Experience Speaks | Tom Spina


Tom Spina

  • President/CEO
  • Luminer Converting Group
  • Lakewood. NJ, with additional manufacturing at Red Lion, PA
  • Founded 1989; 45 employees
  • Specialization: Expanded content labels, medical and cosmetic devices, prime labels, in-line adhesive pattern coating and converting

Tom Spina, Luminer1. How did you get into the converting business? In my early days out of college, I worked for an industrial adhesive manufacturer selling pressure-sensitive adhesives to large coating companies who were, in turn, selling to label manufacturers. This led me and my partners into starting my own small narrow web coating company. After that, customers would ask if we could print one color or die-cut, etc. The rest, as they say, is history.

2. How would you describe your management style? Continual Improvement. Try to get people and facilities to continually improve.

3. What is your key to retaining good employees? Simply being fair and offering challenges. Even through the difficult economic hard times, Luminer has always paid for 100% of entire family health insurance premiums; never stopped contributing to 401Ks; issued bonuses in each profitable quarter; and have always issued profit sharing since the inception of the plan. (about 4 years now).

4. Are there specific challenges in your region to finding and keeping good employees? Yes, I feel that people coming out of school do not necessarily want to be pressmen. Finding and retaining them is very difficult. This has so much to do with the competitive nature of our business. With profits so narrow, it is very difficult to pay high wages. We always pay above industry average wages, have some of the best equipment and facilities, but it is still tough to pay any employee in the label manufacturing business wages that get them into the upper middle class lifestyle. It’s tough for owners as well.

5. What is the key to growing a business in a bad economy? It is very difficult to find new label customers. If you get a new account, you probably are simply charging less than the company that was their past vendor. The way to grow profitably is by expanding your product offering, therefore selling more products to your existing good customers and selling different products to new customers that may not be able to buy them from their existing vendors. Also, the customer experience is still very important. Problems always occur; it’s how you handle them that make the difference. This is why printing prime labels is the slowest growing part of our business and expanded content labels and device manufacturing is the fastest growing.

6. What is the biggest threat to the converting industry right now? Industry fragmentation is still a huge problem. Also, our industry is doing a pretty good job of advancing technology from prepress to the factory floor. We spend huge amounts of dollars on capital equipment. However, with the extreme fragmentation in the industry, our prices are going down not up. We produce more product in a particular time period—of higher quality—and get paid less for it. It’s the nature of our business, and you must be willing to battle every day to move forward.

7. To what associations does your company belong? Is there any one that is particularly helpful to your business and why? Certainly TLMI is our most active association. The willingness of competitive owners to share information about management styles is a great help. I will always be grateful to the owners that have helped me, and our company will always be willing to help others in return.

8. How do you handle a difficult customer? Customers need us as vendors as much as we need them. We simply must work with them honestly and to the best of our ability. If a customer does not treat you or your employees respectfully than its time to fire them. I find this very rarely needs to be done. If you treat customers with respect, you get respect back.

9. What keeps you up at night with regard to your business? It is never outside business issues. We have been in business for a long time and business is up and down, fortunately for us, more up than down. What keeps me up at night are employee issues. There is a fine line as to what’s best for an individual employee’ and what’s best for the company.

10. What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started out in business? The understanding of a strong balance sheet, what gets it, and how to maintain it.

11. Are there any management or business books that have influenced you? There is not one in particular; I have read many, and many with opposing ideas. The key is to continually look for ideas through books or trade organizations and try them out within your company. You can never stop, or even slow down, the effort of continual improvement.

12. What is the biggest mistake you made in business and how did you fix it? Not dealing with problems immediately and thinking they might fix themselves.

13. What do you enjoy most about your job? Seeing our employees prosper, as our business has matured, watching middle managers taking more of the responsibility.

14. What do you enjoy least about your job? The slow process of continual growth. Growth is great and in our company, continuous, but it doesn’t happen overnight.

15. What advice would you give to someone starting out in this business? Be prepared to work 100 hours a week, assume you will not get paid for 90 – 100 days, be well capitalized, and it is all worth it. Also, pay your employees first, your vendors second, and yourself third.

16. What are you most proud of in your business? I am most proud of the long-term employees that we have and watching our employees' lives develop around our business.

17. Any hobbies or outside interests? Sport fishing is a great way to unwind and refuel. It is a passion. It takes good equipment and a team effort to bring in the big one.

18. What does your company do for your customers that makes them come back to enjoy the experience of doing business with you again? It's not one thing, It’s the customer experience from on-time delivery of quality products to our customer service people who have been with us a long time. Very important to us is our product development capabilities. We solve sophisticated labeling problems that others cannot. It’s the total relationship. Never just one thing.

19. What do you feel are the key qualities necessary to be a successful leader? Never ending commitment to continual improvement.

20. What, if any, sustainability efforts has your company made? At this point, our biggest focus is recycling.

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