A Builder of Success: Joel Carmany Named TLMI Converter of the Year
A lot has changed in the 34 years since Joel Carmany bought a fledgling label business near Orlando, Fla. What was then a six-employee company that was only producing hot stamp labels has grown into one of the largest label printing companies in North America, pioneering the latest printing technologies and innovating new label applications.
But, at the core of all of the growth and success Consolidated Label has experienced in the last three and a half decades, is the one element of the business that has remained constant since the company’s humble beginnings — a dedication to understanding its customers’ needs and adapting to them as they evolve.
“Our whole strategy was then and is today, customer driven,” Carmany says. “That’s how we got to where we are. We’re always looking at the customer and saying, ‘What do they need, how can we make this pain free and make it easy for them to buy and get labels?’”
An Engineer Enters the Label Industry
In 1984, Carmany, a native mid-westerner, found himself in Florida looking for work. He had an industrial engineering degree from the University of Dayton and 15 years of experience working for General Electric in Illinois. A year prior, GE had sent Carmany to Orlando to be the VP of sales for a startup in robotics and vision systems. When that startup didn’t pan out, Carmany explains he was faced with a choice. He could either stick with GE, but would have to move back north, or he could remain in Florida and venture out on his own.
After a brief stint exploring the job market, Carmany decided that the best move for his future would be to go into business for himself, and began working with business brokers to target a business that would be worth buying.
At first, Carmany says, printing was not on his radar, as he perused companies spanning the gamut from vertical blinds to lawn mowing. However, while still on the hunt, Carmany located a listing for a business broker called Consolidated Investments and decided to reach out.
“I decided to go to his place of business and came to find out that he was no longer a business broker,” Carmany recalls. “He had a company called Consolidated Label and he was thinking in the back of his mind that he might sell his business. He had just never taken his listing out of the Yellow Pages for Consolidated Investments.”
During the initial meeting, Carmany discovered that there was a lot to like about the label business. He liked that it provided repeat business. He liked that it was a technical business. And he liked that Consolidated Label was small and an affordable entry point.
So, the two men worked out a deal and by October, Carmany was a label business owner.
Building a Business
Though an engineer by trade, Carmany explains that in his early days at the helm of Consolidated Label, his experience in sales and marketing was his biggest asset. He knew that in order for the company to grow, there would need to be a heavy focus on increasing sales.
However, at the time he took over, Consolidated Label only had one salesman, who worked for the company part time. The salesman’s name was George Caras, and while he had an old school approach — carrying all of his customer files in milk crates that he stored in the trunk of his car — he was a tenacious salesman and had a knack for building relationships. To many customers, Carmany recalls, Caras was affectionately known as “Uncle George.”
“After going on a few sales calls, I quickly realized this guy knew everybody and he could get in any door at any time,” Carmany says. “Uncle George could get into any back door, even if it was closed. He was good at establishing friendships and rapport with customers.”
Recognizing Caras’s skills, Carmany brought “Uncle George” on board full time, and began expanding Consolidated’s account base. With sales on the rise, Carmany then focused his attention on improving Consolidated’s manufacturing processes and upgrading its technology.
At the time, Carmany says Consolidated Label had just two Markem hot stamp presses and hadn’t even made the leap into flexography. His first press purchase was a three-color Mark Andy 830, which was followed up a few years later with a Propheteer flexo press. And as more business came in the door, Consolidated made its first physical expansion, leaving its original 1,200-sq.-ft. facility for a new 7,000-sq.-ft. building in 1988.
With the added capacity, Carmany began hiring more sales reps and placing them in strategic locations. He started by expanding in Florida, positioning a rep in Tampa and another in Miami. By 1995, the company had moved again, this time to a 32,000-sq.-ft. building. At this stage, Carmany began thinking nationally, adding sales people outside of Florida for the first time and increasing his fleet of flexo presses, starting with Rotopress and then becoming a Nilpeter shop after Nilpeter’s acquisition of Rotopress.
As the company continued to grow, Carmany expanded the building to 70,000 sq. ft. But in 2014, he says it was time to “make the big move,” and Consolidated Label acquired a 170,000-sq.-ft. building on 24 acres, remodeled the property, and in all placed a $13 million investment into the facility it now occupies in Sanford, Fla.
Innovative, Organic Growth
In an industry that’s continually impacted by mergers and acquisitions, Consolidated Label has remained among the outliers, with Carmany deciding early on that he wanted his company’s growth to be organic. He explains that with his strong background in sales, he could use that acumen to spearhead the company’s growth, while keeping all of the company’s finances in house.
“You have to put out a lot of money [for an acquisition], you have to pay multiples of EBITDA and it’s a risky business,” Carmany says. “Most of that is always being financed by private equity. So you don’t work for yourself anymore, you’re working for these private equity guys.”
