Neil, how did Century Printing and Packaging Begin?
My Dad and I started the label printing business while my brother Ben and Dad were already running a business related to the textile industry. I had graduated from Clemson and worked there for a couple of years then left as I was looking for something different. Dad, who had never seen a flexo press and I, who knew nothing about running a business, bought our first press for $54,0000. During the day I would make sales calls and in the afternoon and evenings, I would run the press.
In 2001 we built our current facility and we had eight employees. At the time we wondered what we were ever going to do with all this space, but since then we have filled it slam full with equipment, materials, presses, offices and we currently have 26 employees.
How have you grown in terms of production?
We’ve seen quite a change in growth and I never thought we’d ever get this big. We currently have five presses and we’re going to replace one and upgrade to a bigger, more sophisticated, higher quality, and faster press. We continue to grow and we’ve always been careful about growing too fast, but we have also taken advantage of opportunities before us. Most of the growth is just taking care of our customers and fulfilling their needs on time and solving their problems which is what we do well and enjoy. We always strive to give our customers a fair price with quality service and outcomes. One of our goals in production is to find ways to solve customer problems or challenges and make their life easier.
25 years ago did you ever think it would be on this scale?
No! I never thought we’d be doing this type of high-quality work and the volume we are currently doing. And that is to the credit of our employees, they are the ones who strive to continually improve quality and get the jobs done on time and to exceed customer expectations.
Neil, you’ve been doing this a long time, walk us through the changes you’ve seen.
The plates, the ink, and the quality of the substrates we work with today are much higher than when we started. They are easier to maintain and yet print a higher quality which allows us to provide our customers with the end results they want so their product pops off the shelf and grabs the consumer’s attention. What you see on the shelf in a product is often what sells it. Consumers don’t want to buy a bad-looking product whereas if you have an appealing label that clearly identifies what’s in the package or product it stands out from the rest of the competition.
The latest major change in the industry is digital printing. It has been around for about ten years, but within the last five years it has escalated in terms of speed, quality and the ability to print more substrates has allowed it to really explode, which has pros and cons. Some work can’t be done on flexo and has to be done on a digital press. Traditionally, digital has been a higher cost in long production runs but the prices are coming down which is why we are securing new equipment. To be competitive we’ve got to be able to produce the quality at the price our customers need.
What is the new equipment or press?
It is a Mark Andy modified press that has a flexo base, but a digital unit built in the middle of the press which allows us to use a couple of flexo stations to print or add features that do well through the flexo method, but then the digital can print the main body of work to provide high-quality images and fine line screens. It allows us to do it all in line so we don’t have multiple pieces of equipment to run it through. It will also die-cut in line. Some companies try to die cut offline, but we like to do as much as we can inline. It requires fewer people and the more you move jobs through multiple pieces of equipment the higher your scrape and the greater risk there is for problems. If you can do it all in line and come out with a great finished product on the other end that simplifies the process and boosts the quality of the finished product.
Describe your production team right now if you don’t mind.
We have a really good team that works well together and communicates. They understand that what they are doing is going to impact the people in front of and behind them. They understand that quality is critical and you are only as good as the labels you print today. Tomorrow is not a given, you’ve got to prove from order to order for the customer that you can do the work. Our team supports one another and I feel really good about it if someone is struggling and another team member is more experienced in that type of job will jump over and help them.
How has cross-training the team in production helped your business?
We have really worked hard at this for several reasons. I think if someone understands what other people in the company have to deal with and their struggles with a job it allows them to see it firsthand and appreciate their coworker’s contributions so when they are doing critical work they may feed information to the next person in a different way so they can speed up the process, eliminate mistakes and improve the finished product. It has enabled us to shift people around if we are slow in one area and minimize downtime to focus on more pressing orders. Everyone stays busy with this approach to meet our customer’s deadlines and specifications.
What are some of the things you are seeing in the future of the printing and packaging industry?
