Russell House, Abbey Road North, Wrexham Industrial Estate, Wrexham, North Wales, UK
A limpet is a kind of aquatic animal, like a snail, that is known for its ability to tenaciously cling to something. It sticks to things, and it doesn't come off. Limpet Labels UK Ltd takes its name from this type of mollusk. The label converter, based in Wrexham, North Wales, UK, has a specialty. The company prints labels designed to adhere to products for long periods of time – through all kinds of adverse conditions – while providing the product with scuff- and scratch-proof properties. Kind of like the way the limpet's shell provides protection.
Lee Goode is Limpet Label's owner and managing director. A printing engineer by trade, he bought the business in 1992 at "a good price," he says, when the company was turning over only about £120,000 a year. At the time, it was a humble one-press operation.
The Limpet niche has always been to manufacture any type of label that's going to be placed in a harsh environment, and needs to last. And Goode is quite comfortable with his company's place in the label market. "A package of scones on the supermarket shelf? We don't want to do that. We would rather do what we're good at – what we've always been good at," he says.
Shortly after Goode took over, the company started to grow. A second flexo press was purchased, and in 2003 Limpet moved into a new facility – its current 12,000 square foot plant, staffed by 24 employees. Today, Limpet clears £2.1 million per year, running a 12-hour day shift with a mid-day overlap.
So just what exactly are the labels that Limpet prints? "It's basically high adhesion," Goode explains. "Labels where light, water and extreme temperatures have no effect. Labels that you can put in a bucket of water – leave it for 12 months – and it'll come out the same way it went in."
Limpet inventories products for its customers. A stroll through the warehouse section of the plant reveals just how many different types of products are within the company's scope. Among the labels waiting to be ordered are those for chemicals, oil, agriculture, pesticides, aerosols, cleaners, and warning labels, such as those that get affixed to the backs of industrial trucks, for example. Another popular market for Limpet is the horse cleaner market, of all things. Think horse shampoos and cleaners. These products are kept in stables, hence the need for durability.
The market presents its share of challenges. "If you use the wrong adhesives or the wrong inks, the labels could come off and the graphics could fade. Also, for some jobs, legislation requires that the labels be within 90 percent of an exact color. Certain colors are really good for this, and others are not so good. So it's all about finding the right balance," Goode says.
Limpet Labels has not exactly deviated from the markets that it serves, despite the growth and despite significant equipment acquisitions.However, new doors are constantly opening, thanks in part to the printing equipment it has. Today, the company runs two Mark Andy LP 3000 flexo presses, an eight color and a six color. Both are equipped with cold foil application, rotary screen, sheeting, and conveying capability.
The company makes its own plates using a Dantex water washout system. Goode takes pride in his company's green practices. "We were one of the first in the UK to run water washout plates. In fact, in 20 years, we've never run a solvent washout. At the end of the day I have to drink the water, and my kids have to live in this environment. It doesn't cost anything to do it, so you might as well. I think it's a choice, and that's the main thing. Everything in the plant is recyclable – the cardboard, the pallets, everything is recycled. We're doing what we're legislated to do, and a huge amount more. Also, all of the inks we use are UV, and they're more stable and less chemically aggressive than the alternatives," Goode says.
In October 2009, Limpet took the digital leap, purchasing a Xeikon 3000 series press. The technology has made the company a leaner operation. "In terms of the size of our workforce, we've been at 23 to 24 people for five or six years now, even as we've grown," Goode says. "The digital technology is less labor intensive. Before the Xeikon, we were running certain jobs on a sheetfed screen printer, and it would take two to three people to run a job that just one operator can run on the Xeikon."
Paul Williams is Les Goode's "best mate," as he says, since they were kids, and Williams has been Goode's right hand man at Limpet since the beginning. Williams runs production at the company, and his input was a driving force in the Xeikon acquisition.
