Companies to Watch

October 4, 2011

Companies to Watch is 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 2011 we present these Companies to Watch:

Braizat Etiquettes
Heartland Label Printers
ITW Covid
LabelPrint America

Braizat Etiquettes
13 rue Gustave Eiffel
Villeneuve la Guyard, France

Owner/manager: Marie Aubin
Employees: 4
Annual sales: $470,000

There are exceptions of course, but the Companies to Watch featured in L&NW tend to have certain things in common: they are generally run by people who are:
a) printers,
b) entrepreneurs, and
c) males

Three years ago, Marie Aubin was none of these things. For most of her career she was a musician, composer and producer – oh yes, and also lead singer of a popular quartet. Tiring of this, she then spent 10 years building up a public relations and packaging design agency of which she became a minority shareholder. When in 2009 she was "remerciée" (which is a nice French way of saying fired) from this activity, she found herself with a modest sum to invest and no fixed plans for the future.

At the same time, and also near the French region of Burgundy, a certain Mr. and Mrs. Braizat were enjoying their first year of retirement from running a modest label business. They had remercied their staff, thrown dust covers over their five label presses and advertised, without too much hope, for a suitable buyer. Enter Marie Aubin. She recounts her first meeting with the Braizats with a conversation that ran something like this:

"What do you know about the label business?"


"And yet you want to buy our business!"

"Yes, that's exactly what I want to do."

"You know, printing is, kind of, special. Do you know how to operate a label press?"

Braizat Etiquettes took the coveted "La plus Belle Etiquette" prize this year at Graphitec in Paris.

"No. But I know how to manage a team, to set objectives, and to listen to customers."

Looking back over this encounter, Marie Aubin reports that the Braizats, while totally unconvinced, sportingly agreed to take her money, and in December 2009 she became the proud owner of a deserted workshop and a couple of presses that had not been used for a year.

Through a friend of a friend she located a young man rumored to have some printing experience, and who was looking for a job. "I asked him," Marie Aubin remembers, "what he knew about label presses. He replied, 'More than you do,' so he got the job." The young man, known to everyone as Jiji, did not disappoint her. Now running the production, he admits, "I actually knew nothing about printing, but I've done 36 different jobs, always with machines, and I can say modestly that there aren't many bits of machinery around that I can't get to work. Label presses are no different. You try it, it doesn't work, you try again it still doesn't work, but pretty soon it's up and running and they all say Jiji you're a genius. I'm not, but I don't let on."

Digital to the rescue
Marie Aubin was fortunate to find that the previous owners, though still dubious, admired her courage and gave of their time and know-how to help get the production up and running. Four semi-rotary letterpress machines and one screen press need a lot of orders, and here Marie Aubin's experience came to the fore as she started putting together a modest sales team. Customers were mainly in the food business but also came from local PR and marketing agencies. Burgundy's most famous product also needs a lot of labels, but most of the producers and bottlers were already tied in with other label converters.

In 2010, Braizat Etiquettes was looking to invest, this time in equipment to handle the very short runs that local competitors were not interested in. The answer was digital, but the wealth of digital label presses available made the choice agonizing. "The decision was made easier," says Aubin, "by the fact that we were still a very young company and we didn't have much money – that ruled out several of the big-time digital press manufacturers."

Aubin's choice eventually fell on a digital press made by US manufacturer Primera Technologies. In late 2010, the euro was a few points stronger than it is today – or maybe the dollar was a few points weaker, but in either case it made US goods a more attractive proposition for Euro-zone buyers, and in February 2011 Braizat Etiquettes became the latest French label converter to go digital. The model chosen, CX1200e, is a four color laser printer, and comes with a digital finishing unit that uses extremely fast-moving digitally programmed knives to diecut each label individually.

Aubin and her one-man production team found the commissioning of the new printing and converting line very straightforward. "We put this new equipment through its paces, and I can tell you that the labels stand up well to sun and grease, which is very important for certain of our customers. Generally we found we did not need lamination, although we can do it on the finishing unit. As for the colors, they stay bright and stand up well to scuffing." She describes the diecutting as "absolutely revolutionary! We have a lot of PR and marketing agencies among our customers – they are just knocked sideways by the possibility of diecutting a star, a heart shape or any other form."

