Labeled with Love
“There are plenty of fish in the sea” is a comforting sentiment in theory. But, when we stop to think about it, weeding through the sheer volume of “fish in the sea” to find the right match is a little overwhelming.
Sometimes the tags and labels market feels that way, too.
With so many options in the industry, it’s easy for end-buyers to get confused and make the wrong choice—like opting for a polypropylene label to save money, just to find out the hard way it’ll only last six to eight weeks on that outdoor application.
That’s where you—the distributor, the modern-day Fairy Godmother, the business-savvy “Millionaire Matchmaker”—come in (with the help of your trusted supplier, of course). “Labels are very detailed and each project is unique,” Sadie Whiting, strategic account manager for North Mankato, Minnesota-based Label Works, explained. “Due to this, some people find labels somewhat intimidating and may shy away from selling them. The way we overcome this is by being our customers’ label expert.”
When knowledgeable distributors understand what their clients want, they can determine what their clients need. In essence, they help their clients find “the one”—their perfect product matches. Here’s how you can do just that:
Know Your Products
It sounds simple enough: Know your products. But it’s a crowded market—with tags and labels available in every size and shape, with a variety of features, uses and techniques. Understanding the significance and impact of each aspect of each product will set distributors apart from the competition. “Know what you are selling,” Tony Heinl, president of Tipp City, Ohio-based Repacorp, said. “Know the materials, adhesives, inks and printing processes. With this knowledge, you will be able to solve problems and save your customer[s] headaches and money by qualifying the correct product for their application.”
Rita Horstmeier, sales and marketing manager for Random Lake, Wisconsin-based Badger Tag & Label Corp., agreed on the importance of knowing the ins-and-outs of products and their uses. “You want to make sure that you sound like you know what you’re talking about and can guide them to the best tag or label for their project,” she said.
But knowing the product means more than simply reading about its features—you need to know those features do what they promise. If a tag or label fails when it’s put to use, that reflects badly on the product and the distributor. “[Such a product failure] would more than likely be due to the wrong choice of base material or adhesive,” Horstmeier noted. “The best way to overcome that challenge is to make sure to test various materials prior to production. The tags and labels should always be tested in the environment in which they will be used.”
Know Your Clients—and Their Needs
Knowing your products is just one part of the perfect-match puzzle. You also have to know what it is your clients are looking for—what they expect from the tag or label. “When you know what they need, you can tailor your approach accordingly,” Nick Heinl, Repacorp’s vice president of sales and new business development, said. “This allows you to sell the capabilities that benefit them and not overwhelm them with information that is not relevant.”
In order to determine what they need, you’ll need to ask the right questions—and focus on the most important aspects. For Whiting, those aspects are three-fold: the applicator type (Will it be applied by hand or by machine?) and application surface (What is the label being applied to?); the functionality of the label (Will the label be permanent, need to be removed, withstand weather or cold temperature exposure?); and the desired visual aspects (Does the end-buyer want the label to look matte, glossy, metallic?).
Tony Heinl agreed, adding, “These aspects will help determine what material, adhesive and ink is best for the application.”
Horstmeier emphasized the importance of taking the tag’s or label’s environment into consideration, suggesting distributors ask questions like, “What temperature, weather, chemicals, moisture, sunlight, etc. will it encounter?” and, for pressure-sensitive labels, “What type of surface will it be adhered to and at what temperature?”
Keep asking questions until you have a clear understanding of the desired product. By knowing the clients’ goals, distributors can assure them they are working toward the clients’ best interests. “You want them to trust that they will receive what they asked for and that you will deliver when you say you will,” Horstmeier said.
Know the Trends
The tags and labels industry is big, which means there is big competition. To stay competitive and discover new (and potentially better) ways to meet your clients’ needs, it’s essential to stay apprised of new trends. “Your knowledge can make or break your future label and tag sales,” Tony Heinl said.
While flexography remains the leading printing technology, digital printing is expected to continue its strong growth. So which would work best for your client?
Both methods are useful, but they cater to different needs. Flexography, Whiting explained, is best for longer-run capabilities; in-line finishing for small roll quantities; specialized coupons; cold foil; metallic, pastel and fluorescent PMS matching; and adhesive side printing. “Flexography is still less expensive for high-volume runs with no or few versions,” Tony Heinl added.
On the other hand, digital labels are low cost, high quality, quickly produced with little waste and easily changed from run to run, according to Andy Heinl, Repacorp’s vice president of digital printing. “[Businesses] are able to print a label, test it in the market, pinpoint errors and correct them for the next small run,” he explained. “They can keep making changes to their smaller label runs until they are comfortable enough to purchase costly plates and tooling for larger flexographic runs.”
Certain label types are also growing in popularity. Pressure-sensitive labels are mainstays, but alternative options, like heat-shrink, stretch sleeve and in-mold labels, are expected to grow.
In fact, Repacorp recently installed the equipment for shrink sleeves and flexible packaging due to the growing demand by customers. “Shrink and stretch sleeve is growing at an amazing rate,” Nick Heinl noted. “Many of the customers we print digital short run labels for are startups. As they grow and get into larger quantities, they are moving to shrink and flexible packaging. It only makes sense for us to grow with them.”
Likewise, Whiting has observed this trend—especially in the demand for digital shrink sleeves—at Label Works. “Digitally printed sleeves are ideal for hand-applied, small quantity requests, as well as for multiple versions or prototyping,” she said, explaining that such printing is often used to meet photo shoot, trade show or product release dates.
A number of other trends are also worth monitoring. From the tech standpoint, Whiting noted the rising demand for durable digital inks, laser-cutting technology, QR codes and variable barcodes. At the same time, Nick Heinl has noticed an increased use in sustainable materials—with thinner layers to reduce waste—and a shift away from clear labels to more natural, matte finish and vintage-looking designs and graphics.