TPC Printing and Packaging Keeps its Eyes on Innovation
When the hosiery and apparel industry departed the southeastern United States for manufacturing sites overseas, TPC Printing & Packaging saw much of its business diminish along with it. The four Schmissrauter siblings — the third generation of the company’s family ownership — knew drastic changes were needed to keep the business alive.
Based in Chattanooga, Tenn., TPC Printing & Packaging thrived for decades serving the packaging needs of this booming local industry. But, as president Joey Schmissrauter explains, when the hosiery and apparel business dissipated in the mid 1990s, the company needed to find new market segments it could serve.
“We wanted to target some industries that were committed to production in the U.S. because so many of our companies had left the U.S. to go to China or Mexico,” Schmissrauter says. “And we were interested in dealing with industry segments with higher-end packaging with value-added opportunities.”
It took some extensive research, but eventually TPC settled on five industry segments that met these requirements and provided opportunities for the company to innovate.
Schmissrauter says that since TPC went full throttle into the spirits; cosmetic and fragrance; over-the-counter pharmaceutical; health and beauty; and tobacco segments in 2004, the company has experienced rapid growth. It has doubled in size in the last seven years and is projected to increase another 18% in 2017.
Making the Most of Opportunities
Since its founding in 1924, TPC Printing & Packaging has found ways to capitalize when an opportunity presents itself. When Joseph Schmissrauter Sr. founded the company, it served as a commercial printer for the expanding garment industry in the South.
In the 1960s, with Joseph Schmissrauter Jr. at the helm of the company, TPC Printing & Packaging transitioned to a folding carton printer for the same industry, making use of the equipment and out-of-work staff from a recently shuttered folding carton company, which was also in Chattanooga.
This lasted for decades, until the company was passed down to Schmissrauter Jr.’s four children — Joey, Kurt, Mark and Hilda Murray (née Schmissrauter). With a mission in place to enter these five new market segments, the four siblings realized that they would need to find new opportunities to capitalize on.
For example, Joey Schmissrauter explains that much like the apparel industry once was, the spirits market is largely based in Tennessee and Kentucky, making for an easier entry. However, the cosmetics and fragrance market is well established in the Northeast, specifically New York City. For the first time, TPC Printing & Packaging’s geographic location became a hindrance.
To counter this issue, Murray explains TPC hired a sales representative who was very familiar with the market and already had a strong relationship with the Schmissrauters. Right away, Murray says this new representative scheduled a meeting with the Victoria’s Secret fragrance line and landed it as a major new account.
“They were having some service issues with their current company and when he joined us they immediately gave us a major line to produce for them,” Murray says. “That was our foray into the fragrance and cosmetics market.”
Customer service has always been among TPC Printing & Packaging’s strengths, but Murray says it took a little more to seal the deal with Victoria’s Secret. Originally just an offset printer, TPC Printing & Packaging had to add silkscreen printing to its plant, due to Victoria’s Secret’s preference for the tactile elements it provides.
Though skeptical at first, Murray says the addition of silkscreen turned out to be a huge benefit, as it is often sought out in luxury brand packaging for its raised feel. Plus, it allowed the company to become a specialist in printing on vat-dyed board, a popular substrate used in gift boxes, because silkscreen white does not sink into the material the way offset white does.
“When we first acquired that silkscreen equipment, we thought we would never keep this machine busy,” Murray says. “Well, after a period of a few years, we put in another one and keep them busy 24/7. We basically made an inroad into the industry because we were very reactive and very service oriented. Some of the larger companies that we compete with just don’t have that tenacity.”
‘The Most Innovative Packaging Company in America’
With a strong mix of offset and screen printing capabilities in place for its new target market segments, TPC Printing & Packaging was well-positioned to return to the success of its heyday. But, as Schmissrauter explains, to survive in luxury packaging segments, a company needs to do more than just offer high-quality printing and customer service.
