Label House Limited, a Trinidad-based label converter, is known throughout the Caribbean as ‘The Place For Labels,’ and it should be. Since it was established 20 years ago, Label House has grown to become a trusted label supplier to a host of multi-national companies doing business not only in the Caribbean, but throughout Central and South America.
As managing director David Lewis suggests ‘any country in or bordering on the Carribean’ Sea is within its area of influence. And, while Trinidad’s exotic locale is the source of both story and song, it is actually one of the largest industrial islands in the world.
Trinidad, a 1,854 square miles island located just six miles off the coast of Venezuela, is the commercial centre of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. Its economy is largely centred on petroleum production, and Label House produces labels for every major oil concern in the region.
The country exported $900 million (U.S.) in 1997, much of it to other Carribean, South and Central American nations. Label House itself exports more than 50 per cent of the labels it produces.
Among the prestigious multinational clients served by Label House are Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, Shell, Unilever, Colgate-Palmolive, Nestle, Guinness Ale and dozens more. These and other worldwide companies have come to rely on Label House to deliver consistently high-quality labels that are as good as if not better than those converted doesn’t let them down.
Last July ’98, Label House became one of just a relative handful of label converters worldwide to become ISO certified. The company places a premium on both quality and service. In fact, Label House was honoured twice for its quality in the past year alone, receiving the Prime Minister’s Award for Manufacturing and receiving honourable mention for ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’ in a study by the international accounting firm of Ernst & Young.
The Label House ‘quality policy’ which is shared with and adhered to by each of its 150 employees, sum up its commitment to producing some of the world’s finest labels:
‘It is the absolute policy of The Label House Limited to provide products and services that fully and consistently meet the agreed requirements of our customers and ensure that the products and services comply with defined standards of content and are fit for their purpose…The aim of all employees must be to get it right the first time, every time, and strive for continuous improvement.
In short, Label House is dedicated to giving customers what they want, when they want it. To help deliver that, the company is the only converter in the Caribbean that has a testing lab for both raw materials and finished goods. That helps assure that Label House has no problem converting the label and that it performs well for the customer.
‘It is our job to make the customer look good’, says Gary Legge, Corporate sales director for Label House. ‘And a lot of our success comes from personalised service. People want to know that someone is looking out for their business, and label buyers across the region have a ‘no-worry’ attitude in working with us because they know that Label House is going to deliver, a hassle-free quality product and service and make them look-good. And, if our customer/buyer looks good, we look good.’
Label House produced a wide product mix, including PS, Brewery labels and glue-applied labels, as well as ‘soft wraps’ for cigarette packs and detergent containers. The company prints on virtually every kind of substrate, including papers, film and foils. They also do plastic film laminations, primarily for the beverage Industry, their largest industry grouping.
Plastic labels for PET beverage bottles, currently accounts for approximately 45 per cent of its annual sales. Label House supplies labels to global companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi for a number of countries bordering the Caribbean. This means a major commitment by all to exceed all expectations.
The company currently exports to nearly 40 different companies in 23 rapidly growing countries with a combined population of 150 million people. Annual company sales, which increased 20 per cent in the fiscal year ending in June, 1999 are expected to reach more than $8 million (U.S.) in 1999.
Surprising, perhaps, is the fact that approximately 50 per cent of the company’s product is converted for use in on the island of Trinidad itself. Not only does Label House meet the local labelling needs of multi-national companies like Shell Oil, Texaco and Unilever, it also proudly provides labels for much of Trinidad’s own national Companies such as S.M. Jaleel, Carib Brewery and West Indian Tobacco Co. Ltd., National Petroleum, Caribbean Bottlers, Multi-foods etc.
On a recent visit to the company’s head-quarters, virtually every product consumed by employees themselves – from orange juice to cigarettes – carried a Label House label.
As its capabilities have improved and its capacities have increased, Label House has targeted large, multi-national companies as its primary customer base. With its high-speed presses, the company is well-equipped to deliver the multi-million label runs required by its worldwide (and worldly) customers.
‘The kind of customers that we pursue are generally exporters, and they have higher volumes’, notes Lewis. ‘We prefer to establish valued relationships with some of the larger companies that we are well-equipped to serve. We prefer not to fight over price and small volumes’.
