label Mavericks? OK, so the real name of the company is MaverickLabel.Com. But the former is more descriptive, because this is an internet company � supplying labels � in a different and inventive way. Maverick sees itself first and foremost as a web technology company, providing an interface for the customer into the world of ordering labels – a label "portal" – which can simplify the process of ordering almost any kind of label or tag, regardless of the manufacturing method.

"Our driving focus is to make label ordering easy for the customer," says CEO Mark Trumper. "We know that there are many different places people can order labels, but finding the right one is difficult enough. Then, having to navigate the vast array of options any one manufacturer may present makes it even more daunting. Only after dealing with a great deal of complexity might the customer realize that there is a mismatch between their needs and the vendor's offerings. Our goal is to fix that problem. We offer a complete set of labeling solutions – virtually any kind of label or tag, produced on all kinds of equipment – in any quantity the customer might want. And we do it with an integrated, consistent interface to a set of intelligent online quoters, for an intuitive shopping experience."

The company keeps everything close to the vest. They don't reveal any details about their converting equipment. They don't discuss sales figures, the size of the operation, or even how many employees they have. However, they do encourage people to stop on by – not at their Edmonds, WA, USA offices – but online, at the website.

A MaverickLabel.Com Customer Care representative monitors jobs on her Dashboard and a customer's Dashboard.
While many label companies have moved some of their sales efforts to the web, Maverick has taken all of its operations online. Through its technology, the company tightly integrates the customer, its Customer Care department, production, and accounting. Each has a "dashboard" through which they can see the current status of any job connected to them. Customers can tap into their own web portal to get updates on progress or find shipping status and tracking numbers; they also can reorder any previous job. Customer Care can get a quick overview of every job they are tracking, including alerts when something requires their attention. Through their dashboard, each production facility can see every one of the jobs they have in house, update statuses and tracking numbers, or communicate with Maverick's Customer Care department. Accounting gets updates of invoice changes and shipping to trigger billing. All this happens in real time from the moment the customer orders on Maverick's website, until the order is shipped and billed.

Maverick acknowledges that there are companies that offer competing products on websites, but may specialize in one, or just a handful of product lines. "There are sites that offer asset tags and others that offer parking permits, or bumper stickers, golf club labels, control panels, or full color prime labels," says Trumper. "But MaverickLabel.Com integrates virtually anything that sticks, and some things that don't, into one consistent interface. Our patented 'UberQuoter' system can match the customer's needs with the appropriate technology, helping to optimize the product, quantity, time, and cost."

Maverick emphasizes its short run capabilities and speed, with quantities as low as one, and production time often measured in hours. Because of its web technology, Maverick can make a profit on very small orders, where the total invoice might be less than what it costs some companies just to take an order. And Maverick has developed proprietary technologies for producing many of these small orders. But, for Maverick, short runs are often the prelude to longer runs, as customers prototype, do product introductions, and ramp up for full production. Maverick meets those needs, all with the same interface, and the online customer interface. The customer just needs to log in to their account, pick their past job number (usually displayed as a small graphic of the label itself along with job numbers and ordering history), and 'quote' the new order for that job. The UberQuoter will automatically pick the best option to produce that quantity and get it to the customer within their specified time constraints.

MaverickLabel.Com has gone "all in" when it comes to its commitment to technology. Just consider its staffing allocation. While it never make public any absolute numbers, Maverick will go so far as to say that a full third of its staff is dedicated to their IT department. It has no sales force whatsoever; 100 percent of the sales effort is web based. Says Trumper, "Google is our best sales rep, and our website is the only portal into which orders our placed."

MaverickLabel.Com's headquarters in Edmonds, WA, USA
This online label presence did not come about by accident. It took a confluence of technologies, timing, and the right people coming together. Maverick was founded in 1994 by Rick Kent, the company's current president and chief science officer. Kent is an MD by education, and Maverick was started as a media company, producing high tech interactive video programming, primarily in the medical field. A need for short run packaging options led to development of media labels. That led to developing other industrial short run labels. And a need for low cost distribution led to what Kent says was the first purely online web quoting and ordering system in the industry. Mark Trumper, a tennis buddy of Kent's, joined Maverick in 2000, bringing 25 years of print and print distribution management experience, along with a whole lot of business acumen. Kent and Trumper saw the opportunity that a full service web portal for labels presented, thus turning the focus of the company to its website. And today's MaverickLabel.Com was the result.

Maverick constantly surveys its customers – electronically of course, using the very same web interface – to look for deficiencies, or places where they could do better. "What we are amazed at is the overwhelmingly super positive feedback we get," says Trumper. "Yes, it happens that we fall down with an occasional order, but the vast majority of our customer feedback is telling us that we are on the right course. And for those rare occurrences where we do not meet the customer's expectations, we strive to make it right, and to fix our system to prevent whatever caused the problem in the first place."

