Passing 40 – and heading for 50!
UK In an industry that barely predates the Second World War, Vista Labels, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, is one of very few UK converters that has a true perspective on how the industry has come of age. Nick Coombes visited the family owned business at its HQ in Stockport, and spoke with its Chairman and Founder Don Grice about the secret behind his company’s success.
Too often these days, the mantras of quality and service are used as marketing hype to promote a company’s profile, where, in reality they are meaningless. Not so at Vista Labels, the converter that began life in May 1974 renting space in Royal Oak Mills in Stockport, and through the vision of its founder Don Grice, and his team of loyal and long-serving staff, has grown to become one of the UK’s leading independent suppliers of high quality labels and printed packaging, all produced on narrow web presses.
Relationships build quality
“We have always believed in building relationships,” explained Don Grice, “and although that is seen by some as an old fashioned way of running a business in today’s price conscious world, it has always been and remains our strongpoint.” Stating that the best way to serve your customers is by getting close to them and understanding their needs, Grice is proud of his company’s portfolio of leading brand names, many of which are as longstanding as Vista’s staff that produce their work.
Tim Grice, who has taken over from his Father as Managing Director, spoke enthusiastically about Vista’s view of quality: “To be competitive and meet delivery times we place high emphasis on being responsive and adaptable to rapid and often unpredictable changes in demand. This needs ongoing investment in the latest technology and staff training, because customer care comes from commitment and continuity.” The company is proud of its list of investments over the years, and also of its recruitment programme, which places great emphasis on in-house training and an HR policy that currently sees an average length of service in excess of 16 years, with seven staff having more than 25 years to their names.
Building a successful business
Where technology is concerned, Vista has built its print capacity largely around Mark Andy presses, beginning with 2200 machines and a 4150. All machines are now eight-colour with full UV curing, and fitted with Tectonic Lynx video web inspection systems. The investment to date culminated in last year’s installation of a P5, one of the American manufacturer’s award winning Performance Series lines. According to Don Grice: “The choice of Mark Andy was based in their unwavering levels of service and the reliability of their products. The latest press has increased production speeds and given us a wider substrate capacity”. Tim Grice agreed, commenting: “The new P5 has moved the goalposts with its wide capability and efficiency, and I see it only a matter of time before we install a second”.
With new printing capability and the addition of inline foil blocking, Vista began to expand its market coverage, offering high-impact point-of-sale labels at competitive rates to industries such as health care and beverages, but never losing sight of the need to supply blank labels, and with this in mind a turret rewind machine was installed.
By now, the plant was bursting at the seams, and the factory into which Vista had moved back in 1981, was ripe for expansion. Additional floor space was required and after lengthy negotiations, Vista was able to expand its operation to 23,000 sq ft. In all, the company invested close to £1m in the eighteen months up to 2007, a massive commitment to quality and continuity. This provided the capacity to introduce a Flytec scanner, and Domino inkjet technology to enhance its newly acquired Pharmaceutical Code of Practice. This period also involved the installation of further finishing equipment, and the department now has two Omega, two Racer and one Arpeco inspection rewind machines, two of which have die cutting facilities.
Vista’s pre-press department also saw investment around this time, with new platemaking equipment and a Flex-E integrated plate processor that added a new level of quality control by bringing platemaking in-house. The company also took the opportunity to upgrade its studio with the latest PowerMacs, a process that has been ongoing ever since.
To maximise on its UV-flexo capability, Vista was the first UK label converter to install one of Barco’s CDI Spark units. This CtP facility, usually the preserve of larger repro houses, running with Adobe Creative Suite and the subsequent addition of Esko’s ArtPro packaging software for HD-Flexo plates, has further enhanced the company’s reputation as a leader in quality UV-flexo label work on demanding substrates. These investments have brought enhanced productivity and a resulting cost saving to customers.
As label demand grew and changed, Vista invested in two Etipol Combi letterpress machines for high quality short run work, while upgrading the Mark Andy presses to include turn bars and over-laminating units that provided delam/relam and printing on the reverse/adhesive. This allowed Vista to develop and become experts with the ‘peel and reseal’ label, which has grown in popularity and seems certain to claim a larger market share under new EU legislation that requires even more information to be printed on pharmaceutical packaging. To handle the growing volume of blank labels, an additional Omega was installed.
Doing business online
With the age of the Internet dawning, Vista Labels embraced the ‘instant world’ by going live online. Timed to mark the company’s 25th anniversary, the new Vista website gave computer access to company information and introduced the e-mail system of communication – ubiquitous now, but in those days, revolutionary! Added demand brought the need for more print capacity, and a six-colour Mark Andy 2200 flexo line was installed. Fitted with a corona treater, web cleaner, anti-static bars and UV curing, it was specified to handle the increasing volume of work being produced on filmic materials, such as PE. More recently, the company has added an eight-colour Mark Andy 2200. Similarly specified to the six-colour machine, it has in addition a rotary screen unit that allows the application of tactile symbols and graphics.
Today, in its modern facility in Stockport, Vista Labels has a plant list that would be the envy of many, including seven Mark Andy UV-flexo presses, an Etipol UV-letterpress line, and two Focus wide web flexo lines that specialise in printing on PP. In addition to these, and specifically to service the pharmaceutical industry, Vista has invested in a Stork rotary screen printer and an offline Convertec BrailleMaker. All of this, along with the company’s motivated and qualified staff, has brought BSI ISO 9001:2008 (a certification that has been held for over 20 years) and the Pharmaceutical Code of Practice PS 9000:2011, mentioned earlier.
The way forward
But Vista Labels is about more than machines and technology, it’s about people. From one man’s vision it has grown to become a highly acclaimed supplier to what is a very discriminating industry. Quick to acknowledge the importance of good leadership, Don Grice, along with Tim Grice (Managing Director), Stuart Mellish (Production Director), and newly appointed Andrew Eddleston (Commercial Director) are joined by Don’s daughter Rachel Clarke as Company Secretary to keep the company on track to its next goal of moving to double-day shift production, lifting annual turnover to GBP 7m.
On such a firm foundation and with an in-house wealth of knowhow, few would bet against Vista succeeding, and as the company celebrates the 40th anniversary of its incorporation, few would doubt that it will be even more successful by the time its 50th comes around, in 2024!