Blue Label Digital Printing: With a new press that can handle longer runs, the craft beer label specialist continues to grow alongside its customers.
While Blue Label Digital Printing is relatively new, it is a true family business with a rich history in the printing industry that goes back four generations. In 1957, E.L. "Mac" McClelland and D.T "Tom" Boyd began producing "One-Write" forms, an alternative to carbon copy printed products. Over the years, utilizing narrow web offset printing equipment, the company moved away from forms and into the envelope market, gradually expanding its product offering to include catalog order forms and direct mailers. The organization split in the 1970s with one side becoming Cyril-Scott, a commercial envelope printer, and the other becoming One Write Company, a supplier of church offering envelopes and forms.
For many years, the church offering envelope business was a profitable niche. However, around the time of the new millennium, much like many areas of the printing industry, traditionally printed envelopes began to give way to digital alternatives. Norman Boyd, co-founder Tom Boyd's son and Andrew's father, started looking into ways of diversifying the business by entering into other print markets. A relationship with a local private label water bottle company prompted the purchase of an HP Indigo 4000 digital label press and an AB Graphic Digicon S to print and convert custom water bottle labels.
One Writes Digital Division was born, and with labels, the company had found a new area for growth. The division picked up short-run work from local flexographic label converters and, through introductions by various suppliers, several partnerships were established with both flexo printers and brokers, doing trade-only work.
For a decade, the division enjoyed steady yet modest growth. In 2012, after completing his education in business, Andrew Boyd came on board and joined the One Write Digital Division. While new to the world of label printing and learning the industry, he had an epiphany during a trip to Dscoop, the annual conference for users of HP Indigo technology. He recalls, "I was chatting with someone from a much larger company--an offset printer--and he asked me for advice on how to get into labels. A light bulb went off, and I realized that we are in a space that a lot of people want to be in."
With a foot already in the door of the pressure sensitive label market, Andrew went to work researching the changing environments within the food, beverage and consumer goods end-use segments. He convinced the rest of the One Wright management team to rebrand the Digital Division to Blue Label Digital Printing. The new entity's first move was to expand capacity by upgrading to an HP Indigo WS6600 and an AB Graphic Digicon Series 2 with hot foil and embossing capabilities.
"At that point in time, it was a tremendous amount of money for us to spend on equipment," Andrew says. "We took a huge gamble, as we also decided then that we would start working directly with customers. Up until that point, we were strictly a trade-only printer."
With the new equipment and brand, Blue Label began pursuing small businesses with a need for high quality, low-to-medium run labels. One of its first marketing activities was sending out a mockup of a craft beer label while educating potential customers on the benefits of digital printing. "The fast turnarounds and ability to deal with multiple SKUs really resonated with small craft producers, especially independent breweries," says Andrew.
Over the course of the next five years, Blue Label grew from 15 to 35 employees, and revenue grew astronomically. Today, the company serves over 600 breweries.
THE WHOLE FOODS EFFECT
In discussing how the business was able to grow so rapidly, Andrew Boyd points to what he refers to as the "Whole Foods Effect." He explains, "Whole Foods kind of created a platform where anyone can make products, and if they are of a certain quality--particularly when it comes to specialty food and craft beer--they are very scalable. No matter your size, you can find a market for your products.
"We felt these small businesses should probably be able to find their packaging the same way," he adds. "Prior to digital printing technology becoming what it is today, there was a big cutoff. If you weren't of a certain size, you were going to have to accept a lesser quality label, use a desktop printer, or pay some outlandish amount of money for a very small amount of labels," he says. "Our technology and capabilities change that. We provide even our smallest customers with the same high-quality labels that the biggest brands have, and we get their orders to them between 3-5 days. We guarantee the turnaround time period as well as satisfaction--no customer gets stuck with labels they can't use."
Blue Label has expanded to offer customers hang tags, such as "keg collars," and some flexible packaging. Andrew estimates around half the company's business is in the craft beer sector. Among other label markets served are spirits, wine, specialty foods, health & beauty and household products.
In particular, Andrew says, the e-juice packaging market is showing great promise, accounting for a large percentage of the business. "It's 4-color work, and they have a ton of SKUs for such tiny labels. For a traditional printer, it would be hard to remain profitable with so few copies per SKU. Our digital workflow allows us to offer great value and service on the smallest jobs."