The result of MaverickLabel.Com's business model has been an average sales growth of more than 30 percent year to year. The customer base ranges from very small businesses to Fortune 100 companies, Kents says, and adds that even with the current recession, though Maverick did experience a downturn in sales, it was very small when compared to the slowdown in the overall economy. "I think this may be due to a somewhat paradoxical effect of the recession," says Kent. "The general trend in customer behavior is to move toward purchasing on the web. This has been slow in the label industry in general, due to the complexity of the product, and due to a very fragmented market of suppliers. Recessions however push customers to look for less expensive, shorter runs, and faster alternatives. The natural place to look is on the web. And when they do a search for virtually any label type, they find MaverickLabel.Com."

In terms of future growth, the company is excited about the resurgence in the economy they have seen, and are forecasting international markets expanding at a rapid clip. The IT team is perpetually at work to improve its web interface, and add new choices for customers.

"We have a whole lot of exciting projects waiting to come online. Stop by any time and take a look. The address is www.MaverickLabel.Com," says Kent. — Steve Katz

RBDwyer Group

The market for shrink sleeves is arguably the fastest growing in the label business. It is attracting the attention of pressure sensitive label converters because of its successes, and innovations in the segment keep it growing at a healthy pace. Some converters, however, have been in the shrink business for some time, and have been thoroughly enjoying the success of the shrink phenomenon.

One such converter is the RBDwyer Group, a printer and converter of heat shrink sleeve labels, tamper-evident bands and preforms, with plants in California and Pennsylvania and a sales office in New York. "We have been in business for more than 20 years and have grown to be one of the largest converters in the industry, with leading edge equipment and printing technology," says Jim Dwyer, president and CEO.

RBDwyer Group
Anaheim CA USA

Plants:Anaheim CA, Wilkes-Barre PA, USA
Employees: 150
Management: Jim Dwyer, president & CEO; Mike Hunter, vice president; Dorothy Dwyer, treasurer
"Production," Dwyer says, "is what sets us apart from the competition. We offer 10-color water based flexo printingand digital printing with water based inks. We do in-house press, seaming and full web inspection during the print process to ensure consistent quality. Our newest press is our IVCO – Infinitely Variable Cylinder Web Offset Print Technology from RDP Marathon. The printing from this press is comparable to rotogravure with no tooling charges, faster turnaround and greater flexibility in printing multiple sku's.The IVCO uses UV inks, so our customer can reduce his carbon footprint and offer a more sustainable product."

RBDwyer also makes use of an HP Indigo WS6000 digital press. "The digital press enables us to offer short runs, mock-ups and salesman's samples," he adds.

The company enjoys its position in markets that remained fairly strong in the recession and even stronger now. "The recession has created an opportunity to invest and expand our business with new technology, capabilities and employees," Dwyer says. "The markets for our products are limited only by your imagination," Dwyer says. "Beverage, dairy, food, health and beauty, pharmaceutical, fresh cut fruit, produce,and chemical industries are a small sample of who buys our products." The company's sales operation utilizes sales reps, brokers and an in-house customer service department.

In addition to the plants in California and Pennsylvania, RB Dwyer has distribution warehouses in the US, Canada and Mexico. "The RB Dwyer Group has invested in state-of-the-art equipment that yields faster turnaround and a more economical product," notes Dwyer. "This makes us confident that we will have major growth in the future. We will open other facilities as the need arises."

More than one converter has noted that since the recession began to withdraw, customers have become more demanding, raising the bar for the label converter. "This is true," says Dwyer. "However we find that if you give the customer value and reliability, they will come back and order again and again. This is why RBDwyer has been successful." — Jack Kenny

Advanced Web

In 2005, two label printing companies based in Minneapolis, MN, USA, merged to form a new company, Advanced Web. The new entity was able to condense four plants down to one, and now occupies an 80,000 square foot plant in the city. The company today enjoys post-recession growth in the double digits, and sees that continuing through 2011.

The two former companies were Advanced Web Technologies and Web Label, both narrow web flexo converters. The former was founded in 1991, the latter in 1976. John "Kip" Colwell had been president of Web Label, and continues at the helm of Advanced Web. Today the company prints with a digital press as well as flexo, and is deeply focused on meeting customer needs, Lean Manufacturing, and sustainability.

