Do Better, Be Leaner
For most teenage boys, getting their driver’s license is a big step forward. But in Art Yerercic’s case he was running a press and printing labels in his dad’s nascent business well before he was behind the wheel. Growing up in the family business, he’d already become adept at many other tasks, and running a press set the stage for what became a life of creating and producing labels while inspiring others with his leadership.
“There were just three employees back then—my dad [Art Yerecic, Sr.], my mom and me,” recounts Art. “It was all about getting the business off the ground and it was exciting and challenging. It’s fun to look back and see how the business has evolved.
“That was in the early ‘70s,” says Art. “Most label printing was not even close to offset printing. There’s been a quantum leap in technology which has required constant investment, and it has transformed the business of label production.”
A family affair
Art and his wife Sue are high school sweethearts who have been married for 35 years. Back in Yerecic Label’s early days, Sue would go the Yerecic home after school and do homework while Art printed labels. College happened at nights and on weekends while the label presses kept on turning. Often, Art, Sr., would fill their van with labels and go on road trips to deliver them, leaving Art to print. In those years, having the business succeed was the main focus, and at one point Art’s father sold the family home to support the expanding business. This was a major upheaval that demonstrated the family’s focus on taking the risks that would make the business successful.
This “all-in” approach made an indelible impression on Art as a young man and guides him today as he continues his father’s legacy. In fact, four of Art’s seven children have active roles in the business and will be carrying it forward into the future. “I always enjoyed working with my dad,” muses Art. “I shared his vision of a family business that could be passed down through the generations and carry on the legacy he passed to us.” To that end, the company’s tagline of “Entice, inform, inspire” remains the guiding principle of the company’s international distribution of consumer packaged goods labels.
Today, Art’s kids have roles in production, sales, and marketing, gaining the first-hand experiences Art believes are critical to managing the company. “By doing the work, you gain respect for the people who do the work,” explains Art. “Because I did that, I understand the processes, the manufacturing, and the people. I believe you need this experience to be an effective manager and business owner.”
“Art’s strong family values are clear, and when you get to know Art, it is clear that family is his highest priority,” says Mike Buystedt, long-time friend and vice president for narrow web at Flint Group.
“Art has a strong devotion to family,” agrees Craig Moreland, president of Coast Label. “And with seven kids he has managed to attend a staggering number of his children’s games, cheerleading competitions, and school events while running a large and thriving business.”
A fun business
Beyond the company legacy, Art says three elements make the label industry fun. The first is the people. “This is a great industry because of the kind of people you work with. I love coming to work because my colleagues, customers and suppliers are all truly enjoyable.”
Next, he loves the creativity behind new projects and products. “Bringing new product lines to life is energizing, a lot of fun, and all of us get extremely excited about it. One of my sons is involved with product development so we’re always thinking about new ways to help our customers and their customers.”
Finally, there’s the ongoing quest for manufacturing excellence. “We’re always trying to do and be better, get leaner and leaner, “ he says. “The equipment manufacturers are really stretching the experience and pushing the limits of what we can do. This requires a lot of teamwork, dedication, and an aspiration to be perfect every day.
“You know, that’s the difference between everyday companies and the really good companies,” he says. “Having the focus to always try to raise the bar makes a huge difference in performance.”
Communicating the vision
Just how that bar was raised at Yerecic Label is one of Art’s favorite topics, and it revolves around the integration of lean manufacturing processes into label production. Back in the 1980s business was going strong. This continued into the ‘90s but “...things were getting out of control,” recalls Art. “We needed to do something different. We first learned about lean techniques in 1993 and really embraced them.”
This was well before many American businesses were aware of lean manufacturing or the Japanese practice of kaizen—continuous improvement. The best-known embodiment of it at the time was at Toyota, and Art saw that kaizen could help improve operations at Yerecic Label.
In implementing this strategy he encouraged the personal involvement of all associates [employees], creating a culture that promoted interaction to find the best possible way to do each function or operation in the company. “There’s always something that can be done better,” affirms Art. “We embraced that pretty early, and company-wide collaboration made it possible.”
Today, the company uses a variety of visual management tools, such as leader boards that show performance on a shift-by-shift basis. This monitoring is integrated into daily gemba walks, an element of kaizen that takes managers and supervisors to the front lines of the shop to see actual processes and look for areas—however small—that can be improved. “The walks are also a place we communicate our goals and values,” says Art. “It fosters a culture that promotes interaction.”
Some of that culture—not surprisingly—is imbuing the sense of family beyond the DNA of a family-owned company. “We treat each other with courtesy and respect,” he continues. “There are a lot of long-time associates here, 20 or 30 years or more. We help each other succeed, and share in prosperity as we succeed.
We’re passionate—I’m passionate—about what we do and how we do it,” says Art. “It’s all about using teamwork to achieve growth.”
To better understand the end users of his company’s labels—consumers in grocery stores—Art and his team have commissioned and conducted extensive market research to learn how consumers read and even study labels on countless products. This has led to innovation that has put Yerecic Label at the forefront of label designs that engage and inform customers, moving product off the shelves and into shopping carts. “It’s important for us to have an outward focus and always be looking beyond our four walls. This deep involvement with our customers and their customers is a real advantage for us,” says Art.
His worst decision
In his years of living and breathing labels, Art Yerecic admits to making a few mistakes, but says the biggest was not joining TLMI much sooner. He waited until 2001, thinking his company needed to achieve a certain level of success before he’d be on an equal footing with other TLMI members. He quickly learned that if he’d joined sooner, his business probably would have grown faster. It also turned out that he knew many things other TLMI members did not, most notably the power and advantages of kaizen and lean manufacturing.
Three years later he gave his first TLMI presentation on lean manufacturing, with the message that tag and label converters who wanted to succeed in the future needed to adopt and integrate lean manufacturing practices. Over the next few years this wisdom spread and now the adoption of lean practices among TLMI members is widespread. “They get it!” exclaims Art.
Sharing this and his other practices quickly elevated Art within TLMI, landing him on the board of directors and then as board chairman. “This fostered some wonderful friendships with some great people,” affirms Art. “They are all striving for success. TLMI members network for information or referrals. You get to know successful people who are willing to share principles of their success with you. That’s the forum TLMI creates.”
Art’s drive and vision goes far beyond the walls of the company’s facility in New Kensington, Pennsylvania, east of Pittsburgh. Art Yerecic, Sr., was a U.S. Marine and the semper fi spirit lives on in his son. Three of the company’s associates have done tours in Iraq and the company kept connected with them while they were overseas, sending “care packages” and making sure the men knew they were missed, loved and appreciated. Upon their return, the vets nominated Yerecic Label for the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award. Nearly 2,500 companies were nominated, and 15 won in 2010. One was Yerecic Label, a very proud moment for a company with a history of supporting U.S. troops at home and abroad.
The best decision
Outside of the plant and office, Art golfs, skis, and of course spends plenty of time with his family. “The kids all live locally and they are around all the time. And we just had our first two grandchildren!” enthuses Art.
Looking back, he says his best decision was to enter the family business when it was just him, his dad, and his mom. “There was a lot of hope in that garage. And a lot of faith. Our dream was it could be regional, then national, then international. And we’ve done that.” pP
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