The approach has worked, Carmany explains, as Consolidated Label and the ecommerce business Online Labels will reach approximately $95 million in combined sales, compared to the $225,000 Consolidated was pulling in when Carmany took over.
While there are now several Internet-based label printing providers, Carmany explains a significant part of his company’s growth was its foresight to be an early player on the Internet. He says that Online Labels, which is run by his son Dave, was launched in 2000, right when online retailing began to hit the scene.
“We’ve been able to grow on the Internet and with [Consolidated’s] sales force,” he says. “It’s been a two-pronged approach in our focus.”
But along with Consolidated’s sales strengths and online entrepreneurialism, Carmany says staying in tune with the wants and needs of his customers has been a key catalyst in Consolidated being a pioneer of new technologies and label and packaging applications.
For example, the company was an early adopter of digital printing, and now runs three HP Indigo digital presses, including an HP Indigo 8000, which it added in 2017. Additionally, Consolidated has expanded its product offerings beyond traditional labels, making the technological investments needed to produce shrink sleeves and small-format flexible packaging. In total, Consolidated Label runs 18 presses daily, around the clock.
“We always look to our existing customers as the idea engine for new products,” Carmany says. “If we already have a relationship with an existing customer who needs products we don’t currently carry and they’re willing to work with us to develop that product, then it’s a natural move to go in that direction.”
A Desire to Give Back
One of the most tangible results of Consolidated Label’s success is its unprecedented, and still active, streak of 16 consecutive years of winning the TLMI Eugene Singer Award for Management Excellence. The award is given to four winning companies each year at the annual TLMI Converter Meeting, with each winner representing company size categories spanning small, mid-range, medium and large companies.
Consolidated has won the large company category for 10 years in a row, after making the jump from medium. According to TLMI, the criteria for winning the Singer Award are measures of growth and profitability ratios that the association calculates as part of its annual Management Ratio Study.
“The reason why we won the award is because we really focus on the individual stats that make the business and give us the bottom line,” Carmany says. “We’re constantly looking at our labor costs, our material costs, our productivity, our employees per sales dollar, our account margins and how can we improve them, and how we can continue to be more efficient in our operations.”
As Carmany has become one of the leaders of the North American label industry and within TLMI, he says it has become important for him to share what he’s learned over his nearly 34 years in business. He recalls that when he first joined TLMI in the mid 1990s, he had the opportunity to learn from some of the more experienced members, and even tour the production facility of a long-standing member.
Because of how beneficial these relationships were early in Carmany’s career, he says he has made an effort to pay it forward with a willingness to answer questions his colleagues in TLMI may have, and has even opened Consolidated’s doors to other converters.
“I think early in life you are a taker and later in life, you should be a giver,” he says. “That’s been my philosophy.”
Robert Parker, owner of San Diego-based Label King, has been one of the recipients of Carmany’s desire to give back. Parker says he first met Carmany at a TLMI meeting and was immediately impressed with how friendly he was and his willingness to provide advice to a newcomer. Since that first encounter, Parker says Carmany has become someone he can look to as a mentor and has been instrumental in helping him build Label King.
“He was kind enough to take me under his wing and give me a lot of fantastic advice for my own business,” Parker says. “That just shows the kind of person that he is. What he gives back to the industry is fantastic — and I know I’m not the only one. It’s invaluable to people who seek that.”
Since joining TLMI, Carmany has taken on multiple speaking engagements, sharing his insights on panel discussions at TLMI meetings and during Labelexpo, along with three years of service on the board of directors. As an established figure within the association, Carmany’s insights are always highly regarded, says Nick Calvetti, president of Amherst Label and a TLMI member.
“Everybody looks to him for leadership,” Calvetti says. “He’s a great visionary and seems to have a knack for anticipating what needs to be done and what’s going to happen in the future.”
Beyond the label industry and despite the distance, Carmany has stayed active in supporting his alma mater, the University of Dayton. In particular, he maintains his involvement with the school’s entrepreneurial program and is a contributor of ideas for various educational programs. He says he’s even been a speaker at — and donated money to — a program hosted by the university, similar to the television show “Shark Tank,” which gives out grants for business ideas and business development.
But, when looking back at all of the success that Consolidated Label has experienced over the years, Carmany says what makes him particularly proud is the dedication of the entire team at Consolidated. He says that without the commitment of Consolidated’s staff, many of which have been with the company for more than 20 years, the company would not have been able to reach the heights that it has.
“When you have a dream of building a company, the best thing you can hope for is that your dream has become their dream,” Carmany says. “That is the true way of growing a business. I can’t say enough about our people and how much effort they put in every day to make Consolidated Label what it is."