Advanced Web
Minneapolis MN USA

Founded: 2005 through merger of Advanced Web Technologies and Web Label
Employees: 133
Annual Sales: $27.5 million
Presses: Webtron, Mark Andy, Aquaflex, HP Indigo
The company's strengths are in the medical products market, OEM label manufacturing, prime labels, specialty products, and direct mail labeling. "Web Label brought with it a strong background in medical product labeling," Colwell says. "Advanced Web Technologies brought more of its prime and specialty converting, as well as flexible packaging. Today, the two areas we continue to grow aggressively are medical and OEM, and we have strong relationships in the prime label business."

Advanced Web's customer base ranges from local companies to multi-nationals. "Our business is across the continent, and we also distribute our products globally," says Colwell. The company's sales force is 100 percent in-house, based mostly in Minnesota with reps in Chicago and Dallas.

The customer focus at Advanced Web has evolved into the creation of a strong IT department and investment in a supplier managed inventory (SMI) program. "We have a portal that lets customers set up and look at whatever type of information they deem important about their print work," he notes. "We manage their inventory, and a big part of our offering is the SMI program, either here or in their operation. We also have a logistics partner in Mexico."

Customers have always been demanding, but as the recession weakens, Colwell sees that they are "even more focused on JIT and having as little inventory in their pipeline as possible. It continues to move in that direction. Yes, it's an expense for us, and it's also the reason we continue to make capital investments on tools to reduce the overall makeready and waste in our process."

Colwell says that the company's Lean Manufacturing journey began three and a half years ago, and was certainly a help during the recession. "It showed us the importance of eliminating any kind of waste. Not working harder but working smarter, standardizing work, focused on eliminating anything that isn't needed in that process."

The company continues to run multiple kaizen events and ongoing improvement events. "It has been a very strong part of our success," says Colwell. "We work various events with our customers directly, so that they can learn the total applied cost, and help us understand how can we improve the overall cost structure: how we deliver, inventory, materials.

"We also have begun sending groups of employees out to visit our customers, so that they can learn how our product is being used," Colwell adds. "So many people throughout our operation have never seen a bottling or automated production line, so they don't know what happens when there's an issue with our product at their plant. The customers enjoy the opportunity to show off their operations and talk about what they do, and why they do business with Advanced Web, and let employees see what's going on."

Advanced Web employs 133 people. "Like everyone else we were hit fairly hard at the end of 2008," Colwell recalls. "We took the necessary steps, managers took pay cuts, the majority of our hourly folks started working 32 hours, and we were able to keep all of our skilled people here. Then in late spring of 2009 a couple of significant projects started, and we have been running quite strongly since then." The company manufactures seven days a week with two 10-hour shifts Monday through Thursday, and a Friday to Sunday shift.

Sustainability is an active pursuit at Advanced Web. "We continue to look at how we can take not only waste out of our process, but continue to cut obsolescence for our customers," says Colwell. "We have our waste hauled to a Minneapolis incinerator to help power and heat some of the city's main buildings. Our challenge is getting to where we can recycle release liner. We have a couple of customers we are working with to get into the recycling program with TLMI."

The company today is working toward ISO 14000 certification, addressing environmental management.
Back in 2007 and early 2008, everyone was pushing sustainability," Colwell recalls. "Then it stopped, when the recession began, and it's starting now to come back. We have continued our programs, bringing different materials and constructions to our customers, recycled or recyclable material. We are just now again seeing them start to push for more environmentally sound products and practices."

Advanced Web acquired an HP Indigo ws4500 digital press a couple of years ago to complement its flexo capabilities, which include Webtrons, Mark Andys, Aquaflex presses, and a 50" CI press. "The digital press has justified itself on cost reductions," Colwell says. "We want to work closely with our customers, within their operations, handle everything from soup to nuts, whatever their needs might be. With the digital press we were looking at multi-color processes that could be 1,500 to 25,000 label runs. It shouldn't matter to a customer how we run it, but it should sharpen our position, serve as another tool for us. We have been able to utilize the digital press in marketing, telling customers that we can handle whatever their needs are, from the very shortest difficult jobs to the longest." Today the press is running two shifts a day.

The company's next press is already on order: A P5 Performance press from Mark Andy. "We're really looking forward to the makeready speed and cost improvements it will bring to the process," Colwell says. — Jack Kenny


Birmingham AL USA

Founded: 1973
Annual Sales: $9 million
Employees: 40
Specialty: Multi-web constructions, coupons, gaming pieces, scratch-offs, extended content labels
Presses: Mark Andy
People in the label business are fond of saying, "We do things differently around here," whether they do or not. Thomas Ray, however, can utter those words and be accurate. For years, RayPress, in Birmingham, AL, USA, has been producing complex label constructions using multiple webs that have helped make a name for the company throughout the industry.

