985 Seville Road, Wadsworth, OH 44281 USA
MPI Label Systems got its start like many companies in the industry do – an entrepreneurial individual buys a no-frills press and starts printing and selling labels out of the family garage or small facility. In the case of MPI, the individual was Don McDaniel, and in 1967 in Sebring, OH, USA, he purchased a 3", 2-color Mark Andy press for $1,000. At first, he used the press to manufacture double-sided foam tape, and soon after, along with a pressman and someone to handle office work, he entered the pressure sensitive label market.
McDaniel’s company is turning 50 this year, and half a century later his vision has turned into one of North America’s top 10 label manufacturers. MPI is now coast-to-coast, with 11 total production facilities in California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. The company’s corporate headquarters have remained where it all started in Sebring – with two additional Ohio locations in Alliance and Wadsworth.
Leading the company is its president Randy Kocher. Starting with MPI in 1981, he’s witnessed first-hand the company’s impressive growth and evolution – from a variety of different positions. He recalls, “I was a computer programmer at the time, and Don McDaniels – who I’d known personally for years – well, he bought a computer for his label business. But he had no idea how to program it. So he talked me into joining his company – he was a great salesperson.”
At MPI, Kocher moved from programming to accounting, then to controller and finance, eventually working his way up to his current position as president. Reflecting on this, he muses, “I guess I was at the right place at the right time.” Of course, his business savvy and breadth of experience have been paramount to MPI.
Growth has come both organically and by acquisition. MPI’s Wadsworth facility – MPI/Labeltek, acquired in 2013 – sets itself apart. Due to its strong brand and reputation within the label industry, management decided that the facility would retain its Labeltek name following the acquisition.
Ron Nagy founded Labeltek 27 years ago, and he now serves as general manager of the plant. Not only does Nagy bring to MPI vast printing and converting industry knowledge and experience, but at the time of the acquisitions, also a portfolio of customers complementary to MPI’s, making the merger a perfect, synergistic fit.
Nagy recalls, “As Labeltek, we’d often do battle with MPI, and I’d say we probably looked at each other as very good competition. There was a mutual respect that we both had. Randy and I had become friendly, and we sat down to talk about MPI possibly doing some digital work for Labeltek. What we found was that our companies had a lot of similarities – similar values, company cultures and philosophies. And personally, there was an easy bond,” he says. “Yet, while our companies had many commonalities, it also became apparent that by coming together there could be great synergy from both markets and technology standpoints.”
The Sweet Spot
As a whole, MPI’s annual sales total more than $130 million annually while employing 630 people across its 11 locations. With a vast equipment arsenal that includes 65 flexo and seven digital presses, MPI can serve just about any pressure sensitive label market imaginable, as well as providing customers shrink sleeves, booklet labels, roll-fed wraps and much more. In addition to labels for product decoration and identification, MPI has a comprehensive RFID division, offers thermal transfer services and also a line of equipment that includes label applicators.
MPI has presses with web widths ranging from 6.5" all the way up to 42". “I look at the market as a battlefield,” Nagy says. “You have to line up the right equipment for battle. In other words, you don’t use cruise missiles for a small skirmish. You use what’s appropriate for the specific market you’re serving.”
“And if a job is said to be impossible, it just takes us a little bit longer to do it,” Kocher adds.
The markets MPI serves run the gamut. Customers range from the smallest startups to the most well known Fortune 500 companies. “We never forget what got us here,” Kocher says. “As a matter of fact, we still have customers that have been with us since 1968, the year Don started selling labels. That doesn’t happen without providing the highest level of service.”
Says Nagy, “That was one of the things we had in common when we came together – we both had startup customers that have been with us for decades, since the very beginning.”
MPI is a company loaded with experience and specialists, and uses both to its advantage. Nagy explains, “I’m very thankful that in my printing career I have been involved in both running a plant as well as sales and marketing. You have to know production – what’s going on in the pressroom, the mechanics and capabilities of the machinery – but then you have to sell. Looking back, at the time I never really thought about it. I was doing both and enjoying it all. But my experience has been a great help when looking at technology adoption – seeing equipment from not only a production point of view, but also from a marketing standpoint. The value is in combining the two. It isn’t necessarily how big you are or how hard you swing, it’s in knowing how to hit the sweet spot.”