The fact that the press runs only one web width (216 mm or 8.5") she finds "not too constraining." On the other hand, she says that the temperature of the printing unit, even if it is well regulated, sometimes causes problems with filmic substrates (toner-based laser printers generate heat), and that "You can't use any labelstock indiscriminately with this press, despite what some people tell you."

The new digital equipment meant that Braizat Etiquettes could now make inroads into the only part of the wine label business that was within reach: the short-run want-it-by-yesterday orders that other label converters were not too interested in. It also brought in new business from design agencies, a sector that Aubin knew well. At the Graphitec show in Paris in June of this year, Braizat took the coveted "La plus Belle Etiquette" prize for a label designed and printed for a brand of olive oil. This tamper-evident label impressed the jury by its unusual shape, its gold foiling and its seductive design.

Whatever assets Braizat Etiquettes has going for it, they don't include engineering degrees or MBAs, nor even years of experience in the label business. It has been more a case of trial and error, lots of hard work – and a good dose of chutzpah.
By John Penhallow

Heartland Label Printers
1700 Stephen St.
Little Chute, WI

Principal: Peter Helander
Marketing Director: Jim Check
Employees: 100 in label division
Annual sales: $35 million label division

Twenty-one years ago, Jim Check was helping Peter Helander and Don Van Roy start a company called Heartland Label Printers in the town of Little Chute, WI, USA. But Check left just before Heartland got under way, and went to work at a competitor. Years went by and the two companies skirmished, as will happen, and then it was time for Check to retire. He sold the company and planned to take some time off. So he thought.

Two days into retirement, his telephone rang. It was Helander, asking Check to come to work for Heartland. He accepted, and he's still there. They call him the marketing manager, but he's also the sales manager, and knows his way around the entire operation.

Heartland's production waste is shipped 20 miles to a plant in Green Bay where it is converted into fuel pellets.

Heartland is more than a label manufacturing business. The label division employs 100 people, but 400-plus employees power the other divisions, such as Heartland Business Systems, which sells and repairs computers and is an internet provider, among other things. Another division is Avistone, a software developer. And the company recently created a paper roll division.

The label division is doing well, Check reports. "We'll do $35 million this year; that's up 22 percent from last year. Things are going really well."

In late September the company broke ground on a plant addition that will add 12,000 square feet to the existing 100,000 square feet of space. About 80 percent of the plant area is devoted to the label business. Three years ago, Heartland acquired a property in Ontario, CA, USA, and has one press there. "We've decided to expand in Southern California," Check says. "The demand for labels is very strong."

Heartland Label has always been heavily into the production of scale labels, but lately the market focus has changed. "We have always been big in weigh scale labels," says Check, "but thermal transfer industrial labels are now the bulk of what we produce. We are going after more of the industrial bar code business, which is now about 60 percent of our production. Scale labels are the other 40 percent."

The scale label business is still growing, he adds, but the industrial side is going faster and Heartland is working with national chains. The company's reach is North America and the Caribbean. Sales are mostly through resellers and distributors, though major accounts are handled directly.

The majority of the industrial labels are used in logistics, he says. "Mostly they are for products coming out of a manufacturing plant or a food operation, getting packaged for the warehouse with a box label and a bar code."

Investment payoff
Check says that Heartland made a decision a few years ago to invest in the best equipment that they could find in order to grow in the industrial sector. "We bought butt splicers, trim wasters, turret rewinders," he says. "Now we are putting in a coating line ourselves to save money that way. We're always looking at ways to make the production faster and smoother. We're taking business away from our competitors because they are sitting on old equipment.

"We are very aggressive and are putting a lot of money back into the business," he adds. "If you don't invest in your plant, you're dead. Our computer systems are the best. Now we're programming off the cloud." The Wisconsin plant has seven flexo presses and two diecutters, and the operation runs three shifts, seven days a week.

Digital printing capability doesn't appear to be in the plans at Heartland Label. "We have looked at them, and we've seen what the Indigo can do. But we sell pretty much blank labels, and who in our sales force will sell to digital? We might consider something small for samples, but I don't see us going digital," says Check.

Waste to pellets
Heartland Label Printers was one of the first customers of Greenwood Fuels, which built a plant in Green Bay, WI, two years ago to convert non-recyclable substrates into fuel pellets that are purchased by coal-fired power plants as an alternative energy source. Label waste means matrix and setup material, and a year ago Heartland was shipping about 1,500 tons a year 20 miles north to Green Bay.

