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Breaking New Ground

With its recent purchase of the new PCMC Evolution, The Prairie State Group hopes to pave the way for a flexible packaging revolution.

Flexible packaging on a narrow web — you must be joking! But the three men behind The Prairie State Group aren't laughing (at least not about narrow web!). With a flair for customer service and a successful label business under its belt, this partnership is ready to take its rapidly growing flexible packaging venture to the next level.

Partnering for Success
It's the classic “American Dream” scenario, and it began 13 years ago with a 10-in., six-color Aquaflex press and a lot of faith. Rick Heinzen, one of three partners with The Prairie State Group (PSG), launched Prairie State Graphics as a pressure-sensitive label company. In the beginning, Heinzen was truly an everyman, serving as the billing and sales department and as part-time rewinder.

In the late '90s, Heinzen, in hot pursuit to expand his growing business, fatefully met Graham Redding, executive VP at PSG, through a mutual contact. With more than nine years of sales experience in the label industry, Redding proved to be a good fit with Heinzen's vision, and in early 1999 the two of them created the second piece of PSG, Prairie State Impressions, which focuses specifically on producing flexible packaging on a narrow web.

“Our vendors were telling us it couldn't be done,” comments Redding. “No one was doing it out there as far as high-barrier, flexible packaging in a narrow web format. It was all the wide web guys, so we battled through numerous issues to be able to go live with a real product in the market. And once we got there, we quickly started seeing the return in orders.”

Watching their business really take off, Heinzen and Redding knew they had to focus their commitment on building the sales and marketing aspect of the business. It was in 2000 that Heinzen made a call to an old friend, Dan Doherty.

“Rick had introduced me to Graham some months earlier and said they had bought this Omet press and that his pressure-sensitive business had gone from one shift to two shifts…and they were getting some operators lined up,” recalls Doherty, VP of operations at PSG. “They had this idea. They just really didn't have the time to build the business from a sales standpoint and run the operation at the same time. So they asked me to come over for an equity stake in the business. So far, it's worked out well.”

Although Heinzen remains sole owner of the label business, Heinzen, Redding, and Doherty have partnered to get Prairie State Impressions off and running — fast! With 50 employees (up from 13 just 2½ years earlier), PSG is paving the way for what definitely is an unconventional approach to narrow web converting.

“I would say the biggest thing we have going is the niche that we have on the flexible side. We don't have many competitors in this country that can run a narrow web, FDA-approved, high-end, four-color process, flexible packaging product,” explains Doherty.

Regarding their rapid success, Redding adds, “It is shear hustle. Because there are 80 printers in Chicago that can print labels, I would say we compete with two or three of them because of our quality, our turnaround, and our in-house capabilities — ripping our own film, making our own plates, and doing our own printing all under one roof. Our customer service is fantastic from that standpoint.”

With just 14,800 sq ft of space, PSG is a flourishing business that includes four Mark Andy presses, an Aquaflex, and an Omet eight-color, 20-in.-wide flexible packaging and p-s press.

But with storage spilling into the alley and new orders steadily rolling in, PSG knew two things had to happen soon: more space and the addition of a new press. Finding the space would be a matter of time, but finding a press that could meet their unique needs would be a harrowing task.

An “Evolution” for Narrow Web
With many long hours dedicated to the search of this rare creature, Paper Converting Machine Co.'s Evolution had, as PSG put it, intrigued them.

“There were some things [about the Evolution] that really would fit in well with our marketing scheme. The new print designs that they have, deck times two. It really takes the CI technology and turns and drops it into an in-line press,” says Heinzen.

Doherty contends that PCMC's vision and where they see the market going is identical to PSG's — short run, high-end graphics, shorter makereadies, and less waste. “The amount of volume we can pump through this press, if we can do just half of what they say, we're going to be doing all right. And they think it's going to be a lot better than that!” says Doherty.

Doherty applauds several features of the gearless flexo press, including multi-substrate capability; excellent registration, fast changeover; and increased drying capability thanks to its Extreme Drying technology.

“We came back with what we really wanted to do with this press. We came back impressed with their level of detail,” says Doherty. “The product lines that are going to be opened up by the purchase of this PCMC press [include] cold seal applications, water-based adhesive laminations, solventless adhesive laminations, UV coating, and adhesives laminations. We will especially have the capability of doing four different types of adhesives. It will have dual lamination stations on it.”

As for revolutionizing what can be done on a narrow web, PSG is confident the Evolution will deliver.

“It's a very challenging, but exciting, and rewarding opportunity for us. We just feel like we're chipping away at what is going to be something extremely large. If we continue to grow the way we are, by having this equipment, we will be adding 40 percent or better to our capacity, and that's huge,” explains Doherty.

Building Toward the Future
Almost nine months after PFFC's first visit, PSG has a brand new press and a new place to call home. Moving from the congested industrial parks within Chicago's city limits, the company has settled into a 40,000-sq-ft plant in nearby Franklin Pk., IL.

The spacious plant allows for a more efficient workflow, as well as room for growth, which the company already has laid out to accommodate at least three more presses. As for being groundbreakers in narrow web flexible packaging, PSG realizes that soon, others will come.

“There are going to be more competitors…we know we are going to have to battle others down the road, more so than we are now,” predicts Redding.

Heinzen sums up the company's outlook for the future. “We want to secure our niche and build a niche that we have already developed in the flexible packaging market, changing the way buyers of flexible packaging look at what's available out there. They don't have to buy 1,000 pounds anymore; they don't have to deal with lower-end graphics.”

PSG wants to build a path to the new possibilities of narrow web. The foundation definitely has been laid.

CONVERTER INFO
Prairie State Group

11100 Addison Ave.
Franklin Pk., IL 60131
847/801-3100; psglabels.com


SUPPLIER INFO
Paper Converting Machine Co., Green Bay, WI; 920/494-5601; pcmc.com.

Aquaflex, Longueuil, QC, Canada; 450/461-9591; aquaflex.com

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

Omet, Lecco, Italy; +390 341 367513; omet.it



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