So, to differentiate the business even further, Schmissrauter explains that despite their ownership titles, he and his brothers and sister are committed to remaining involved in sales and account development, going out on the road and meeting with customers in person. He says that this approach is beneficial because TPC has also committed to producing challenging packaging projects that some customers may feel uneasy about.
“[Customers] really like being able to deal directly with ownership, especially when they’re getting into these high-risk, complicated types of projects that are very innovative,” Schmissrauter says. “We tell them that TPC is the most innovative folding carton company in America. That’s what we’re touting when we’re out and about talking with customers.”
As a result of this approach, Schmissrauter says TPC is consistently providing trial runs and production sampling at a very high rate. He says that this experimental strategy has cemented the company as a leader in specialty substrates. Many cartons TPC prints are produced on metalized polyester, holographic materials, Invercote and vat-dyed board.
Murray explains that a large percentage of TPC’s business in the spirits industry comes in the form of gift boxes. These boxes are typically made with vat-dyed board, and TPC’s expertise in silkscreen printing allows it to print white graphics on the substrate without sacrificing quality.
“If you take a look at a Jack Daniel’s gift set, silkscreen white is primarily a common color on those gift sets,” she says. “It has to be silkscreen applied because it has to sit up and it has to be readable. We’ve also created some really unique effects in varnishes and coatings that actually give that vat-dyed board a textured look. It’s very subtle, very luxurious and very elegant.”
Schmissrauter explains that over the course of his 40 years in the industry, he has noticed several evolutions in what customers expect from packaging. He says that dating back to the 1960s, he’s seen the packaging industry change from being production oriented, followed by a period where quality was top priority, and then it transitioned to being service-based.
But since the turn of the millennium, Schmissrauter explains that to stay relevant in this industry, it’s all about innovation and finding ways to accomplish something the competition cannot.
“You can’t get an appointment unless you show [a customer] something that’s new and innovative,” he says. “That’s going to be the ditch that we’re going to die in. We’re going to be the most innovative company in America as far as packaging is concerned.”
As part of the company’s desire to maintain its status as an innovator, it cannot have its presses constantly booked up with output. Schmissrauter explains that TPC intentionally keeps its capacity in the vicinity of 60%, providing plenty of opportunity for experimentation and creativity.
That’s why Schmissrauter says industry experts were perplexed by the company’s decision to add a new eight-color, 41˝ KBA press in the spring of 2015. The press joined TPC’s existing eight-color, six-color and two-color, 40˝ Heidelberg presses, two silkscreen presses, four Bobst diecutters and two Bobst foil stampers.
While the press offers the speeds and efficiency to serve as an offset workhorse, he says TPC largely added the press for its capabilities versus its capacity. According to a press release from KBA, the press offers board and plastic printing, along with full UV and KBA’s ErgoTronic ColorControl color measuring system.
“We are growing fast, but we do have a lot of capacity and we kept it that way so we could be responsive to different opportunities that come up,” Schmissrauter says. “It was a very unconventional approach, but that’s just part of our model to continue our double-digit growth in these target segments that we’ve been successful in.”
Taking Care of the Business Family
In any business that has experienced highs and lows, conflict among management can arise. But when four siblings run a business, it may seem more likely conflicts will be exacerbated. Murray explains however, that from the start, she and her brothers have made a very strong team and have mastered the art of keeping work and family life separate.
“We’re not paying attention to petty things,” Murray says. “We normally don’t discuss our business at family functions and we’ve learned how to work together and work as a team to support each other and not work against each other. We have many families to take care of and that’s our priority — not just taking care of our family, but the business family.”
While the Schmissrauter siblings are not planning on making a departure from the business in the near future, Murray says there is a fourth generation working at TPC. And, she says, that as long as the philosophies that the preceding generations built the business on continue to be passed down, TPC Printing & Packaging will remain a success.
“It’s something my grandfather and father imparted to us,” she says. “If you take care of your people, they’ll take care of you. And if you take care of each other, everything is going to work out.”