"Today it's probably closer to 2,000 tons," Check says. "Our customers are very happy to know what we're doing there, happy to be a part of it. And we're lucky to be in the geographical region to make use of Greenwood's operation." The local landfill is right near Heartland's property, and it still costs less to deliver the waste to Greenwood Fuel. State and local governments, he notes, have raised landfill dumping rates dramatically.

ITW Covid
32 Commerce Drive North
Cranbury NJ USA

National Sales Manager: Franco Diaz
Director of Operations & Innovations: Bob Carey

For a long time, ITW Covid has been helping governments keep secrets. The company produces holographic products that are used to protect documents and products, and its clients are government agencies of all kinds. Just recently, the ITW Covid Security Group formed a new operating unit called ITW Covid Brand Protection, whose mission is to take the company's knowledge and offerings to brand owners who are in need of product security.

The brand protection division of ITW Covid – the name is a merger of "covert" and "ID" – is working with such industries as pharmaceutical, medical device, HBA/personal care, industrial components, and electronics. Its portfolio includes overt, covert and forensic technologies that are optical, chemical and physical in nature. They are developed in a facility in Cranbury, NJ, USA that is certified as secure by NASPO, the North American Security Products Organization.

Encoded text (right) can be read only with a special device.

Products include high security holograms, holographic hot stamp foils, holographic laminates and overlays, security ink features, security markers and taggants, track and trace systems, sequential numbering, and security labeling systems.

"Look at what's going on globally with foreign and domestic economies," says Franco Diaz, national sales manager for ITW Covid Brand Protection. "Budgets are flat or down. Business is not growing in leaps and bounds any more. Counterfeiting continues to increase. What we have done is to take the technology that has made us successful in the public sector and tweak it for brand protection. Today we can offer brand authentication and product security to the private sector."

"One of core strengths is that we do everything under one roof," says Bob Carey, director of operations and innovations. "We start with wide rolls of polyester and make our own materials: our own artwork, originations, printing, and metalizing. When we go to a customer and they need something tailor made, we move quickly. Competitors need to work with suppliers, but we have it all in house."

The plant in New Jersey represents an investment into high end manufacturing along with high end security. It has limited access, secure areas where proprietary materials are stored, cameras, dual-redundant backup on security. "We are state of the art when it comes to protecting our customers and ourselves," says Carey.

ITW Covid began years ago as Transfer Print Foils, a private business. It was acquired by Holopack Holoprint, then by Foilmark. That business was bought in 1998 by Illinois Tool Works, today a $16 billion company with 825 business units.

ITW purchased a company called CFC, in Chicago. "They had presses," says Carey, and were doing some security work. The equipment was moved to Covid, and 35,000 square feet of space was added to the New Jersey plant to put in the brand protection area. Then they hired Franco to introduce it to the private marketplace.

"To stay current, we have to keep changing and moving things," Carey continues. "We are modifying things from the government side to the brand protection side. We made a conscious decision to develop separate products; a lot of companies will take what they have from their government work and give it to the private sector, but we decided not to do that."

ITW Covid has an internal engineering and R&D staff, but the parent company has a technology center in Glenview, IL, USA, staffed by 100 people and funded by ITW, for further development work. "If you have a long range project, they will supply funding and expertise across a wide variety of areas. They run the project, pick up the funding, and run tests at our site. We have access to a great group of people in the technical center with all of the analytical tools known to man. We run like a small business, but we have the backing of a large corporation when we need it."

One fascinating development that occurred during the growth of the brand protection division was the arrival of customers from within ITW itself. "About 20 ITW companies globally didn't know we were involved in security," says Diaz. "We can protect their products as well as we can their customers' products. So now we have an internal customer base."

Externally, Diaz adds, "we are receiving inquiries from the wine and spirits industries, from automotive, pharmaceutical, from the clothing industry, and more."

ITW Covid will not comment on the types of presses or other equipment it uses, but Carey says that flexo presses are used for the majority of materials produced. "Also gravure coaters – solvent, water based and UV. We modify our presses to do what we need them to do."

LabelPrint America
8 Opportunity Way
Newburyport, MA

Owner: Tony Yemma
Employees: 24
Annual sales: $6.5 million

Customer service is a source of pride at LabelPrint America. In a message published on the company's website, as well as in conversation, President Tony Yemma talks about his company's first customer. "Labelprint America takes pride in being able to say that we are still printing labels for our very first customer, who has grown to be one of our largest. We now not only print their labels, we print coupons, inserts, shelf talkers, promotional items and other specialty printed packaging for them," he says, adding, "We stand out among the competition due to our superior personal service."

