5945 Hazeltine National Drive, Orlando, FL, USA 32822
Mark Cook is looking to disrupt the printing industry. In doing so, the CEO of Orlando, FL-based Catapult Print & Packaging is using a tireless work ethic and the industry’s latest equipment to redefine what makes for eye-popping labels and packaging.
Not often do new label converters enter the fray with such lofty aspirations, but Cook and his team at Catapult have no desire to produce merely acceptable labels. The company, which launched in April 2018 and billed its first invoice in August of that year, is starting to see the fruits of its labor.
Cook, who is no stranger to working 100-hour weeks in order to get a business off the ground, has built up a staff of 24 employees. He is joined by his two sons, Lewis and Ashley, and the company is expecting to reach $8.5 million in its first year of operation.
“All anyone ever sees is the success,” notes Cook. “They don’t see the pain and they don’t see the heartache, the long nights and the financial worries. And you can’t ever tell people what it’s like or try to replicate it until you actually go through this experience. There’s nothing that can compare to starting your own business – so hats off to anyone who takes that risk and one day sees the rewards, because it’s such a tough journey at the beginning.”
Cook noticed a gap in the labels and packaging industry upon starting Catapult. The market, he says, had been plagued by long lead times, shoddy customer service, and above all, poor print quality. He harkened back to his days working in the UK, where design and quality were paramount. “Quality was really poor and color consistency was really poor. And there was no innovation,” he exclaims. “People are still running 30-year-old presses, and no one is pushing them to do anything differently. In the European market, because of the growth of the supermarkets, there’s not that luxury. You have to have unbelievable quality or you don’t survive. If you’re running a 30-year-old press or one that’s less than a year old, the results are just game-changing.”
Many printing shops, too, are constricted by finances. Cook points to Steve Jobs’ work with Apple, and how he fostered an environment of creativity and new ideas. “Businesses are poorly run by being tight with money,” says Cook. “In this type of business, that’s not good because no one is doing anything creatively. By opening the purse strings, you have new photography, new shots, new ideas – everything is just produced better.
“The technology is out there for everyone, but I don’t think other printers will adopt it,” he adds. “They’re just too set in their ways, which is great for us. And they’ll only start making the switch when they really start to lose business. That was our goal: Let’s put the bar up here and let other companies come and chase us.”
Catapult faced the challenge of finding new business, as new companies endure the mounting pressure to capitalize on every opportunity. “It takes time and energy and focus to win sales,” explains Cook. “At my last business, we said we might make 100 calls and only get one opportunity, but you have to put everything into that one opportunity. The hunger from the very first time I won a bit of business was for a little produce label. I was so proud, because of the energy I put into it, and that has to remain in you forever.
“We know we’re entering into a crowded market space, but if you do it better than everybody else, you’re unique,” he adds. “It’s as simple as that.”
While the company is tied together by quality and effort, Cook has also established an atmosphere that makes his employees happy to come to work each day. Catapult’s state-of-the-art facility features a lounge that will soon be furnished with accessories like table tennis and foosball. In addition, the company pays 100% healthcare to all its employees.
Upon entering the front door, guests are welcomed by orange and white: Catapult’s colors. The design is meant to be welcoming. “When you walk through the door, it’s not like the dark, dirty, dingy print shops. It’s sexy, it’s cool, it’s creative,” says Cook. “We want people to know that we’re different. We didn’t want to be batched into that same pool with everyone else.”
In order to make his vision a reality, Cook needed to establish a company culture that would filter throughout Catapult and on to the customers. He studied his experiences throughout the industry and realized that several key attributes were inherent in all of his successes. Cook’s five pillars for success include: quality, service, lead times, price and innovation. Of course, keeping waste low and generating fast make-ready times are crucial, as well, but these five keys to success are engrained at Catapult.
“Before starting the business, we just saw really poor print with no consistency. So, we started to think about the opportunity in the US for someone who thought differently and operated differently,” says Cook. “We want to speak to and understand customers, and with us it is really these five key pillars. You continually have to change, mold, shape and think differently because everything is changing so rapidly.”
Cook learned these lessons early on in the printing industry. From a young age, he worked with bosses who instilled the value of company culture. At the same time, he dealt with companies that were ruined by finances and EBITDA. “I knew how successful and reactive companies could thrive and how valuable it is to be able to deliver for people,” he says. “I also was around for businesses that got purchased, so I’d seen a company get destroyed pretty quickly, where everything was about profitability. At that company, every decision prior was about what’s best for the customer, and every decision after was how that was going to cost us money – and the two don’t mix. You can’t balance finances and customer service, saying, ‘Let’s do a bit of both.’ No, it’s one or the other.”
Cook has made a staple out of never saying no to the customer. With lead times, he noticed that many companies were quoting 12 weeks, which seemed like an impossibility. Plus, better quality required higher prices, and expedited delivery times required higher prices. According to Cook, this business practice is wrong.
“My philosophy is you don’t get 12 weeks, you’ll get five days, and if you can’t do it then somebody else will,” he explains.“Look at the world now, with places like Amazon. No one wants to wait. I don’t know why the print industry thinks that they can dictate times and get away with it. I thought there was an opportunity to create a business where you don’t get penalized and you become a true partner.
“We started the business to create the right kind of culture. The majority of businesses don’t have that mentality, and we wanted to start from the ground up. We wanted to create a culture from top-to-bottom that was very customer-focused, whether you’re the janitor or the president,” states Cook.
