Top 50 Suppliers 2017 Interviews: No. 10 – Diversified Labeling Solutions
Every year, Print+Promo releases its 2017 Top 50 Suppliers list. To give you some insight into what it takes to make it to the top, we spoke to Jim Kersten, CEO of Diversified Labeling Solutions, No. 10 on the list.
What was your company’s biggest accomplishment over the last year?
Jim Kersten: We implemented a new companywide ERP system. This was a major undertaking, transitioning our corporate office and five production locations while continuing to maintain a high level of service to our distributor customer base. The new system fundamentally changed the way we run our business by providing effective automation to our processes and instilling greater controls over all areas of our company. It also creates an opportunity to provide our distributors with better and real-time information.
What is your company’s top priority for 2018?
JK: Our No. 1 priority for 2018 is to ensure we continue to completely meet the needs of our distributors. We have been very fortunate to enjoy a strong business partnership with them, which has allowed us to grow our company. In the past year, we have added substantially to our production platform, systems and personnel. Our key focus, as we prepare for the upcoming year, is to make sure we are hitting on all cylinders to provide the best service, delivery and quality to our distributors. In other words, [we want to] take the investments we have made and turn them into a value proposition for our customers, which, in turn enables them to increase the value they provide to their end-user customers.
Besides sales numbers, what makes a top supplier?
JK: It is really about managing the details—doing what you say you will do and continuing to reinvest in your company so you remain viable in the marketplace. Our distributors are valued customers who have other options for their label production needs. It is our job to listen to them; they are our eyes and ears in the field. Then, take the necessary steps to ensure we are giving our distributor partners what they need to be successful, whether that is marketing support, production options, data, distribution capabilities or other enhanced services.
What is the biggest challenge facing the industry today, and how can we work toward a solution?
JK: A major issue confronting the pressure-sensitive label market is recycling in order to minimize landfill needs. The very nature of our product (different face stocks, adhesives and liners) makes it difficult to recycle. This is an issue that is being addressed at all levels of our industry, including raw material providers, converters and end-users. Working together, we have learned from each other and are starting to see areas of opportunity become reality, such as new materials; chemicals and element components that are friendlier for the environment; reduced material thicknesses; waste being turned into an energy source; recycled components being utilized in our base materials; and the development of new methods for separating label waste to achieve higher levels of recycling. This is definitely a team-based process that has started to gain traction between industry members.
Whom do you admire most as a business leader?
JK: Over my career, I have had the opportunity to work with many excellent business leaders, both in large and small companies. One, in particular, is Bob Hakman who founded Diversified Labeling Solutions 32 years ago. He is the archetypal entrepreneur: He started with nothing, built a business based on a passion, considers his employees his family, is focused on growth and is completely dedicated to meeting customer needs. Over the past six years that I have worked with Bob, I [have been] constantly impressed by his work ethic and mission to always improve how the business is run. I admire Bob. He figured out how to be successful on his own; he has the innate intuition to scope out opportunities, identify risks and determine the best way to approach both.
Is there anything you would like to add that we haven’t already discussed?
JK: There is another challenge our industry is facing: succession planning. The label industry is going through a significant change as baby boomer manufacturers and distributors are retiring at a steady clip. There is a lack of people lined up to replace them. This is a topic that comes up at every industry meeting or event that I attend. Many in the Generation X and millennial age groups have opted to look more toward technology and social media for careers rather than the brick-and-mortar business of labels. Those who have followed baby boomers into labels have seen that there is a future in this business, and they are doing quite well. The issue is that we need more of them. In our company, we have embraced the younger generations and are working hard to recruit, train and promote this next generation of leadership.
To hear what other leading suppliers had to say, check out our 2017 Top 50 Suppliers list—complete with bonus information like an in-depth analysis and top 10 rankings for four leading product categories.