Michael Meadors, along with his wife, Mischelle, started Pacific Barcode in 1999 in Temecula, CA, USA, just north of San Diego. At the time, the business was focused on selling preprinted barcode labels. The company soon evolved to become a distributor for thermal transfer printers, as well.
Mike had been working in the industry for decades, but when faced with a decision to accept a promotion that would have moved him and his family to Ohio, he and Mischelle decided the time was right to start their own business. “We didn’t have big pocket investors, and I didn’t want any partners,” Mike recalls. “Because if we failed, I didn’t want there to be any excuses or anyone other than ourselves to place the blame on. Thankfully, things have worked out really well, and we continue to grow year over year.”
By design, Pacific Barcode’s first customers were small accounts. “I was used to working with big companies at my previous job, which comes with a great deal of risk,” Mike says. At the time the company was getting started, vendor compliance was a big trend in the retail distribution supply chain, and it became something to capitalize on. He explains, “Retailers would have these large-scale labeling rooms, and all their labels would have to be manually applied. In the old days, retailers would crank out labels in-store. But when it got to the point where they didn’t have the time to do it themselves, the labeling would take place at the distribution center. The trend shifted, with price labels becoming barcode labels.”
Pacific Barcode benefited from this vendor compliance trend. Mike explains, “Companies would put together a compliance manual, and there would be an entire section on labeling. Their thinking was, ‘If you want to do business with us, then everything must be labeled within our set of guidelines.’ With the approval of the retailer, Pacific Barcode would offer vendor compliance services to the retailers’ vendors, with help and solutions with the required barcode labels.
“As part of the label compliance program, these vendors became Pacific Barcode customers,” Mike explains. “And these customers would require other types of barcoded labels and printed products. That’s how our business grew – we would get a lot of repeat orders, and the margins were great.”
What began as a two-person operation with one small thermal transfer printer became a cohesive organization with a rapidly expanding customer base. “Once they became our customers, they stayed customers,” Mike says. “But we were proactive, calling our existing accounts and finding out what else we could do for them.”
While growth has been steady, the business model has shifted dramatically. Barcode labels and thermal transfer printers still account for a significant part of the business, as does work in niche sectors such as vendor compliance, warehouse labeling and signage services. Today, however, Pacific Barcode is riding the wave that’s been opened up by short run digital print technology.
California Converting & Pallets of Blanks
To complement its thermal transfer barcode label business, Pacific Barcode had established partnerships with label converters, essentially serving as a broker for converted products, often blanks or labels with just a few colors.
“At a certain point, we asked ourselves, ‘How hard could it be to make these labels ourselves?’” Mike recalls.
Following a 2006 trip to Phoenix and a one-day training session, Pacific Barcode invested in a 13" diecutter from Aztec Converting. “They shipped it the next day, it arrived and we figured it out,” he says.
Next, they figured out how to print on their next piece of label converting equipment, a 3-color Mark Andy 830 flexo press.
Today, with a wide range of printing and converting capabilities, along with 26 employees, Mike emphasizes that Pacific Barcode is “not just a local label converter.” The company ships labels throughout the US and all over the world. The labels are mostly blanks, or custom diecut blanks, and they are shipped by the pallet-load to repeat customers as far away as South America and Europe. End use markets for these Pacific Barcode labels are in a variety of industries, including medical device, food, nutraceuticals, hardware, pharma and others.
The business model at Pacific Barcode transcends far beyond simply producing blank labels. In fact, it’s steeped in a niche that has much of the label industry abuzz – full color digital printing. However, Mike and his team are not necessarily the ones doing the actual printing.
Digital labels ‘on-the-fly’
Mike Meadors has a vision for the label industry that truly sets him apart from fellow label company leaders.
There are no “production class” digital presses at Pacific Barcode, however, there are several smaller, more compact units, which Mike sees as being the future of the industry. And at Pacific Barcode, the future is now.
“We’re fully immersed in digital color label printing. The technology produces stunningly high-quality labels in such a small package. A significant advantage we provide is cutting down on label costs. But we also allow our customers to have the flexibility to print anything they want – whenever they want – with only having to store blank labels. This is what we provide,” Mike says.