A common theme among Blue Label's customer base is "craft," and what comes with that distinction is a level of excitement and passion that may not otherwise exist among big brand marketing. "Distilleries and their designers are really fun to work with," Andrew says. "The conversation starts with brainstorming, in order to come up with something great, and then moves to figuring out how to create it. As a printer, you get to be involved with those projects at a really core level, so we feel a great sense of ownership when we see the finished product on store shelves.
"The breweries are also so creative and fun to work with," he adds. "Some of the illustrations and graphics they come up with are simply amazing--true works of art. Just walking through our pressroom you get to see these incredible designs. As a bonus, when you stop in and visit, they normally offer you a beer--it's a really fun atmosphere."
Blue Label acquires new customers mainly via word-of-mouth and establishing a strong presence at trade shows and other craft events. Digital marketing has also been an effective tool."Our customers usually find us," Andrew says. "We try to be as honest and transparent as possible. We make it clear that we are real people who genuinely want you to succeed. Most of our marketing is about that, you can trust us with your packaging, and we'll do whatever it takes to make sure you are happy with it."
In addition to transparency, Andrew points out that the company understands the "Amazon Effect," or the demand for instant gratification, which strongly applies to today's most important customer demographic--the Millenial. He explains:"They demand things fast and have very little patience for explanations or education. If they supply us with art, they expect to have their labels in-hand very quickly. We deal with a huge number of SKUs, and the quantity per SKU is low. So we have to figure out how to make that profitable. It translates to a lot of automation and process improvement.
"The e-juice companies are the true test," he says. "They sometimes will have more than 100 versions per order, and maybe only 500 labels per version. So, using that as a test for our design processes and automation, we've built much of our workflow around handling really involved jobs with the minimum amount of administration."
Andrew Boyd shares an interesting fact, and one that says a lot about Blue Label Digital Printing: "In our entire facility, not one person has ever operated a flexo press."
At the 2017 Labelexpo Europe in Brussels, the company sealed the deal on its most recent press acquisition, an HP Indigo 8000. The newly installed 262 fpm press has doubled Blue Label's capacity.
When the 8000 initially launched at the 2016 drupa, HP was clear to position the machine as a technology that could serve as a replacement for a flexo press--a digital unit that can handle the longer runs typically associated with flexography.
Once a start-up itself, Blue Label has grown exponentially, as have many of its craft beer customers. "Many of the breweries that started out with us began with runs of 5,000 labels, but now we regularly produce for them 50,000. We thought the 8000 would be a great way to give our customers the exact same Indigo quality they are used to at much longer run lengths--as well as more cost effective than if the jobs were run on the 6000 series presses," Andrew says.
First investing in HP in 2002, Blue Label's pressroom, headed by director of operations Joe Schorr, also includes an HP Indigo 5600, an HP Indigo WS6600 and an HP Indigo WS6800.
"The Indigo digital presses deliver results that other machines simply cannot match, including reaching 97% of all Pantone colors," Schorr says.
For near-line finishing, there are three AB Graphic machines, a Series 2 and two Series 3s, one equipped with Big Foot, a 50-ton capacity hot foil and embossing module with multiple foil feeding across and along the web. To complement the increased productivity the 8000 press is providing, the company is anticipating adding AB Graphic's FastTrack, the world's fastest semi-rotary diecutting system, which can run at speeds up to nearly 500 fpm.
In addition to HP Indigo and AB Graphic, Andrew credits Blue Label's MIS provider Cerm as playing an instrumental role in shaping its success. "Cerm has been a huge help for us in dealing with the challenges associated with being a rapidly growing company," he says. "The entire system is designed to scale with you, so having a very responsive and talented software company on our side has been a tremendous asset."
Responsiveness, scalability, growth and digital technology are all prevalent themes for both Blue Label and its customers. "Some newer customers never had to deal with the plates and lead times of traditional printing, all they've ever known is digital," Andrew says. We've had customers call and ask for same day labels--kind of a scary thought--but that's what people expect in the Amazon Age."
Similar to the vibe at many of its craft products customers is a work atmosphere marked by profit sharing among passionate employees excited to help Blue Label customers grow their brands. Andrew concludes, "I know that gets hard to maintain as you grow, but a lot of our success has been because everyone cares so much about the work we do. We're a close-knit team, and that makes working here a lot of fun."
By Steve Katz
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|Publication:||Label & Narrow Web|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2017|
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