89 N Industry Court, Deer Park, NY, USA 11729
There aren’t many companies – printing or otherwise – that boast the same kind of rich history as DWS Printing. The NY-based converter traces its origins back to the Civil War, but there is nothing old-school about DWS’ printing operations.
Tom Staib, president and owner, and Andy Staib, owner, currently preside over this fifth-generation label provider. The company has been in business for more than 150 years, and the Staib family has it poised to thrive well into the future.
DWS, originally named David Weil’s Sons Lithographic Co., originated in 1865, when Weil established a printing company for his sons following the war. Charles Staib, great-grandfather of Tom and Andy, joined the company in 1888 and soon became principal managing partner. Arthur, Charles’ son, joined his father, where they ran David Weil’s Sons until Allen and his brother Arthur, Tom and Andy’s father and uncle, entered the fold in the late 1950s.
A compilation book, which was a 1980 Christmas gift from Arthur to Allen, adorns the modern-day DWS conference room. It features a wide range of labels, some that date back to the late 1800s. “The printing back then really blew my mind because a lot of it was done with engraved litho stones,” explains Tom. “The company did a lot of textile labels back then. You can see the illustration and detail on these litho stones, so it fascinates me to no end that the company was able to produce these labels with this kind of quality.”
Fast forward to 1987, when Tom graduated from Villanova with a finance degree. He had spent summers working with his father at DWS, occupying several roles that included packing labels in the back of the shop. While many of his friends were pursuing jobs on Wall Street, Tom had printing in his blood.
“For me, there was always a place for DWS,” says Tom. “Even as I was going through school at Villanova, I was thinking about how I could take some of that information and knowledge and apply it to the company.”
Tom always set his sights on the next great technology, and his foresight came into play immediately. After joining his father and uncle at DWS, Tom convinced the third generation of Staibs to invest in a fax machine. “In 1987, I’ll never forget my uncle saying, ‘What’s a fax machine?’ I said, ‘We have to get one, because that’s how people are sending us orders now.’” That $400 Brother fax machine set the stage for DWS’ future. The company acquired some prominent customers along the way, but industry consolidation shifted the landscape in the late 1990s. The Staibs knew how to make their customers happy, but they would have to adapt to see the company successfully into the fourth generation.
“We’re a small shop but smaller back then,” says Tom. “We didn’t have 10 presses, but we knew how to turn labels around on time. We’d put labels in the trunk of our car and deliver them if we had to.”
Andy joined Tom at DWS in 1991, before Allen decided to retire in 1996. An industry fixture, Allen passed away recently in 2016.
“My dad left a great legacy for my brother and me,” says Tom. “He instilled a lot of good, solid moral values in us and taught us how to always do the next right thing.”
Tom and Andy have continued the legacy, as the company now employs 50 people in a 37,000 square-foot space on Long Island. The company previously held locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn before settling in Long Island in the 1960s. The move to Long Island also coincided with the company’s name change from David Weil’s Sons Lithographic Co. to DWS Printing Associates.
Family has continued to play a big part at the company, as Tom and Andy’s sister, Kathy, joined DWS over six years ago in a sales role. Meanwhile, Tom’s son, TJ, joined the company after graduating from Villanova with a BS in Finance and working for Heidelberg at its German headquarters. TJ, the fifth generation of Staibs to work at DWS, heads up the Packaging Division, where the company applies shrink sleeves directly to cans.
Prior to 2009, DWS’ business consisted of cut-and-stack label printing, where the company was 100% sheetfed offset. Tom knew, however, that to withstand the economic downturn, DWS would have to get bold in its investment strategy.
Several substantial gambles paid off, as DWS expanded its business.
In 2009, Tom knew that he needed to diversify in order to continue competing in the label printing world. “Business was starting to drop and we wondered how to take the business to the next level,” notes Tom. “Do we hunker down and keep our fingers crossed that we’ll make it through this recession okay, or do we diversify and invest? That’s when we made the leap into flexo.”
DWS invested in a narrow web Nilpeter FB press, which got the company acclimated to flexo printing. DWS transitioned some existing pressure sensitive label jobs to the press, even though – at the time – it was not a significant amount of work. Tom recognized the trends and knew that the label printing industry was moving in that direction.
“We didn’t have enough business to justify the purchase of a new press, but we said, ‘Let’s make this move because the world of flexo is growing at a faster pace than the offset world,’” says Tom. “It was totally out-of-the-box thinking, but it’s been one of the best moves we’ve made.”
The growth did not stop there, either. While attending drupa in 2012, Tom signed for an 8-color Heidelberg XL 106 press to help with DWS’ core competency, the sheetfed cut-and-stack printing business.
“Without the Heidelberg press, we wouldn’t be where we are today, and I’m convinced of that,” states Tom. “It was a huge investment; the biggest one the company has ever made. I said, ‘Dad, if we don’t spend the money we’re not going to be able to compete out there. We’re going to be dead in five years. And I honestly believe that we would have been.”
In addition to pinpointing flexo label printing as an industry trend, Tom became intrigued by the prospect of shrink sleeve printing. With shrink sleeves growing by nearly 10%, and the Staibs firmly entrenched in the beverages market, Tom looked to invest in another growth opportunity.
