539 North Road, Westfield, MA 01085 USA
As Dion Label Printing heads toward the impressive milestone of being in business for half a century, it’s a fitting time to take a look into the operations and capabilities of the Westfield, MA-based label manufacturer. The company was the subject of a Narrow Web Profile in the March 2008 issue of Label & Narrow Web, and much has changed since that visit.
In 1969, John Dion Sr. was faced with a decision to move his family south in order to stay in his role as a middle-level manager with a printing company. Instead, with a couple printing presses and a tabletop label press, he decided to start his own business in the cellar of his house. He gained some local pressure sensitive label customers, and throughout the 70s, the company grew – with a focus on PS labels.
As Dion Label grew, so too did the need for new employees, and the senior Dion looked no further than his family. “So he hired us, his young kids,” recalls John Dion Jr., one of the founder’s two sons, who is the company’s co-president along with his brother, Dave Dion. “When we started, we were just moving materials, but we eventually learned how to run the presses. We worked part time, and then we both went off to college. So my dad hired a few other people and moved the company out of our house to a rented space in Chicopee, MA, that was provided by one of our biggest customers at the time, a brush company.”
Dion Label’s first jobs were manufacturing labels for brush companies – printing small, PS labels that would be affixed to hairbrushes and toothbrushes – very much a niche market. This would become a theme to this day, as Dion prides itself in its diversity in both product type and markets served.
Steady growth ensued, thanks in part to taking on certain jobs notable for their complexity and speed-to-market needs. Recalls Dion, “There were certain events that took us a great leap forward. One in particular was a project we did for Toys-R-Us. This was before digital printing, and we were printing millions of their little orange stickers in both small and large quantities with a very quick turnaround. We came up with a way to make plates both quickly and cost-effectively, and efficiently get them on press. And we shipped these millions of little orange labels all over the country from out of our little facility.
“And that really energized us,” Dion says. “It made us realize that we can play in much bigger markets.”
In 1986, Dion Label Printing moved into its current location in Westfield. At the time, the building was just 15,000 square feet and it housed three flexo presses. A series of add-ons followed, in terms of equipment, as well as the size and scope of the manufacturing facility.
During its earlier days, a significant source of revenue for Dion came from the skiing industry. According to John Dion, at one point, the company was responsible for more than half of the North American ski lift ticket printing business. “That’s where we really made our name,” he says.
Since its boom in the skiing and recreation arena, Dion Label has since made its mark in a host of other markets, including OTC pharmaceutical, nutraceuticals, food & beverage, health & beauty, household products, wine & spirits, craft beer, candle, industrial, decal & permits, medical and specialty printing.
Today the ski market only accounts for 3% of Dion’s business, and the company prides itself on its ability to adapt and innovate as a means to differentiate from the competition. “Whatever we can print with our presses, diversity of product and customer type has always helped us thrive,” Dion says.
Contributing to the company’s growth and success have been key acquisitions in both personnel and printing equipment. In 2002, Randy Duhaime joined Dion as general manager, bringing a wealth of print operations management experience. He was on board when the company acquired its first digital assets.
“We started our digital journey in 2005 with the addition of an HP Indigo WS4050. We had such great success with it, that a year later we added a second Indigo,” Duhaime says. “It met our needs better than we had expected. With its extended color gamut, we were able to match the colors we were producing with our flexo presses, and that’s been a great asset. We’ve since upgraded the presses twice, moving up to a 6000 model and then a 6600, as we’d put a lot of miles on the others.”
In 2015, Dion made the move to upgrade even further to two HP Indigo WS6800 models. The presses offer increased output with faster speeds of up to 130 fpm in enhanced productivity mode (EPM), and a wider image format is achieved with a print width of 12.59". The 6800 can print materials as thin as 0.0005" (0.5 pt) to as thick as 0.018" (18 pt), including both pressure sensitive labels and flexible packaging.
“We continue to be driven by the needs of our customers, there is no doubt about it. So we are committed to investing in technology that helps to better meet their needs,” Duhaime says.
Dion takes this same approach to its flexo press acquisitions and upgrades as well. In what’s expanded to become the company’s 30,000 square foot facility are two 10" 8-color Propheteer presses and a 13" 8-color Nilpeter press, which was added in response to increasing demands for quality and more print stations.
An MPS 16" 8-color full servo UV press was added in 2008, which set the stage for Dion’s most recent press acquisition. In December 2015, a second MPS press was installed – an EF-430 that allows printing on 17" wide substrates from thin films to heavy tag. The press uses both UV and water-based inks and has several rail-mounted accessories for multiple web configurations. Both of Dion’s MPS presses are equipped with AVT video inspection equipment. Ideal for meeting Dion’s stringent quality demands, the high-speed, high-resolution line-scanners monitor 100% of the web, providing operators with immediate feedback on possible defects.
Commenting on the initial choice to go with MPS, John Dion says, “We were looking for a press that could print labels comparable to what we were producing digitally. And after doing our due diligence and visiting the different manufacturers, we decided that MPS could do just that.”
“In 2008, when we purchased our first MPS, we were focused on growing our digital business,” Dion adds. “And during this time our MPS press was the ultimate workhorse, but it bothered us that we only had one of them. We were crowded – we didn’t have room to put another one in there until we started retiring some equipment and figured out where we could put it. Last year we got rid of a 7" and a 10" press to make room for the new one. Also, seeing that MPS had grown in the US and was now assembling presses here, we felt that it’s also a perk that there would be parts and resource availability closer to us. But we don’t really need them for service – the equipment is very reliable, and our pressmen like how simple it is to operate.”
