In October 1992, Ted Shanley launched his high-end custom label manufacturing company in Seattle, WA, a town known as “The Emerald City” for its lush year-round greenery. And just as the local foliage needs to be maintained for full impact, Emerald City Label’s president has worked hard to strategically manage his company’s growth to remain fully responsive to his customers’ needs for everything from wine labels to window clings – and much more.
“I started at Deluxe check printers, then worked as the plant manager for a fairly large family-owned label shop, and I was ready for a fresh challenge out of the normal realm of labels,” Shanley recalls. “I sold my house and bought a couch, where I slept in my office for the first couple of years. I was a one-man show. I worked the phone by day and ran the press in the evening. I knew I might get outsmarted, but I wasn’t going to get outworked.”
Since then, the business has thrived – and Shanley eventually gave away the couch and upgraded his sleeping arrangements to a house on an island outside Seattle. Emerald City has also relocated several times, and now is based in a 10,000-square-foot facility in nearby Everett, WA. The 12-person operation uses three Mark Andy 2200 flexo presses, and the shop remains primarily focused on those flexographic technologies, though digital services are also available.
“We have brought in short-run digital solutions to best serve our customers,” Shanley says. “For now, though, we’re putting most of our investment dollars into larger, faster, more user-friendly flexographic solutions targeted to our talented crew’s skill sets, and to where innovation keeps hitting us.”
The Emerald City team’s skill sets are geared toward helping customers promote their business image and identity with top-quality label products, typically delivered in less than two weeks.
“It’s not just our reputation at stake – it’s our customers’ reputations as well,” Shanley affirms. “We’re committed to growing their businesses as if they were our own. We learn by listening to what our customers want and need, and educating them about possibilities.”
For Emerald City, those possibilities seem endless because Shanley and his team believe labels aren’t just labels.
“We built medical-grade, disposable goggles as a label product,” Shanley notes. “Our customer had a machine that required UV light-resistance to protect consumers’ eyes while they were receiving a vitamin D treatment. We put adhesive patches on polyester label wraps that cover the temples and the entire eye area. They are UV-resistant, chemical splash-resistant, and completely clear for unimpeded vision. That’s the sort of thing we do – people bring us issues they don’t know how to solve, and we create other things out of label products.”
Another creative solution is Emerald City’s six-panel e-commerce label that serves so many more purposes than merely shipping. It’s marketed under the company’s retail fulfillment and logistics division, eCom Label Solutions, that’s changing the way e-commerce retailers market and send merchandise.
“Imagine if you ordered a pair of shoes, and the package arrived at your doorstep prominently displaying an image of a handbag that goes with the shoes, or a belt you were looking at online six months ago, and a discount on purchasing that item,” Shanley says. “We’ve worked with companies locally to develop predictive marketing functionality that appeals to consumers at a key emotional touchpoint. It’s more timely and cost-effective fashion than popup ads, and has more impact than direct mail or those in-the-box collateral cards that get tossed out with the packing newsprint and bubble wrap. There’s nothing like it out there in the exploding world of e-commerce. It’s a branding moment that arrives on the consumer’s porch and bridges a huge missed opportunity in omni-channel marketing for retailers to increase their revenue streams.”
There’s a lot of engineering in the eCom label. “We made sure it would fold in two or three seconds in a high-speed, third-party environment,” Shanley explains. “It has to go through the Xerox laser printing production line for color printing, then through a black-and-white laser printer for the bar code and personalized gift message. It has to adhere to any package. In addition to the unique shape and design, we also developed a no-notch construction to keep the label from opening during shipping, but also make it easy for consumers to unfold – and want to unfold – when they receive it.”
The deceptively simple and ingenious printed (and patented) eCom label is also completely customizable. With its six panels, there’s plenty of room to integrate features such as corporate branding, cross- and upsell marketing, a packing slip, invoicing, coupons, return solutions, gift messaging, time-value offers, and co-advertising space.
“We created the eCom label six years ago for a large gift retailer that picked and harvested products in the late summer and early fall, then built and wrapped the gift towers and baskets and put them in cold storage for the holiday gift season from Thanksgiving to Christmas,” Shanley says. “But to enclose the greeting card, they had to slit open and reseal the packaging, and recipients were concerned about who had cut into their package of food. Occasionally, the wrong greeting card was included in the basket. We came up with the idea to let the customer put the greeting card message right on the box, folded up as part of the mailing label, to maintain the integrity of the gift and reduce the opportunity to include the wrong messaging.”
Since then, the creative concept has grown into a booming business. “Everyone who sees this label loves it, and we have integrated the capability into shipping management software directly with both small and large retailers, and also with third-party shipping services including USPS, UPS, DHL, and FedEx,” Shanley says. “We kicked it off with an exclusive arrangement using 5,000 FedEx sales representatives. It would have been safer to let it keep growing with FedEx, but we decided to try additional channels, explore different kinds of partnerships, and leverage the increasingly powerful technology to make our labels even more dynamic and value-added.”
Emerald City and eCom may comprise just a dozen employees, but together they bring decades of experience in critical functions including engineering, sales, print management, label design, plate production, press room operations and logistics – experience the team leverages every day to add that kind of unexpected value.
“We’re blessed with a wonderful team,” Shanley says. “It’s not always easy to find the right people, but I believe in hiring for the personality that’s the best fit. I can teach people how to make labels, but I can’t teach them how to be smart and nice. We’ve always been family first, and we work our schedules around so everyone can save money on daycare and other family schedules. And we definitely believe laughter is important.”
And after 27 years, Shanley has never yelled at anyone at work. Ever. “There’s nothing we do that’s worth hurting someone’s feelings over,” he insists. “During the summer, our employees’ children sometimes fill in for us on the rewind table or other basic jobs. It’s a great opportunity for them to put money in their pockets, and for the rest of us to watch them shine. One of those summer workers is now flying F35B jets in Japan for the Marines. Putting family first creates an inviting working situation, and allows us all to let our creative juices flow and be innovative in finding better label solutions, from design through manufacturing. The great ideas our employees come up with are the best part of our growth.”
And after 38 years in the industry, Shanley is still excited about those new ideas that are always on his team’s horizon. “I can’t sit down in front of a canvas and create anything, but through technology, we can create a beautiful label like a piece of artwork,” he says. “I’ve been fortunate to surround myself with amazing minds in this industry, and when you listen and pay attention, it helps you get smarter. That’s how we’re able to take an idea and turn it into a tangible product that functions, sells, markets, or even keeps people healthy. There are so many angles to what we do that we never get bored.”