Pacific Barcode offers a total solution for its customers. In addition to selling the blank labels, they also serve as a distributor for the printers themselves. The company partners primarily with three suppliers: Epson, VIPColor and Afinia Label.
As an Epson Partner, Pacific Barcode offers the comprehensive Epson ColorWorks C7500 portfolio of printers. Ideal for high mix label requirements, ColorWorks solutions feature commercial inkjet printers; fast-drying, durable color inks and qualified media. And with Epson’s “Just in Time Color” printing technology, users can produce as many labels as needed right when they need them.
From Afinia Label, there are the L901 and the L501 label printers. The L901 can produce high-quality, full-color printing at speeds of up to 12" per second. Photo-quality images and exceptionally crisp text and barcodes are printed in up to 1600 x 1600 dpi resolution thanks to its Memjet Sirius print engine. Five high-capacity 250ml ink cartridges (CYMKK) offer an extremely low ink cost per label. The L501 is the first label printer with Duo Ink Technology, designed to print with both pigment and dye inks. This dual-ink feature allows for a quick transition from dye-based vibrant and colorful prime labels, to ultra-durable pigment-based label applications with a simple printhead swap. Users of the L501 benefit from the durability of pigment and the vibrancy of dye inks in the same printer.
The lineup of VIPColor Technologies equipment from Pacific Barcode is ideal for applications focused on networked, shop floor batch printing of sophisticated labels to meet mass customization and personalized packaging needs. The new VP600 printer enables super fast Memjet Color label printing with the smallest footprint possible.
“The label printers we offer are targeted at companies dissatisfied with the long lead-time and large print-run constraints that are dictated by current label delivery methods,” Mike says.
“There is a distinct shift taking place when it comes to labeling,” he adds. “While a lot people think it is simply the ‘shift to digital,’ there’s more to it than that. Sure, for longer runs there will always be a need for the traditional label shop, but for full-color digital printing there is now a move away from the converter, with printing taking place on the manufacturing, distribution, retail or warehouse floor.
“Everything is on-the-fly now,” Mike adds. “Our customers don’t have to think about ordering labels. They’re doing it themselves quickly and easily.”
Another added benefit of bringing label printing in-house with a digital printer and a steady, large supply of blank labels, is in the ability to make changes – again, on-the-fly. “If certain labels aren’t popping for a particular brand, their marketing department can make a color change in an instant, for example. The digital label printer technology we supply is easy to use, and our customers can change and improve the look of their products in an instant.
“It’s so simple now,” Mike says. “It’s gotten to the point where it’s not that big of a deal to print your own labels. Most of these printers didn’t exist three years ago. Not only that that, but they are constantly evolving, getting faster, better and whiter – there are all sorts of improvements being made, opening up all kinds of possibilities.”
‘Changing the way you do labels’
The Pacific Barcode team works hard in selling both blanks and the printers that will be used to turn them into full-color, high-quality labels.
“We do all the hard stuff – sales, service, installation support and a lot of consultation,” Mike explains. “For a company to go through this process – to make this shift – they need an expert consultant, and that’s where we come in, as well.”
Educating customers and prospects on the benefits and capabilities of its full-color printers is crucial to Pacific Barcode’s success. And in order to get its message across, the internet is used to its fullest advantage. Mike says, “We spend a lot of time and energy in web development, and we have a person here dedicated to our website. It’s an area that drives a lot of our new business.”
Just like the label printing technology it supports, the Pacific Barcode website is ever-changing. Mike points out that the site is education-based. “Our website visitors are not just seeing products – they’re learning all about them and the technology behind it, in addition to what they can do to benefit. We’re constantly updating the site with new presentations, videos and educational resources,” he says, adding that the Pacific Barcode website also features online chatting and tech support – with an actual person – in real-time.
“We are changing the way you do labels,” Mike says. “We’re not asking people to do it – it’s what’s happening. Every brand owner and manufacturer is trying to figure out ways to take pennies off of products and be more competitive. Our solution – digital printing on blank labels – not only cuts costs, but provides faster turnaround with no inventory. We’re making the labeling more efficient and more affordable.
“Our success is not necessarily about coming up with the solutions,” concludes Mike. “It’s based on consistently communicating with our customers all of the different things they can achieve in improving their labels and processes.”