2021 Research Dr.
Fort Wayne, IN 46808 USA
Accu-Label is a label manufacturer that epitomizes the American family business. Based in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the company has hit its stride over the last few years, and with the latest digital and flexo technologies, Accu-Label is in the midst of some serious growth.
Dave Manning co-founded Accu-Label in 1987. Over nearly three decades, the company has grown from the humblest of beginnings to its current position as an industry leader. And a close-knit group of 30 employees – many of whom are Manning family members and friends – are having fun along the way.
Since he was a kid, Dave has been in the printing business. He started out as an apprentice for a newspaper printer before working for a stamp company called Indiana Stamp and Seal – the seal part of the business was pressure sensitive labels. “My first experiences with printing were with alcohol-based inks, which was very slow to dry, so I found myself always looking for better and more efficient ways of doing things,” Dave recalls. “I was running a two-color press, and I worked my way up to production manager. I really enjoyed the label printing side of the business and got really into it. I liked the different shapes, the use of water-based inks, and the process of figuring out the most efficient way to run jobs. But I wanted more. I asked my boss at the time, ‘What else can I do?’ He said, ‘you’re at the top of the game – there isn’t any more you can do here.
“I wasn’t satisfied with that,” Dave says. “I needed to go faster, and I needed to find the best possible combinations of inks and materials. And when I was told there wasn’t any farther I could go, well, that wasn’t good enough. So, along with a partner, I decided to start my own business.”
In April 1987, Dave informed his wife – who was pregnant at the time with the couple’s second child – that he was going to start his own label printing company in the family garage. With the full support of his entire family, Dave Manning’s Accu-Label business was under way.
In the garage, labels were printed on a 7-inch, three-color Allied Gear flexo press. Accu-Label got its start serving the regional food market, a segment that remains a key area of focus.
Since the beginning, Dave set his sights on providing his customers with high quality labels and superior, personalized customer service. In 1989, Accu-Label outgrew the garage and moved into a larger facility, adding additional equipment and personnel. By 1996, the company settled into its current facility in Fort Wayne, which is 38,000 square feet. It was at this time that Dave bought out his former partner, signaling the start of his sole ownership of the company.
Included in Accu-Label’s 38,000 square feet of space is a recent addition of 16,000 square feet that’s primarily used for warehousing both raw materials and finished product – a key component to providing the customer service the company is known for, as well as customized programs for clients.
A family affair
The Accu-Label vision, according to Dave, is “being a family-centered business dedicated to surpassing the expectations of our customers.”
The Manning family works together to achieve the vision. Catie Manning is the oldest of Dave’s five children, and she serves as creative and marketing director. She’s had the opportunity to witness – as well as take part in – the company’s growth and success. Also fueling the company’s growth is DJ Manning, Dave’s oldest son. He plays an instrumental role in the production department, and is a whiz when it comes to the technical and engineering aspects of the business. Mary Jane Hendricks, Dave’s second oldest daughter, serves as accounting manager, and is credited with perfecting Accu-Label’s quality control processes in addition to covering the company’s accounting needs. Two other Manning kids are coming up through the ranks, with all five bringing unique skillsets to the table.
“It’s a full family business here,” Dave says. “There are also nieces and nephews that come back from college and work in the summers, and we have a lot of family friends that work here – it’s one big family affair.”
Accu-Label recently brought in a non-family member to run the production department, a move Dave is particularly excited about as it overcomes some challenges that occur with family members working together. Dave says, “With him, there’s no bias one way or the other – he’s going to treat everyone impartially. He has a lot of mechanical and management experience and will be a key part of our team going forward.
“We’ve enjoyed tremendous growth these last few years, with pretty much minimal addition to our staff,” Dave says. “We needed a seasoned production manager. With so many projects going on, I can’t manage everything back there myself. And I want to hit the road more and see our customers. I really enjoy that interaction – taking on their challenges, figuring things out and making them better.”
Dave has always taken a hands-on approach to running Accu-Label, and he leads by example. He doesn’t turn down printing challenges and gets his hands dirty trying to solve problems and improve processes.
“My dad is a visionary,” Catie says. “He gets these ideas in his head, decides what he wants for Accu-Label and our customers, and then, as a team, we figure out how to get there. Thirty years ago, I don’t think he could have grasped where we’d be right now.”
The “right now” Catie speaks of is Accu-Label’s explosive growth rate, which can be attributed in large part to the company’s commitment to customer service.
“We know what our customers are up against. They have deadlines that need to be met – they’re growing, the economy is growing – and we’re also in some great markets,” she says.
Accu-Label mainly serves the food, automotive and industrial label segments, but also has some interesting niche customers, such as nonprofit organizations. For the most part, business is regional, coming from Indiana, Ohio and Michigan. The company has a sales office in Chicago as well, capturing business from that area.
“If they come to us with a deadline, we’re going to push to get it done when they need it,” Dave says.
