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CS Labels – The Printer Who Claimed He Was Better Ignorant About Digital Labels

Posted in CS Labels News by Admin on 13:08 August 02nd, 2013
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Simon Smith MD and principle shareholder of CS Labels repeatedly stated, "My lack of knowledge of print was the biggest asset that I brought to the business."


Whilst this claim wore thin by the end of my visit as his undoubted depth of expertise in digital print shone through, it was nevertheless the original key to his success in transforming a very ordinary and struggling screen and litho labels business into the leading Xeikon digital labels business in the UK.

Cynics might respond that this is a very narrow market niche; but if my judgement of Simon is correct, given time I will be able to report that CS Labels is the leading digital labels printer in the UK, producing an extensive variety of labels – from peel and reveal labels to barcode, and many others. So how was this transformation achieved?


The Origins Of The Biggest Label Printing Factory In The UK


Simon was a Lloyds bank manager used to supporting SMEs, when one part of his wife's family business needed leadership following the retirement of his father-in-law. At the time Creative Screenprint offered a poor package of Screen and Flexo labels and competed purely on price – this was a real bottom feeder. They were dependent on one key account, a company that printed cartoon characters to apply to children's boots, and that account was moving offshore to China.

Given that the vast bulk of orders were short-run, the move to install the first Xeikon in 2008 seems a no-brainer in retrospect; although customers had to be convinced that the colour and quality could be sustained even from an indifferent original Flexo or Screen standard.


Simon adds that the key to CS Labels subsequent success was persuading customers to adapt their branding and label design to exploit the advantages of digital whilst also recognising its limitations.

If tackled in this proactive way not only can the customers benefit from digital print - economic short runs, versioning, variable data etc.; they can also find real strengths in digital print design and broader label supply chain solutions. For this reason they are prepared not only to pay a digital premium but to do so even on very long run work. As an example, he quotes an order of 0.5m labels produced when capacity allows but held in stock and drawn down by the customer as required.


Digital Labels: Opportunities And Perspectives


In parallel with this development was a deliberate transition in the mix of customers. First came a shift from dependence on trade customers (40%) to retention of just a few of these printers who were willing and able to exploit the added value opportunities of digital print production and pay the necessary premium (now just 20%).

Second and still a work in progress, was the transition from SMEs to larger corporate clients, who are now beginning to understand the opportunity that digital label production has to offer them. However exploiting the full advantages often means adapting their supply chain as well as their label designs, so it is a slower sell. What was most striking was the changing nature of the sales process – it became a genuine solution sale, often involving the customer's own designer visiting CS Labels to fully understand the opportunities of digital labels and learning how to best adapt their label design accordingly.


Switching To Digital Label Printing


The result has seen steady expansion from a £650,000 turnover and 8 employees to a staggering £2.5m turnover and 26 employees. Along the way, Flexo has been dropped, Screen is retained just for occasional special uses and the pair of Xeikon 3300 presses were steadily upgraded and joined this year by a 3500. Reflecting the short run nature of the majority of the work, finishing is still performed offline.

In terms of capacity, because of the ever increasing volume of business, earlier this year they took on the lease of the other half of its business unit in Willenhall outside Wolverhampton and they can now cope with a substantial increase in throughput.

How will that be achieved? By remaining ahead of the pack. For example, being early developers of 'Vary-lane' (differing repeat lengths on the same web), Colourlogic (metallic effects), Peel & Reveal labels, double sided VDP labels (with back to back registration) etc. Their innovative ideas and willingness to conduct their own scripting development for new materials mean their claim to know little about print no longer convinces. This is a business that knows digital print labels with a vengeance. Oh, and by the way, the cartoon characters for kids wellies account was won back from China.


A Different Approach To The Label Printing Business


Where I do accept Simon's claim to be different from many printers is in his rigorous approach to business disciplines. For example, he carries out an annual business planning cycle with a quarterly review and update, even though he is answerable to no-one but himself. He describes it as akin to keeping fit – an essential prerequisite before day-to-day life gets in the way of strategic thinking. It might do his competitors good if they 'worked out' in the same way.

Simon Smith MD and principle shareholder of CS Labels repeatedly stated, "My lack of knowledge of print was the biggest asset that I brought to the business." Whilst this claim wore thin by the end of my visit as his undoubted depth of expertise in digital print shone through, it was nevertheless the original key to his success in transforming a very ordinary and struggling screen and litho labels business into the leading Xeikon digital labels business in the UK.

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