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Helping Bring Home the Bacon

With high-tech tools and equipment, Precision Label and Tag prides itself on pleasing some pretty tough customers.

Brian Weller has a pretty simple business philosophy: “As long as people continue to eat, we think we're okay.” That's because the pressure-sensitive label company he founded 14 years ago, Precision Label and Tag Inc., does about 70% of its business in the food industry, which Weller notes can be not only a high-volume market but also fairly “recession-proof.”

“Even when some people were going through a tough time in the early '90s, we were just clicking along,” notes Weller. And, the converter, based in Richmond Hill, Ont., Canada, is still very much alive — and clicking — today.

A True Resource
But make no mistake, Precision Label's success isn't a simple matter of picking the right market niche. After all, the agencies that largely comprise the company's customer base have as many options in choosing a converter as consumers do in selecting a bottle of shampoo. Yet, Precision's ability to convert that label and get the end-user's product into the market as quickly as possible has made Precision Label a true “resource” to its customers.

“Quality is a given, but service is a key. Absolutely,” Weller says. “It's not only knowing how to run the job and creating a quality product but also getting it to the customer when and how he needs it. Someone will come up with a pipe dream — a product idea — and we'll follow it through on the label and packaging end. We're a resource for them.

Digital Technology Replaces Visits
Weller recently saw a “pipe dream” of his own become reality when Precision developed and installed a video system that uses digital technology and the Internet to make “virtual” on-press approvals quicker, more convenient, and far less costly than plant visits.

Using a hand-held Sony digital camera with an internal floppy disk drive, Weller can record a video image of the customer's label being run on any of its three flexographic presses or two slitter/rewinders, store it on an internal floppy disk, download it to a computer, and e-mail it for approval in near “real-time.”

Precision Label implemented its digital camera proofing system in just one week in early 2000, and it takes only minutes to record and forward an image.

And, while Weller did nothing to patent his idea or prevent other converters from using a similar system, he has yet to hear of another converter doing so.

Weller initially saw the digital proofing system as just “an additional method of communication.” But it's become much more than that. “They love it out there,” he reports. “Basically, it puts people in our shop without having to leave their office. It really saves on travel time. The technology was there, and it's been a big boon to us. It's really assisted us in our client service, because the customer gets just as clear an image of their label as they would if they were here.”

The company has operated a Web site (onramp.ca/plt/) since 1996 and has received almost 15,000 “hits,” making it “the most valuable tool that's evolved for us,” says Weller. When he talks about the Web site, he makes it clear that his son, Robert, who joined the company three years ago, was instrumental in developing the Internet capabilities as well as Precision's video system. “If all goes according to plan,” says Weller, “he will one day be running the company.”

Flexo Was a Fortunate Pick
Weller established Precision Label and Tag in 1987 after he left his job as sales manager of the Canadian division of a then-prosperous US-based label conglomerate. He says the experience of working for a multi-plant, multi-national company — and the sometimes cumbersome corporate structure that entailed — gave him a clearer idea of the kind of label company he wanted to run. And what he had experienced simply wasn't it.

Weller launched the company with a single 7-in., three-color Mark Andy 830 flexo press, and he has since added just two more units — another 7-in., four-color 830 and a 10-in., six-color Chromas Aquaflex with ultraviolet drying, coating, and laminating/delaminating capabilities. The company also operates two Rotoflex rewinders. Precision Label uses paper stock from Jac Canada, films from 3M and DuPont, and inks from Water Ink Technologies. Dies are supplied by Webmark Engraving.

Weller says he was “fortunate” flexo was his process of choice when he started the business 14 years ago, when “flexo” and “high quality” rarely shared the same sentence. He explains that “tremendous developments” in presses, plates, inks, anilox rolls and other variables have improved water-based flexo quality vastly to the point where he is capable of meeting 95% of his customers' label requirements with the process.

“That's really a driving factor,” says Weller. “It's been our good fortune to have picked flexo as our specialty, because it's just amazing the quality you can get from flexo today, and we've been kind of caught up in the wave. In all fairness, our success hasn't all been just through good planning. There's some measure of luck in there — but I'm not going to tell you the percentage!”

