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GLS Companies -- Getting Into the Fold

August 2005
by chris bauer

Managing Editor

The new rule of thumb for commercial printers is to cast a net well beyond what is thought of as traditional printing. This is where the growth areas—and profit potentials—linger.

Minneapolis-based GLS Companies has taken this rule to heart. In fact, it has expanded into so many markets that it changed its name. A year ago, the company morphed from General Litho Services to GLS Companies to avoid pigeon-holing itself as solely an ink-on-paper provider. The company has expanded into value-added areas such as creative services, digital printing, mailing, distribution and, most recently, package printing and converting—all big changes since getting its start in 1984.

Mike Farr, vice president of manufacturing (left), and Gary Garner, president and CEO of GLS Companies, are ready to tackle the packaging market with the help of their new Bobst Fuego 110 A-2 CS folder/gluer.
"We try to be all things to all people—our tagline is 'Integrated Communication Solutions,'" notes Gary Garner, president and CEO.

"In addition to conventional printing capabilities, we offer both black-and-white and color digital and laser printing with database management for variable data personalization. Now we've moved into packaging. The variety of services that GLS can produce under one roof is a major selling point to our diverse customer base," Garner adds.

He contends that many print buyers are looking for more services from a smaller group of suppliers—which GLS can provide."Historically we've seen others try to specialize and focus on a certain niche, try to be the best at it, and grab that market," Garner recounts. "We're more of a generalist, trying to do everything we can for our customers."

By the Numbers

GLS boasts 215 full-time employees with a variable number of seasonal, temporary workers, mostly in the lettershop and fulfillment parts of the operation. The company currently fills 118,000 square feet of space, although a new expansion, currently under way, calls for an additional 43,000 square feet in the manufacturing area, for a total facility size of 161,000 square feet.

Mailing is an important part of the GLS success story. And, as with most things at GLS, the move into mailing and distribution came as a result of trying to better serve its clientele.

"The Twin Cities is an interesting market, and I believe the fourth or fifth largest market for printing in the United States," Garner says. "Printing and its allied industries is the second largest employer in Minnesota, and 70 percent of what we print ships out of state—so printing is truly big business here."

There are many large printers in the Minneapolis area. The company knew that in order to grow they needed to expand into the national market. "The big barrier to going national has always been freight. By using the Postal Service as a delivery vehicle we knew we could compete anywhere in the country," recalls Garner.

The company went out and bought a labeler and an inserting machine so it could take work from its regional customers and roll it out nationally. "Because of consolidation and mergers, we've seen some of our customers move out of town, only to end up calling us because of a problem with their new supplier," Garner adds. "So this has helped us expand and grow within the geographic areas we serve. Now we probably do 20 to 25 percent of our work outside of our home market."

Packaging is also one of GLS' potential growth areas. Currently it makes up 10 to 12 percent of its business, but the company feels its printing capabilities and other available services gives it a tremendous opportunity to expand.

"We've been training our sales force on our new capabilities, terminology, paper types and printing characteristics that packaging customers may be looking for," Garner reveals. "We're tying this into selling all our services together—from creation through fulfillment and distribution."

To help the packaging area to blossom, GLS installed a Bobst Fuego 110 A-2 CS—the first in North America. The Fuego is a mid-market folder/gluer which, with a variety of options, is capable of creating straight and crash-lock bottom boxes, presentation folders, as well as four- and six-corner boxes. It operates at speeds up to 1,000 fpm and is available in manual, motorized and fully computer-controlled setup versions.

"We were using an older folder/gluer prior to buying the Fuego, but mostly we were going outside for our more sophisticated work," notes Mike Farr, vice president of manufacturing. "Now we're running a number of CD sleeves, story book boxes, four-corner and crash-lock bottom boxes."

The Fuego met GLS' needs because so much of what GLS does is short- to medium-runs, Farr adds. The company occasionally has runs that go up to 400,000 to 500,000 pieces, but most are far below that. So quick makeready was an important factor in its choice of equipment.

For printing, the company counts on multiple Heidelberg sheetfed offset presses (one- to six-colors), a Xerox DocuTech and an HP Indigo 3050 digital press.

"The folder/gluer capability is simply one more arrow in our quiver," Garner states. "We're also devoting a lot of time and effort into electronic solutions—print-on-demand, Web-based ordering, helping our customers with their Websites and e-mail marketing. That's a big area of growth for us, along with the continued sophistication and improvement of our data processing and personalization capability."

Standard of Quality

The basic focus at GLS is on continuous improvement. The company started on a path toward ISO certification in 1997 and was ISO 9001 certified in 1999. It recently upgraded to the 2000 standard. GLS uses these standards as the foundation of its quality program.

"As a quality-focused commercial printer, our standards and what we routinely accomplish often greatly exceeds the expectations of the marketplace," Farr contends. "Customers coming to us from other places are amazed at how we can enhance their printing through our technology and processes."

"We do everything we can for our clients," Garner concludes. "I hate disappointing a customer and will do just about anything to prevent that from ever happening."

All told, the company expects its annual sales to top off in excess of $35 million for 2005.

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