1174 Hayes Industrial Drive Marietta, GA USA 30062
The Daniels family has taken several calculated risks that have paved the way for Quality Tape & Label (QTL), and that entrepreneurial spirit has resulted in exponential growth. At the turn of the century, Rick Daniels, owner, and son, Rob, president, embarked on a journey to become one of the industry’s first digital print adopters. The move paid off, and this one-time flexo shop has gone almost entirely digital.
QTL’s humble beginnings can be traced back to 1979, when Rick’s parents, Cecil and Myrl, left Cincinnati, OH, to branch out on their own. Cecil specialized in engineering, having built several slitters, and he had the desire to establish his own company. Two years later, Rick joined his parents in Georgia to help run the business.
In the mid-1990’s, following Cecil’s passing, Rick took over the company. Having worked in the flexo arena, Rick helped establish a steady flexo shop that produced basic labels, before investing in a 13" press to enter the prime label market. The company established a solid foundation, but there was room for growth. In 2005, with QTL amassing a little less than $1 million in annual sales, Rick brought in Rob to run sales and help drum up business.
“For a long time, it was just my grandpa and my dad,” says Rob. “My dad took the reins, and we picked up business here and there – we even acquired a company in the 1980s – but these were small maneuvers. When I started, we only had eight or nine employees. The company had to make a decision: we were either going to die or we were going to grow. In 2005, I the decision that we were not going to die; we were going to grow.”
QTL really took off when Rob convinced Rick to take a gamble on digital printing in 2005. Rob immersed himself in the industry, conducting extensive research in order to hone in on the next big trend. While RFID tagging was poised to take off, Rob identified digital printing as the path worth pursuing.
“I was doing my research, and I kept coming across digital,” recalls Rob. “Everything I saw and heard said digital made more sense than RFID – and, at the time, we had zero business for both. So after a year and a half, I convinced my dad to buy a digital press despite not having any digital business. We bought an HP Indigo WS2000, installed it, and then my dad looked over to me and said, ‘Okay, you wanted it, you got it’”
Though QTL’s digital business started slow, it wasn’t long before it took off and necessitated another digital press, and then another. QTL’s digital business really exploded with a job for an automotive retail supplier. The client required a display with 1,500 versions apiece of six different SKUs. What originally began as a flexo job quickly turned digital, and QTL never looked back.
“We had run that job flexographically right before we bought the digital press, and it took about 2.5 days to run,” notes Rob. “And then we put in the digital press and the company reordered with us, and the job took us two hours. We knew right there that we had made the right decision.”
During the initial days of QTL’s digital business, Rob was instrumental in taking the company to the next level. His hard work started quite a bit earlier, however. Prior to his college days, Rob worked in the back of QTL sweeping floors. He then worked his way up to running rewinders and diecutters during his high school years. When he went off to college, he knew he would eventually return to QTL to play a pivotal role.
“I went to school knowing that I was going to come back and eventually take over the company,” he says. “I studied business management and accounting when I was in college, and I was going to go to Clemson for their flexographic school, but that’s when my dad had his heart attack. My mom didn’t know how to run the company, and nobody else could really run it, so I decided it was time for me to come back and get to work.”
Since 2005, digital printing has helped propel QTL, as the company now does sales north of $10 million. Rob has also seen the company move from an 11,000 square-foot facility in Smyrna, GA, to a 40,000 square-foot space in Marrietta, where the company also serves as an HP demo site. Today, digital printing accounts for 96% of QTL’s business.
“We have 38 employees, and we’re doing a little more than $10 million annually in sales,” says Rob. “We went from generating less than $1 million to over $10 million in 13 years, and it’s all been organic growth.”
Rick has been instrumental in positioning QTL for its evolution. He’s still present at the company, contributing in a technical support role. “My dad has done a great job carrying on the company’s legacy from his dad and really moving QTL into the 21st century,” states Rob. “He laid the foundation for us in being a very moral, ethical family run company – doing things the right way, even if that meant at times we weren’t making money on a job. We’ve got to do business the right way and take care of our customers. That’s really what he ingrained into me – to treat people the right way, and if you say something, stand behind your word. We bought the majority of our machines on a handshake, and we still kind of operate in an old-school way, face-to-face and personally, and we still feel there’s a lot of need for that.”
QTL has worked this way partnering with many of the label industry’s key suppliers, HP in particular. The company runs four HP presses – two HP Indigo 6000 series presses, a 20000, and a brand-new 8000. QTL has also leaned on Delta ModTech, which has supplied the company with two finishing machines. CEI, Gonderflex, and Karlville have all aided QTL as well, with the latter servicing the company’s requests for seaming and rewinding.
QTL has been recognized for living up to the “quality” in Quality Tape & Label. The installation of the HP Indigo 20000 digital press put QTL on the map globally, as it played a pivotal role in producing over 350 million shrink sleeves for Coca-Cola as part of the now-famous “Share A Coke” campaign.
In 2018 QTL won a Dscoop Award for using variable data in the word’s first HP Collage project. Here, HP Collage packaging was produced – from concept to delivery – in only eight business days. Popsicle brand King of Pops used HP SmartStream Collage, HP Indigo’s automated variable design software, to produce tens of thousands of unique, playfully designed wrappers for its Halloween edition, and QTL produced the job. The win came a year after QTL had been a Dscoop finalist for a different project.
“We do some amazing work,” says Rob. “We produce a lot of really cool projects, and we do a lot of off-the-wall jobs. Very rarely do we do the same thing twice. We’re always learning, always innovating and always moving forward.”
History with HP
When Rob made the prescient decision to invest in HP, at the time the move was thought of as quite a gamble. Throughout the years, there have been new developments in digital, but QTL has stuck with HP every step of the way.
