7235 SE Label Lane, Portland, OR, USA 97206
Even though Rose City Label has been in business for more than 90 years, there is nothing antiquated or outdated about its operations. These days the converter emphasizes sustainability, digital printing and the exploration of emerging applications.
Many of the company’s core philosophies can be traced back to Mike Pillsbury, who purchased Rose City Label in 1974. Pillsbury worked as a salesman for Zellerbach Paper, but ultimately, he was an entrepreneur at heart. With experience in the paper business and the ambition to invest in the printing industry, he seized the opportunity to take the reins at Rose City. Pillsbury wasted no time jumping feet first into the label industry, as he became a fixture in TLMI and recruited the best people to help keep the business humming.
One of his most prescient moves included the addition of his children, who run Rose City Label today. Scott Pillsbury, president, and Whitney Pillsbury, vice president, joined their father in the early 1990s, functioning in a variety of roles. From shipping and rewinding to sales and human resources, Scott and Whitney immersed themselves in every nook and cranny of the business.
In 1998, Mike passed away after battling an illness. While his void was unmistakable, he had the foresight to prepare the business for the future. “When our father passed away, everything changed and we became co-owners,” explains Whitney. “We had to learn how to run the business while keeping people happy and comfortable, knowing that we weren’t going anywhere; that we were going to continue on the strong path that had been established by my dad for all those years.”
“My dad was a great man,” adds Scott. “My sister and I were both going in the direction of one day taking over the company, and our dad set a great example for us. He was very practical and pragmatic, and made goals seem attainable. There’s no magic – work hard, be honest, make a good product and stand behind it. That gave us confidence.”
The business has certainly evolved. The Pillsbury family needed to navigate the heartbreak of losing their father, as well as the economic downturn of 2008. “It was unexpected and overwhelming, and personally we were going through a lot,” recalls Whitney. “But we also wanted to continue to make our dad proud. It was important that we got to work with our dad and learn the company from the ground up – staying late and gaining the respect of the employees. Slowly but surely, we started making some of our own improvements, adding to the vibe and feel of the company’s culture – putting our own stamp on it.”
Today, Rose City Label has 23 employees working at its 14,000 square-foot facility. Over the past decade, the company has doubled capacity and still retains room should it choose to make any future acquisitions. In addition to Scott and Whitney, the company has recruited Jim Arrey, a 40-year industry veteran, to serve as production manager.
“The team is everything,” says Scott. “We have a few 30-year employees and many over 20 years. Everyone recognizes that they don’t really work for me, Whitney and Jim – they work for the customers. They know that we are critical to their success and they take that responsibility seriously. We have made massive changes, investments and progress – in the past 10 years in particular – and our people are excited to move forward. They love our environmental focus and the continued investment. They want us to succeed so they can share in that success. We are really fortunate to have people that care. Our experienced team and family ownership are really our primary selling points – besides great printing and responsive service.”
According to Whitney, the company follows a few similar practices to those that were around during its early years. “One thing is we don’t do voicemail,” she says. “When our phone rings we answer it, and that’s been one thing Rose City has done since 1928. We give people information right then and there, and that’s a huge strength of ours.”
Rose City Label gets a significant amount of business from the beer, wine and spirits markets – and, most recently, cannabis. With wineries, craft breweries and emerging dispensaries, the company relies on its digital printing capabilities to fulfill a plethora of orders. An HP Indigo 6900 digital press has been a “game-changer” for Rose City Label, says Scott. The company utilizes finishing equipment from Delta ModTech as well as a Newfoil hot stamping machine.
“Our largest growth industry has probably been cannabis,” Scott explains. “It’s been a good business segment for us. It’s impressive what some of these companies are doing. A few years ago, I visited one that was vertically-integrated: a growth, extraction and packaging operation all under one roof. They’ve got indoor grow lights and sensors on every square meter of dirt, and individual lighting and watering for every sector. Plus, they have really sophisticated packaging.”
“The cannabis market has gone really well for us,” adds Whitney. “Years ago, it used to be a Starbucks on every corner, and now it’s a cannabis dispensary. It has been a really good niche for us, especially in the Portland area where cannabis is all the rage.”
Even though Rose City Label is finding significant success in certain markets, the company sees orders coming in from across the board. “We like to say we’ll talk to anybody with a product in a bag or a box or a bottle,” adds Scott. “We do a little bit of everything for everybody.”
While the company maintains a few industrial label customers, its primary business comes from high volume producers, preferably privately-owned in the Pacific Northwest, with consumable products in a bag, box or bottle.
Rose City Label prides itself on being active across a variety of platforms in order to drive sales. “The mantra here is ‘everything works a little,’” says Scott. “We have a great website and an active blog, email marketing and social media, direct outside sales done by myself and one other employee, and we network for referrals often. We feel you need multiple angles into the mind of the potential customer. It is rare, in my opinion, that just one marketing channel can cover all your needs. Most importantly, every customer interaction helps build our brand and reputation. From the initial phone call, to the proof, to the package, to the invoice – every one of those touch points are important to position us as label experts that care about their customers.”
