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  • 03 Feb 2020

Leading by example

Umer Anwar, AA Labels production manager

AA Labels is a family owned business specializing in label production and design. Its products are now an integral part of most supermarket shelves and several industry sectors globally.

The company was established in 2006, when a family owned toner cartridge business required labels for product identification and shipment. Due to the high volumes required, the family decided to invest in machinery to produce the labels in-house. 

‘It was actually an add-on,’ explains Sohail Sethi, managing director of AA Labels. ‘Our toner cartridge business required specific labels which we couldn’t find anywhere, so we decided to invest in a machine and start their production. Then we thought, if we can make high quality labels for our business, then why not sell them online? And then it just took off.’

This decision has put AA Labels on the UK converting map. Once the new equipment was up and running, initial excess capacity was taken up by offering labels to the cartridge business’ customers.

The company heavily relies on a web-to-print business model, and focuses on improving the website’s interface to make placing orders an easy and transparent process. 

‘Several label manufacturers have their products featured online, however there is often no pricing, there is no indication of what is actually required or if the order has additional one-off costs. Consequently the order must be placed over the phone or by email,’ says Ian Axelsen, business development manager at AA Labels.

Simplicity

‘I think we’ve been very successful at bringing simplicity to the label industry and making our products accessible to anyone around the world via our online portal. Our website is very transparent, showing exact prices and with no hidden costs, but most of all it is very straightforward and intuitive. The process is very similar: our customers receive proofs of the artwork, which they can approve or amend and once this stage has been completed, then the labels go into production and are scheduled for delivery as fast as possible.’

The company recently installed an HP Indigo WS6800 digital press to streamline production, expand the printing side of the business and increase its productivity, while providing high resolution printing, intelligent color matching and reduced production waste.

"We’ve been very successful at bringing simplicity to the label industry and making our products accessible to anyone around the world via our online portal."

At the same time, AA Labels also invested in two AB Graphic Omega 350 converting machines, which are expected to increase capacity for sheet labels, improve accuracy and speed, and expand its range of label formats, shapes and sizes.

‘This is a significant investment for AA Labels,’ says Axelsen. ‘Our goal is to maximize capacity within the existing site. In terms of production staff operating the equipment, we are now up to a team of 15 within the factory and warehouse on one day-time shift. We are now planning to increase capacity further in line with demand with the introduction of additional work shifts.’

According to Axelsen, AA Labels is growing in excess of 20 percent each year in terms of volume, with the label printing part of the business almost doubling year-on-year. ‘It is our continuous investment in people and technology that contributes to the expansion of services and winning of market share for the business,’ adds Axelsen.

The company currently operates five converting lines with plans for a further six-figure investment in three additional roll label converting machines. Installations are scheduled for March 2020. While waiting for the equipment delivery, the company is expanding its headquarters in Peterborough to an adjoining office and production space, which recently became available.

‘We are currently negotiating with one of the equipment suppliers. We are about to invest in label technologies such as embellishment, embossing, silk screen, spot varnish, hot foil, peel and reveal. These are add-ons to our current label production, however they are going to perfectly complement the range of products that our customers will be able to buy from us,’ comments Sethi.

‘That decision has not been driven so much by exact financial gains in the modeling terms. We believe that the technologies we are investing in will continue to grow,’ adds Axelsen. ‘It will probably take 12 to 24 months to see a return on this investment, but the main reasoning is to expand our offering.’

Despite significant growth registered in the past few years, AA Labels is still a family owned and run business, which now involves two generations in different departments of the company. The family feel is one of the core values clearly visible in the company and among all employees, but it also extends to charitable work.

Social responsibility

As part of a corporate social responsibility ethos, the business has chosen to create and support a charity with great importance to the directors of AA Labels. Sethi, who was born in the UK and lost his mother to illness at an early age, subsequently spent several years living with family in Lahore, Pakistan. This is where he met Asifa, his future wife and one of the current directors in the company, whose family also originate from the city.

"I want to support people who are less fortunate in life. I feel that it is everybody’s duty. It is something that we should all do. And it is not necessarily about having money or not having money. It is more about mindset and the feeling of making a positive change."

Following the strategic decision to relocate and further develop its accounts, the company’s IT and studio design teams are now based in Lahore. For this purpose, it acquired a property which is now occupied by its own medical clinic on the ground floor, with offices above.

The motivation behind opening the clinic was to assist with the alleviation of hardship associated with poverty through the provision of free medical services in a city that has such important connections for the company directors.

Unfortunately, the provision of free clinical services such as this are not common, hence the need to expand the size of the clinic and the range of services provided to keep pace with demand.

‘I want to support people who are less fortunate in life. I feel that it is everybody’s duty. It is something that we should all do. And it is not necessarily about having money or not having money. It is more about mindset and the feeling of making a positive change. Whether you donate one or 500 pounds really depends on your financial situation,’ says Sethi.

The clinic currently employs six full time staff, practice manager, two doctors, nurse, pharmacist and non-clinical member of staff. It serves 300-400 patients a day for consultations and repeat medication, dealing with ongoing illness and medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure, respiratory illness and urinary tract infections, and dispenses daily around 300 free prescriptions for medication. The clinic also provides a free testing service for blood sugar levels, blood tests, scans and urine tests. 

‘We have about eight to ten thousand patients a month. But we never charge for medication, we don’t charge for prescriptions. Our clinic is completely free,’ says Sethi.

The charity has recently installed a new proprietary MIS for making appointments, dispensing medication, stock control, patient records and analytics. This technology has been designed and developed entirely by the IT team at AA Labels and since the implementation the benefits to both staff and patients have been considerable.

‘We have developed this software from scratch, simplifying patient visits and following their medical history right from start to finish. Since we have implemented it in the clinic, we managed to generate a considerable cost saving, which we immediately transferred towards the cost of the medication, therefore we are now able to serve even more patients,’ adds Sethi.

All staff members have been provided with laptops and the daily organization of appointment allocation, stock control and procurement has not only improved, but will in future provide valuable data to better inform decision making regarding the charity’s investment needs.

‘I am really proud of my father,’ says Kieran Sethi, general manager at AA Labels and Sohail’s daughter. ‘He is the driving force behind our family and behind our business, too. He is very driven, always trying to find ways to do more for our customers, to support them and serve them better. He has a contagious, positive attitude, which is picked up each day by every member of our team. He is guiding us and leading by his example both in business and in life.’

Piotr Wnuk

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Piotr is a part of the global team of editors and comes to the magazine with extensive experience in journalism. He has background in print and digital media spanning different countries and industry sectors. He is based in the London office, reporting on European label market.

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