According to the company website, their mission is to "strive to consistently meet and exceed customer requirements, work to improve our products, monitor and improve our quality processes, regularly train our employees, increase productivity and reduce production costs.

"Our goal is to become one of the top manufacturers of high quality custom labels and printed materials while continuing to maintain a profit." LabelPrint America is located in the Northeast US, in the small city of Newburyport, MA. Yemma started the company 21 years ago with a couple of partners, but today is the sole stockholder. Back in the beginning, armed with a decade of label sales experience, he traveled to Castleton, VT, USA with a press operator and some plates to look at a Webtron 650 press housed in a barn. They bought it, and it continued to make the company money until six or seven years ago. Today the company has six presses, all Webtrons, with print capability up to eight colors and 13.5" in width.

"It's important to have full service – absolutely, positively number one. We specialize in it," Yemma says. "You have to have service and quality, they go hand in hand, and of course you have to be competitive with price.

Yemma believes in diversity, both among his customer mix and in the products the company offers. "We specialize in the food industry, which has been our bread and butter over the years and has helped us grow and remain stable," he says. "But I like a mix, and we have branched out in to pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and personal care products." And how has LabelPrint America weathered the recession and uneven recovery? "We haven't experienced recession," Yemma says. "We have grown continuously. We had our best year last year, and are looking to beat that this year." He says the company will do about $6.5 million in sales in 2011.

LabelPrint America produces custom labels, of course, but also offers coupons and multi-panel labels, simple sleeves, tags and tickets, as well as labeling equipment and printers and ribbons. "We produce coupons and shelf talkers, promotional items," Yemma says. We're in the process of making some decisions for the future as to what direction we want to go, whether digital or flexo with new equipment. We want to do more work with unsupported films. We have a 13" all UV press which enables us to do some film work; pouch material mostly, with specialty films that are a little thicker. We're considering shrink labels as well, but maybe we'll concentrate more on form fill and seal. There's more of a niche there. Of course, we would go after the lower volumes, rather than high."

One recent purchase at LabelPrint America was a Kodak platemaking system. "We're very happy with it," Yemma says. "It allows us to print 175 line screen, 200 if we want. It lets us print some unsupported films and be highly competitive, and at same time produce quality very close to offset. That's been a huge advantage to us." He chuckles about the current talk about flat-top dots on flexo plates. "These days everyone's talking about it, but we've been doing it for two years now."

The great debate

LabelPrint America's plant in Newburyport, MA

Tony Yemma attended the TLMI Technical Conference in Chicago in September, and listened eagerly to the panel discussion about digital versus traditional presses. He and his team are having that very discussion today.

"Honestly, I'm leaning toward another flexo press," he says. "I think digital will eventually move onto flexo presses – that's what I see. I like the digital aspect for the short runs, and I may go in that direction, but I don't like the expense.

"Right now I'm beginning to talk with people about replacing one or two presses here. The newer presses have capabilities with regard to waste and material setup, and setup time. I think that they have perfected some good products out there. Web paths are shorter, the operator can set up a job quickly in register, and that's an advantage. I think flexo is going to give digital a run for its money."

The people
The team at LabelPrint America has been on the job for quite a few years. "I have 24 great employees," says the company president. "If it weren't for all these people I wouldn't be where I am today. Some have been with me since the first year, and others 15 to 20 years. We have a customer service person who worked with me before LabelPrint America was started. He credits Robin Hamilton, general manager and sales person, as "the glue that holds the whole thing together."

Yemma himself is a salesman, and has always loved the interaction with customers. The company has four direct sales people and three independent representatives who have worked with the company for several years.

The company is starting to talk with customers about inventory of labels. "Over the years we have had small inventory programs, mainly so we and the customer didn't have to get caught short," Yemma says. "But we have customers today who are leaning more toward having us maintain some inventory for them, with a long term contract. We are in the process of putting in Label Traxx print management software, which will enable us to do that more readily."
Jack Kenny

De Vesting 17
Dalfsen, the Netherlands

Owners: Michiel Smudde,
Ingrid Smudde-Eshuis, Mark Eshuis
Employees: 22
Annual sales (est. 2011): €3.7 million ($5 million)

Imagine a country the size of Maryland, most of it below sea level, with 135 label converters all jostling for a share of the action. The country, you will have guessed, is the Netherlands, and it probably contains more label converters per square mile than anywhere in the world. Eshuis is one of them, and one of the bigger ones, but 15 years ago Peter Eshuis suggested that his son, daughter and son-in-law should set up in the label business on their own.

