In 1981, Lofton Label moved to its first facility in West St. Paul, and in 1987 the company relocated to its current location in Inver Grove Heights (southeast of the Twin Cities). Here, the company purchased 17 acres and built on green space what would ultimately become an industrial park. Since then, Lofton Label has put on an addition in 1992 and another in 2005. And with more acreage in the back – and a robust pipeline of business – there is still room for future expansion.
The 65,000 square foot facility now houses two HP Indigo 13” 6800 digital presses and nine flexo presses (7.5 - 24” wide from Aquaflex, Webtron, and Mark Andy.) Lofton Label also distributes and services labeling equipment for Universal Labeling out of Florida and desktop printers from Zebra and Datamax, as well as blank labels and ribbons that go with these desktop printers. According to Mike Gaughan, COO, “We started doing this in 1994 because we discovered that there was finger pointing between manufacturers and label printers. If we could do both then only one company had complete responsibility – and that translates to great support for our customers.”
The company’s greatest challenge was one that affected most label converters – the general decline of the economy in 2009-10. Before that, Lofton Label had been built up to 135 employees; but some of its largest customers were in housing construction and digging equipment – two markets most adversely affected by the crisis, and revenue went down 50%. Lofton Label reduced its manpower to only 65 employees – a painful action for a family-run organization. Today, revenue is back up but the company is doing the same amount of sales with only 87 employees. Gaughan adds, “We’ve learned that the good times won’t be around forever – and we have become leaner and smarter in our plant, relying more on digital printing and being careful about adding staff.”
Lofton Label started investigating digital printing in 2008, and by the fall of 2009 had purchased its first HP Indigo. Times were getting tough by 2009 and it knew it needed to be more efficient. Timing was perfect, as Lofton Label wanted to get a jump start and purchase one of the first 6000’s on the market. Gaughan remembers, “It was certainly a challenging time to make that kind of investment – a real roll of the dice. We felt strongly that this would be the best way for our company to keep growing.”
Within a short time, that press was filled with work. With OT around the clock, it was time for a second HP digital press, which was purchased in April 2014.
With both flexo and digital capabilities, Lofton Label now produces labels for a broad array of industries, including agriculture, animal health, food and beverage, health and beauty, industrial chemical and beverages. One large portion of its business is extended content booklets, which they print both flexo (offset) and digitally. The company has also become known for high-end, high-quality peel and reseal booklets.
Another large focus of their business has become flexible packaging from its 24” Aquaflex 10-color press. Lofton Label prints unfinished pouch materials for customers who have their own pouching equipment and create gusseted pouches and sachets. Additionally, Lofton Label partners with pouching companies so that it can provide its customers with a total flexible package product.
Lofton Labels’ customers – and competitors – are primarily located in Minnesota and Wisconsin. When asked how the company differentiates itself, Gaughan notes five distinct capabilities:
- Flexibility: With flexo and digital presses Lofton Label as the right machine for the right application.
- Speed in quoting: Customers want a price, and they want it instantly. Lofton Label strives to be the first one there every time.
- Speed of reconciliation: “Everyone makes mistakes but customers get upset when you can’t fix your mistakes quickly and to their satisfaction.”
- General reputation for quality and service.
- Tenure: The company has been around for 40 years and brings considerable expertise and experience. Nine senior managers have an average tenure of 21.56 years and 11 press operators have an average tenure of 15.55 yrs.
For example, Lofton Label has a chemical customer who uses barrel labels. One of its plants had about 180 barrels that needed to go overseas and were missing a key label, which needed to ship the next day. With no art and no tooling, Lofton Label quickly got its graphics department to design the label, and it printed it digitally and hand cut the labels on a paper cutter. Gaughan notes, “We just found a way to do it. That’s how ‘loving our customers’ comes to life.”
The largest challenge Lofton Label faces today, like so many businesses in and out of the printing industry, is finding the right manpower to keep growing. The company is constantly looking at ways to add capacity without adding people. Additionally, Lofton label has invested in a local training school: Flexo Tech in Minneapolis. Flexo Tech helps train operators and finishers who come to Lofton Label from other industries.
In the future, flexible packaging is seen as the biggest opportunity, and the company intends to invest in a wider press to build on its current knowledge and growth and take it to the next level.
Lofton Label has also been a FLAG member since 2015 and will be hosting the Member Tour at this year’s annual meeting in October. The company has benefited from quarterly rebates and the ability to connect with peers from other independent converters at the Annual Meeting. FLAG membership has provided other benefits, as well. One is new business from other FLAG Members. Lofton Label regularly attends Peer Group Meetings and credits the respect and trust that develops at these meetings as a catalyst for exchanging business opportunities. Second is a catastrophic backup plan with FLAG members across North America. Lofton Label uses this capability, both to gain new business and to help when current customers ask during an annual audit, “What’s your backup plan?”
Lofton Label's plant tour will take place during the FLAG Annual Meeting in Bloomington, MN, which is being held from October 27-29, 2020.