Unit A1 Hume Avenue, Park West Industrial Pk, Dublin 12, Ireland
When Tom Waters founded Watershed Label Center in Ireland back in 1992, he could scarcely have imagined the international group it would become under the expert guidance of his widow and current CEO Liz, who succeeded him in 2012. From a single production facility in Dublin, the Group soon acquired LPS in the UK, then added Etiko at Szczecin in Poland in 2008, and Römer Etikett at Marburg in Germany in 2011. Most recently, it has acquired The Label Factory, an award-winning drinks specialist company in Ireland in both conventional and digital print categories.
Innovation has always been a by-word at Watershed, as Liz Waters explains: “We believe that to succeed we need to offer something extra, and the diverse nature of our three main label plants highlights this perfectly.” One area where the company has chosen not to diversify is with its press supplier. Mark Andy is the preferred choice of Watershed, and the Group now has 10 of its Performance Series presses across the three sites, and several legacy models too. In Dublin and Marburg, the Mark Andy presses all have a 430mm web width, while at Szczecin the decision was made to standardize on 330mm.
The production flexibility offered by the Group allows it to supply locally, where it’s important, but also offer the international brand owners the reassurance of consistent back-up across all plants. “Our philosophy is based on selling the speed and quality of our technology, and combining our centralized buying power with local market knowledge,” she explains. While the plants are similar, each has a slightly different capability, from the narrower web width in Poland, with a full HD Esko digital platemaking studio servicing the Group, to the screen printing capacity in Germany that adds significant value to self-adhesive labels. And, although each operates as its own profit and loss center, shared culture, knowledge and capacity is central to Group performance. And by standardizing the technology, a healthy internal rivalry amongst the plants offers a meaningful and realistic incentive to excel.
One of the benefits of the quality produced on the Mark Andy presses is the ability it gives Watershed to sell into traditionally offset markets. “There is no doubt that today’s HD flexo technology is a commercial match for any print process, and offers significant advantages in certain areas such as color vibrancy. By offering added value finishing inline, such as screen, cold foil and laminating, we can offer premium labels to any market sector – and significantly differentiate ourselves from other label converters,” says Waters. This sits well with the uniformity that the Group has developed, which saw a “Best Practice Manual” introduced across all production plants. Known as “The Watershed Way,” it was implemented to standardize working operations to achieve maximum consistency for quality while also reaping cost benefits.“I believe there is an optimum size of business for a converter – you have to be big enough to cope and have the ability to constantly reinvest in the latest technology. But, you must be small enough to care and keep close to your customers. We’re as close as a small family but have the process mentality that is required for industrial production – it’s a key strength and one that we intend to build on,” says Waters. One of the benefits of a small top team and a platform style operation is that it allows the quick decision making that drives innovation and allows the rapid bolt-on of facilities when required. In many ways, the Watershed culture is reflected in the Mark Andy technology it utilizes. Just as the company can grow with its customers, the Performance Series presses can be adapted, modified and upgraded to accommodate changes in market demand.
With more company acquisitions in the cards, Liz Waters is keen to sectorize the business with production facilities across Europe. Römer is a good example of this. The business grew up producing labels for the health and hygiene markets, and gradually became less competitive through lack of investment largely because of the tight margins in those market sectors. With the power of the new Mark Andy presses, the company has moved into higher value areas, where speed, quality and differentiation yield bigger rewards. “We intend to continue to spread our tentacles throughout Europe, because we believe that the fundamental principles on which Watershed was founded brings clearly defined benefits to us and our customers,” she says.
But, in addition to acquisition, Watershed Group sees a developing trend in cooperative partnerships. With the cost of capital investment in the latest technology continuing to rise, and a marked shortage of investment funding available across Europe, Liz Waters is excited to attract overseas support and establish the single source supply that so many customers now demand. Highlighting this is a recent agreement reached with a Mediterranean carton converter that will see each company supply printed packaging products that are complementary and produced cost-effectively. “We see this as the way forward. It fits with our innovative business strategy and culture and offers real prospects for growth in new markets, without the associated investment costs,” she states.
Clearly the business model works, as current growth is well ahead of the market average. Watershed Group now employs 100 staff across its five locations and in 2017 will see sales of €20 million, en route for Liz Waters’ target of €30 million by 2020. This year has seen further investments in technology, with a Newfoil machine added in Ireland, and a roll out of the LabelTraxx MIS system across all plants, which Waters says has driven growth and helped reduce costs. Significantly, it has also provided pharmaceutical industry traceability across the board.
Celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2017, Watershed Group has come a long way, and is the model of an entrepreneurial business. With no plans to slow down, it’s definitely a company to watch. –Nick Coombes