RayPress prides itself on being one of the first companies to develop a method for producing expanded content booklet labels, and still focuses on those as well as gaming and sweepstakes tickets, scratch-offs, and anything else that requires the use of more than one web.

"Right now we are handling as many as four webs," Ray says. The company retrofits its presses to a degree, he adds, "but press manufacturers now have more latitude to build to your design. With our last major press acquisition, we got pretty much all we wanted on the press from Mark Andy."

As a young man, Ray worked in sales for the family offset business. "I started to run across people who wanted labels. It seemed to be an easier thing to sell than offset. So we went out and bought a Mark Andy 810, a three color central impression press. Got two days training from the factory and off we went."

Eventually, the opportunity arrived to make folded coupons, "if we could figure out how to make them," Ray recalls. "We did it, and that's how we migrated into our specialty." In the beginning, RayPress had difficulty growing the company: "Being a small business, we had sales and marketing issues. Demand from the local client base for our special products was virtually nonexistent, so we had to go out and put ourselves in front of bigger companies. It was a long, time consuming process."

Today RayPress makes multi-web constructions for companies everywhere, and is also a busy supplier to the trade. "A lot of people who want to meet special challenges call us," he says. "That's how we got the word out: word of mouth, marketing at trade shows, some direct mail. I find that word of mouth works as well as anything."

Thomas Ray finds that, lately, customers seem less willing to be adventurous with multi-web constructions. "From our perspective, there's a lot more hesitation to give it a try to see if it works. People are hanging onto their marketing funds more than they were in the past. We do a lot of retail store game pieces, scratch off and so forth. We are always moving along, improving what we do. When we first got into this type of work hardly anyone was doing it, but now we have a lot of competition. Now it's not a big mystery how you go about making these products. In the beginning, nobody knew how to do it."

RayPress is a flexo house, the only digital capability being single-color variable imaging inline. Presses range in widths up to 16", and two of them have 14 print stations each ("You can't ever have enough colors," says Ray). The company employs its own salespeople and utilizes the services of independent brokers.

RayPress employs 40 people. "I've always believed in running one shift with a small second shift. When the second shift starts building to capacity, it's time to start adding equipment," Ray observes. "Recently we have gone back to one shift. In some ways it's good because there are now more eyes on quality."
Before the recession, annual sales peaked at $11 million. "Now we're at about $9 million," Ray says. "We had a somewhat decent 2009, not all that terrible."

The type of work accomplished by RayPress demands a high skill level from the manufacturing team. Ray speaks proudly of his co-workers. "We've pretty much been together for 20 to 25 years or so. There are guys here in their 40s who started in their teens. We are all really close."

The team is also innovative. RayPress is the holder of several patents involving multi-web constructions. One is a clean release refrigerator magnet. "It's like a dry release coupon, except with a magnet, and in a roll form. When the consumer receives it, it will peel off and have no residue." The product is produced on conventional inline equipment using a substrate 8 to 10 mils thick.

Another patented product is the IRC Plus, a combination of a multiweb instantly redeemable coupon and a multifold leaflet label, "so you could have a cross promotion with a mail-in offer or recipes."

RayPress uses monochrome inkjet for variable data on labels, but has not yet invested in larger digital capability. "We are looking at the multi-color products, and we are looking at incorporating full color digital data inline to our existing presses. If we could get 150 feet per minute with digital, that would be a pretty nice speed," says Ray. "What's currently being offered out there at 70 to 80 feet is not much of an improvement over what has been offered before."

Customer demands
Like most other label printers, Ray finds that customers are more demanding today. "The quality standards are just absolutely getting tougher and tougher," he says. "As fast as we upgrade our prepress and QC standards, it's a constant struggle to meet these standards. One of the biggest companies that we serve is trying to put 100 percent inspection on all their application equipment. It seems that the customer will look for a blemish with a loupe. We have cameras for inspection, not 100 percent, but we are looking into that as well.

"Another challenge is that delivery times are decreasing. We don't have the time for troubleshooting any more. They're looking for five day delivery on a three web job with process colors and coatings, and they want it drop shipped at five locations. Then they change their minds and want it drop shipped at 500 locations. So we tear open the boxes and package it up all over again."

RayPress' work is mostly on paper and paperboard. "We do a ton of work that is not pressure sensitive at all, for products like game pieces. A big percentage is non-PS, but it still might be a multi-web construction."

And because the company specializes in gaming pieces and other confidential products, security is paramount at RayPress. "We have our own shredding operation, and 24-hour surveillance," says Ray. "But our best security is our people. We have never had to worry about them."— Jack Kenny
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