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Reid graphics and manufacturing: a Massachusetts converter is doing more with less, exemplifying the analog-to-digital transformation.

Some call him the "Stickamayka," with, of course, that distinctive, New England inflection. But while Stephen Dunlevy's nickname is playful, his company is seriously epitomizing the transition from analog to digital. Based in Andover, MA, USA, in the heart of New England, Reid Graphics and Manufacturing is in the midst of a transformative journey.

Dunlevy is the president and owner of Reid, having purchased the business in 1993 from Calvin Reid, its original owner. And to say that the company has undergone some changes since Dunlevy took over would be an extreme understatement. Perhaps the only thing that's remained the same is the name.


The other mainstay at Reid has been its management team. Along with Dunlevy, the company is run by Bob Stewart, its general manager. Both men had worked for Screenprint/Dow Industries--Dunlevy started there in the late '70s, and Stewart in 1988. They say that working there was like going to label college. Stewart has been at Reid since 1993. Dunlevy, however, came to Reid a year earlier, to get a feel for the label business--and also to see what he was getting into.

The leadership team at Reid might seem like an unlikely duo. Dunlevy was a criminal justice major and Stewart majored in music. However, the drive to own, operate and grow a business was a force for Dunlevy, and he's infused Reid Graphics with an energy and enthusiasm that works so well in the label business.

"I was operating plastic molding machinery at Dow, and then moved into different areas of that company before ending up in the sales department. And I started to explore the possibility of doing my own thing," Dunlevy recalls, adding that his approach was calculated, and he didn't just jump right in. "Calvin was looking to retire, and he was initially trying to sell the company internally. But that didn't work out, and he and I reached an agreement where I would work as a salesman at the company a year before buying it."

So in 1992 Dunlevy sold labels for Reid, and he and Calvin Reid kept their plan close to the vest. "No one at the company knew I'd be buying the place," Dunlevy says. "I was able to see who was doing what--whose footmarks were on the wall; who was leaning back and spending the day smoking cigarettes."

It's important to note that while he was observing and learning, Dunlevy was also changing the sales culture of the company. He says, "When I arrived at Reid in April of 1992, they had never had a salesman that could sell with the 'hustle' factor. And I hustled. When I got there, the company's annual sales were $1.6 million per year. One year later the sales jumped to $3.5 million."

This would foreshadow things to come.

Explosive growth

Reid Graphics has been around since 1972. And for its first 20 years, with its three Webtron flexo presses, the company primarily printed food labels for customers in the New England region.

Once Dunlevy took over, and introduced his vision and work ethic, "Growth was explosive," he says. "Part of it was also the introduction of nutritional labeling laws. Every food manufacturer had to put a nutritional panel their label. Hence, a label that was three inches now had to be four to accommodate the graphics."

The first incarnation of Reid Graphics was a lot simpler than it is today. The original facility, in Woburn, MA, was modest in size at 15,000 square feet--a good fit for a three-press operation. But after Dunlevy purchased the company, and the immediate growth that followed, a move was made in 1995 to its current location in Andover with 35,000 square feet of space. Today, following a recent addition, the capacity is 65,000 square feet.

Expanding capacity--in space, equipment and markets--has been thematic of Reid Graphics since its rebirth in the early '90s. By the time the company moved to Andover, a new Propheteer press was purchased, and another was on order. They then bought three more Propheteers--one a year for the next three years. And then added two more Webtrons. "We always try and be one press ahead of demand," Dunlevy says about Reid's equipment motto.

This philosophy has served the company well, preparing for inevitable growth. "The idea is to realize the bottlenecks and eliminate them," says Bob Stewart. "Your art room is always a bottleneck, and presses are a perfect place for a bottleneck."


Coinciding with Reid's growth was the explosive growth of the hi-tech industry of the mid to late '90s, which played a key role in the markets Reid Graphics would come to serve. This was like the Silicon Valley of the Northeast. Explains Stewart, "With the burgeoning industries of the Route 128 hi-tech corridor, we wound up doing something for everyone--Sun Micro Systems, Dell, IBM, Wang--something for everyone.


"In a nutshell, engineers would come to us with an idea and say, 'Here's kind of what we're looking for. Make 50 of these.' And that's how it would start. Then it would be 100, then 500, then 5,000, and then 50,000. And that's how we grew. As these companies would grow, we'd grow along with them," explains Stewart. "We became known as innovators, and they could bring anything to us, anything at all--the wackier the better, and no job was turned away."

"This is how we expanded our customer base," Dunlevy says. "And we weren't afraid to dip into to where the requests were. In some cases we took the order first and asked questions later, and scrambled to figure out how to do it. The more we did that, the smarter we got. We learned a lot," he adds. "We have a huge pile of mistakes, but as a result, we really learned and improved."

They also learned about digital print technology, and got on board at the outset. (It should also be noted that when Dunlevy acquired the company, there wasn't a single computer in the building.) In 2002, Reid Graphics added a first-generation HP Indigo Omnius press and an HP Indigo ws4500 a few years later. The latest acquisition is the newly acquired WS6000, purchased at Labelexpo Americas 2010 in Chicago. Dunlevy said he had designs on buying the machine since the first time he saw it at Drupa in 2008.