Label House started in business in 1978 with a six-colour, ten inch Mark Andy press, but its most recent additions have been two 16 inch Comco Commanders, 1-6 colour and 1-8 colour, that are designed to more economically produce the long runs that customers such as Coca-Cola require.
In addition to those three presses, the company also operates a second six-colour Mark Andy, and a four-colour central impression Mark Andy.
The company has recently acquired a new state of the art Mark Andy 4150-8 colour press to pursue the growing plastic cut and stack beverage label market.
‘We’re really concentrating on the bigger presses now for volume’, explains Lewis, noting that the company already runs 24 hours a day. ‘When you come here, you might see pressure-sensitive running on one press, cut-and-stack plastic labels running on another and cigarette soft packs on another’.
And the company manages to deliver its high quality product strictly on flexo presses. While other companies have felt compelled to invest in offset or gravure screen/offset, Label House instead relies on state-of-the-art flexo presses and its own vast expertise to meet even the strictest customer demand.
‘We always felt that if we ever did go into another printing process that it would be in a joint company’ says Legge. ‘It would not be within the walls of Label House. We don’t want to mix flexo and offset because there’s a certain buzz around flexo and you’ve got to keep focused on it all the time. A lot of the quality that we have been able to get with flexo has not just been at the press, but at the prepress area and going forward.
‘In July 1998, we installed a state of the art Pre-press department with G-3 network technology matched with experienced graphic/art designers coupled with film output/separation capabilities which when combined with our modern plate department, truly put us in the middle of the print global village technically. Truly a one-stop shop we can do anything you need…fast…
Plus, adds Legge, ‘We are fortunate to be led by David Lewis, who is probably the most informed and innovative flexo person this side of the globe. I have never met anybody that knows more above flexo than him. There is a lot of respect by every employee for David and his knowledge of this industry.’
‘I feel very proud to be captained by him in this process of learning and teaching because we tell our employees, You’re here to learn a trade. We can teach you how to be the best in the field. All you have to do is be a part of the team and make a commitment do it. That way you will be employable anywhere you go if you ever leave us. Fortunately, they rarely have reason to go anywhere else.’ Our company-wide gain sharing scheme helps instil employee confidence and commitment to getting it right the first time.
That emphasis on technological expertise has helped Label House pioneer a number of innovations in the region. For example, the company was the first label converter in the Carribean, South and Central America to offer cut-and-stock technology with films. That allowed multi-national companies like Coke and Pepsi to receive locally produced labels without having to seek out suppliers in Europe or North America.
‘Down here suppliers used us as guinea pigs for cut-and-stack, but we weren’t reluctant’, says Legge. ‘We were very happy to do that so we could be the first in line to offer this service to our customers, so we gladly worked with them. This is a big development in Label House’s history and growth, and look at the fruit that it’s born today, because a very large percentage of our sales is in the beverage business in some 15 countries. So, it is a very strong pillar for Label House’.
Still, while the company may be willing to try anything to serve the customer, it is well aware that staying focussed on its core technology, which is flexo, will allow it to continue to make ongoing advances in both sales and quality.
‘A lot of companies want to be the King of everything’, says Legge. ‘We’ve never tried to be the King of everything. We have focussed on what we believe we’re good at, and continue to lead our company down a certain business path. We remained focussed on flexo, then we focussed on customer industries and substrates’.
‘Having said that, we definitely are the King of cut-and-stack. We have competitors in film who do roll labels but can’t do the cut-and-stack. Cut-and-stack is quite tricky because you have to put anti-static varnish on both the top and bottom of the label. Not many companies have tried to tackle that.’
Some examples of its emphasis on quality are simpler. For example, a tracking label is placed in the core of every finished roll detailing when and how the product was produced, by whom and on what equipment. On the rare occasions when a roll is defective on press, the label allows the company to better determine what caused the problem when and by whom and prevent it from re-occurring.
‘We believe that value comes from that focus and because we are comfortable with the product line technology and it creates a trouble-free environment for the customer’, says Lewis. ‘They don’t want something only to look pretty, they want it to work. They don’t want the hassle of having their label not working because of the label’.
In addition to quality and service, Label House also endeavours to deliver value to the customer by working as efficiently as possible. That can be difficult, however, when our company is thousands of miles away from material suppliers. For example, most of our paper stock is imported from mills in Europe, while our films are extruded largely in the United States.
