3363 NW 168th St. #A, Miami Gardens, FL, USA
Ramon Fernandez gets to work at 6 AM. An admitted workaholic, the owner of Pro Label Inc. is also open-minded, a second-generation Cuban American, and he’s got the entrepreneurial spirit. The characteristics of his personality have fueled his company’s growth, and has the South Florida label converter primed for a bright future.
Strategically located in Miami, Pro Label Inc., as it stands today, got its start in July of 1995, when the company was purchased by Fernandez. “We really felt there was an opportunity. It was an existing label company, but when I stepped in and took over, I made a lot of changes – updated equipment, got organized, and in particular focused on better customer service,” Fernandez says. “We had a nice customer base to start, and we figured we could build off that. Seventeen years later, we’re still doing it.”
And Pro Label is doing it well. When Fernandez took over, the company, then housed in Hollywood, FL, was a two-press operation – a Comco 6-color and a Mark Andy 4-color. “The first thing we did was upgrade the Mark Andy to six colors with UV finishing, ceramic anilox rolls and doctor blades. The company I’d taken over was really in the Neanderthal stage. There was no inventory, and it was something of a mish-mash. We came in and kicked a little butt.”
A major milestone for Pro Label came in 2000, when the company had outgrown its Hollywood home. “We used to say we had to step outside to change our minds,” Fernandez recalls of the old 2,800 square foot plant. So the company left Hollywood, bought a Nilpeter press, and moved down I-95 to its current 12,000 square foot facility in Miami.
The move was not without its challenges. According to Fernandez, the logistics of the move, and dealing with the intricacies of Miami-Dade County made a mess of things, but nothing that couldn’t be overcome.
You see, overcoming obstacles is something that Ramon Fernandez is good at. Pro Label is not his first label company, and a look at his background and experience paints a picture of how Pro Label is succeeding today. “I’d been involved with graphics since the early 80s. At 23 years old I started a small label company – and it didn’t work out. But I was bit by the bug,” Fernandez says.
Following his failed venture, Fernandez worked for a local converter selling labels, giving him exposure to a range of different aspects of the business. “It was like my college education,” Fernandez says. “I went from prepress, to running my own label company, to strong label sales.”
When his wife suggested he take another stab at running his own business, Fernandez’s initial reaction was: “Are you crazy? But then it started making sense,” he says. “I was older, and had a lot more experience.”
Fernandez is also quite headstrong, and coming from a family of entrepreneurs, running a business is in his blood. “I’ve never been one to listen to counsel,” he says. “When you start listening to people, you stop making your own decisions. But that’s not to say you don’t listen to advice and gather information.”
Listening to and working intimately with his 12 employees is a key component to Pro Label’s business model. There are regular meetings in the boardroom, where brainstorming is encouraged. Fernandez is open to all sorts of possibilities and strategies to grow the business, and each employee is valued for his and her role, ideas and and contributions.
In the fall of 2011, Fernandez and his team culminated their journey and exploration into the world of digital label printing with the purchase of a Xeikon 3030 digital label press.
Fernandez had initially looked into digital around five years ago, but found that the numbers just didn’t support the investment. “The cost was too high, the cost for ink on paper was too high, and the reliability just wasn’t there yet. We were a small company, and couldn’t justify making that investment. But a couple years ago, we started looking at digital again. Competition had brought prices down. So I put a team together and asked them to come up with two arguments – why should and why shouldn’t we go digital,” he says.
Ultimately, Fernandez owes a large part of helping him decide to invest in digital printing to his MIS system – Label Traxx. He explains, “We took a good look at our markets, and asked, ‘Who do we sell to? How many long run jobs do we really run?’ We went to Label Traxx and looked at our reports. We saw the data. Forget about what we thought – it allowed us to look and say, ‘Here’s our world – this is what we do. And we found that we do a lot of short run work.
“So I said, ‘let’s really dive into it again,’ and we looked at everything out there. The whole process took us over a year. I flew to a lot of different businesses that were nice enough to open the doors and let me in. People were very forthcoming, and I learned from every visit.
