- August 29, 2003, Edward Boyle, Contributing Editor
The year was 1961. John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as the 35th president of the US. The Green Bay Packers won the NFL Championship — again. And Wise Tag & Label joined what was then known as the Tag Manufacturers Institute.
Today, Wise Tag & Label enjoys the distinction of being the longest-standing member of TLMI (Tag and Label Manufacturers Institute). In fact, Percival L. Wise, who founded the company in 1956, was “there in the beginning,” when TMI was established in 1933, although he wouldn't launch his own company until nearly 22 years later. Wise worked at the time of TMI's founding for Reyburn, one of the charter members of what ultimately would become the TLMI of today. He also served on the TMI board of directors in the years shortly after it was founded.
Sprague Wise, who now serves as CEO and president of the family-run company, recalls those early days of Wise Tag & Label's membership in TLMI when he and his father were virtual fixtures at those meetings.
“My dad and I would go to most of the meetings,” says Sprague. “Sometimes we would both go, sometimes he would go, and sometimes I would go. We both enjoyed the meetings, and both of us received a good deal of excellent information that we were able to apply in our daily business.
“TMI meetings were much more ‘rigid’ back then,” adds Sprague, noting the members met for both morning and afternoon sessions, with “socializing” in the evenings. The meetings, three a year, also were held primarily at hotels in major cities, such as Chicago and Boston, and one would be at a resort area.
That all began to change, he says, when membership expanded beyond tag converters in 1962. TLMI meetings also began attracting a more “diverse” audience, with employees of larger companies joining owners/entrepreneurs at the gatherings.
“Part of the change came as more label companies joined TLMI,” notes Sprague, who twice served on the TLMI board of directors, once as VP of the tag division and most recently from 1985 to 1992. “The board felt that, in the interest of all members, holding two meetings a year in a resort area would draw a larger membership, making TLMI a more viable association and a leader for management information pertaining to our industry.
“With the addition of the label members, and with the changing of the business format, the association became more ‘family-oriented,’” recalls Sprague. “We still dealt with the business issues that were important; however, we also realized the value of just inter-mixing and sharing our experiences in a more relaxed atmosphere. That changed the overall look of the association, and that's where we are today.”
Sprague says he often tried to coax his dad into telling him more of the history of how things were in the “good old days,” including his TMI involvement, but Perc “just wasn't interested in talking about the past. ‘You must be looking to the future,’ he would say. ‘No looking behind you.’”
Doing Things Right
Perc Wise established Wise Tag & Label on his birthday — November 5, 1956. With the philosophy of always looking ahead, Perc included the word “label” in his company name in spite of the fact that his own background was in tags. “Dad named the company from the beginning,” explains Sprague, “for he knew we would eventually be manufacturing labels. He knew labels were the future and also would be the growth segment of our company.”
Founded with just three employees “and a commitment to service,” Wise Tag & Label has grown to a multi-million-dollar enterprise operating from a 65,000-sq-ft facility in Pennsauken, NJ. The company has more than 30 tag and label presses, along with many other pieces of converting equipment.
Its 80-some employees are as loyal to Wise as the company is to TLMI — 24 of those employees have been with the company for more than 25 years; 67 have been with Wise for eight years or longer. One of its oldest employees — in every sense of the word — retired a few years ago at age 93 only because she could not see to drive in the dark.
“That indicates to me that our management philosophy is doing some things right,” says Sprague, “for when we hire people, we try to make their jobs and their working environment such that they will feel as family and stay until they decide to retire. Those that stay find something that makes them want to work for our company.”
Obviously, the same can be said of Wise's association with TLMI.