Keeping with the Reid Graphics business model, the WS6000 is the press ahead of capacity "And it's a pretty good one to have," says Stewart. "The increased speed is terrific, and setups are so easy--it's a makeready eater." Stewart also points out that the press is a perfect fit for the company's operations. "On average, I estimate 20 quotations per day and five or six of those are being converted on the 6000 as they come in. Long runs are over for us. We used to do runs in the millions, but they've come down to about 50,000, say, 10 times a year--print on demand. It's just perfect for our niche."

'Cradle to grave'

Pinpointing the Reid Graphics niche isn't easy, apart from saying they specialize in digitally printed short runs, which, as previously mentioned, wasn't always the case. In fact, at one point, the company was home to 16 flexo presses, following the 2002 acquisition of Package Systems, another New England label converter. The acquisition brought in eight additional Webtron presses and a diverse customer base. But since then, the arrival of digital technology and the changing needs of the market has redued the flexo department to half of what it once was. It's now down to eight presses.

A visit to Reid Graphics is almost like walking through four different facilities. Through one door, it's a flexo house. Through another it's a gleaming digital lab that houses the Indigo equipment. Again, through another door, it's a full service screen printing operation. Oh, and there's also what the company refers to as its "Doc Center." It's here where IKON/Canon machinery is used to produce documents, bookbinding, and "information-for-use" books for its medical and nutraceuticals customers.

"We're all over the place," says Dunlevy. "We're into total customer penetration. And so as a result of us doing a good job with our customers' printed labels, we then get the jobs to do binding, spiral bound, saddle stitching and more. We're not just a label house." A prime example of this is an ongoing job for a medical device. Each unit requires 17 labels. And then Reid prints the device's instruction manual in the Doc Center.

While the medical industry is a key market for Reid Graphics, Stewart says the company serves any and every market with the exception of automotive. There are security applications, wine, and embalming fluid. Yes, embalming fluid.

Stewart wryly describes the markets served as being from "cradle to grave." He explains: "We have a customer up in Maine who makes homemade baby food, and we do her labels, and we also happen to print 99 percent of the world's embalming fluid labels. It's actually a really great market."

Over the years there have been some unusual jobs, in a wide array of markets, spanning the globe from Hollywood to as far away as Africa and Russia. Some of the more notable ones include a promotional poster for the movie "Godzilla" that utilized special effects inks. Security work led to a job converting laminates on ID cards for elections in Ghana. In fact, in the mid-1990s, security was a key market. At one point, the company was doing security work for driver's licenses in 22 states.

"We've never been too good where we wouldn't take an order from anyone," adds Dunlevy. "My reason for buying the company came from the perspective of a salesperson, and was to control the means of production. So, consequently, I'd come in the door with a job--having promised the customer everything--and if I didn't own the company, it wouldn't get done. We can have a job on press five minutes after it comes in. We always pride ourselves on being fast, but without ever sacrificing quality," he says.

One of the goals of the company is to move as much work as it can from the flexo and screen side to digital. "Flexo will never be entirely gone, but the majority of the sweet spot is going to be digital, and we've aligned our production facility to reflect that--the transformation of looking like a flexo shop to looking like a digital lab," Dunlevy says.

The flexo side at Reid, despite being phased out, however, is performing well in its own right. The food market has provided some great opportunities, offsetting declines in other markets. More people are shopping for food and eating at home these days.

"We're encroaching on the offset world by maxing out the capabilities of the flexo presses to do non-PS applications like tags, folding and gluing for food applications," Dunlevy says. When food has to be heated, most brands prefer not to use adhesive, which led to a range of products the company is converting for supermarkets from Virginia to Maine and out to the Mississippi River. The applications include the folded sleeves that are found on microwaveable food containers: those that are slipped off prior to the product being placed in the oven.


More with less

In 1993, when Dunlevy purchased the company, Reid Graphics had 19 employees. Today there are 52, and that number has been as high as 69. "But with the digital technology, we can do more with fewer people," Dunlevy says. "So we never back-filled."

Reid Graphics has also become a family business. One of the more recent hires is Kara Dunlevy, Stephen's daughter, who's working as an account manager.


The company works one shift and "a little more." There's a vibrant customer service department and a fervent sales force, following the example set forth by its owner. With a half dozen direct salespeople and another half dozen sales reps, the "feet on the street," as Dunlevy says, get the word out about the company and its capabilities.

And the capabilities are indeed plentiful. Dunlevy says 99 percent of the work is done in-house; the prepress department makes its own plates (Cyrel FAST), the shipping department has its own trucks, and following the recent addition, the warehouse has tons of space. And with runs getting shorter, and brand owners carrying less, Reid has great capacity to carry inventory for its customers. But the goal is clear, says Stewart: "Print on demand as much as we can."

The plan for the new, sparkling addition is all about growth. And along with printing on demand, "grow by acquisition" is also a big part of Dunlevy's vision for Reid Graphics and Manufacturing.
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Author:Katz, Steve
Publication:Label & Narrow Web
Article Type:Company overview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2010
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