Security Printer Ashton Potter is Poised for Growth with New Facility in 2016
It goes without saying that the reputation of a company is one of its most fragile, perishable assets. For those firms whose bread and butter is security printing, that reputation takes on a one-strike-and-you’re-out quality.
A shining example is Canadian-born, U.S.-bred security printer Ashton Potter. The company has a bit of a reclusive reputation because of the nature of its manufacturing, but is also known among the philatelic community as one of the world’s biggest producers of postage stamps and postal-related products. It is among the largest suppliers of stamps and stamped envelopes to the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) and churns out roughly a quarter of the world’s stamps in both pressure-sensitive label and water-activated gum (WAG) form.
The more sober side of Ashton Potter lies in its secure labels segment, where it serves both government entities and private institutions with security labels across a span of applications—from tax, revenue and excise stamps to solutions for brand-name products, high-security technologies and the pharmaceutical space.
“We’re very focused on our vertical markets,” notes Barry Switzer, president and CEO of the Buffalo, New York-based firm. “We have a strategy to become a large presence in all of the markets. Our core values—quality, integrity and innovation—demonstrate how we operate.”
The 200-employee company recently made headlines with the news that it was constructing a 55,000-square-foot office, manufacturing and storage facility, a $3.2 million project. The new space, complete with a 127-vehicle parking lot and loading dock, will enable Ashton Potter to exit a leased space and move in next door to its headquarters.
Construction is slated to begin this fall and be completed by the end of spring 2016. According to Switzer, the company will garner economies of scale and enjoy a little elbow room for growth.
“This is going to enable us to create more of an Ashton Potter campus,” Switzer notes. “It will facilitate better operational efficiencies and allow for room to expand in our newer vertical market of security labels. We plan to move some of our existing manufacturing infrastructure over to the new facility, including our IT infrastructure.”
Formed in the 1920s by the Ashton and Potter families, the company cut its teeth as a commercial printer and, by the 1960s, developed into one of Canada’s leading book printers. The following decade saw Ashton Potter’s foray into security printing, while simultaneously developing a relationship with Canada Post to produce stamps and postal-related products.
Ashton Potter packed up the moving vans in the 1990s and migrated to Buffalo, where the company quickly grew in size as it traded on earlier success with both the security and stamp niches, the latter augmented by a flowering relationship with USPS. It is one of just two providers of stamps to Mr. ZIP, and the sole producer of stamped and personalized stamp envelopes, of which it cranks out 250 million stamped envelopes per year.
Factoring in stamped cards and commemorative collectibles, Ashton Potter has solid footing with a rather large customer. “We really cover the beach front when it comes to postal products,” Switzer observes.
Perhaps equally impressive are the relationships Ashton Potter has forged with numerous worldwide postal administrations. Switzer notes that many of the administrations have challenging specifications and printing requirements; the minimum line screen used by the company is 300. One of the bigger challenges revolves around press approvals, and a number of customers are comfortable with letting Ashton Potter do their press approvals and then just send the customer the press sheets.
One of the critical elements to the company’s success was devising a quality, secure door-to-door delivery service. Switzer feels it takes a disciplined approach to provide secure delivery to all parts of the world, be it by air or sea.
Digital Making Secure Inroads
Digital printing is making inroads into the secure printing arena. “The mass serialization of secure labels and personalization of stamped envelopes is done digitally,” Switzer says. “Getting into higher quality four-color or more digital work with stamps and secure labels is finding its way into the market. It is still slow and expensive, but digital is making strides. The quality you can get in digital printing these days is pretty impressive.”
Secure labels are a hallmark at Ashton Potter. In addition to the tax, revenue and excise levies, the company provides brand protection applications for companies that want to apply secure label solutions for their products to help authenticate them, both for internal supply chain purposes and for end users. Ashton Potter has also established significant pacts with some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical firms, providing protection and identification label products. This, too, presents a challenge with the various requirements of foreign governing bodies.
Ashton Potter is also involved with technologies that can be integrated with its secure label solutions for customers within different verticals. An example of this is liquid crystal security technologies and specialized liquid crystal film products.
“We can embed photographic quality images inside highly specialized coatings, where the images get released by filters,” Switzer says. “We have a good relationship with a company that is the foremost developer of liquid crystal applications in the world.”
A proprietary product that Ashton Potter applies across its vertical spectrum is iTracknTrace, a completely customizable Software as a Service (SaaS) offering for worldwide supply chain track-and-trace databases. It helps users integrate a secure label solution into its supply chain, where they then can identify, track and trace products all the way through to the end customer.
So how does the security printer handle its internal security processes? Ashton Potter has worked diligently on the IT side, implementing an IT infrastructure with mirrored backup capabilities, which can come online instantaneously. Switzer can’t reveal any specific details regarding his sophisticated firewall or encrypted data transmissions, but he notes the company practices regular external penetration testing. On the whole, Ashton Potter’s plant security is independently audited and validated by several different administrations, including the North American Secure Products Organization (NASPO).
Switzer doesn’t divulge specific equipment information, but notes that Ashton Potter invests heavily in a number of areas, including its proprietary software and specialized finishing lines. Digital printing assets, secure label operations and IT infrastructure will reap the benefit of future capex investments.
In order to strengthen its hold on the stamp and security niches, Ashton Potter will be actively looking at potential strategic acquisitions.
“While annual sales is an important number, success is really measured through stakeholder satisfaction,” he concludes. “That includes customers, employees, investors and creditors. We have a deep senior management team and an excellent employee base. We’re a go-to company for our customers.” PI