As part of Print+Promo’s ongoing feature, Executive Perspectives, we get to know leading professionals in the print and promotional industry. This month, we interviewed Neil Johnston, CEO and president of ID Label Inc., Lake Villa, Ill. Here, he tells the story behind his strong work ethic, shares his observations on changing consumer habits and advocates for building internal goodwill.
How did you get started in this industry, and what path did you take to land in your current role?
Neil Johnston: My first job out of college was with a large printing company that sold labels, forms, office supplies, and auto ID software and systems. I moved to a couple of similar companies that were in the auto ID space. They also sold barcoding software and systems, and preprinted labels.
I started ID Label, as it’s known today, when I was in my late 20s. I’m an entrepreneur at heart. But a motivating factor to venture on my own was that my sales manager didn’t go to bat for me on a large year-end commission I was owed. I thank him every day because ID Label might not be here without him!
How do you set goals for yourself? For your business?
NJ: My parents emigrated from Liverpool, England, in 1956 to start a new life, having no jobs, friends or family to rely on. Early on, they instilled in me the importance of a strong work ethic as being essential to success and self-fulfillment.
I try to bring that culture to ID Label, even though I’m less involved day-to-day now. I have a strong leadership team in place with complementary talents and experience that drive our success. We set short- and long-term strategic goals (“Rocks” in our nomenclature) that we plan around and discuss frequently. It’s essential in a business like ours.
How does the economy continue to affect the industry?
NJ: These are challenging times, to say the least. But we’re fortunate that a majority of our customers are in logistics, so we’ve prospered in up and down economies. E-commerce has been growing rapidly and COVID-19 has further fueled consumers’ online shopping habits. Everyone wants the Amazon experience of fast delivery.
I think we’ll see more manufacturing come back to the United States. And companies will build new distribution centers that require our labeling products to meet last-mile demand, regardless of where products are manufactured.
ID Label has a reputation as being the No. 1 brand in our niche area. That’s not just the result of marketing. It’s based on more than 25 years of providing great service, quality products and custom solutions to meet our customers’ changing needs.
What do you expect to be some of the biggest changes or challenges the industry will face?
NJ: I think product innovation is key for our industry. We’re an innovative company with a strong product development culture. Competition is becoming fierce—certainly more so than when I started out. It’s not unusual to see competitors follow suit with similar products. I take that as a compliment.
What keeps you up at night?
NJ: I don’t have too many sleepless nights, thankfully. Mostly what I’m mindful of is the ID Label economy. By that I mean our employees and their families that rely on the company. It’s extremely personal to me to make sure they are treated fairly and have the means to live productive lives. That’s why our benefits are probably the best of any similar company in our area. If you take care of your employees, your customers will be well taken care of.
What do you think is the most exciting, cutting-edge thing your company is doing right now?
NJ: We built ID Label on being completely digital, including aqueous and UV printing systems. We were the first to do that. We understand variable printing technology better than anyone, in my opinion. We continually invest in new systems, materials, capabilities and people. It’s exciting and rewarding to run a business that is more essential today than ever, knowing we make people’s lives better as a result.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
NJ: I’m a serial entrepreneur. I spend an equal amount of time with ID Label and another company of mine, Blue Frog Wines out of Napa Valley. People are surprised to learn that I’m a vintner. I’m trying to make it profitable and build the brand to stand out in a saturated market. I sell the majority of my wine in Naples, Fla., where I have a residence. I like to say I’m bringing a little Napa to Naples.