By Eric Peterson / CompanyWeek | Oct 19, 2015
Short and long run custom labels
Martin and Cummings knew each other from working at a Chicago-based label maker and reconnected in Colorado in the 1990s to co-found Primeflex.
"We knew there was a lot of label and packaging business that was being sent out of state," says Martin.
Primeflex started with a lot of blank labels for the retail book industry. "We were at the commodity end of the market," says Cummings. UPC stickers for the back cover were a specialty, he adds. "We literally ran those by the truckload."
In the years since, the company has moved six times, investing in more and more capital equipment along the way, before buying their current Inverness facility in 2010.
Also along the way Primeflex has moved from commodity labels to high-value ones. "As our customer base evolved, so did we," notes Cummings.
"The place we are now is completely different from where we started," says Martin. "The real sweet spot in the marketplace are the more complex labels that create branding for the business."
A full quarter of 2014 revenue went back into new technology. "We made a huge investment in the past year in terms of our capabilities and equipment," says Cummings. "Our capabilities are unique in Colorado."
Case in point: Primeflex can print 800,000 small labels in an hour. "It's not unheard of for us to get new artwork in the afternoon and deliver tens of thousands of custom labels the following day," touts Cummings.
But digital printing is not Primeflex's primary focus. Only about 10 percent of the company's labels are printed on short-run digital presses.
Primeflex instead focuses on foiled and embossed labels, multi-ply "peel-and-reveal" labels with information under the first layer, labels that glow in the dark, labels made of recycled materials, and other premium labels.
"The trend of the market is digital, but typically our customers want something more," says Cummings, arguing that digitally printed four-color labels don't stand out anymore. "We go beyond that."
The pragmatic approach has paid off to the tune of 15 percent average annual growth over the company's entire history and 20 percent since 2010.
Customers include regional and national brands in the food, health and beauty, consumer products, and medical industries. "It's pretty diverse," says Cummings, noting that Primeflex prints millions of labels for meat packages every week. "When you walk through the grocery store, that's really our bread and butter."
Colorado is definitely a focus, he adds, but many clients ship their product nationally.
But it's not just about making labels. "The vast majority of our clients have come to us to solve a problem for them," says Martin. "Some of our customers have been with us since day one."
Challenges: "Our biggest challenge is finding employees," says Cummings, citing people in sales, production, and customer service as the most difficult hires. "We're finding that training from the ground up is the best way to go."
Another hurdle, says Martin, is the market perception that digital printing is best for every job. "There's almost a perception in the market that digital is better," he says. "We need to expand to do things faster, medium and long run capacity, and that does not fit with digital today. We have to fight against the perception that digital is better."
Opportunities: "One of our fastest growing categories is flexible film packaging that's used for single-serving products," says Martin. "Three years ago, it was zero. Now we're running them every other day."
"We're also finding an opportunity to educate the marketplace," he adds. "One of our employees started a group called Women in Packaging & Manufacturing."
Needs: "Our next purchase will be in the next 12 months to add another press to keep up with production," says Cummings. "We're extraordinarily busy. There's been a lot of overtime and extra work to meet customer expectations."