Leaving Switzerland in 1986 to join Edale was to enter a new industry that was in its infancy, dynamic with huge potential. Jeff Lane, then owner of Edale, offered me the role of European sales and marketing manager with the aim to raise the then 5 percent export rate of its flexo presses by using my Swiss export experience and languages. This figure rose to 80 percent export sales some years later.
By the end of 1987 I became co-owner and managing director through Butterfly Holding which took over Edale and is still involved in the company today.
Travelling and exhibiting around the world in these early years meant getting orders for flexo presses from the booths, sometimes with cash deposit in a plastic bag; unimaginable today.
Letterpress was the dominant printing process, with flexo gradually coming to life. Half-tone printing was making slow progress towards the end of the 1980s due to developments in pre-press and photopolymer plates. UV flexo inks started to make an impact on flexo print quality and color strength, becoming a real competitor to the then undisputed letterpress print quality. Label buyers at that time specified the printing process, representing a major challenge for flexo.
Computer-aided roll label printing technology (magnetography) was introduced in the mid-1980s. Who would have thought that it would take many more years until digital printing became a real alternative to conventional?
Industrialized countries saw annual growth rates in double digits, with self-adhesive label printers and suppliers achieving profit margins one can only dream of today.
Emerging countries were very much at the beginning, and the end of the Soviet Union created new opportunities. I was privileged to have appointed the Vienna-based Man Roland agent Brueder Henn in 1987, who already had representations in each country within the USSR, which meant a tremendous head-start in what are now central and eastern European countries.
Self-adhesive labels were at that time unknown in Russia. During an exhibition in Moscow, the police visited our stand and told us not to give self-adhesive labels to visitors, because they stuck them onto shop windows and lamp posts. Packaging was in greater demand, then labels as food packaging replaced unprinted packaging from the communist times. This demanded wider label presses than the then-common 180/250mm width machines. Edale spotted an opportunity and became the first flexo press manufacturer to launch 510mm-wide packaging and folding carton flexo presses. No surprise then that the company became the number one press supplier in Russia/CIS during the 1990s.
Second generation businesses, amalgamation and M&A opportunities have changed the landscape of the label industry and will continue to do so. However, compared to the traditional sheet-fed offset industry, the label and packaging sector is still growing and developing. It continues to be an attractive industry to be involved in and remains innovative and dynamic in its response to much shorter product and technology life cycles.
I first met Mike Fairley during the Finat congress in Dubrovnic in 1987. I remember his words of advice and the many introductions to key players of that time.
Edale’s sales director Arthur Oakley was an early supporter of L&L and Labelexpo.
My first Labelexpo was at the Rogier Centre in Brussels in 1987, occupying just one hall. In return, Mike supported an Edale in-house seminar in 1989, giving a presentation on the global opportunities the label industry presented at the time.
Another memorable event was the first Labelexpo in Singapore, showing flexo presses running solid and magnetic rotary dies, both unavailable in Asia at that time where flat-bed die-cutting was the norm. The same applied to flexo – letterpress dominated in Asia – hence Mike and I gave presentations at the first Finat seminar alongside the exhibition.
Mike and I shared a belief in the importance of branching into emerging markets and we both attended many conferences giving presentations, visiting companies and promoting the label industry. As a Finat board member, I opened Labelexpo Russia in 2004 alongside Tarsus MD Douglas Emslie. Judging the World Label Awards competition in Tokyo in 1991 with Ron Spring, Dale Bunnell and other key players was another emerging market promotional event.
It is a great tribute to Mike that he has established the L&L brand globally, with suppliers, converters and end users benefiting from the many events and publications it provides.
Bernhard Grob, former co-owner and managing director of Edale, now MD of BMGrobConsulting, looks back at his time in the narrow web industry.