Precision's product mix includes bar code labels and tags; coupons; retail scale labels; packaging films; pharmaceutical and promotional labels; thermal lottery rolls; security and safety products for high-value government, commercial, industrial, and consumer products and documents; and “Meals in Minutes” dual-ovenable lidding films that can be custom printed in up to six colors in runs from 10,000 to 100 million or more.

Weller says the learning curve on heat seal lids “was enormous. They're die-cut and perforated, but they're unsupported, so there's no adhesive and no liner. That was hard on my hairline,” he adds with a laugh.

Weller notes almost wistfully that he always figured a three-press operation was “just about right. I figured that was the ideal size, and to be frank, nothing has happened to change my mind. It creates a bit of a living,” he says modestly, “and I don't have a lot of headaches.”

In fact, Precision Label and Tag doesn't have a lot of sales people either. Weller says he's not really looking for more agencies or customers to serve, preferring instead to grow largely along with its existing customers and their referrals.

“We're kind of selective that way,” notes Weller. “We don't take on much new business. The big guys are having some problems. This business lends itself, in all fairness, to a tight, hands-on operation. If you get too far ahead of what you set out to accomplish, it can cause trouble.”

Putting the Whole Puzzle Together
While computer technology can offer a tremendous production advantage — as evidenced by the company's success with video imaging and approvals — Weller has found that even simple tasks such as order entry actually can slow down delivery.

At his former company, incoming jobs could spend as much as four days in order entry, with copies of the order going to more than a half-dozen departments before the run was even scheduled.

“We put the orders out, and the customer can sometimes have labels in those four days,” says Weller. “So, we have a little rule around here: Nothing hits the computer until it's out the door. We just don't have delays; none of this about three- and four-week turnaround. Some of my guys are on their second order in four weeks.”

Weller admits that working largely with agencies does make the process a bit more “problematic” than dealing directly with the end-user, since it brings a third party into the equation. But that's also part of Precision Label's appeal. The company handles the “little parts of the puzzle” that make a project ultimately successful, such as testing materials, keeping up with new developments in substrates, inks, and coatings, and maintaining sufficient samples to make sure customers get what they want.

“Sometimes they come to us because we are a bit of a resource,” Weller says of the agencies. “Because basically they want to rest easy. They don't want to take any chances. You can have a good-looking label, but if you're using the wrong materials, or you have a design issue, there still can be problems in producing it.”

Weller adds, “If we feel that something can't be done or is going to look better going another way, the agencies tend to listen to us. You want to make sure that the customer is going to be happy with what they get, so it's kind of a cooperative venture. We work together.”

In spite of Weller's desire to operate as a small company, the strength of the US dollar, the elimination of trade barriers, and the company's own quality and service capabilities have combined to make Precision Label and its capabilities attractive to end-user's beyond the Canadian border.

“We deal with a few astute people who like to take advantage of that,” Weller says of the strength of the dollar. “There's so much freight going north and south right now, I can get product into Florida cheaper than I can into Vancouver. It still comes down to turnaround,” he adds. “You can't dawdle. The customer's delivery date is yesterday. If a buyer has to wait four weeks to get labels from a supplier that's three blocks away, and they can get it in a week or ten days from someone that's much further away, they're going to go with the company that's further away. So, the States obviously are a growth area for us.”

That is, as long as people eat.

CONVERTER INFO
Precision Label and Tag Inc.

Richmond Hill, ON, Canada
905/764-3745; 800/465-1522;
onramp.ca/plt/


SUPPLIER INFO
Mark Andy Inc.
, Chesterfield, MO; 636/532-4433; markandy.com

Chromas Technology, Fort Lauderdale, FL; 954/971-1380; chromas.com

Rotoflex Intl. Inc., Mississauga, ON, Canada; 905/670-8700; rotoflex.com

Jac Canada Brampton, ON, Canada; 905/790-3690; jackstadt.com

3M, St. Paul, MN; 651/737-6501; 3m.com

DuPont, Wilmington, DE; 302/992-5225; dupont.com

Water Ink Technologies, Lincolnton, NC; 704/735-8282; 800/426-4657; waterinktech.com

Webmark Engraving Co. Ltd., Woodbridge, ON, Canada; 905/264-0001



 

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