Duhaime stresses that the need for repeatability was another important driver. He explains, “We wanted to be somewhat consistent and comparable to what we had, for ease of exchanging tooling and such, but we also added a number of features to our new press, including advanced registration, an extra color, and water-based print units so we can serve our flexible packaging and medical label customers.”
Label constructions offered by Dion include two-sided (adhesive print) labels, multi-panel labels, shrink sleeves, flexible packaging and pouches. Finishing and additional converting capabilities are provided by equipment from Delta ModTech and AB Graphic. The company has three high-speed upright slitting and inspection machines as well as three tabletop inspection units. A fourth slitting/inspection machine has numbering and imprinting capabilities. Additional assets include machinery for high-speed fanfolding, an offline sheeter and shrink sleeve inspection equipment.
Powered by technology from Esko, X-Rite and DuPont, and led by prepress director Sue Hebert, Dion’s in-house prepress department offers design support and project management. Some of Dion’s customers have the most stringent of standards when it comes to graphics, including employing those from GMI International. To accommodate them, Dion put in the effort, and today is the only company in the US that is GMI-certified for both conventional and digital printing.
Quality, culture and curiosity
As today’s modern printing technology has evolved, quality has become easier to achieve, but as Duhaime declares, “We take quality to a whole other level.”
Dion’s quality assurance supervisor ensures that customer specifications are met for each label project. Real-time specification control alerts all production staff of customer support or product-specific special instructions. There are two proofreading processes – both human and electronic, with video monitoring at each press to ensure quality during production. And each label roll is marked with its own batch number for traceability back to raw material suppliers.
By design, Dion Label Printing’s growth has been controlled and steady. Quality, diversification and complexity of products have been key components to its evolution, and so is getting the word out about Dion’s many capabilities.
In 2007, Stacy Falconer became part of the team, and today serves as director of business development. There are a total of 80 employees at Dion, including six direct sales representatives. Led by Falconer, sales and marketing work together to solidify leads and transition them into customers. “There are several things that we do within our organization to make sure our brand and our name is out there in the industry. For example, using our marketing collateral, newsletters, trade shows and postcards, we’re having a lot of customers contact and find us. Referrals are also very big for us as we have strong relationships with many of the contract packagers we work with.”
Educating customers on how Dion can help move their respective brands forward is an integral part of the marketing strategy. “Our marketing team focuses on branding and customer awareness, while our sales team works with prospective clients to make their brands come to life,” Falconer says.
She emphasizes that Dion Label’s employees are “curious.” Meaning, they enjoy experimenting, and strive to create innovative label products. “Our team will come up with a lot of ideas and solutions for our customers to offer – different types of hinge labels, expanded content labels – things that not every label company can do. We’re successful in OTC pharma and medical markets, and the series of niche markets we serve has helped us. So when the economy has gone down, we’ve remained profitable.
“We try and position ourselves as the Nike in the industry,” Falconer says. “We focus on quality and differentiation, and we focus on clients that are very unique and in need of the highest quality labels. We pride ourselves on our out-of-the-box innovations and the ability to offer quality no one else can offer.”
Ashley Obara is Dion Label’s marketing supervisor, and points out that while the company has come a long way since its humble beginnings – growing in many ways – it’s characterized by a close-knit, family atmosphere where everyone plays an important role. “We want employees to think of this as a place where they can give their voice and enjoy coming into work. We have an employee involvement team that meets once a month, and we also hold a wide variety of programs to promote engagement – like our walkathon that encourages employee wellness, health and wellbeing,” Obara says, adding that the Dion staff also regularly participates in fun, team-building activities during and sometimes after the workday. The programs are well-received and employee retention is high – there are seven employees with more than 25 years at Dion and 70% of the workforce has been with the company 10 years or more.
On the subject of teamwork, Obara adds that Lean Manufacturing programs have played a pivotal role in improving efficiency. She says, “In 2013, we took part in a company-wide Lean training program, which continues today. We have teams focusing on different areas of the company – manufacturing, customer care, quality control – we’re always looking to be proactive in trying to improve our processes.”
Dion incorporates the use of customer surveys as a means of assessing where it can improve. Explains Falconer, “Every new customer gets a survey to give us feedback on how we performed throughout the entire experience, from the initial contact all the way through shipping. With 5.0 being the top possible score, we average 4.99.”
As the label industry evolves, so too does Dion Label Printing. As the company closes in on its Golden Anniversary, it’s in the midst of a rebranding initiative. “At 50 years old, we feel like the time is right for a facelift,” Falconer says. “We’re going after a fresh look, and we want our customers to relate to us and see us as a company that is about more than just label printing. We offer so much more – not only shrink sleeves, pouches and flexible packaging, but we also sell ribbons, printers, labeling equipment and software.”
Falconer notes that as part of the rebranding process, Dion sent out a survey asking customers about their needs and how happy they were with the company. “We were really happy with the feedback we received,” she says. “We got responses like, ‘Dion is the only label supplier I have,’ and ‘Dion helps me sleep at night.’ So that was really nice to hear.”