Part of the Pillsbury stamp on the business involves a green touch. Rose City Label’s many sustainability initiatives aim to protect the environment and position the next generation for a bright future. The company has invested in wind power and is transitioning the facility to LED lighting.
In 2013, Rose City Label became TLMI LIFE certified. The LIFE program from TLMI recognizes association members that have made great strides in reducing their environmental footprint. The program addresses clean production, energy and greenhouse gases, product and environmentally preferable materials and management practices. Rose City holds monthly sustainability metrics meetings, participates in its community’s plastic wrap program, recycles all of its pallets and uses water-wash flexo plates. “We took a bunch of little steps over the years, and now sustainability is baked into our culture,” explains Scott. “First of all, it’s the right thing to do, and secondly, it sends a good message.”
Recently, Rose City Label decided to double down on its environmental practices, becoming the first TLMI member to earn SGP (Sustainable Green Printing Partnership) certification. “We wanted to get involved with SGP for more of a broader printing industry certification and take a leadership position on it,” adds Scott. “SGP is very rigorous, but it was worth it.”
“SGP was a natural progression from LIFE,” explains Arrey, who spearheaded the effort to gain certification. “We laid down all the groundwork – the processes and procedures – in place to prove that we’re sustainable. The certification is all about what you’re doing to maintain sustainable practices, and you have to have proof of that. Self-auditing is critical now that we have certification, and we have to prove that we’re walking the walk – literally down to where you take your recycling.”
These green endeavors have not gone unnoticed, either. Last year, Rose City Label was honored with a TLMI Calvin Frost Environmental Leadership Award at the association’s Annual Meeting.
Growth with digital
When Rose City Label started looking toward potential investments in new printing and converting equipment, the company saw digital printing as a technology that could meet the evolving needs of customers. When an improving economy helped spark an uptick in business back in 2010, Rose City Label bought a Primera tabletop digital label printer. That began the company’s digital printing journey.
“It was a modest investment, but it was something new and something different,” recalls Scott. “The Primera worked well and it was busy, so we bought another one. It was also nice for our employees to see we were investing in the business moving forward. We’ve always had flexo, hot stamping and foil stamping, but really the big difference has been digital.”
The success with the Primera printer propelled a 2014 investment in a full production press: an HP Indigo WS4600 series. Rose City Label’s success with that press prompted a further investment, as the company upgraded to the HP Indigo 6900 digital press in 2018.
“The 4600 was a big bet and it worked out,” says Scott. “We ran that press for four years, and then we upgraded to the new 6900. We’re pretty well-rooted in the Indigo ecosystem, and they’ve been good to us. Going with HP has been a great experience. We’re enjoying tremendous growth with digital printing,” he adds. “I love flexo, and I’m a flexo guy from way back, but digital has less waste and a lot of benefits.”
The HP Indigo 6900 press also opens Rose City Label up to new business segments. “Our new HP gives us a lot of options, opening the door for areas like flexible packaging, should we choose to go down that alley,” says Arrey, who adds that a cannabis/CBD customer recently requested a security feature that can be printed inline on the HP. “There are huge opportunities with HP technology. A lot of our spirits orders come serialized and the bottles are numbered, so we’re able to print those inline with the HP. Digital printing is now a very strong business area for us.”
Rose City Label has placed a premium on being involved in the industry. This mantra dates back to Mike’s involvement with TLMI, which continues to this day. In addition, the company has also become active with the buying group FLAG (Flexo Label Advantage Group), in an effort to bring further benefits to customers.
“Our dad was involved with TLMI, and Scott and I used to go with him to events when we were young, so that was a great experience,” says Whitney. “I’ve built many great relationships over the years through TLMI, and it’s so nice to be able to contact another label printer and ask them questions, where it’s open, respectful and confidential. You can’t beat it.”
“My dad learned a lot about the industry through TLMI,” explains Scott. “It’s where he made a lot of dear friends, and I had the opportunity to join him on some unique trips to different TLMI and FINAT events, which was pretty cool. A lot of the friends he made in the label community were TLMI folks. Before I was even working in the business I met a lot of people who are still active today.”
Scott has followed in his father’s footsteps with regards to the association. Not only has he been actively involved throughout the years, he has also served as the board chair. Specifically, from 1999 to 2005, Scott occupied several different posts within the association. His involvement with TLMI brought him to multiple FINAT events, as well.
Even though Rose City Label is still in the early stages of its membership with FLAG, the company envisions another prosperous partnership. “We’re still in our infancy with FLAG, but I’ve met a lot of great people,” says Arrey. “I have reached out and gotten some emails personally from fellow members, bouncing ideas off each other. I see it being a great resource for us going forward.”
“We are new to FLAG but love the idea of smaller label printers banding together and negotiating better deals with suppliers,” adds Scott. “Margins are tight and getting tighter, so anything we can do to level the playing field is good. I’ve enjoyed many years with TLMI and always feel there is great value in the personal connections made with other label printers around the country. And I think FLAG will provide us with some similar benefits.”