As a result, the company is always looking for the most economical way for both Label House and its customers to operate. For example, the Company recently purchased a labeller and leased it to a multi-national customer to apply labels to their dishwashing liquid containers. The five-year contract charges the customer a slight up charge on each of the labels produced by Label House but didn’t cost them anything up front’. Most importantly, says Lewis, ‘it keeps the partnership intact’.
In another instance, Label House negotiated and took delivery of a state-of-the-art plate making system free of charge in exchange for agreeing to purchase a certain amount of Cyrel plates over a four-year period. Says Lewis, ‘They got what they wanted, and we got what we wanted, so everybody wins’.
To further achieve better economies of scale, the company is looking to consolidate its various operations under one roof. In addition to its primary facility, Label House currently operates a sister company called Valu Label, in a separate building that produces high-volume supermarket labels. In the near future, Lewis hopes to build a 30,000 square-foot facility to house both operations. Digi-Signs, a third company that produces screen-printed metal signs, would remain independent since it is a separate market niche.
In the meantime the company may choose to lease off-site warehousing space to house its material inventory. This would provide room for at least one more press and related support equipment. That may sound like a pretty tall order, but then the company has always planned for its continued success. Much of its profits are reinvested in the company for the purchase of new capital equipment and the recent installation of a state-of-the-art prepress facility and the hiring of a professional prepress manager and trained staff.
So just where will the company’s growth come from to support this development? By expanding its appeal to other multi-national companies in Central and South America, or more precisely. ‘Wherever the Caribbean (Sea) touches in Central or South America and any islands in that area’, says Legge.
Lewis notes that the company would ultimately like to supply labels as far north as Cuba, should that government ever relax its policies to create a more free market economy. He sees that kind of growth in many South and Central American countries, which are thriving and spending their money; on the very types of disposable consumer goods that Label House labels, such as food and beverage, petroleum and beer.
‘The real push is into Latin America’, notes Lewis. ‘It is growing very fast. But it’s not high-tech growth. They want Coca-Cola, they want Gatorade. They want products on these levels that they have not been able to drink or eat from when the economy was suffering. They’re not interested in cars, they want Miller Lite and cigarettes. Consumer products in a mega way. Our business supplies consumer products’. This information is confirmed by our partner, Juan Carlos Molina in Caracas, Venezuela of Label House de Venezuela.
Label House is well positioned geographically to serve most countries that touch the Caribbean. Company executives are also well-versed in virtually every one of those country’s import policies. They are as expert at getting labels to their final destinations as they are in producing them. So, while a competitor’s labels may sit in a warehouse for days or weeks waiting for clearance, Label House are already, well, in your house.
‘Logistics are tremendous when you’re dealing with exports’, says Legge. ‘Each country has its own quirks, and you’ve got to spend time to learn what they are so you can overcome them. Your have to expect the unexpected. What airlines connect Central America and non-Caribbean countries? Sometimes we send labels somewhere and it takes three different airlines never receives it? Both Label House and its customers lose, so we make sure that isn’t going to happen’.
Also, notes Legge, ‘Geographically we are well-positioned to be competitive because freight rates are much cheaper and our delivery is much more responsive. It means a lot to us. We’re a small company, so we make sure the product gets there and we make sure it’s good’.
As Label House celebrates its 20th Anniversary, the Company is looking forward to achieving profits during continued growth. And there’s no reason to expect it won’t come. The four-person management team already has in place the ideal mix of equipment and very experienced personnel required to meet the demanding needs of multi-national companies in a growing number of countries to our customer base in the months and years ahead.
‘Label House is a company going places, and customers like to attach themselves to a printer constantly being innovative with new technology,’ notes Legge. ‘They don’t want to buy labels today from someone and find out tomorrow that the printer is not there. They want a printer who they can trust and rely on.’
‘We’re a young team here’, adds Legge, noting that the average age of the owners/directors is just 44. The employees are even younger. Yet we’ve been in this business for 20 years. We’ve got a wealth of knowledge and experience that’s rare in this region, if not the world. We may be small, but we are proud of what we do and we love what we do. That’s what keeps driving us’.
And that’s what will continue to make Label House, ‘The Place for Labels’ for years to come.