“Everywhere you look there’s a shrink sleeve on a product, and it was bothering me that we weren’t a part of that market,” he says. “In 2015, we bought a wider web, 10-color Omet press that’s full UV, with all the bells and whistles, and that enabled us to tap into the shrink sleeve label market, as well as the roll-fed beverage label market. That, too, has been a great boon for the company because that has opened up so many doors for us. In the world of labels, shrink sleeves are huge.”
The next frontier
DWS Printing did not rest on its laurels with flexo. Following investments in Nilpeter, Heidelberg and Omet, the Staibs identified digital as the next great trend in label printing.
“Digital has become such a major force,” says Tom. “We were watching what was going on in the industry, and it became more frustrating to lose some orders from good accounts because we couldn’t compete on the small runs.
“At first, I didn’t want the small runs, I wanted the larger runs,” he adds. “But the reality is those small runs are becoming a lot more prevalent in the industry. They can complement each other. You can take the big runs, but they also might have a specialty brew or seasonal product for which they don’t require a lot of labels, and it just makes more sense to do the jobs digitally.”
After recognizing the need to invest in digital printing, Tom and John Gulino, technical manager at DWS, embarked on a year-and-a-half journey to find the perfect fit for their company. In 2016, Tom began to learn the nuances of the technology while at the Digital Packaging Summit in Florida. While there, he introduced himself to all the major digital suppliers. Soon after, the Staibs started running trial jobs on the various presses, including electrophotography (EP) and UV inkjet systems.
Since shrink sleeve printing had become such a significant source of business for DWS, the ability to run those jobs was a sticking point. “Digitally printed shrink sleeves were going to be a significant part of this investment, so if we bought a press that couldn’t print shrink, it was defeating the purpose. And at the time, EP was the only game in town,” explains Tom. “A lot of our work is not necessarily suited for flexo because it’s short run in nature.”
Due to its thickness and inability to shrink, printing UV inkjet on shrink film proved to be problematic. DWS then experimented with a host of options, including running the jobs digitally – minus the white – and then transferring the run to the Omet press for application of the flexo shrink white ink.
DWS first experienced success with Domino’s UV 90 inkset. However, there was another option that came into play: hybrid printing.
“If we could print digitally and then put down the white ink – inline and all in one pass – then that was a game-changer,” states Tom. “And that was the way we opted to go.”
The Staibs selected the MPS EF SymJet Powered by Domino. Although they were not initially well-versed in MPS’ product range, they soon realized the benefits of going with the Dutch press manufacturer.
“I knew who MPS was, but I didn’t know a lot about them,” notes Tom. “The more homework I did, the more I learned they were a high-end flexo press manufacturer. Their automation and sophistication was most impressive. We went over to the Netherlands to conduct demos, and that’s ultimately where we landed, partnering with MPS and Domino.
“It’s been a good ride,” adds Tom. “We wanted to differentiate ourselves, and this hybrid press technology is certainly a differentiator for us. But I’ve also got to be careful because I don’t want to differentiate just to differentiate. I’ve got to make sure that the technology is doing what we need it to do and will enable us to compete in an ever-evolving market. And it does.”
A company cannot survive for 150-plus years without embracing several tenets of business. The Staibs have not been afraid to take chances, whether it be joining the company in 1888 or investing in digital hybrid printing in 2016.
“Some people may not agree with my philosophy, but I have the ‘Build it and they will come’ mindset,” explains Tom. “I know there’s potential and I know there’s opportunity, even though I don’t have a ton of work for this equipment – yet. We had faith and we had a good sales team and good marketing. Sometimes you just have to take that leap of faith. My brother and I have a saying, ‘Failure is not an option,’ and we strongly believe that. We’re going to do whatever it takes to succeed, and there might be some bumps on the road or setbacks along the way, but that’s par for the course in business. But it’s been a great ride.”
The Staibs have not become satisfied, either. Whether it be through conferences and trade shows or diligent research, Tom is always looking for the upcoming technology that can bring his business to the next level.
“One of the things that I’ve learned over the years is to stay on the forefront of technology, understanding where the industry is going and learning how we can be a part of that,” he says. “My job is to figure out where we are today and where we are going tomorrow. You can’t sit still in this industry because the technology is changing so much that you need to keep abreast of what’s going on in the world of label printing.”
Tom’s philosophy has also changed regarding industry events. As a youngster, he didn’t quite see the point of mingling with his competitors. Today, though, Tom is a fixture at TLMI, PIA and FLAG/IPW events.
“There was always something strange about having breakfast with one of your competitors, and it was kind of weird,” he says. “That was my mindset back then, and obviously, I’ve matured and grown. I’ve come to realize that we can accomplish a whole lot more together as a group than you can if you try to do it on your own. We share best practices – not pricing or account info. It’s business owners and senior managers who are there to talk about the challenges of the industry. This is my mindset today and it’s really been a wonderful experience.”
He’s taken quite a bit from these events, too. DWS has become proactive in instituting Lean manufacturing practices and continuous improvement (CI). The company has a CI team that meets regularly, discussing numerous topics, such as minimizing waste, implementing corrective actions, improving speed and efficiency, and dealing with all customer inquiries.
“These measures keep us focused on moving in the right direction,” says Tom. “The net effect has been increased profit margins. Our philosophy is to always do the right thing, as it’s something my parents instilled in me and I try to pass on around the company. We’ll jump through hoops for our customers to make sure we deliver on time every time, doing whatever it takes.”