From an innovation standpoint, Catapult wants to remain on the cutting-edge. The company has prioritized technologies like linerless labels and sustainable business practices.
“Part of being a young company is you have a different mentality toward sustainability and protecting the environment,” says Cook. “You can’t be a packaging person without thinking that way. Customers definitely value it. As a growing business, we want to become better at it, and it’s going to be important for the future.”
Linerless factors into a sustainable future, as well. “I think linerless will be the perfect fit for us,” says Cook. “There are certain things linerless labels give you: it’s quicker speeds – up to 150 packs per minute. It gives you shelf appeal, and a lot of color blocking is happening so you’re catching people’s eyes. There’s also the environmental benefit because instead of having 3,000 labels on a roll you have 5,000 because there’s no liner there. Instead of 10 changeovers a day, you have five changeovers. There are all those little things that linerless does because it’s more efficient and the best way to label meat, fish or poultry. I think it’s an interesting time, and with linerless, people just don’t know about it yet. It’s a little bit like Catapult in the beginning.”
Nothing at Catapult would be possible without the people, though. Cook’s vision can only go so far, but his employees have embraced the company’s “Redefine Print” mantra. “People are key, and we’re lucky that we’ve found the right people,” he says. “They’ve all fit into the culture of who we are and they’re just lovely people, which is nice. We don’t want to bring people into this business who don’t believe in it.”
So how exactly is Catapult producing life-like print at competitive prices? Cook has invested in state-of-the art technology, from printing presses and platemaking to prepress software and screening. Cook does not so much associate these companies as suppliers, but rather “true partners” who have helped him get this printing business off the ground.
Catapult’s printing capabilities include two new Nilpeter FA presses, which are accompanied by Esko’s XPS Crystal CDI, award-winning Hamillroad Software’s Bellissima Digitally Modulated Screening (DMS) and advanced photopolymer plate technology from MacDermid. UPM Raflatac has served as Catapult’s key paper supplier, while the company relies on Jindal Films and Innovia Films for its filmic substrates. INX International’s ink technology has been teamed with mixing equipment from HMJ tech. Label Traxx and X-Rite are also onboard in supporting Catapult. The company will soon install AVT vision technology on its presses to further ensure top-quality print, too.
In the year since Catapult has started business operations, it has undergone extensive testing to make sure that every color is spot on, and every job is repeatable. “It’s like baking a cake: If you use the same ingredients every single time, you’ll keep baking the same cake,” explains Cook. “Printing is all about consistency and making sure you’re getting identical results over and over again.”
Cook has maintained a history with Nilpeter, as the first printing company he worked for operated a Nilpeter press. In fact, Cook went to Denmark to get trained on the technology. He cites the people within the Nilpeter organization, as well as a strong gut feeling, for his decision to go with Nilpeter’s flexo printing.
“I’m a Nilpeter guy now,” states Cook. “I just thought these were the Rolls Royces of printing presses, and they’ve lived up to and beyond my expectations, in terms of registration, quality and speed. And you’re with a company that cares about your business.
“When I went to Cincinnati (to visit Nilpeter’s North American headquarters), I was looking at the FB presses to try to keep costs down, but I wanted the FA. I worked with their team and they found a way to get me into the FA. I’ve never regretted the decision.”
Hamillroad Software’s Bellissima technology has allowed Catapult to provide high-definition labels. “This Bellissima screening is fantastic, and we took a risk at the beginning by going 100% with Bellissima, but we believed in it. We did the tests and the trials, and we just felt like Bellissima should be the industry standard.”
Catapult has also installed a Ravenwood Com500 coater to produce linerless labels. The Com500 coater applies silicone and hot-melt adhesive to pre-printed labels, and it works continuously through the label reel at 450 fpm.
“Our suppliers have been true partners, where if it weren’t for them I would not have made it through,” says Cook. “They visited our facility and understood the vision. They said, ‘I want to be part of this,’ and they’ve stayed true to it. All the products and services they’ve promised and said they would do, they’ve delivered on them.”
In the short term, Cook would like to expand to 10 printing presses, six rewinders and three coaters. Down the road, Cook hopes he can elevate the Catapult brand to where there are three facilities, all with similar designs, situated throughout the US. The company’s customers already extend throughout all of North America, and added facilities could better assist clients in different regions.
“The vision is to be a $200 million company, as a privately-owned business, with three sites,” says Cook. “We’ll have these models of sites that will be exactly the same. We’re excited about the future. It feels like we’ve got something special, and we’ll never become complacent. We’ll never think we’re the best, but we’ll keep striving to try to become the best.”
While Cook has placed a premium on innovation and disrupting the industry, he will never make a move just for the sake of making it. For example, Catapult has set its sights on shrink sleeves, but the company will not enter the market until it can produce the highest quality with the fastest lead times. “We’ll never go into spaces where we can’t add value,” says Cook. “If we’re not going to be upper-echelon then there’s no point. We could go into shrink sleeving now. We’ve got all the capabilities other than buying the seamer. But when we purchase the seamer, we want it to be the best and most efficient one.
“It’s so important for people to come to see us because we could just be the same as everybody else, but we’re not,” concludes Cook. “We don’t have the same technology as everybody else and we don’t have the same attitude. It’s important for people to see that this company is different.”