Adds Catie, “This is why we’re growing – we’re able to meet the tightest deadlines. Also, whether it’s food, automotive or industrial – we’re all under the gun. We like to say we ‘service the heck out of our customers.’ Sure, it can get stressful at times, but they know that and they appreciate what we do for them. We have great customers, and they keep coming back. They’re our biggest advocate and our best advertising!”
When the pressure is on, like any close-knit family, the group at Accu-Label rallies together to get the job done. “Our schedule can change almost daily,” Catie says. “And it’s so important to have flexible employees. The group we have back there, they are all willing and able to ‘bob and weave’ and adjust on the fly in order to provide our customers with the highest quality labels and service.”
While having the right personnel is of course of paramount importance, the same can be said of having the right technology. Accu-Label has made strategic investments in state-of-the-art label printing equipment. In 2014, the company installed its first digital press, a Xeikon 3500. During the summer of 2015, a second Xeikon press was added when Accu-Label became a pilot site for the Xeikon Cheetah (now known as the CX3), enhancing its digital capabilities further and faster.
The company enhanced its flexo capabilities in 2015 as well, upgrading from a Mark Andy XP to a Performance Series P7 press. With printing speed up to 750 fpm, the P7 is a 10-color press and can print labels with widths up to 20 inches. It’s integral to Accu-Label’s long run business, with certain jobs requiring it to run three shifts a day.
In total, the company utilizes five flexo presses including the P7. Platemaking is done in house with Esko computer-to-plate and DuPont Cyrel FAST technology. The prepress department also offers comprehensive label design services. Many customers are startups, and through partnering with Accu-Label they can grow their businesses.
The initial investment in digital print technology was a long time coming. “We investigated getting into digital for around seven years,” Catie says. “We developed a partnership with a label printer that had digital capability – it was a mutually beneficial relationship, and it helped us establish a foundation of business ideal for digital. So when we finally did execute buying a press, we knew exactly what direction we wanted to go in.
“We looked at all the options and carefully weighed the benefits of each,” she adds. “With Xeikon, we liked the dry toner process, and it gives us flexibility with substrates. And the 20-inch web width was important to us. Because we run both flexo and digital, we needed a solution that was going to be consistent. The 3500 was a great fit for that.”
Catie explains how the addition of the first digital press – in only one year’s time – profoundly changed the business. “Our customers have come to value the quality and consistency digital printing offers. In just one year, we have had so many jobs printing on the Xeikon 3500 that it was running at high capacity. Adding our second digital label press with the Cheetah was vital in meeting customer expectations, now and in the future. Also, the speed and throughput of the Cheetah has really helped us grow our customer base. It’s also improved the efficiency of our flexo presses leaving them to handle the longer runs they’re designed to produce cost-efficiently.”
The Xeikon Cheetah has a top speed of 98 fpm and the 1200 x 3600 dpi press is dedicated solely to the production of PS labels. Like all of the presses in the Xeikon 3000 Series it uses dry toners that meet FDA regulations for food contact – a major benefit for Accu-Label considering how important the food market is to the company. Another advantage to the Cheetah is its ability to print opaque white toner in one pass.
Dave Manning values the partnerships he’s developed with his suppliers. “Xeikon has been great to us,” he says. “It’s a true partnership. They’ve offered all of the resources to help us get where we need to be. They have the mentality of, ‘when you’re down, we’re down’ – that kind of support is huge.”
On the marketing side, which is Catie’s domain, she says adding the Cheetah was great in getting Accu-Label some exposure, something Dave isn’t totally comfortable with. “He likes to fly under the radar, but I like to get us out there a little bit,” she says. The company just completed an update of its website and is increasingly getting more involved in social media and creating content.
On his being somewhat closed-off when it comes to Accu-Label, Dave says this goes back to the garage days when everyone was asking a lot of questions. “I like to keep a tight reign on things,” he says. “We have our trade secrets, and we’re protective of our territory. But we’d like to think we have a good position in the industry and can compete with the biggest players.
“I think we can turn quicker than most,” he adds, “and people know where their labels are coming from – right here in our shop in Fort Wayne.”
Accu-Label has the technology and people in place to deliver on the vision and foundation Dave Manning set forth nearly thirty years ago. To him, the business is more than a job. He says, “It’s a calling, it’s a way of life. And we have great customers, who I really want to please, so they don’t even have to think about going somewhere else.”
For a manufacturing facility, the Accu-Label plant has a homey feel to it. The latest undertaking is converting part of the building into a conference room that will double as an antique game room and museum – something of a tribute to Dave’s late father, who was an avid game collector. “When I was just starting out, he was my biggest cheerleader. Between my dad and my wife, I had the greatest support group you could possibly have,” he says.
The centerpiece of the room is a conference table fashioned from an actual bowling alley lane, flanked by refurbished jukeboxes, pinball machines, shuffleboard games and more. Dave says, “It’ll be something unique and something that everyone can enjoy. We spend so much time here, we work hard, but we also laugh a lot – and that’s important to me.”
He adds, “Starting Accu-Label, and having the experiences I’ve had with my family and friends, has been so very enriching for me. It’s a fun, family atmosphere here, where we all support one another – these are things that can’t be replaced.”