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  • 03 Mar 2020

Not the biggest, but the first

Not the biggest, but the first, this is the philosophy of Erik Grønning, Color Label's CEO

Color Label stands today as one of the leading Danish suppliers of self-adhesive labels for the food, chemical and retail industries. It’s an innovative, service-oriented company that prides itself in solving any label challenge regardless of print method and delivery requirements.

The company was established in 1980 by Erik Grønning, who continues to lead Color Label. From the beginning, his ambition was to create a modern printing company focusing on self-adhesive labels, the latest technologies and offering flexibility to meet customer demand. The company’s unique set of priorities – quality over quantity, innovation, strong relationships with employees and suppliers – proved the right recipe for success. 

"We grew our companies at the same pace, always focused on the best customer service, the best quality and innovation"

‘When I began 40 years ago there were many other companies starting up in the label industry. Almost all of them were led by people who previously worked for Avery Dennison,’ recalls Grønning. ‘I saw several start-ups coming to the market, very small businesses with just one printer and one salesperson. Because many of these people were somehow previously associated with Avery Dennison, they were simply mimicking its business model, including pricing and delivery structures. 

‘I established Color Label as a “next generation” company and focused on just three simple business rules, which I believed would come as a great benefit for the potential customers and differentiate my business on the saturated market. First rule: always deliver on time; second: offer competitive pricing; third: produce outstanding print quality. These rules quickly became our most important values and the backbone of our success.’

COO Lonnie Melskens, who joined the company 25 years ago, confirms: ‘Color Label’s DNA and values are deeply rooted in our daily routines and work ethics. I am certain that Erik’s basic but important principles follow us each day. They are built into our reputation on the market and will definitely be part the company in the future.’

Green Line Street

‘When I decided to establish my own company, I contacted Nilpeter because I had previous experience with the F200 which was then using an innovative flexo system,’ says Grønning. ‘In the early days, Nilpeter only produced letterpresses. I came from the graphic industry with a background as a printer and had worked on Heidelberg letterpresses, so flexo was totally new for me as well.’

However, Grønning spotted the massive potential of the new printing technology and decided to start his label company with a Nilpeter machine. ‘We started with one press and quickly expanded to three Nilpeter presses,’ he says. ‘Right from the start in 1980 we had a fantastic cooperation with this company and throughout the first years we have developed together a new flexo system that we internally named Green Line System. It enabled us to offer offset quality on our flexo presses. Our close cooperation has never stopped. With our latest purchase of a newly refurbished FA-2500, we now have a total of ten Nilpeter presses on our factory floor, ranging from 10 to 17 inch widths.’

The company currently runs eight 10-inch Nilpeter presses with additional modules for varnishing, lamination and foil. This large number of machines provides extreme flexibility and eliminates the risk of production bottlenecks. The Green Line Street also houses two 17in servo machines used to produce a wide range of classic labels, film printing, flexible packaging and cardboard packaging, enabling the company to print films from as low as 15 micron in thickness to cartons with up to 350gsm.

‘For us Nilpeter is the Mercedes of label printing presses and we have never considered investing in anything else. It is essential for us that our equipment is highly reliable, as it is in our DNA to always deliver on time,’ comments Grønning.

‘We are proud of the cooperation with Color Label, which is based on core pillars of mutual trust and loyalty,’ says Lars Eriksen, president and CEO of Nilpeter. ‘We work closely together for the benefit of customers, and of new developments here at Nilpeter, too. Thanks to the good working relationship, the customizations we worked together on, haven’t resulted in any major challenges, as many of the solutions have been applicable in our own development projects. We’ve had a very close dialogue throughout the process.’

FlexoWash is another example of close business relationship. The cooperation between both companies again goes back to the start of Color Label 40 years ago. Henning Kongstad, founder and president of FlexoWash, based just a few miles away from Color Label’s headquarters, reflects on the beginning of this cooperation: ‘I started my business exactly at the same time as Erik. Right from the outset we formed a great team. We grew our companies at the same pace, always focused on the best customer service, the best quality and innovation.’

‘We have the latest FlexoWash machines and a clean environment is very important for us, because we also work for the food industry,’ adds Grønning. ‘Similarly, FlexoWash is and always will be a vital part of our business. We understand the importance of keeping tools clean in order to deliver the quality that our customers require and expect from us. FlexoWash equipment also extends the life and productivity of our equipment.’

The company’s size, on the other hand, has never been Grønning’s priority. On the contrary, he focused on maintaining a small but dynamic organization, where each employee takes full responsibility and is prepared to contribute their own talent to provide the best possible quality of print and customer service. 

Over the years, of course, factory capacity has been multiplied by investments in new and more efficient machines. Following the latest expansion, Color Label occupies a 3,600sqm (38,750sq ft) factory. 

‘When Erik opened Color Label, he imagined a company with eight employees at the most. Our changing rooms and our lunchroom, for instance, were built with this number in mind,’ says Melskens. ‘We have 25 people working for us now, and growing this number is not our priority.  Instead, we focus on more important aspects of running the business, like innovation and staying on top of new technologies to offer our customers the best possible effects.’

Responding to the rapid development of digital printing, the company invested in two HP Indigo 6800 presses to answer to a demand for shorter runs, personalization and fast delivery. As an innovative company, Color Label is at the forefront of digital development and invests continuously in the latest technology in the field. Its goal is to always offer the market’s strongest digital print concept and competitiveness in price, speed, print quality, color and finishing.

The company has been also producing linerless labels since 2002 and recently invested in a production line for shrink sleeves. 

The power of a good leader

‘The first thing you notice when visiting Color Label is how well organized everything is,’ says Lars Eriksen. ‘The factory and the production are always very presentable and neat. You feel very welcome. Color Label is known for never turning down a new job or challenge, and they’re very innovative and forward thinking. Erik never turns down a challenge, and he fights hard to turn his ideas into reality. He’s very charismatic, business savvy, and has a great sense of humor, which can be beneficial when you need to “save the situation”. 

‘Erik is one of a kind. He knows what he wants, and what he demands from employees and suppliers. It comes naturally to follow Erik’s leadership, and there’s a great deal of respect for Erik and his industry experience.’

"We have 25 people working for us and growing this number is not our priority. We focus on more important acpects of running the business"

Melskens adds: ‘I can only say that in the last 25 years of my career, the years spent next to Erik have been extremely exciting and it a privilege to have the opportunity to learn and be taught by one of the pioneers in the Danish label industry.’

Indeed, the values implemented by Grønning in his business 40 years ago are still alive in every aspect of the company and are clearly visible everywhere from reception to production. When in 1980 he purchased his first press, one of his friends gave him a small gift: a metal plaque that reads ‘jordforbindelse må ikke fjernes’, which translates as ‘always keep your feet on the ground’. The plaque remains on his desk to remind him that a good leader walks on the same ground as his employees – who are as important as he is in achieving success.

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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