Sheet-Fed Label Converter to Keep Winning Ways

At a time when many smaller printing and converting operations are being purchased and absorbed by larger conglomerates, family-run Brandau Printing, Nasvhille, TN, managed to retain its independent flair when it was purchased last September 29 by a local banking executive with his own roots in the printing industry.

Seawall J. Brandau, a grandson of one of the company's founders who served as its president for 10 of his 40 years with the company, says the firm has “seen it all and lived to tell about it — from the Great Depression to the economic boom of the 1990s. And that experience shows. Just last summer, for example, the company won four Best of Category awards at the Printing Industries of the South (PIAS) printing competition.

New owner and president Hayne Hamilton Jr. vows to retain Brandau's historic independence and expand on the company's winning ways.

“We're not going to blow up the company and start over,” stresses Hamilton. “It's an 88-year-old company, and there are a lot of reasons that it's been around for 88 years. I don't want to put words in his mouth, but I think what Seawell was looking for when he sold the company was someone who wouldn't come in and turn it upside down, slash a bunch of people and technologies, and bring in a big corporate mentality. He wanted someone who would come in and run the company more like the family business that it really is.

“However, I do bring some large-company experience from the financial services sector that I can use to help grow the company significantly without losing the small-company flavor that people have become accustomed to with Brandau.”

Back to Printing
Hamilton himself grew up around the printing business: His father owned a commercial printing company in Nashville during the late 1960s and early 70s. He landed a sales position with Nicholstone Cos., one of the nation's largest trade binderies, after graduating from Vanderbilt Univ. before ultimately launching his own 16-year career in the banking industry.

Two years ago, Hamilton began looking to purchase a business of his own, though not necessarily in the printing arena. Coincidentally, however, Brandau Printing went up for sale at that time, and Hamilton ultimately found himself returning to his roots in the “family business.”

“I didn't necessarily intend to get back into the printing business,” Hamilton explains. But he says he found the opportunity to purchase Brandau Printing attractive, because it was “not a traditional commercial printer slugging it out with every other printer in Nashville; it served a special niche and had a well-known name within that niche,” which is large-format, sheet-fed litho printing.

Brandau has capitalized on its expertise in offset litho technology to become a leading supplier of large point-of-purchase-type labels to corrugated box manufacturers, who in turn deliver their boxes with labels in place to end-users across all market segments. In fact, box labels account for a full 75% of Brandau's business. More traditional — and much smaller — prime product labels make up 15% of the company's total sales, while commercial printing comprises 10%.

And, Hamilton notes that, as customers, corrugated box manufacturers can be even more demanding than the end-users themselves, since Brandau's labels are part of the overall product package yet can play a critical role in consumer purchasing decisions. Also, since the finished packaging — and ultimately the product itself — can't be shipped without labels, service and delivery times can be nearly as critical as print quality.

“When they're ready to ship boxes and they don't have labels, they've got a big problem,”×notes Hamilton “It's our job to prevent or solve that problem. So, there is a real premium attached to making sure it gets there. Now, you might find someone that will print the label a little more inexpensively than we do, but the overall cost to that vendor is actually higher, because we do more than just convert labels.

“The box manufacturers know that when they get our labels they're going to be packaged in the right way, they're going to get humidity readings, they're going to know something about the paper's characteristics, that the labels are going to laminate properly, that die-cutting and scoring won't be a problem,” continues Hamilton. “They can run their machines faster, and the quality will be there. Price can be an issue, but they know that our labels will run the way they're supposed to when they get on the machine, and that's important to them.”

To meet those demands, Brandau operates five presses in its 53,000-sq-ft Nashville plant: a 63×47-in., six-color (five colors plus coater) MAN Roland sheet-fed offset press; a 60×42-in., two-color press; a 59×40-in., one-color perfector; a 40×28-in., six-unit (five colors plus a coater) press; and a 40×28-in., two-color press. (All presses other than the MAN Roland were supplied by companies no longer in business under their original names.)

Hamilton says he's looking to add another press by mid-2002. All of the company's paper is delivered sheeted in 15 standard stock sizes, primarily from Mead and Champion. Most of its ink is from Monarch.

Expansion Is in Order
Even as a relatively new owner, Hamilton naturally has “a lot of ideas” on how Brandau can increase market share without dramatic changes in equipment or product mix, but he certainly has no intention of “messing with a good thing.”

For example, 90% of Brandau's customers currently are located within 300 miles of Nashville, and Hamilton would like to see Brandau gradually expand to serve more customers in the Northeast, Midwest, and beyond. To do so, he is keeping a close eye on trends in the marketplace: for example, which box companies are adding printing presses that will allow them to do their own direct printing on corrugated, and which are adding laminating equipment but not presses, making them potential customers.

Hamilton also is looking to expand the company's product offering beyond the current offering of 70#-80# and 100# paper to include more 8- to 12-pt board.

“We're seeing, on the one hand, more and more boxes being flexo printed four-color directly by the corrugated manufacturers themselves,” Hamilton says. “But we're also seeing that people who really want their packaging to sell that product off the shelves still want a very high quality, high-graphic litho label. Although the quality of flexo printing direct-to-box has improved significantly, it's still not quite what a litho label with an aqueous coat on it can deliver. So, people who really want their product to sell are going with a litho label.”

Ultimately, however, Hamilton says, “We're going to keep doing what the company has been doing right, which is just about everything.” He emphasized that its existing 45 employees and capital equipment all would be retained, though he will use his financial management expertise and resources to enhance Brandau's existing capabilities. For example, Brandau is looking to capitalize on its large-format printing capabilities to expand further into printing larger commercial items such as maps and posters.

In addition, Hamilton already has added several outside sales representatives and expects to invest in both new presses and prepress equipment by early 2002. He notes that Brandau has not traditionally been “technologically advanced” in prepress and typically relies on outside vendors to meet much of its film and platemaking needs. However, he hopes to have the company running computer-to-plate technologies in less than two years.

“We need to be able to do that,” Hamilton says of enhancing the in-house prepress capabilities. “We have traditionally farmed out most of our prepress work; we don't control the process as well as we would like, and we're not particularly technologically advanced in prepress. My first priority is to change that.”

CONVERTER CONNECTION
Brandau Printing
Nashville, TN
615/227-7673; email: hhamilton@brandau.com

SUPPLIER INFORMATION
MAN Roland Inc.
, Westmont, IL; 630/920-2000; manroland.com

Mead Paper Div. Chillicothe, OH; 404/881-9533; meadwestvaco.com

Champion International Corp., Sartell, MN; 320/240-7598

Monarch International Corp., Charlotte, NC; 615/889-5550


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