As a company that prides itself on innovation, some of the most productive conversations Smyth Companies has with clients begin by asking, “What if … ,” says Scott Fisher, president of Smyth Cos.
With more than 140 years of history spanning four family generations, there’s not much that Smyth has not encountered during its tenure as one of America’s largest printing and packaging providers. But, Fisher explains, in order to propel Smyth into the future and keep it at the forefront of the industry, it will continue to rely on its innovation and entrepreneurialism — the key values that make up its foundation.
“Innovation has always been a real strong part of our business,” Fisher says. “Smyth has always had the reputation of taking on projects that no one else would ever touch or even dream of.”
A Label Pro From the Start
While Smyth Companies now has a footprint of nine locations that span the country, the company’s roots can be traced back to St. Paul, Minn., where it is still headquartered. In 1877, Henry Martin Smyth founded the company in St. Paul, and immediately entered the label market, producing cut and stack labels, alongside some commercial printing work.
From the beginning, Smyth earned business from major food corporations, including Hormel, and the Minnesota Valley Canning Company, which eventually evolved into Green Giant. Fisher explains that the company grew over several decades, serving as the cut and stack label provider to a multitude of corporations among the top tier of the Fortune 500.
But in the 1980s, more than a century after its founding, Fisher says Smyth began a seismic shift in its product line to ensure its customers were obtaining the labels that would best represent their brands into the future.
“It wasn’t until the mid-1980s that we made our first investment into the pressure-sensitive label market,” Fisher says. “That was due primarily to a lot of the companies we were dealing with being Fortune 250 clients. They all were looking for that next wave of decoration capabilities, and pressure sensitive at that time was seeing some rapid growth and a lot of exciting new material.”
After making its foray into pressure-sensitive labels, Fisher says Smyth started small, building that side of the business to approximately 20% by the mid-1990s, with cut and stack labels and commercial printing representing the remainder. However, Fisher says today pressure-sensitive labels account for more than half of Smyth Companies’ business at around 60%.
Doing It All
Though Fisher explains that Smyth Companies’ expansion and growth through acquisition stretches across multiple decades, it was in 2010 that the company received significant resources for further expansion. The company partnered with private equity firm Novacap, receiving an infusion of capital to upgrade its technology and make additional strategic acquisitions.
Smyth even launched a greenfield startup in Green Bay, Wis., where the company was among the first in the country to install a Domino N610i inkjet label press.
More recently however, Smyth Companies expanded beyond labels entirely, with its 2016 acquisitions of Pure Pack Technologies and Flexible Container Systems. Pure Pack Technologies, a Phoenix-based flexible packaging printer and converter, immediately gave Smyth the ability to produce multiple flexible packaging structures and conduct solventless laminations. It also brought the company into the wide-web flexographic printing market, taking on multiple Uteco central impression wide-web presses. Flexible Container Systems is a decorator of tubes based in Atlantic City, N.J. This acquisition was strategically intended to further support Smyth’s health and beauty customers. Utilizing its knowledge of label application, print technologies and product development, Smyth provides comprehensive and unique tube packaging solutions.
While many label printers that have made the expansion into flexible packaging have done so with the goal of growing their client bases, Fisher explains Smyth’s existing customers primarily drove these acquisitions. He states that many of Smyth’s label customers had approached the company about acquiring flexible packaging and tube decorating businesses because they appreciated the quality, service and relationship they were receiving from Smyth. As these brands looked to implement additional packaging options, they wanted to maintain these key elements of their relationship with Smyth.
Now that Smyth has more than two years of experience in the flexible packaging space, Fisher says the company has been able to leverage growth opportunities in the rapidly growing packaging segment. In the tube decorating operation, the team has developed an Over the Shoulder (OTS) process that allows brands to buy any type of tube they desire as the label completely covers the tube and allows all specialty treatments such as tactile varnishes, glitters and hot stamping.
“The first year we focused on integrating the two organizations, reviewing processes, putting systems in place, and making sure we had a good core foundation from a leadership standpoint,” he says. “Now we’re really starting to roll it out and see opportunities. The food, cosmetic, and health and beauty markets have been real strong segments for us.”
Ready with Technological Solutions
As a label printing specialist, it makes sense that much of Smyth Companies’ production takes place on roll-fed flexographic presses, including those from OMET, Gallus and Mark Andy. However, to ensure the company always has the right technology for each of its jobs, Smyth has maintained a diverse equipment roster, which in addition to narrow- and wide-web flexo, includes traditional and digital sheetfed offset, toner-based digital printing with HP Indigo presses, and inkjet printing with the Domino N610i.