MPI operates on the philosophy that everything has its place – and this applies to both equipment and personnel. At each of the 11 plants, employees are empowered to bring their energy and ideas to the table with the support from management.
One of the many things unique about MPI is that for such a large company it retains the feel of a family business. “It’s an organization that’s both centralized and decentralized,” Nagy explains. “The plants are allowed to grow within their core competencies while also working together. It’s a true family atmosphere. And like any family there can be some sibling rivalry, and that’s where Randy comes in to keep the peace and provide support – there’s a great advantage to that.”
Kocher emphasizes that within MPI as a whole, its management team brings more than 800 years of label industry experience. He explains, “So Ron here at Labeltek, he knows who to talk to if he has a film question, for example, a certain piece of equipment, inks, anything – he grabs the phone and knows who at MPI to call. We don’t have politics here. Nobody is afraid to speak up and answer a question – everybody helps everybody.”
“When consolidation happens, businesses can lose their personality,” Nagy adds, “but that’s not true at MPI. And I think that’s what separates us from some of the other large label companies.”
Emphasis on relationship building is a key element of MPI’s success, and it extends from within the organization as a whole, to the strong relationships the company has with both its customers and suppliers. “Part of the sweet spot is in relationships and how you develop within those relationships,” Nagy says. “And they’re all important. Because once you lose that, you lose who you are.”
A Global First With Durst
The foundation of the culture at Labeltek is based on Nagy’s mantra of “Analyze and Innovate,” a philosophy that led to the facility’s installation of a 7-color Durst Tau LFS 330 UV inkjet system with inline digital laser finishing.
Nagy had been paying very close attention to the inkjet label press market. “It took about three years of research, but in the end, it became a no-brainer,” he says, adding that he was looking at companies that had “vision,” and after a visit to Durst headquarters in Italy and Austria, his choice was clear. “In the final analysis, Durst provided the greatest value, functionality, support and vision within the inkjet digital and laser markets.”
Adds Kocher, “Within the label industry there are printers, but we consider ourselves problem solvers, and there are lot of opportunities this new press brings.”
As far as MPI knows, the particular configuration at Labeltek is a global first. The press features the inline combination of the Tau extended color digital print engine with variable data capabilities, two 400w Spartanics lasers, semi-rotary diecutting and sheeting. Although this first pioneering installation had some challenges, MPI/Labeltek is reaping the benefits.
Kocher explains, “We are always researching and investing in new technologies. We were the North America beta site for several pieces of equipment, and the first in the North American market with multiple pieces of production-level equipment. Being the first with this new Durst configuration fits nicely into our leading technology niche, and complements our existing printing and RFID capabilities.”
Nagy emphasizes how the Durst Tau LFS 330 has been exemplary for short-to-medium runs, quick turnaround, color matching, color consistency and the durability of inks. “The Durst Tau system expands the universe of what we can offer customers,” he says. “The more you can avail yourself to customers and say ‘we can do this, and we can do that’ the greater the value you can be to them.
“To steal a phrase,” Nagy continues, “We’re making printing production great again. For the label converting industry, at the pace in which digital technology is developing, and taking into account how expensive it is, this is the most challenging time in history. While it’s not quite as important as the Guttenberg press, digital printing is right up there. So when it comes to equipment adoption, we look at what’s the best fit for the company and the markets we serve. And we’re looking at more ways that we can provide the supplements to the technology – technology is great, but what’s more important is in knowing how to most effectively manage it. Get into a high performance car; if you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re going to find out real fast.”
By gaining new customers, adding equipment assets and strategic acquisitions, MPI is growing every day, 50 years from its humble beginnings. The plan in Wadsworth is to grow the digital inkjet business by expanding the facility and potentially adding a second Durst press. Though they have many NDA agreements with customers, it’s clear how excited both Nagy and Kocher are for the possibilities today and for the future when it comes to what their printing and converting technology can bring.
Geographically, MPI continues to make inroads across the US. Earlier this year, in order to expand its footprint in the Northeast, the company acquired New York-based Label Gallery.
Mirroring the mindset of its other acquistions, Kocher says of Label Gallery, “We share the same values of high quality and exceptional customer service, giving our customers what they want, when they want it, and how they want it.”