Narrow Web Profile: Forlabels
An open mind and a range of packaging capabilities have made this Greek converter an industry leader.
By Steve Katz, Editor
61st klm Athens-Lamia (position Crespo)
32 009 • PO Box Schimatari 197
Just outside of Athens, Greece, a city as rich in history as any other, is a label converter with a deep history of its own. During a visit to Forlabels, one wouldn’t think that Greece had any economic strife. Here, is a sparkling label manufacturing facility that is quickly forging its own path in becoming one of the region’s labeling leaders.
Forlabels’ roots go back to 1965. Avgerinos Chatzichryssos is Forlabels’ general manager, and his mother’s first husband was one of Greece’s first label printers, who sadly passed away. “After her husband died, my mother decided to keep this small label company. And she worked very hard at it. She was the salesperson, and she did the printing along with my older brother, who had recently lost his father,” he says.
The fledgling company was just that – a small room containing a flatbed, 3-color label press. Today, Avgerinos affectionately refers to the machine (which they still have) as the “grandmother” of the company.
After about two or three years, this hard-working woman met Avgerinos’ father, a man that happened to have some printing experience. “My father was a bookmaker, so he had an understanding of paper and inks, and putting ink on paper. By trade, he was a printer of books, magazines and newspapers. He married my mother and they had my younger brother and me.
“My father helped my mother a lot in keeping the company in business. And after several years, my older brother ran the company. There was not a lot of money going around back then, as we were building a house close to our little label factory,” Avgerinos recalls.
In 1986, at 18 years old, Avgerinos was preparing to go to the university. But with the house so close to the factory, he had an idea. “I saw this machine – this 3-color label press. I was a student, but I told myself it was possible to run a small company at the same time. I figured I could work in the afternoons and evenings, and this way I wouldn’t have to ask my parents for any money,” he says.
So here he was, a teenager, printing as well as designing labels, plus making deliveries. Avgerinos immersed himself in the business. “I made this decision, and right away I just loved the job,” he says. From the start, he was passionate about the industry, and he saw in it a certain diversity that drew him in. “In this business, you meet a lot of different people and you work on a lot of different jobs where you get to do all kinds of different things. This is the beauty of the label business.”
From the start, Avgerinos took his work very seriously, and this showed through with the products he supplied his customers. Naturally, the company began to grow, would outgrow its facilities and equipment, and would need some help in managing the operation.
Enter Vassilis Chatzichryssos, Avgerinos’ younger brother. In Greece, military service is mandatory, and in 1993, it was time for Avgerinos to begin his two-year term. He was 27 at the time, and Vassilis was only 16. “I had to stop working, but I needed someone I could trust to run the company,” Avgerinos says.
It’s a true family business. Today, the Chatzichryssos brothers run the company together, with Vassilis in the role of plant and production manager.
Shortly after Vassilis came on board, Forlabels invested in a second-hand Kopack semi-rotary letterpress machine, which they ran for 24 hours a day for months on end. Business was steady. In 1998, a second used Kopack machine was added, a 6-color rotary press.
Customers were small companies, and they liked it that way. “We were able to handle their orders with the machinery that we had,” Avgerinos says. “I wasn’t going to go after customers where it was not possible to meet their needs. I didn’t want them going elsewhere, but I didn’t promise them things we couldn’t do. So we gradually added capability, and, step-by-step, we grew.
“We started out working four hours a day, then it was eight hours, then 10, then 12. We realized it was not possible to work our employees so many hours, so we made a decision to hire more people and work a second shift. We added more production personnel and more salespeople. Sales has always been my specialty, while Vassilis focuses on production.”
While Greece is synonymous with mythology, philosophy and government, it’s also known for its food. Olives, olive oil, gyros, cheese, produce and the freshest seafood from the Mediterranean are just a few of the culinary delights Greece is known for. And it comes as no surprise that food is Forlabels’ main market.
The company’s food customers are big and small, and supply both domestic and export markets. Forlabels also does a lot of work for the agricultural sector, printing the stickers for fresh fruits and vegetables. Among the other markets the company has found success with is wine, industrial, and health and beauty labels. The Forlabels plant is a clean environment, with hairnets worn by all employees in the production area, thus bringing the company up to code for converting pharmaceutical labels as well.
The current plant, which Forlabels built from the ground up, began production in 2003. Once they moved in, the Chatzichryssos brothers said goodbye to the days of buying used equipment. “We made an effort to learn about the latest technology, and we made the investments. We wanted the latest and best in label printing equipment.”
The brothers have been converting labels at the forefront of the industry’s technology. “Our newest equipment is based on UV flexo technology,” says Vassilis. “We also have combination printing, silk screens, cold foil and digital printing.”
With short runs prevalent in the specialty foods market, digital printing has been a great fit. Forlabels installed its first HP Indigo, a ws4500 in 2008, and added a 6000 in 2010.
On the flexo side, Forlabels runs a Nilpeter FA press and an Omet Multiflex, which was purchased with fanfare in conjunction with the opening of the facility. “The Omet was the showpiece,” Avgerinos says, joking, “We installed the machine before we even had walls and doors.”
Forlabels has not shied away from making bold equipment investments. The company’s philosophy revolves around staying ahead of the market and serving its customers as not just a label supplier, but also a packaging partner. “The fact that we’ve made these investments, we had to make our production bigger and better, and fall in line with the evolving market,” Vassilis says.
The evolution of the market has led to more than just conventional PS labels. Additional investments include a DCM USIMECA shrink sleeve line, booklet-making machinery and a special lamination unit for flexible packaging materials for making pouches and sachets.
“We want to be in these markets,” Avgerinos says. Forlabels has forayed into forms of packaging apart from labels. “It’s part of our philosophy. If for any reason a given market slows down, we have the ability to serve many different markets to compensate for a possible slowdown. I want to add more and different types of customers for two reasons: If business is good, the added capability will help us grow. If business is not so good, this will keep us steady and help us stay afloat.”
For Forlabels, business has been good. Avgerinos says the company is experiencing 5% growth year over year. There are six salespeople, two of them working outside sales – all are well trained and knowledgeable. “Our salespeople have to work two years inside in the customer support department before working on sales. They have to learn the business. It is not possible to have someone effectively selling without knowing about the products and the technology,” he says.
Part of the Forlabels philosophy manifests itself in the company’s promotional programs. The company takes a keen interest in its customers, and let’s them know in creative ways how it can help grow their brand. For example, Forlabels has what it calls its “Open Mind Projects,” an invitation to customers to explore all the packaging possibilities available to them. To go along with the project are the sales tools – actual branded products packaged in a wide variety of ways, catered to the company’s customer base. There are shrink-wrapped mini bottles of ouzo, intricate wine labels, and pouches for olives and other Greek salad items. Forlabels details to its customers the ideas, materials, designs, challenges and eventual packaging results, letting them know what goes into each project, each step of the way.
“The program has been a great success. We are able to show even our smallest customers how they can look big,” Avgerinos says. In addition to the Open Mind Projects, Forlabels has created promotional videos and sends out a newsletter to customers updating them on new Open Mind Projects, package and label ideas and concepts, and also company happenings. Avgerinos gives a recent example: “Lately, people have been asking about QR codes. Through our newsletters, we are not only promoting the technology, but also educating our customers on what these things are,” he says.
Forlabels is active – with its customers as well as with the labeling community. The company is a member of FINAT, the European label association, and recently became a part of Greek labeling history as a charter member of the newly formed Union of Greek Labelers.