Fisher explains that the diverse fleet of printing technology provides several advantages for Smyth and its customers. One advantage is that due to having duplicate technology across multiple locations, the company can strategically send jobs to its other locations and not worry about discrepancies in print consistency. But perhaps more importantly, having so many different types of printing technology at the ready allows Smyth to consult with its customers as to which technological solution makes the most sense for specific jobs.
“It is nice to have that flexibility and we’re very transparent with our clients on the front end,” Fisher says. “We’ll explain to them exactly how the process is going to work. We want them to understand that it can have an impact on delivery, but at the end of the day it comes down to if we are meeting their demands and their needs for the functionality, the look and the feel that they’re trying to create for that product.”
But with so many different locations and printing technologies to manage, maintaining key production aspects like consistency and color are critical tasks for Smyth. Fisher explains that the company has placed resources ensuring its processes are standardized in areas where consistency across locations is needed and has an entire team of staff members devoted to managing color.
Because of these efforts, Fisher says Smyth is able to produce packaging for brands on different platforms, without running into potentially damaging color discrepancies.
“We can take the same graphics and produce them offset, flexo, narrow-web, wide web and digitally,” Fisher says. “When on the shelf, it’s almost impossible to distinguish between the different print technologies.”
Diving into Digital
A key element of Smyth’s ability to deliver a variety of products for its customers has been its investment in digital printing, adopting the technology in 2014. Fisher explains that the key to the greenfield business segment Smyth opened in Green Bay has been its business model focused on digital label printing.
He says that Smyth secured a building in Green Bay in November of 2014 and was digitally printing labels by January 2015. Since opening the facility, Fisher says the business in that plant has doubled each year, producing digitally printed labels for new small and medium-sized customers, along with Smyth’s larger customers that are realizing the benefits of digital.
“[Digital] was a market that Smyth really never played in because our focus was Fortune 500,” Fisher says. “This has opened the door to a lot of the small to medium sized clients without cannibalizing any of our other business. At the same time, it’s been a nice feature that we’ve added for our large clients because as they learn the challenges of the market and frequency of runs, they are utilizing the technology more and more. For us, it’s been a great growth area.”
Investing in Employees
While investing in and maintaining the latest label and package printing technology has been a core element of Smyth Companies’ success, Fisher says the company has always made sure its investment in its human resources is a top priority. Fisher says the company prides itself on its good benefits, competitive wages and a transparent culture implemented by the company’s management. And Smyth has the accolades to back up these claims, earning a place on the Printing Industries of America’s list of Best Workplaces in the Americas for 10 consecutive years.
“We spend and make investments in the education of our employees,” Fisher says. “We want to make sure they feel like they’re not just a number and they’re someone who actually has a voice.”
To do this, Fisher explains that Smyth makes a concerted effort to involve its employees in its continuous improvement projects, and even provides opportunities for employees to travel between the company’s locations to learn about the various printing technologies, processes and color management strategies the company utilizes.
Additionally, he says Smyth regularly conducts surveys among its employees to provide them with the opportunity to share feedback, opinions or concerns about the company.
“We’re not afraid to make the investment in our employees to give them the opportunity to learn more, see more, and certainly be more involved in the day-to-day business,” Fisher says.
Fisher explains that in any industry, it can be easy to become inwardly focused, and become disconnected to the rest of the industry and the issues that can impact it. But through Smyth’s long-standing membership with TLMI, the premier North American association for label manufacturers and equipment suppliers, and his own participation on the organization’s board of directors, Smyth has made a point to take on a role in the betterment of the label industry as a whole.
Fisher says that his own experience as a member of TLMI’s board of directors has been rewarding. He says that the conversations among the board members are always in depth and thoughtful, and he has been excited about the action TLMI has taken in addressing some of the issues impacting the label industry.
Whether it’s sustainability issues, global industry trends, or discussion about how TLMI can help develop the next wave of label industry professionals, Fisher says the board and the association have made several positive strides for the industry, based on the passion that the TLMI board and staff brings to the table.
“There’s a lot of deep conversation about the industry and a lot of people who care,” Fisher says. “Everybody on that board cares about the long-term viability of the industry.”
Beyond his involvement with TLMI, Fisher explains he also spends a large percentage of his time traveling to provide insight and participation in industry trade shows and innovation seminars. Additionally, he explains that Smyth’s reputation as an innovator has led to the company being asked to provide input for equipment manufacturers when they are developing their latest products. Fisher explains that staying on top of the latest technology and industry trends not only helps Smyth’s evolution, but also helps to ensure its customers are benefiting from all that the industry has to offer.
“When you talk about innovation and how do we get out into the next market, it’s not only about how we can improve what we’re doing today, but about the needs of our clients and what they are looking for,” he says.