THE INS AND OUTS OF ISO
A recent survey of converter members of the Tag and Label Manufacturers Institute, Inc. (TLMI), the North American trade association for tag and label converters, showed that just a handful of its more than 150 label converters have attained ISO 9001 or 9002 status. However, nearly two dozen others have begun or are considering pursuing certification.
Why would any converter go to the trouble to do so? The process involved in qualifying for ISO 9000 certification mandates that a company both use and document specific procedures deemed necessary to produce a quality product. Moreover, becoming ISO certified can take as long as 18 months and can easily cost more than $100,000.
For some label suppliers, the effort to attain ISO certification may very well be justified. TLMI converter members who have dedicated the time and resources to become ISO certified include: Advanced Web Technologies, Minneapolis, Minnesota; All Stick Label Limited, Bolton, Ontario; The Kennedy Group, Eastlake, Ohio; Labelgraphics, Portland, Oregon; and Moore Labels, Wichita, Kansas; and Tag & Label Corporation, Anderson, South Carolina.
At a minimum, becoming certified qualifies a label converter to do business with customers who require documented proof of the quality procedures utilized in producing your product. On a broader scale, however, an ISO-certified company is viewed as a ‘quality company’ by many end users.
For example, All Stick Label Limited was ISO 9002 certified in mid-1995 – the first Canadian pressure-sensitive label converter to attain the international quality classification. And, as an international supplier of pressure sensitive labels, All Stick felt that gaining ISO certification was particularly important.
‘It forces you to take a hard look at your operation,’ commented general manager Leonard Rudner. ‘And once you get into an improvement mode with ISO it’s very hard to stop. You’re always thinking of new ways to improve every aspects of your operation.’
However, for the small- to medium-sized label converter serving a regional or even national customer base, the time and effort simply may not be justified. After all, only a small number of end users require such exacting detail and documentation from their label suppliers.
In fact, most of North America’s largest and most respected label converters have chosen not to seek ISO certification. If their customers don’t require the international certification (and few end users of labels in the United States do), they simply rely on their own internal quality procedures to meet customer needs.
Tag & Label Corporation is one of those medium-sized label operations that did feel ISO certification could help their company be more competitive. In fact, some of its larger companies have warned that their vendors will need to be certified in the years to come. Tag & Label Corporation places a high priority on documentation and quality control, so ISO 9002 certification seemed well worth the effort, says company president Jerry Gore.
‘Certainly we hoped somewhere down the road it was going to lead to some marketing opportunities, but we felt that it would really help us improve our production process itself. And it has, ’said Gore, whose company was ISO certified in September 1995. ‘But we do deal with some large companies that said. ‘Two, three, four years from now, if you’re not ISO certified, then you probably won’t be doing business with us. We’ve also seen that when we now go in and talk to some potential new customers and bring up the fact that we’re ISO certified, that starts to get some attention in a lot of arenas.’
Duane Huberty, president of Advanced Web Technologies, said his company pursued certification because ‘It’s just a good foundation for doing business. It forces you to take a hard look at what you’re doing.’ Before beginning the process, he spoke to his own ISO-certified suppliers and customers to gauge the benefits and costs of going through the process. After his company was certified in March, 1996, he did start looking at his own vendors on-time delivery status just a little more closely.
But, he adds, ‘We haven’t changed suppliers because of it.’
Labelgraphics is a four-time winner of the prestigious Eugene Singer Award, presented annually by TLMI for superior company management practices. It counts many of North America’s leading computer manufacturers, including IBM and Hewlett Packard, among its customer base. Ironically perhaps, although some computer companies are themselves not ISO certified, they require certification from their label suppliers.
‘I think in the long term the cost was more than offset in savings in the way we do things, and it’s even helped us acquire a few new customers,’ explains Martin. ‘When companies compare us to other label converters going for their business, ISO is a consideration. If our price is a little higher, but we have the system in place, they feel a little better about giving us the work.’
And getting the job, after all, is what being in business as all about.