Fox Group Consolidates, Adds New Heidelberg Finishing Equipment
Hank Fox, in the vernacular of the gambling world, is “all in.” In other words, he’s moved all of his chips into the pot. In the world of trade binderies, that might be considered gambling.
The CEO and owner of Fox Group in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, is personally committed to the success of his company, for the long haul. He’s no fly-by-night carpetbagger; his father, Hank, founded the company in 1971 after having teamed up for a period with Dick Moll at another venture. The younger Fox continues to carry the torch—admirably, it appears, as the 115-employee firm registered sales of nearly $18 million in 2014.
Thus, it is probably only fitting that his bindery is now all in, and under one roof, after years of serving firms within 300 miles of Philadelphia via three separate Quakertown, Pennsylvania, facilities. As if to put an exclamation point on the move to this new, 150,000-square-foot shop, Fox promptly inked an 11-year lease.
“A lot of people thought we were crazy,” Fox notes. “But we did it based on our strong commitment to the industry.”
Fox Group continued as an ongoing concern during the two months it took to relocate 50-plus pieces of major equipment. The move was completed in August of 2014, and Fox deemed it a rousing success, with only the normal challenges and hiccups that accompany a move of this magnitude.
With a strong contribution from employees and Fox Group vendors alike, the move paved the way to a better life for the firm. No longer do jobs need to be trucked back and forth between the buildings, a process Fox called a “logistical nightmare.”
It took a little post-move reconfiguring to get the workflow completely in sync. But the new digs are not only more efficient, the layout leaves a positive imprint on clients, as well.
“When people walk through our operation and see what we provide, they say ‘wow, you’re not a typical bindery,’ ” he notes. “We do some unusual things in the print finishing world, and when people come through, they’re quite impressed.”
Fox Group serves both the package and commercial printing worlds with an exhaustive menu of finishing solutions—cutting, folding, saddlestitching, perfect binding and wire-o/plastic coil. It has a division called DieFX that is a full-service, in-house die making service. Its structural design operations offer CAD/plotter services and an in-house design team.
Fox Group also provides laminating (spot and UV coating, film lamination), folding and gluing, fulfillment services (poly-bagging, handwork and tipping), variable data imaging (barcoding, inkjetting) and direct mail capabilities. And while Fox does have some customers outside of the commercial printing world, the company is careful not to compete with them.
The new, bigger building has taken some getting used to—employees can be harder to find than they were in the 30,000-square-foot spaces—but the new space offers room for growth. Fox Group has been busy decorating the place with new gear. Among the newest acquisitions are a Heidelberg Diana X 115 folder/gluer and two Stahlfolder TH-66s with an in-line Ti-52 mini-folder. The equipment was obtained in late 2012. Also joining the fold is a Vijuk FA 74 small-format P1 folder, with a Stahl KH 82 with complete automatic makeready and a TH 82 en route this summer.
The Heidelberg purchase marked a bit of a departure for Fox Group, which had relied exclusively on a fleet of six Bobst folder/gluers. Fox sent a supervisor and a lead operator to Heidelberg, Germany, to investigate and they were impressed with what they saw.
“We’ve added a lot of folding sections,” Fox says. “Our gluers are longer; we added length, so we can engineer options and additional operations onto the line…such as in-line tipping, placing imaging. We made sure the Diana had a gyro unit, which gave us a total of three. That allows us to turn a piece while we’re running it.”
The die shop has undergone a face lift of sorts in the past three years, including the addition of a Boxplan auto pin setter for stripping boards. Fox water jet cuts its die rubber, which is a huge benefit, and now even sells dies to its customers that have diecutting in-house.
Rounding out the investment initiative—which Fox estimates was roughly $2.5 million during the past five years—is an Avanti Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system.
“I put a lot of money back into the company and that keeps us going,” he says. “There are risks involved. We keep having to figure out the next big thing. That is the trick to being successful in the print finishing business.”
Fox is not done with the upgrades. He’s eyeing some additional capacity in rigid windowing (on the folding carton/packaging side), along with small-format diecutting, stamping and embossing enhancements to help keep pace in an environment that is laden with trade shop options.
As it stands, the consolidation that is continuing among print shops presents a challenge to the trade bindery community. Clients are looking to produce as much in-house as possible, which is why having unique offerings that go much deeper than the typical bindery fare will separate companies like Fox Group from the rest of the field.
“Our ability to offer structural design services gives us an advantage,” Fox notes. “When we design pieces, we are designing for automation and keeping in mind our equipment capabilities. So, if a customer’s equipment can do vanilla, chocolate and strawberry, we need to buy equipment that can do 64 flavors.”
Perhaps most importantly, Fox is embracing the future. His son, Michael, is a Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) graduate who was in the IT Leadership Development Program at Johnson & Johnson before opting to join the family business. Having Michael’s youth, insight and energy will be a boost to a company—and a profession—whose employee median age is typically in the mid-40s.
Fox also credits his COO, Huck Brooks, for playing a huge role in helping to build the business and the talented team that supported it during the past 20 years.
“We’ve got some tough competition, and I have respect for what they do and offer,” he adds. “But our continued investment in equipment, recruiting and keeping talented people, and embracing technology for all aspects of our business makes a big difference.” PI