The result was Omnilabel, and at the start most of the infant company's business was done with Eshuis. Today, business with the "parent" company is just 10 percent of its sales. Omnilabel produces mainly self-adhesive labels, but also hang labels, booklets and sleeve labels for its 300 customers, including several big names (Unilever, Nielsen Massey Vanillas International).

From the start Omnilabel has been a flexo printer, with two presses from Arsoma (a German manufacturer acquired in 1990 by Gallus). The management team saw, however, that something else would soon be needed.

"We decided to go for short-run business, providing fast reaction times, good prices and variable information labels," says Omnilabel's Michiel Smudde. "And that meant investing in digital technology. Eshuis has for several years been successfully running HP Indigo presses, but we decided to cast the net wide over the range of other makes of narrow web digital equipment now available."

The inkjet choice
In the end they decided that digital inkjet was the right technology for them, and that the newly developed Tau 150 from Italian manufacturer Durst was most suited to their needs. "We agreed with the manufacturer to beta test this new press," notes Ingrid Smudde-Eshuis. "It can print up to a width of 7'', with no limit to the repeat length, and uses print heads from Xaar and UV inks supplied by Sun Chemicals, which is for us a certain guarantee of reliability. With speeds up to 150 feet per minute we can run an order of 3,000 labels in an hour, which is just what we need for our medium-sized orders – but we have already used the digital press for runs up to 75,000 linear feet. The color configuration of CMYK plus white gives us 70 percent of Pantone colors, which is enough for the vast majority of our customers, and the press also comes with a pattern varnishing unit, which we also appreciate."

A lot of questions have been raised about the reliability of digital press technology generally, but Omnilabel finds that Xaar's newly developed self-cleaning mechanism for the jets has meant very little downtime for maintenance and repairs. "We reckon that the Tau 150 is operational more than 90 percent of the time," says press operator Marcel Klein. "It takes just 10 minutes to set the press up in the morning – just the time we need for a coffee and a production planning meeting. And another thing I like about this press is that it is a really solid construction. We Dutch like things that are built to last, and not just for show."

Omnilabel's personnel are good at a lot of things, but digital prepress was not one of them. Paradoxically, that made them an ideal candidate for the beta testing of Durst's press. Durst's Mike Englander explains, "The Tau 150 is not quite a 'plug-and-play' machine, but there are relatively few parameters to set, and the EskoArtwork software is fairly straightforward. For us it was important to see how operators with no previous experience of digital would adapt to this press. Omnilabel gave us the right answers."

Narrowing the focus
From the start Omnilabel was involved in selling labeling equipment and print-and-apply machinery. Last year the management decided to concentrate 100 percent on labels, and entered into a cooperation with De Koningh Coding & Labeling; in December 2010 the non-label activities, with the exception of thermo transfer ribbons, were ceded to De Koningh, along with the staff members most concerned with these products.

"We needed to narrow our focus" says Omnilabel's Mark Eshuis, "and for 2011 we are confidently expecting a 30 percent rise in sales. I wonder how many label converters can beat that?"
By John Penhallow

3363 NW 168th St.
Miami Gardens FL USA

Owner: Ramon Fernandez
Employees: 15
Annual Sales: $3+ million

Back in his early years in Florida, Ramon Fernandez worked in prepress, making rubber plates and metal engravings for printers. His next job still saw him making plates, but the process had improved and he stayed with that company for six years. As with many young and talented people, Fernandez thought he could make it on his own.

"I opened up my own business for short while. It didn't work – it lasted a year and a half," he says. So he went back to work for someone else, this time at Go Tape & Label in Miami, and he spent five years getting more experience in sales, and also on the business side.

"In 1995, I was ready to do it again," he recalls. "I took the plunge and opened ProLabel."

After 16 years, ProLabel is a successful business, and will top the $3 million mark this year. A stickler for efficiency, Fernandez says he is able to stand up to his larger competitors. "When we get into big quantities, it's difficult for anyone to touch our price," he says.

