A Pennsylvania converter, focusing on food and cosmetics, has the capacity and speed to meet the swift turnaround needs of its customers.
Originally written on by Jack Kenny in the Label and Narrow website
Star Label Products has one of the cleanest label plants anywhere. Perhaps the cleanest. It’s a point of pride and a good business tool. The company makes labels for food companies, generic pharmaceutical businesses, and the cosmetics industry. When customers come to the plant – and they do so on a regular basis – they see it shine.
Shev Okumus is the president of Star Label Products, a converting company with 30 employees and annual sales of about $7 million. The company is located in Fairless Hills, PA, USA, in the far eastern part of the state. It operates out of a spacious 37,000 square foot building custom designed for the company in 2002. What began as a simple business with one press is now a streamlined operation with nine presses.
Shev is the son of Don Okumus, who founded the business in 1972. Don had come to the USA from Turkey five years earlier, working various jobs, and finding himself picking up valuable experience at printing companies. He and a friend decided to go out on their own, and bought a Mark Andy 800 series press. Not long afterward, the partner left, and Don Okumus became a sole proprietor.
Star Label Products rented and owned some small storefront locations in the early years, all in Philadelphia, PA, including a former movie theater at one point. One location burned down, but they were able to salvage the printing equipment. In 1979 it purchased a 10,000 square foot building in the northeast part of the city, and later added 3,000 square feet to it. That was as far as the company was able to expand, and by the end of the 20th Century they were desperate for more space.
In the early days, Don was running the three-color press for 12 hours a day, and selling labels for the other 12 while the partner ran the press, Shev says. “They didn’t have any sales people. It was just the two of them. My dad worked with a couple of brokers who gave him a fair amount of business.” Food labels composed the bulk of the business back then, and the work involved a lot of price labels.
Shev Okumus was a fixture at his father’s label company from his earliest years. “I grew up in the business. I was hanging out in the shop for as long as I can remember. I got to know everyone, and there are people here today who have known me since I was a kid. In high school I got into a work program so that I could skip the last two classes and come to work. I started in the packaging area, then went to finishing equipment. Then I was in charge of finishing, shipping and receiving. When I graduated from high school I started in sales. It wasn’t easy, but I was young and didn’t have any fear. I just kept moving up, and then became vice president.” Shev has been president for the past nine years. Don is still active, showing up for work at 6 a.m., but lately enjoying extended vacations, his son says.
In 2002, the team from Star Label prepared for a big event. The new building was ready for occupancy, and the 15 employees were looking forward to the move. In order to make the transition seamless, the Okumus team did something a bit unusual. They had gotten in touch with Mark Andy much earlier and ordered five new presses, for delivery to the new plant in Fairless Hills. When four of them were up and running, that’s when the Philadelphia plant closed its doors and everyone took up their duties in the new facility. Some of the old presses were sold, some came with them.Today the company has nine printing presses, and one diecutting press, all from Mark Andy. The most recent is an LP3000, a 13″ wide press with 12 print stations, five of which are outfitted with moveable Stork Rotaform screen units.
That press has UV curing units on all stations, and is equipped with hot and cold foil capability. The others are a 4150 10″ press, with 10 print stations (four with screen heads); five 2200s, two 10″, three 7″, a 910 and an 830, both 7″ wide. For its finishing, Star Label Products has Rotoflex and Arpeco equipment. The company possesses an impressive collection of rotary dies from RotoMetrics. One of its presses is in an isolated room, with a finishing machine in an adjacent room. This is to accommodate pharmaceutical and other customers who wish their products to be manufactured apart from others.
“Food is still a big part of our business,” Shev says. “From there we entered the market for industrial type products. Lighting was a big market for us in the beginning, but today we are doing very little in that field. Over the years we started doing some generic pharmaceutical. We also make labels for medical devices.
“Once we got into this building we started going after the cosmetics market. I really like that business. The labels are very critical as far as color and design. The customers are unbelievably meticulous – they know exactly what they want,” says Shev. “Sometimes we will sit here all day going back and forth with the color. I like the challenge of it.”
Food labels include a lot of packaging for meats. “The big thing right now is organic, and we print a lot of nice multicolor work for those. They want the package to pop.”
Along with food, Star Label has seen no slowdown in the cosmetics market. “People always have to eat, and look good,” he says. “Cosmetics always seem to sell. We are really concentrating our efforts in those markets.”
The two combination presses produce the bulk of the cosmetics labels. According to Shev, use of screen printing is growing, because of the dramatic ink laydown. “This year we will add print units and accessories onto our existing machinery, just to give us the flexibility to move jobs around. We’ll probably be adding print stations to a couple of the four color presses, and add a hot stamping unit to a press, which will give us four presses that have hot stamping.”
“Our niche is really our turnaround time,” says Shev. “We never say no. We’ll do whatever we can do to get the job done for the customer. We had a customer that did a lot of private label products, and they had a very hard time keeping inventory control, because they never knew when they were going to get an order, and when it came in, their customer needed it in a couple of days. So we were always getting calls for rush orders.If we were in the middle of a long run and we got one of these jobs, to accommodate the customer we would break down the job to get their job on, and then set the other job back up after it was done. The whole thing was very inefficient.
“My father came up with an idea. He said we’re going to buy a nice 12 color press. This customer’s work was mostly two colors, some three colors. They would call us in the morning with an order for 250,000 labels – it was never a small quantity – that they needed by the afternoon. Then three hours later they would call and say they also needed 50,000 of another label. This was happening almost daily. So what we ended up doing was set up three stations on the press, run the job, don’t wash up, move to the next two stations, run the next job, and maybe they will give us another job, so we’ll move to the next two stations and run that job. At the end of the day we would wash everything up at one time. The customer has his labels, and we were done for the day. It worked out well.
“Now we have a different method,” he says. “We have extra machines. We have two or three presses that we’ve had for a long time, they are paid for and sit pretty much idle. Now instead of breaking down a job, I can just stop a press and move that operator over to one of the machines that are idle and get that job done, and then move him back to the first job. So we don’t have to break down the whole job.”
About 45 percent of the label sales at Star Label Products are from brokers and the trade. The rest is direct sales by Don, Shev and Irv Magill, VP sales. Customer service is handled in-house, but there are no outside sales people employed by the company. “Irv is also out there networking with consultants who work in the markets that we serve,” Shev notes. “He also networks with people selling labeling equipment, and he supervises our inside customer service people. We do a lot of advertising through the internet, and he qualifies the leads.”
The labor market for the Star Label team is not an issue. Shev says, “We don’t have turnover. Some of the larger companies, which are located nearby, have made layoffs when they lose a specific piece of business – and these are the people with the most seniority. We have two great press operators who came here when we first moved into this building. Since we have been in business, we have never laid off one person due to lack of work.”
Shev Okumus will be at Labelexpo in Chicago this year, shopping for a high end inspection system to install on the finishing equipment, and has narrowed the field down to three vendors. Star Label also is looking into RFID. “That’s the next thing we want to get involved in,” Shev adds, “and we are investigating it now. We have customers who ask us about it – not too frequently, but they are asking. So that’s probably going to be a new opportunity for us.”