The Limpet Labels pressroom
Les Goode believes in the future of digital. "For those that made investments in the technology, and didn't give it 100 percent and then sold the machine, I say to them, 'You will have to go back into digital at some time.' It's like saying you don't like electric
One of Limpet Label's Mark Andy 3000 flexo presses
"Digital printing is something you have to embrace, and you have to make it work. It's not going anywhere. I believe that in 10 years time, we'll have digital presses running at 35 to 40 meters per minute. That's where we're going – and maybe even higher speeds. You can see it progressing," Goode says.
Limpet used to get its customers the "traditional" way, via sales reps and mailings, but not so much these days. "In the last two or three years, we've gotten most of our business through the internet," Goode says, crediting search engine success. "If people want to find something now, they don't pick up the yellow pages, and customers don't have time to see 20 sales reps a day.
"If someone says they need a chemical label, and they type in 'chemical label printing company in the UK,' we'll be in the top four or five," says Goode.
Limpet still has internal salespeople, but none on the road anymore. "It's a very expensive beast to keep going," he says, "and it generally doesn't generate the money we want it to."
Limpet's reputation is another thing the company has going for it, when it comes to generating business. Goode says, "Within the industries we deal with, we have a very good name. And a person might leave one company and go to another, and when the need for labels comes up, they remember us.
"We're not a company that will print just anything. We find that we're better off targeting these certain markets, using specific technology and machinery," Goode adds, explaining that it's also a means of keeping quality high, and prices cost-effective. "Our competitors might say, 'I don't know how Limpet can do a certain job at that price. They must be losing a lot of money.' Well, we produce huge volumes of certain products. And we don't swap materials so much. If you're constantly swapping materials throughout the day, it can eat away at your time. In our game, we focus on the market we're looking at, and we don't do anything else."
So Limpet's runs are both long and short, and while most of the customers are local to the UK, there's some export business as well. For example, for a customer in Gambia, Limpet prints fertilizer labels – almost three million units. Jobs like this, Goode says, take up to two weeks, running on a flexo press.
Many of the longer runs, naturally, get printed flexo, but not all of them. "Some of the longer runs we'll print digitally, because it's easier, because it gives you such nice tones and beautiful vignettes. To achieve the same effect on a flexo machine, it's quite hard work. You have to get really good plates. If you've got a bit of a duff plate, and you have to remake it – you just lost two hours," he says.
Turnover is vanity
One might not associate of the durable and chemicals label markets with the most compelling graphics, but according to Goode, the demands of Limpet's customers have changed over the years. "Brands have realized they can improve the selling of their products with some really nice artwork, and it doesn't cost a huge amount more to produce them. So their markets are growing and so are their sales. You can go to a store to buy an item with an ordinary looking label, and then see a really nice one, and the consumer will think, that's got to be a better product. So the guys that have a really good product, I convince to spend £5,000 more a year on their labels, and they'll sell £100,000 more of product.
With an open mind, Limpet is expanding into other markets. For example, the recycling industry is one of its latest. Goode explains: "In the UK, you have to recycle. It's very strict here. We have separate bins for glass and plastic, and each one of them has to have a label that tells what day it's going to be collected, and every year it changes, as the calendar does.
"The recycling people tried labels from other printers, and they didn't work. But we use specialist inks, not standard ink, inks designed specifically for the outdoors. And we use special, approved materials with a special laminate film that will last for two years. So we got into this, and now we have about 25 percent of the market within the UK."
The Limpet team is constantly thinking about where else their labels fit. "We're not going to start to producing bread or milk labels, we just don't get involved. But, hmm, batteries – there's a fit. We do very well in the battery label market. Our turnover won't be as big as other people, but we're not in it to do £100 million turnover. We're in it to make a profit," Goode says.
When Goode got started in business, he got some advice that through the years has helped shape the Limpet business model. He explains:
"First, you're in business to make your life and your family's life better. The second thing is – turnover is vanity, profit is sanity, but cash is king.
"We make good profits, because we do a good job for our customers. We have customers that have been with us for 20 years – month in and month out. They grow, and we grow."