ProLabel started with an old Comco six-color press and a Mark Andy 2100 four-color press with chrome anilox rolls and no doctor blades. "I took over a shop that had some label business, but it was in complete disarray. I was completely enthusiastic, but I didn't know what I was getting into."

He bumped up the Mark Andy to six colors, added a UV curing station and bought doctor blades (that press is still there, still active). After a while he got rid of the Comco and bought another Mark Andy. "At that time we were in Hollywood, north of Miami, in 2,000 square feet of space," Fernandez says. You had to step outside to change your mind." Business improved, though, and after several years ProLabel moved into 12,000 square feet of space in Miami, and in 2000 bought a Nilpeter press.

"Then we stepped up to an Aquaflex ELS 13", the first servo press under a million dollars," he says. "Now we could print at 750 feet per minute. Some of the operators questioned that, but I didn't buy a Ferrari to go 40 miles an hour."

After a while, Fernandez began to see what all label converters eventually have seen. "We noticed a lot of our business shifting to shorter runs. We had been seeing it for four or five years. Used to get 8-10 million runs, then down to a million. People want less and less inventory, but I'm not happy holding labels for people.

"So we started looking at digital presses. We went through the tabletop printers, the inkjet presses, Jetrion, HP Indigo, Xeikon. It was a long process, and our whole team was involved." They traveled around the country visiting converters who were using the various systems, and "people were very forthcoming. At the end we sat down and went through the entire process three times, and it always came up Xeikon. The press had that edge for me." The new Xeikon 3030 digital press, complete with Xeikon's finishing unit, was installed last month.

"This is a big mind shift, going from flexo to digital," says Fernandez. "You end up with a label at the end, but how you get there is so much different. The setup time, the quality are different. The waste is so much lower." Fernandez says that he is the only label converter in south Florida with digital capability.

In the course of studying the digital label marketplace, Fernandez examined not only those who succeed, but also those who do not. "A lot of people do go under buying digital," he says. "You don't hear about them. Part of the reason I look for failures is that they didn't study their business, they had unrealistic expectations of the equipment, and the cost. If you're in the market that sells commodity labels, you're not going to make it with digital."

ProLabel has 15 employees. The company runs two shifts on the Aquaflex, and one long shift on the Mark Andy. The Xeikon is run by a man who ran such a press many years ago at another plant, now defunct.

In recent years, Fernandez says, the company has grown but the growth has been slight. "I am expecting a big boost with the digital capability," he says. "We've had people coming in from the woodwork who ask about it, which tells me that today's customer is more educated than he was five years ago. When we tell them we have it in-house, they are very excited about it."
ProLabel's markets are food products, some cosmetics, a lot of nutritional product labels, and some overseas water labels. "Competing in the local market is very difficult," he acknowledges. "We changed our outlook, and have gone into the Caribbean to find niches that have developed well for us."

Ramon Fernandez is of Cuban descent, is fluent in Spanish, and knows the idiosyncrasies of the various Latin American cultures. "That helps, because the cultures are so different one from another. There are very distinct differences in the ways they speak, how they sell products, how food is presented, how they speak to you, how they are spoken to. And people are comfortable speaking their native language. The other part of the challenge is credit. It's very difficult to maneuver credit situations overseas. We have had some large hits, and the toughest lessons are the ones you don't forget. It's a very delicate balance to strike with these guys."

The complement of employees at ProLabel includes Ecuadorians, Cubans, Venezuelans, and Colombians. One of the two full time sales people is South African.

Fernandez says he has a positive outlook for the business climate. "I'm optimistic about the marketplace. People are somewhat challenged now, but I'm very optimistic. The dam has to break; maybe it won't be an explosion, but a slow tsunami. I think I'm laying a foundation so that when it comes I'm ready. Also, I think that the challenges of labelstock increases will draw to a halt soon. I think that the producers are starting to feel the pressures already."

He's keeping his eyes on technology for equipment acquisitions in the future. "We were considering moving to a larger space, but we decided that equipment makes us money, not space. So we might look at buying a faster and wider flexo press, and at our own platemaking equipment."

