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Taking Chances

Label Printing

Reflecting on the early days of his 26-year-old company, Label Graphics founder and president Tom Silvano says, “It was literally more than four years before we felt any comfort that ‘we really do have a company now.’”

There’s certainly no question about it. The company, which was established in a one-car garage owned by Silvano’s father-in-law, eventually moved to a 5,000-sq-ft facility in Little Falls (Clifton), NJ. Today, Label Graphics has grown to operate two plants of 26,000 and 14,000 sq ft with a total of 11 presses and 50 employees.

When he launched the business in 1979 after gaining experience as a sales representative for Dennison Mfg., Silvano played the role—actually two roles—of a true entrepreneur: selling labels by day and converting them on a Markem hot stamping press at night.

“We had limited resources, so I did it all,” explains Silvano, who is as casual in discussing his success as he is proud of the accomplishment.

“To say that we started from humble beginnings is probably an understatement. It was just a matter of being focused and committed. I thought, ‘This is what we are going to do. I’ve got all this money invested, so I have to make it happen.’ We knew we could sell labels, and we got the idea that we should be making them, too. It was not necessarily a smart idea, but we did it.” And, apparently, did it very well.

A Technology Leap
Virtually every entrepreneur admits to at least a bit of anxiety when leaving a secure position for the uncertainties of the open market. Some decisions are obvious; others are a calculated gamble.

By the time he moved into his Clifton facility, Silvano enjoyed progressive success—first with two Markems and then graduating to two Mark Andy 820 flexographic presses. But the biggest change came some 20 years ago when he finally took a big leap and purchased a $400,000 Gallus R160 letterpress—it was a leap in both technology and faith. “The original Gallus is our flagship,” notes Silvano. “It still runs on our floor everyday. It’s like a tank.” Silvano notes he’s had presses for many years, but the Gallus letterpress runs 16 hrs/day with little maintenance concerns. “At the end of the day, I know it’s still going to be running,” notes Silvano. “It always has. It’s extremely dependable.”

They soon added a second Gallus R160 letterpress and later an R200. “We were the smallest company—a mom and pop—ever to buy a Gallus press,” Silvano notes. “We went to a trade show, and all these big, big companies were buying Gallus presses, and I said, ‘We’ve got to go in here and see what makes these things tick.’”

He recalls the efforts of a senior sales manager at Gallus who encouraged him to buy a press Silvano says was “worth more than all the equipment I had before, the building it was in, and my house!

“They’re not as easy to run [as a flexo press], and they’re not cheap,” says the self-trained pressman. “I’m saying to myself, ‘This guy is out of his mind to come in here and try to sell this kind of equipment.’ But I called my wife into my office and said, ‘This crazy guy is telling me that rotary letterpress is the place to be.’ I said to her, ‘We have to make a decision: We’re either going to continue to be a mom-and-pop operation, or if we really have the vision of being something special, this is our opportunity to do that.’

“The last thing thing I planned when I got up and went to work that morning was to buy a press,” adds Silvano. “By the end of the day, I was ordering it.” The leap was made.

Reaching an Upscale Market
The addition of letterpress allowed Label Graphics to serve an entirely new, more upscale marketplace, with cosmetics being the first target audience. Silvano was determined not to run any previous orders on the new press, so he had to “reinvent how I sold and re-bolster my efforts to generate new business that would warrant being on a Gallus press, due to quality demands.”

Silvano notes the most logical step would have been to install an ultraviolet (UV) flexo press—had the technology been available at the time. The company ultimately did buy its first UV flexo press, an 11-in., seven-color Gallus Arsoma EM 280 press, in 1996. That press reportedly allowed Label Graphics to efficiently and effectively produce a wide variety of new products, including coupon labels, pouches, and unsupported films.

Silvano says its product mix is about 75% pressure-sensitive to 25% nonpressure-sensitive product. “We’re not just here to convert labels,” says Silvano. “Everybody does labels. Our approach is: What is your problem? What is it that you can’t get from somebody else? How can we help you? And we have the ability, the technology, and the equipment to back it up.”

In the future, Silvano says he probably will expand his company’s capabilities by added a wider web, possibly servo-driven press, which would allow the company to better serve its existing customers and add new ones as well.

Its current diverse product line includes expanded-content, booklet, multilayer, custom die-cut shaped, re-adhering, “piggy-back,” clear “no label” look, holographic pattern, glow-in-the-dark, tamper-evident, consecutive numbering, and bar code labels.

But its primary customer base remains companies much like itself: small to medium-sized businesses that are primed for explosive growth.

Silvano says one of the keys to Label Graphics’ success is its willingness to attempt—and ultimately succeed—in producing labels that are new and different. It’s also key to the success of the customers it serves, which include other label companies that don’t have Label Graphics’ diverse capabilities. “We’re known in the industry for saying, ‘We’ll test it, we’ll try it, and we’ll do it,” says Silvano. “The only thing I look for is doing everything better and more efficiently. Whatever that takes, we’ll do.”

Adds VP Denise Silvano, who plays an active role in fueling Label Graphics’ success, “The business will be driven into different areas based on our customers’ needs, because things change. The way we did business ten years ago is not how we do business now, and it will be different ten years from now. We’ll do what it takes to get there.”

Label Graphics
175 Paterson Ave.
Little Falls, NJ 07424

Gallus—PFFC-ASAP 302.
Markem—PFFC-ASAP 303.
Mark Andy—PFFC-ASAP 304.

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