“It really was the quality and the infrastructure that made us pick – and stick with – HP over anybody else,” says Rob. “The support, the services they bring to the table as far as helping with costing and management – plus the training – no other company has that, in my opinion. But it really just came down to quality. With the name of our company being Quality Tape & Label, that was the one thing we needed most of all.”
According to Daniels, QTL has had every iteration of label and packaging press that HP has ever made. The company started off with the HP WS2000, their Series 1 press, which ran at 20 fpm and needed constant maintenance. QTL grew with HP, though.
“The second year we started getting traction with digital, and by the third year we completely filled up that first press,” says Rob. “Three years in, we traded in that press and got the ws4500, which was their Series 2. Within two years, we had that press completely filled, and, luckily, one of our customers was looking for a press so we were able to offload our 4500 and buy the 6600. A year after that, our 6600 was filled up so we had to buy another one.”
After 18 months, both 6600s were at capacity and QTL decided to get the HP Indigo 20000 digital press.
Rob and HP have enjoyed a fruitful partnership, as he is trained on all the equipment. He is Level 3 trained from HP on press maintenance, meaning he is certified to run, service and troubleshoot the company’s HP digital presses.
“I wore many hats when I first joined the company, and I still do,” notes Rob. “I was actually running one of our Indigos this morning since one of our operators called out, so I was back there running the press for the first three hours of the day. That’s what I like about what I do. I know how to run every piece of equipment in here.”
The print quality speaks for itself, too, and that has enabled repeat business. “We found a few companies in the beginning that had a lot of SKUs and wanted digital printing, and it just kept growing from there. It was all essentially word of mouth. Our quality and customer service kept bringing us new people all the time in the form of referrals, and I would say that’s the best business you can get.”
HP has helped QTL deliver labels, shrink sleeves, and flexible packaging for a wide range of markets. QTL gained invaluable experience with shrink sleeves on the Share A Coke campaign, and this year the company has produced more than 30 million shrink sleeves for craft beers alone. Food and supplements are additional growth markets for QTL.
Growth with shrink
While pressure sensitive labels play an integral role in QTL’s book of business, its success has extended beyond pressure sensitive labels. The company has emerged as a major player in both shrink sleeves and flexible packaging.
Customer demand initially prompted QTL to enter the shrink sleeve market. Although the company began in the segment by outsourcing the jobs, they soon realized there was enough business to bring it in-house.
“When we first got our HP Indigo 6600, we called HP and they had a ‘How-to Guide’ for shrink sleeves, so we started printing and coating them and then sending them out for seaming. We saved up enough money for a seamer and a cutter, and we decided to move the business in-house; then we just exploded into shrink sleeves. Last year was the first time in our 40-year history that pressure sensitive labels weren’t over 50% of our business. Shrink sleeves actually took over as the leading item that we shipped.”
The foray into flexible packaging evolved in much the same way. “We had customers asking us about stand-up pouches,” says Rob. “It was one of those natural progressions. We started printing the flexible packaging and sending it out for lamination, and then we finally put our laminator in. The cool thing about our laminator is we can actually produce spot matte gloss and raised varnish and holographic foils on digital stand-up pouches. As far as I know, no one else in the world can do that right now. That’s a really big niche for us to be able to produce it digitally.”
Much like his entrance into digital and shrink sleeves, Rob immersed himself into the technology to learn the science behind it. He ventured to the Global Pouch Forum to see how flexible packaging could benefit QTL.
“I wanted to start learning about pouches, and the first presentation talked about the size of the market,” recalls Rob. “The presenters showed the label and shrink sleeve markets at more than $600 million dollars at the time, and they said the flexible packaging market was a $4 billion industry. I thought, ‘If I get a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent, I can double the size of our company in flexible packaging and not even affect the market at all.’”
That mindset has enabled QTL’s significant growth, as well as the staff’s ability to promote and produce high-quality work. “Our culture here has really contributed to us being able to grow in the last three months, having back-to-back-to-back record sales months,” says Rob. “That’s one of the attributes that I really push, so if you have an issue and you need to call us you’re not going to have to sit there and hit 20 different buttons to try and find someone. We really take pride in our customer service here. When you call, you will not a recording. We always have someone here to answer the phone.
“That’s one thing I’ll never have as long as I’m here; I’ll never have a recording answering the phone,” he says. “I don’t care how big we get. It means a lot to us – how our customers perceive us and the fact that we can be reached.”
No slowing down
Business is booming at QTL, and there are no signs of slowing down. The company is coming off the heels of back-to-back-to-back record months. QTL has also proven its versatility throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, which will only help position the company for future success. Hard work has been key, too.
“For us, the pandemic hurt a lot more in the beginning of the year because a lot of our business in the beginning of the year is supplements: people are in the gym working out for their New Year’s resolution,” explains Rob. “For the first 3-5 months of the year, it’s all supplements. We didn’t have that this year, so we were down 8-10% in the first quarter. We just put our heads down and started grinding, picking up a lot of hand sanitizer labels and sleeves, as well as really pushing flexible packaging. As of the end of September, we’re now up 2% on the year. So, we went from being down almost 10% the first quarter to being up 2%. We really scratched and clawed and worked our way back up.”
Rob is not resting on his laurels, however. He still has a keen eye on the future – a digital one. He is researching additional equipment, specifically for digital embellishment.
“Right now, digital is great, but any time I want to put in a raised varnish or spot varnish, I still need to make a plate,” says Rob. “I think that’s going to be one of the next big pushes in our industry: digital finishing and plateless embellishments downstream.”
QTL is also looking to add a few employees in short order. “We’re really excited for the future,” concludes Rob. “We feel that every day of every week of every month, we’re getting better at our craft and we’re learning and trying new things. We’re experimenting and we’re constantly conducting R&D to try and come up with new products and new ideas.”