by Donna Covannon
A Star is Born
Situated in the Shenandoah Valley between the Allegheny and Blue Ridge Mountains on the Roanoke River, Salem, Virginia possesses all the beauty and grandeur that nature can bestow. Salem is known as the “star of the south” - a fitting moniker for a city that features a giant 50-foot neon star atop its highest mountain. And for the past 25 years, it’s been home to Star Tag and Label.
The Early Years
Owner Patrick Pollifrone started his career 42 years ago running flexographic presses. He shifted into management after a few years and was part of a team that helped launch a new branch of an existing label company. With the ’90s came job insecurity from synergies and acquisitions.
With a supportive wife who barely flinched when Pollifrone put everything on the line - including their home and boat - to start up a new printing company, he purchased a used 7” Mark Andy and was off and running. He attributes the success of the new company to a “few good employees with the attitude that failure is not an option.”
Growth - Achieving what seemed to be the impossible
With a strong focus on customer satisfaction and selling entirely through distributors, Star Tag & Label pursued a growth trajectory over the skies of the next quarter of a century. Pollifrone’s philosophy of “Start small and grow as you can afford it” paid off and growth came by customer demand.
His customers’ need for more colors and wider webs dictated the flexo presses he purchased (5 in all) over the years. Support equipment like upright rewinders and semi-automatic core cutters were purchased to save labor. And product diversification required that Star Tag & Label purchase sheeter stackers, fanfold units and pin feed modules for the presses. Pollifrone notes that “the last thing you ever want to do is turn away customers because you don’t have the right equipment.” With this equipment portfolio, Pollifrone was confident that he could offer just about anything required by his customers.
The need for change
Recognizing the validity in the old adage that "One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth,” Pollifrone kept his eyes and ears open. By listening to his customers and the industry and adapting and gathering knowledge he was able to best utilize his current machines.
He began to see a lot of trends popping up. The old days of the 3” cores “as king” were over - and Pollifrone began to see 1” cores and coreless labels. New printers - such as tiny printers attached at the belt – were changing the way labels were finished. Feed slots and sensor bars became prevalent. Notes Pollifrone, “If you have a feel for the customer’s needs and have seen enough change, you’ll know whether you can handle the changes on your existing equipment or whether it’s time to upgrade.”
The long journey to digital printing
The biggest evolution that Star Tag & Label was experiencing was the demands of large customers now requesting shorter runs. And without digital presses, they would look elsewhere.
Following his philosophy of “start small,” Pollifrone started with a small Primera desktop digital printer and a plotter cutter. It was slow, but it kept his customers satisfied … at first. He describes his journey to digital printing in this manner. “It’s like dipping your toe in the ocean and slowly walking in until you’re up to your neck.”
But as multiple SKUs became popular, especially in craft beer, wine and spirits markets along with specialty oils and cosmetics, it was clearly time to move up to a faster more efficient digital machine.
In 2016, Pollifrone made the plunge into production-scale digital printing and purchased a Jetrion 4900 UV Inkjet which he saw at Labelexpo. The Jetrion press served Star Tag & Label well during its prime time but as technology evolves so does business needs. Pollifrone saw great benefit and long term potential in replacing the Jetrion with a new Xeikon PX3000 (Panther) UV-IJ press with 5 color capability. Pollifrone confirms that the new UV Inkjet press “ …. did everything Xeikon said it would do. Our sales have increased due to the faster speed of 164ft/min and our ink usage is down because the heads and jets in the Panther throw down a finer mist.”
Balancing work in a multipress environment
Today Star Tag & Label utilizes two estimating models to determine where a job should go - digital or flexo. They take into account the number of SKUs and the total footage. For example, if a job has two or three four to five-color SKUs and is 20,000 feet or less - it will more than likely be run on the Xeikon Panther 3000. If the job is longer than 20,000 feet, then they will look at costing it both ways.
The increased press speed of the Panther has allowed more footage to be run digitally and they have been able to take a lot of work off the flexo presses. In the past, his flexo operators would have to spend 2 to 2 ½ hours to prep for a 4 or 5 color job, then have to clean it up afterwards. And if that was for only 1,000 labels it would add considerable frustration to their jobs. Pollifrone concludes, “As I was a press operator once, I always think through the lens of ‘how would I feel’ and try to make things as easy as possible. I don’t want to wear out my press operators as they are our most valuable asset!”