New technology, new process, new configuration, new this, new that, bold, powerful, shiny. Trade shows are fashion runways for new machinery, and the halls glimmer with freshly minted presses, slitter rewinders, finishing systems, everything. Sprinkled among the exhibitors are a handful of dealers and brokers of used equipment, quietly taking care of the needs of hundreds of converters who are looking for a good price on a decent machine that once was owned by somebody else.
The market for used equipment today is “vibrant,” according to John Dignam, co-owner of J&J Converting Machinery, Grandview, MO, USA. “It seems to be back. The phone is ringing, people need more capacity. The buyers are there. The problem is to find the good machines.” Dignam’s view is echoed by others in the pre-owned press business, who say that the recent period of trepidation seems to have abated. “It’s very strong, better than it has been in the past three to four years,” says Cindy Glass, sales and marketing director for HC Miller, Green Bay, WI, USA. “A lot of people are not as scared as they were a year or two ago.”
AAA Press International is having a “fantastic year” buying and selling used equipment. According to Mark Hahn, VP of sales and marketing, when times were tough converters were limiting their purchases to platemakers and rewinders. “Now they are buying $200,000 presses with cash. Some are still leasing new equipment, but most don’t want to be caught in a situation like that. Some have good local banking relationships, and are able to get loans.” AAA Press is based in Arlington Heights, IL, USA.
With the recession came a deadness in sales of pretty much everything in the big equipment category. The future was unknown, and folks tended to hold on to what they had and wait out the dark days. Yet out from that miasma came some fine label presses – late model, low mileage machines. “Typically when that happens, someone made a mistake,” Dignam says. “More than half the time it’s a bank calling. There’s less of that now.” Glass concurs: “Some people who bought new just before the market went bad couldn’t afford to keep them. They went on the market a year old, with a thousand hours on them. We have seen some 2010 models with very low hours, bought in anticipation of getting a certain piece of work, and they lost the job.”
Today’s market has shifted. “When the economy is going gangbusters and everybody’s doing well, it’s a tough time for used equipment,” notes Dignam. “People are adding presses and not trading in their old ones. Right now there’s a lot of pent-up demand, and not as many machines available. Also, more dealers have come in; there used to be three, now eight or 10.”
Two types of used equipment dealers occupy the field today. Brokers find buyers for clients who have presses to sell, or find a press for a converter who needs one. Most of these units are sold “as is,” meaning that the buyer takes possession of the machine in its current condition, warts and all. Many print shops have their own skilled craftsmen who can make whatever changes or upgrades are desirable. HC Miller and JC Flexo & Converting are among those companies that generally don’t refurbish presses or finishing equipment, preferring instead to serve as brokers.
FlexoExport, located in Old Saybrook, CT, USA, is among those companies that acquire and restore used presses to varying degrees, often based on a buyer’s needs. Founded in 1986 by the legendary Leon Beaudoin, FlexoExport is now run by his son Scott. “We have a warehouse full of presses, some in very good condition when they came in, others that need some work. Generally speaking, we don’t bring in anything in full disrepair. We cherry-pick. We want clean presses.”
Pre-owned presses can undergo a wide variety of improvements: rebuilding, refurbishing, reconditioning, restoration, or a simple clean-up. These “re-” terms don’t have specific meanings in this case, but are general terms for degrees of fixing up. “We do refurbishing, reconditioning,” says Hahn. “On one press recently we installed $25,000 in new parts. The buyer spent a bit under $200,000 and got new UV stations and other improvements. At other times we’ll customize a press. One customer wants us to take a Webtron press and turn it into just a diecutter with nine die stations. If a press looks good,” Hahn adds, “we can sell it as is, or we can fix it up. Most people take advantage of that. For another $15 or $20 grand they’ve got a press that’s going to last a long time, with routine maintenance.”
The consensus among used equipment dealers is that Mark Andy presses, the inline gear-driven models, lead the pack in terms of popularity. The 2200 workhorse is always in demand, they say, along with 4150s and 830s. “Mark Andys are the most abundant,” says Jeff Clifton, president of JC Flexo & Converting, St. Peters, MO, USA. “The company has the biggest installed base, so it stands to reason that they become available more often. We see a lot of Webtron 650s and 750s as well.” (Well aware of the popularity of its brand in the narrow web marketplace, Mark Andy itself recently established a program to acquire, rebuild and sell its older machines.)
Clifton, whose business is in the greater St. Louis region along with Mark Andy, says that the press manufacturer’s recent success with a new equipment line is boosting the used market. “It looks like Mark Andy is selling a lot of the Performance series presses,” he observes. “My perception is that it’s freeing up some 2200s and some 4150s. Also, some Nilpeter presses are getting swapped for the Performance press.”
Scott Beaudoin says he also encounters a lot of Aquaflex presses in the second-hand market, along with Allied Gear machines. Allied Gear closed for business about a decade ago, but the replacement parts business is still quite active for the many press owners out there. Last month, Beaudoin says, FlexoExport shipped out a 1978 Allied Gear stack press. Machines that old are not so common these days, but on occasion an antique in good condition will become available and can get a new lease on life with a rebuild.
Who buys, and why?
Converters used to buy used equipment for one main reason: economics. But dealers agree that a second reason has stimulated demand, and that is speed of delivery. “The customer gets a big job and calls us to say they need the press now.” says Cindy Glass. “It’s the same with ancillary equipment. We just sold two turrets to someone who needs them in two weeks. It’s more demand now, not price.
The day comes when a label printer lands that big dream job, the one that will cover the expense of a new press and operator and make the company a nice piece of change. It might happen, however, that business has improved for press manufacturers as well, and as a result the delivery time for new equipment is pushed farther away. Unfortunately, press makers are not like car dealers, who have inventory on the lot. Also unfortunately, the converter needs that press now.
“I sold a nice small machine just before Labelexpo this year,” says Clifton. “The customer said he would buy it if I could ship it within a week. Right after the show I got another call from a printer who wanted a press in two weeks. Those are good examples of the importance of delivery.”
“Seventy percent of printers cannot wait for a new machine, and cannot justify a new machine, because the margins are too slim,” says Hahn. “Will a used one be as efficient? Maybe not, but they can still make money and produce a good product, and they won’t have to wait 16 weeks for delivery.”
In general, small to mid-size converters comprise the bulk of the market for pre-owned stuff. “The big guys are going for the newer, more productive, higher technology machines. They are putting the older presses out on the market,” says Clifton.
Still, the big companies aren’t all shopping for new equipment. “We will get some of the biggest label companies calling for a product, a press, a film press, because chances are they want to convert it, make it specific to their needs,” says Beaudoin.
HC Miller sells used equipment in 33 countries. Most of the others stick to the Western Hemisphere, and all report that Latin America is an active region. “Mexico is a big territory for us, and we are very strong in South America,” says Glass. “We did a huge marketing campaign there, and we have a big customer base.”
Beaudoin says that 40 percent of his sales are to Latin America. “Mexico is the best, and the Dominican Republic is humongous. It’s amazing how many presses go to that region.”
Dignam sees about a third of his sales going to Central and South America. “There has to be a
lot of trust,” he says. “They want it to be inexpensive, and it has to work. It gives them some comfort that the mechanics are here and going to be working on it.”
The author is president of Jack Kenny Media, a communications firm specializing in the packaging industry, and is the former editor of L&NW magazine. He can be reached at email@example.com.