175 Paterson Avenue, Little Falls, NJ 07424, USA
This year, Label Graphics Manufacturing Inc. is celebrating its 40th year in business, making this a fitting time to reflect on how far the company has come, and how it continues to evolve. For four decades now, the New Jersey label manufacturer has relied on its entrepreneurial spirit, innovation, a commitment to high quality, and the ability to solve any problems its customers may have.
While it considers itself one, Label Graphics is not your typical “mom and pop” shop. The company’s humble beginnings tell the story of an entrepreneur who worked night and day to be successful, and then made a series of bold strategic decisions that proved instrumental in changing its trajectory.
When Tom and Denise Silvano started Label Graphics in 1979, their production facility consisted of a hot-stamp press in a one-car garage. “We had no customers, but a lot of big ideas,” Tom says. “We had these visions of who we could be, but not really any idea of how hard it was going to be to get there. I’m happy to say we’ve been around for 40 years, and getting to where we are has been a matter of constant, continuous improvement.”
Label Graphics’ first customers were primarily local retail businesses. Through hard work, perseverance and a “never say no” attitude, the fledgling company was successful over its first eight years. Recalls Tom, “We had a Mark Andy 820 and a few hot stamping presses, and that was our business. But we worked hard and started making money. My wife would drive around and I’d jump out of the car and make sales calls. Then we’d come back at night and figure out how to print the jobs. In just a few years, we became a viable company. But throughout this time, we kept asking ourselves, ‘What can we do to get better that we are not doing?’”
‘An Offer I Couldn’t Refuse’
A pivotal moment in Label Graphics’ history came in 1987.
Recalls Tom, “There was a salesman for Gallus who kept calling me – he was very aggressive in trying to sell me a Gallus R 160 B, a full-blown UV letterpress machine that at the time was absolutely state-of-the-art, and the most advanced label press on the market,” he says. “I told him he was out of his mind – there was no way we could afford it. Looking back, he thought we were a lot bigger than we were at the time, but the reality was he made me a truly great offer, one with excellent terms.
“It was an offer I couldn’t refuse,” says Tom. “That day, I didn’t wake up thinking I’d be buying a press. It made no sense financially – we were buying a piece of equipment of that magnitude that we had absolutely no orders for. But I had this vision. So I was suddenly faced with this important decision: either we were going to remain the type of operation that we were, or we would become something else – something much bigger and better. The time had come, I felt, and I made the decision that we were going to move forward and take Label Graphics to whole other level.”
The new Gallus letterpress was a monumental addition to Label Graphics. Now able to manufacture the highest quality labels in the industry, the press provided the company the opportunity to compete for jobs with the biggest names in label manufacturing. The new letterpress and the capabilities it could provide meant that Label Graphics was no longer simply a printer, but now a full-service converter of the highest quality pressure sensitive products. “This is something that we maintain to this day,” explains Tom. “We are not a commodity manufacturer; our reputation is all about quality.”
However, there was a sudden challenge that needed to be overcome. The operator that Tom had in mind to run the new press, well, he quit three days after it was purchased.
From Printing to Converting
The year was 1991, and Label Graphics was equipped with the most advanced label press of its time. However, Tom Silvano desperately needed someone capable of running it.
Enter Label Graphics General Manager Ali Khan. Tom had placed an ad in the newspaper for a press operator, and answering the ad was Ali, a man with 20 years of extensive experience in label printing operations management.
“I knew how to operate Gallus presses, and I also knew how to run label companies,” Ali says, joking that it must have been divine intervention that led him to Tom and Label Graphics. “Here was a guy that purchased a press worth more than all of his assets combined, but he didn’t know how to run it. So I came on board – for the first year and a half I was only part time, since we didn’t have a ton of work for the press. But as business picked up I joined the company full time and we began evolving into what we are today.
“In 1991, Tom and I sat down and decided on the future of this company,” Ali recalls. “We were no longer a printing company – anybody can put ink on paper – we were now a converter, and one with a multitude of unique capabilities. And still this is what sets us apart today.