The versatility of products we can print upon continues to grow because of the quality of the inks, substrates, and the presses can handle more of them. Quite honestly, the customers want and are demanding different substrates to help their product stand out from the competition. For example, what we call “brushed steel,” is a silver-looking material that has a marking in it and looks like a raw, steel material that helps a package pop out on certain products. Being able to provide that look and feel for customers is exciting. The whole combination of bringing flexo and digital together and utilizing both to produce a well-rounded product for customers is really exciting.
What are some of the new materials that you’re excited about?
Printing on unsupported film which is used to wrap products like protein bars or small pieces of candy, snacks and natural foods is a really fast-growing market. It has its challenges as we have to understand what the customer needs from a packing standpoint. It can be a little more complicated so from a technical standpoint, I enjoy figuring out the needs of the customer, the format, and how to produce it for them. The variety of printing and packaging we are providing today is exciting. We can go into just about any store and have a good chance of seeing our product on the shelves. To me that is fun! Knowing our team produced something that is in front of everybody is exciting.
So what’s ahead for you in the future?
I think continuing to challenge myself in the industry and do things we’ve never done before personally and continuing to grow and be challenged is something that never gets old for me. The day I think I know it all I might as well quit because I won’t be challenging myself and our team and we aren’t moving forward. For me personally, I never would’ve thought 20 years ago that I’d be doing what I’m doing now. As long as I’m staying challenged, that’s what I want.
Describe the dynamic of being a family and locally owned business.
A lot of people say, “I could never work with my family.” However, we all understand as family members that anything we do suggests whether right or wrong is always for what’s right for the company. We don’t let that get in the way of success. If we disagree, we don’t hold grudges which is the key. If we have a disagreement we just hash it out and come up with a decision that’s best for the company. The key is to know that we are all thinking about the business and nothing is personal. The advantage is that we are the board and decision-makers and we can make decisions fast. If we have to turn the company in a different direction for whatever reason or take advantage of opportunities we can jump on it quickly and make the adjustments down the line faster than the competition. Other companies have to go through multiple levels which delays outcomes and we are small, nimble, and adjustable as a family-owned business. Customers can get to us directly and the same for our employees, they don’t have to go through layers of decision-makers.
So tell us about your family
I’ve got a 20-year old son who is a junior at Furman University studying music and specializing in trumpet. My daughter is a senior at Riverside H.S. and we are exploring college options. We are a very active family. I do triathlons and my wife has done them along with competitive weight lifting. Our kids are very athletic and enjoy being outdoors. We just like to stay on the move and have an active lifestyle. We enjoy the beach just hanging out and enjoying the water.
How has your training and competition as a triathlete impacted your work?
It keeps me focused. When I’m working out it’s my time to de-stress and my time if you will. I’m on a rigorous training schedule so I know when it’s family time it’s family time and I don’t answer the phone unless it’s a crisis. When I’m at church it’s church time. I think it has taught me to be in the moment and the full Iron Man has taught me to focus on what I can do in the now and don’t worry about the past or the future, but deal with what’s in front of me.
Neil, as you enter the 25th year of your company what would you say upon reflection?
It’s been a heck of a ride, a fun one. It’s been challenging, we’ve gone through economic challenges, Covid and yet we adapt and adjust to the times. We gained and unfortunately lost customers in the past, but we keep learning from it and moving forward. I do find pride that we live, work, and play in Greer. It’s a great community, people interact well and I’ve enjoyed getting to know people through the Chamber of Commerce and the business side, the personal and athletic side. We enjoy this being our home and we are proud that we are able to provide employment for 24 other local people in this community so they can provide for their families.
Neil has been a constant in our company and family. He is my brother, friend, and confidant. As we enter our 25th year in business together it’s hard to believe how far we’ve come and he has been an integral part of our growth. I’m so very proud of the work he has done and our partnership together! Being locally and family-owned means something incredibly important to us at Century Printing and Packaging.
Century Printing & Packaging
Greer, SC 29651, 800.344.7509