After 100 Years, Flottman Co. Is Still More Relevant Than Ever
Flottman Co. opened its doors in 1921, making 2021 its 100th year in operation. It is an impressive feat for any business to hit that landmark and, according to Sue Flottman Steller — the current president and third generation — it all started with her grandfather.
The company’s journey began when F.E. Flottman was working for another company in their printing department, but realized his position was going to be eliminated. So he bought the equipment from his employer and started his own commercial print shop. And that, as the staying goes, was that.
In 1969, his son took over and, in 2020, Flottman Steller took over the reigns, making Flottman Co. a woman-owned business. The original business was started in Cincinnati, but relocated to northern Kentucky in the 1970s. It then moved again in the late 1990s to a new plant it built in Crestview Hills, Ky., which is where the business is today. “The property [we now have] allows us to expand without having to move,” Flottman Steller says. “We can push out the building to accommodate growth, or reconfigure the layout to add more equipment. We can grow without having to disrupt operations.”
Finding a Niche
Early on, Flottman Co. found a lucrative niche that it still serves today — the pharmaceutical industry. In 1972, the FDA started requiring instructions to be printed on both prescription drugs and the information going to doctors, Flottman Steller says. The shop’s customers at the time asked if they could take care of that requirement, which started the pharmacy division.
Flottman Co. built on that expertise, adding carton and label manufacturing to its lineup in the 1990s. And then eight years ago, Flottman Steller notes, they opened FUSIONWRX, a marketing division that “handles all communications besides ink on paper.” This includes social media, website design, Google ads, and more. According to Flottman Steller, it is a full-fledged marketing agency that operates as another business within the Flottman sphere.
“Pharmaceuticals and packaging gave us a niche market,” she points out. “It set us apart from other printers, and the elimination of film and addition of graphic design allowed for speed and accuracy. FUSIONWRX gave us another department and profit center — those were some very key points to our history. They allowed us to form some of the partnerships that we still have, and gave us avenues and introductions to clients we never would have had otherwise.”
Today, Flottman Co. produces a diverse range of products. On the commercial side of the business, direct mail continues to be a major application, with Flottman Steller noting that those projects are some of the largest the company produces, oftentimes with multiple pieces printed and mailed for a single campaign. Miniature printed and folded pharmateceutical literature is still a major focus of the packaging and label segment of the business, and FUSIONWRX is handling “full-fledged marketing programs.”
“In the mini-folding unit, we’re now expanding beyond pharmacy to medical devices,” Flottman Steller says, “and there has been an increase in the pet care space for miniature literature. We’re also seeing literature demands for a lot of equipment — household
fixtures, faucets, automotive. It’s not just pharmaceuticals; it’s really packaging, and we’re focused on diversifying that offering. We get different industries coming to us for their inserts.”
One new segment Flottman Co. is watching has been the “nutraceuticals” segment, which has been growing rapidly, and which the FDA is taking a closer interest in as a result. Nutraceutical is a broad term used to describe any food-based product with a health benefit, or that is marketed for the care or prevention of a disease. It falls under the same category as dietary supplements. But while the regulations are currently fairly loose, many brands see that changing and are taking proactive steps to bring their labels in line with what the FDA requires for other pharmaceutical prescription products.
“Some companies are already taking the leap, knowing there are FDA requirements coming down the road,” she says. “This allows us to help them, since the type of literature they put with products is different — many times it’s the information, as well as a marketing piece, and printed in multiple colors. So that’s an area we watch, to make sure we have the capacity in our pressroom to accommodate the needs of the new market.”
To produce the diverse jobs that come through the door, the shop has a full complement of digital and offset devices, alongside a very robust finishing department. One of the newest additions has been Safe Print 360, an antibacterial coating it can now offer customers concerned about safety. Folding is a major operation as well, necessary for the intricate miniature pieces needed for the pharmaceutical work. As a result, Flottman Steller, points out its department is “much more elaborate [than most] based on what the FDA requirements are.”
On the print side, the latest acquisition was a Canon imagePRESS in the digital department, installed in February of this year to enhance productivity and speed tunaround times. “As customer needs change, we look at our current equipment and augment it as needed,” notes Flottman Steller, who says that most of the time, new equipment is brought in to complement current capabilities, rather than replace anything.
On the Horizon
While it has a rich history in the past, Flottman Co. is always looking to the future to ensure it stays ahead of trends, and can continue to serve its customersʼ needs, whatever those might be.
“We watch the trends in pharmaceuticals and see what the FDA is looking at — that will dictate our equipment purchases, as well as where we dedicate and train personnel,” Flottman Steller says. “In the commercial printing world, we watch the postal regulations, since that will affect direct mail campaigns, and how we advise our clients. And, in FUSIONWRX, we look at marketing analysis to see how people are communicating, and how we can augment that.”
Right now, the biggest trends are being driven by the proverbial elephant in the room — COVID-19. The Safe Print product, she notes, is a big one as people start to return to business. “It’s a coating on the sheet that kills bacteria, and that’s something we can talk to customers about, especially those in health care or education. We’re also finding it very effective for those restaurants going back to using printed menus.”
Another way the company has weathered the COVID storm has been to start a long-term maintenance program — if a piece of equipment is being underutilized, she says, they slate it for more intensive maintenance and shift employees around to accommodate that.
“We have learned to be very flexible, and we have not laid off a single employee throughout this whole pandemic,” she reveals. “We redirected the manpower into different areas the company needs to work on, and thought outside the box for continuous improvement initiatives. Maintenance was huge — we always do monthly and weekly maintenance, but you can always look at a piece of equipment and think the rollers or something should be replaced. This has allowed us to take equipment down and do just that, and still maintain the production we need for clients. We even added a technician during the downtime.”
Which brings up the other big push for Flottman Co. right now — the ability to hire new personnel.
The average employee tenure with the company, according to Flottman Steller, is 13 years, with three workers who have been with them for 30 years, and six more for 20 years. In fact, she notes, 60% of the team has been with the company for more than 10 years, which is an impressive feat. But as they continue to grow — even in challenging times — more people are needed to keep production moving along.
“The sign is out saying ‘we’re hiring!’, and we run help wanted ads in newspapers,” Flottman Steller says. “Growth continues. Before COVID-19, we could always find qualified personnel, but the last year has been a struggle. We still had success attracting people, but we had to be more diligent about the process. We truly get very creative and think outside the box [to find new talent].”
That includes going to schools such as Cincinnati State, which offers mechanical engineering degrees, and connecting with those students to open their eyes to the possibilities of a career in print. The shop also partners with high school vocational programs, including with one that serves around 30 schools in the area. “We try to encourage those students going into anything mechanical to consider Flottman as a career alternative,” she says.
“We’ve had some success, but it’s ongoing — we have to fight against Amazon, FedEx, and DHL hubs to attract workers, to get people to think of this as not a job, but as a career. We’ve really been focusing on that as a differentiator.”
For other printers hoping to join the 100-year club, Flottman Steller has a few pieces of advice. “The very first thing is to find a niche in the industry — it becomes the backbone of the company,” she says. “And that allows you to expand and grow through diversification. We would also recommend staying involved in print-related associations, since an active group creates a strong industry and keeps us all relevant. I also believe in maintaining multiple clients, and the old adage of not putting all your eggs in one basket.
“Finally, complement print with digital and diversify your services — we communicate in multiple ways, such as ink on paper, signage, social media, etc. Our focus is to look at all aspects of communication and incorporate that into the company,” she concludes. “Even though we’re print-focused, we truly became a communications company, and looking at how we communicate is the basic philosophy.”