“The vision,” Ali says. “Was to be able to go back to our current customers, and also approach larger customers that we never would have been able to previously, and offer them better quality. We were able to reach out to people who wouldn’t have even talked to us before.”
Adds Tom, “Getting this new Gallus letterpress was like having a membership card to a community you couldn’t get into before. We’d bought into the game at a higher level. At the time, Gallus had been doing a phenomenal job promoting their technology. They weren’t going to the label printers, they were going to the big-name brand owners and pharmaceutical companies, and doing a good job explaining the machine’s capabilities. So, label buyers in turn were then asking converters if they had this particular press. And if you had one, it was somewhat well-known that they would talk to you.”
Extended Content, Expanded Capabilities
With Ali Khan and the Gallus letterpress in place, Label Graphics entered into a period of transition and accelerated growth.
In 1996, the company invested in a 13-color press configured to do multi-color extended content labels (ECLs). This was a capability not many other label companies had. ECL capability complemented the other processes Label Graphics could do for its customers, who by now were more and more of the big name brands in beauty, cosmetics and pharmaceutical end use markets.
“We were able to offer the highest quality labels, with both inline rotary hot stamping and silkscreen. We had capabilities that set us apart, positioning us as the go-to converter for value-added labels,” Tom says. “ECLs had become increasingly popular, and was a major area of growth for us.”
Creative Problem Solvers
Today, Label Graphics operates two facilities in Northern New Jersey – a 26,000 square foot space in Little Falls and 15,000 square feet of manufacturing in nearby Fairfield. In total, the company has 44 employees, many who’ve been with the company for more than a decade.
Since the 1990s, flexography has evolved considerably, and Label Graphics has capitalized on advancements in flexo, investing in several presses along the way. The Little Falls location is a dedicated UV flexo operation while all of the letterpress printing technology is in Fairfield.
The printing equipment in Label Graphics’ pressrooms are not stock presses; they are all custom retrofits. Within the UV flexo portfolio are presses ranging from seven to 11 colors with web widths from 11 to 17 inches. The UV letterpress machines have up to 13 colors. The most recent press acquisition is highly automated 11-color UV flexo press.
Loyalty is taken seriously at Label Graphics. The company has customers that have been with them for 30 years, and they’re gaining new ones every day. Tom Silvano leads the sales effort, and says word-of-mouth plays a key role in acquiring new business. Many customers are local to the New York City metro area, though the company also has an extensive national presence. Label Graphics even has clients as far away as Costa Rica.
One of the things that make Label Graphics special is its unique ability to solve problems and find solutions to difficult applications that challenge the biggest companies in today’s label market. And they never say no.
“The reality is, we have an interesting cross-section of equipment between our two manufacturing facilities,” explains Tom. “We do rotary letterpress, silkscreen, hot stamp, UV flexo – we have presses with combinations of UV flexo and silkscreen, as well as both hot and cold foil. We do shrink sleeves, expanded content, onserts. We decorate tube laminates and pouching material. The way we have evolved, our cross-section of equipment allows us to be very creative and nimble, enabling us to solve problems others can’t. Plus, between Ali and myself we have over 90 years of label industry experience. This combination makes us the creative problem solvers we have become.”
This theme of creative problem solving permeates through the close relationships Label Graphics has established with its customers and employees, as well as with its own suppliers. One such supplier is a relative newcomer to the industry, Cyngient, a specialist provider of inks, coatings and adhesives to the label industry that happens to be located right down the street.
“Much like how we are always there for our customers, we value the relationships we have with our vendors. When we don’t have all the answers, we turn to people who can help, and that’s what Cyngient offers us,” Tom says.
Ali adds, “Our suppliers are as important to our success as our customers. When a customer has a problem, they call on us to solve it. When we may not have all the answers, we turn to our suppliers and learn from them. It’s all about the supply chain, and we build strong supply chains; and we’re always working together on innovation.”
He concludes, “Those are the two things that define us – solutions and innovation.”