Ramon Fernandez and ProLabel joined the Tag & Label Manufacturers Institute last year, and he had a positive experience at his first meeting. "I had a long conversation with Terry Fulwiler of WS Packaging, and he was so open, so willing to share his ideas. Everyone in the group was the same way. You might think you know labels, but you don't until you get out of your world and talk to other label guys. I'm kicking myself for not joining sooner."
Jack Kenny

14701 W. 106th St.
Lenexa KS USA

CEO: Ted Williams
President: Kevin Briggs
Employees: 34
Annual Sales: $8.5 million

Kevin Briggs, president of Spectragraphics
The story goes that Ted Williams sold his car for a Webtron 650 press. That's impressive. It was 1974, and Williams started a company called Par Tape & Label, running a lot of tape in the early days. (One wonders how he got to his sales appointments without a vehicle.) As business grew, the company moved to new headquarters in Lenexa, KS, USA, and eventually was printing massive amounts of labels for regional dairy businesses. Serving that clientele continued into the 1990s, after which local dairies began to be swallowed up by conglomerates.

Along the way, the company name became Spectragraphics and business grew into other markets. Today, about 90 percent of the company's business is in food and beverage. Just recently Williams decided to become CEO and relinquished the title of president, bestowing that honor on Kevin Briggs, who joined the company seven years ago.

Spectragraphics has 34 employees and weathered the recession fairly well, according to Briggs. "We were slightly flat in 2008, but our overall growth has been significant. When I got here in 2004," he says, "the company was doing just under $4 million a year. This year we should break $8.5 million."

The record year for Spectragraphics was 2007. That was also the year that the company won the most coveted of industry awards, the Eugene Singer Award for Best Managed Company. The prize, presented annually to four members of the Tag & Label Manufacturers Institute, is based on criteria gathered and compared among participants in the TLMI Ratio Study.

Before joining Spectragraphics, Briggs had been operations manager at Industrial Label in Omaha, NE, USA. "When I came in," Briggs recalls, "I brought an operations manager and we made a lot of efficiency gains. We were able to do a lot of things faster and cheaper, like changing the ink systems and bringing in a computer-to-plate system. Quality went up."

Briggs says that the company's niche is two-fold. "We service mid-sized accounts, those in the 50,000 to a million label customers. We shy away from the big players. When you don't have big fish like that, you don't get wrecked when you go out to bid. We also brought in new product lines. The company already had been doing onserting, but not much in the way of plow folding, IRCs or coupons, or sealing. We brought all those technologies here, including expanded content labels."

Briggs knows Lean Manufacturing, but has not instituted the concept and practice at Spectragraphics yet. "To run Lean, you have to be almost at full capacity. If you're not, then you could be full on press one week, and painting the following week. Only in the last year we have had enough volume to put in some changes." Still, he notes, the company has essentially doubled in size and is now running about a shift and a half.

Out in the press room are seven flexo machines, Webtrons and Mark Andys ranging from 6.5" to 16", plus two Aztechs for thermal transfer work. A new press is on the way: A Mark Andy P5 Performance, a brand that has become a best selling item for the St. Louis press manufacturer. "I've been doing this for 20-something years," Briggs says, "and it wasn't until Mark Andy came out with the Performance press that we saw amazing quality and speed gains at an economical price."

Digital printing for Spectragraphics' customers is accomplished by a local partner who has an HP Indigo press. "We know that digital is a growth area," says Briggs. "We have looked at them all. Each has its pros and cons, but you have to have a fast ROI on that to appreciate over four to five years. And what's next in that curve? A lot of our work is not that perfect size to lay out on the digital sheet. So for now, we are just going to keep partnering."

Spectragraphics employs three sales people, and works with several brokers and manufacturers' reps. Food and beverage markets are strong and some clients have been with the company for 20 years. Customers are all over North America, and also in Mexico, Africa and the Fiji Islands. Beverage label work is primarily water, both domestic and international. "We partnered with a water bottling manufacturer who makes equipment – they package systems and ship them," says Briggs. "Nine times out of 10 the customer wants labels at least for a year. A lot of them can't get quality labels in their regions, so we find that we're printing labels for water to be sold in places like Nigeria."

The company works out of a 20,000 square foot plant, and three of the major labelstock suppliers have slitting facilities in Kansas City, a dozen miles away, "so we can call today and get delivery tomorrow," Briggs says.

And the future? "I see us growing top and bottom," Briggs declares. "We'll probably be in similar niches as now. We like customers with fast needs and service driven requirements. We will probably, gradually, move into the digital arena in a few years. We will continue to strive to come out with newer variations on expanded content labels. And with the new press, we're looking to jump into the pouch industry."
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