“We narrowed the gap, and at the end of the day were really impressed with Xeikon’s customer service. And they’ve done everything they said would do and more,” Fernandez says. “They support us 100 percent. As much as we studied and game-planned, we had a lot of trip-ups when we hit the switch, and Xeikon was with us every step of the way. “
Pro Label Inc., with Ramon Fernandez at the helm, has grown to have annual sales of $3 million. It’s still a two-press operation, now offering both digital and flexo printing, which makes the company ready for just about any job that walks through the door. On the flexo side, Pro Label has graduated to an Aquaflex ELS full servo 13" press that can and does print at speeds of up 750 feet per minute.
Miami, Florida is known for a lot of things – sunshine, tourism and a Latin flavor – just to name a few. South Florida is an interesting, distinctive market. Understanding it– its idiosyncrasies, challenges, people and culture has been a key to Pro Label’s success and it’s ability to successfully serve its customers.
Pro Label is heavy into the nutraceuticals and health and beauty markets – markets synonymous with fitness and looking good – South Florida staples. The company also does a healthy amount of food and beverage labels. Fernandez notes that, in particular, his cosmetics, wine and spirits businesses have recently been on the upswing.
Fernandez points out just what sets the South Florida market apart. “You don’t have the big industries down here that you have in the Northeast, for example. Here, a large account is maybe $50-60,000. In the Northeast, that doesn’t impress anyone. There’s just not that strength of industry down here.
“On the flip side, you have a lot of small businesses, and that’s what you have to target. And you’re working with many people from the Caribbean, from the islands. Their mentality is very much price-focused. First and foremost they want their labels cheap,” Fernandez says.
Pro Label’s approach is to increase its internal efficiencies as much as possible as a means of keeping prices down. “Price isn’t always the primary consideration, but it’s certainly in the top three, no matter what your customer tells you,” Fernandez says. “When we ask our customers what’s important to them, price usually isn’t number one. They want quality and service, and price is number three. But when you’re more expensive than the other guy, that’s the first word out of their mouth.”
Fernandez emphasizes that one of the major challenges within the region’s label market is bringing these price-focused customers to the next level in design and label construction. “We try and start small with them – maybe a little foil, a little four-color process, some screening. And it’s slowly coming around, because they all want to compete with the bigger brands, but of course, at half the price. So that has been part of our marketing push, to push the envelope and have them move their brands to the next level. It’s not something where you go from a one-color paper label to a five-color embossed, foil, no label look. It’s a slow progression into that world, but our customers are getting a lot of positive feedback when they improve upon their design.”
Pro Label’s sales strategy has shifted, having now become digital. “With the Xeikon, how we approach sales has changed. We can now offer seasonal and regional products, and we go to market really quickly. We’ve had people walk in with orders at 8 AM and walk out with their order at noon. Sure, there’s a certain upcharge for this, but we can do it. That’s the digital advantage.”
Knowing and understanding its customer base is a great asset to Pro Label. As a second generation Cuban American, Fernandez understands the subtleties of working with the diverse population of the Miami area, and even beyond, having recently gained customers in Latin America. And the backgrounds of his sales, customer service and pressroom staff is from all over
Explains Fernandez, “You just don’t walk into a place in the Dominican Republic and sell labels. It’s about knowing their language and culture. You hang around for an hour, you talk politics, you talk about football, baseball… it’s a whole different sales cycle, and we understand it pretty well.”
If he’s anything, Ramon Fernandez is open-minded, and, as he says, “When the time is right, maybe somewhere down the road, if a company wants to break into the South Florida market or the Caribbean, they can come talk to me.”
South Florida residents know all about hurricanes, and the region was hit especially hard by the recession, or what Fernandez refers to as the “Economic Hurricane.” The region got hit hard, particularly with regard to its hallmark industries – real estate and tourism.
“We held our ground pretty well,” Fernandez says of Pro Label’s coming through the recession. “Holding your ground in a hurricane is progress, and I can say emphatically that we held our ground. And I owe so much of our success to my employees. I have wonderful employees – people who have been here with me since day one. These are people I’d go to war with. We push this concept of teamwork – that we’re all in this together. When Pro Label has good days, we all have good days.”