Labels International and Profile Packaging are two of J&A International’s latest divisions that diversify and grow the footprint of the printing group.

Starting out in the late 1970s as a business targeting the commercial laundry industry with branded workwear, the intervening years have seen J&A International diversify its offering and grow into new markets.

In the first instance, as workwear evolved from heavy industrial garments to more casual attire – think oily overalls to polo necks and chinos – the company developed its products to suit. It’s garment decoration changed from a stick-on badge to a transfer, whilst a new type of garment was developed that could withstand the rigours of commercial laundry. Come the start of the 20th Century, further strings were added to J&A’s bow as the group expanded to cover things such as corporate name badges, stickers, labels, sign and graphics, and, most recently, packaging. The group now has eight divisions, each with print at their core.

‘At the heart of it all, we’re a printer,’ states director Simon Holderness. ‘The decision to diversify came at the turn of the century, so that we could grow the business beyond our core audience in commercial laundry, which we successfully supported and grew with over two decades and who we continue to support to this day as a leading supplier of heat seal transfer garment decoration.‘

Webbed wonders

With the commercial laundry side of the business inherently a hands[1]on, labour-intensive activity, any diversification needed to be less burdensome to the business, particularly in regard to the requirement for direct customer service.

‘I’m a strong advocate of customer service and there’s often no substitute for picking up the phone,‘ affirms Mr Holderness. ‘However, with the turn of the 20th Century came the internet and all the benefits of online. As a company we have developed our own internal software systems which have allowed us to fully embrace e-commerce. A proprietary engine is integrated into our websites that allows for orders to be placed online; allowing customers to pick a product, upload their logo, position and move it as they desire, order and pay upfront. This has been a great tool for us and allowed us to more easily move into new markets.

‘We’re now looking into ways we can further the capabilities of this platform. For example, with the growth in artificial intelligence, we are investigating if and how this might be used to allow those smaller business who might have no design experience or budget to have designs mocked up, to use an online design tool to create and upload artwork that works not only for them as a logo but for us also as a print business.’

Leveraging the capabilities of technology to its fullest extent is not new to J&A International. In fact, it could be described as a hallmark of the company. This is best exampled in its use of print technology to grow and diversify its activities.

‘When we invest in technology, we don’t just buy it with a single use in mind. Obviously, the initial investment is made with an application in mind but once that aim has been achieved, we will then look at how and where else we might use a technology platform to diversify and grow the group yet further. Inkjet print technology to produce stickers is now used to produce labels, whilst the digital printing technology used to produce signs and graphics lends itself to our early move into packaging. As labels and packaging develop, they will necessitate further investment to support their growth, which in turn will open up new opportunities to diversify the business in other areas where we can bring something new to the market and compete, but still with print at the heart of it all.’

Labels and packaging

As alluded to by Mr Holderness, labels and packaging are quickly becoming an important part of the group’s portfolio. To serve both applications, high-end inkjet digital printing is coupled with die-cutting – laser cutting in the case of labels – and bundled with ease of ordering, speed to market and a robust customer service offer.

In the case of Labels International, ‘We’re not aiming for the high-volume, low price bracket,‘ he says. ‘Rather, those customers who require labels on a roll quickly and efficiently.’

His colleague, Amy Salmond, customer sales executive, confirms that whilst Labels International attracts a range of customers with its promise of ‘low volume and fast turnaround digitally printed labels on rolls‘, the labels division comfortably serves orders in the region of 500-5000 labels, although runs up to 25,000 can and have been fulfilled. ‘We can cater to customers of all size, but for us the USP is ease of ordering for those people for whom ordering labels is just another tick off their list of things to do. With our web portal and easy-to-use create and order interface, we make it simple and straightforward to order and receive high-quality digitally printed labels.’

The same is true of Profile Packaging, an even more recent addition to the group’s activities. Debuting in August 2022, Profile Packaging identifies itself as a ‘specialist in low volume digital printing’, of mailer boxes, pizza-style boxes, wine boxes and a variety of paper bag types, as well as kraft paper stand-up pouches. These are noted as being suitable for both wet and dry products, pharmaceuticals, coffee and more. As such, pouches are available with a grip closure to reseal, window to see the product, degassing valve to protect the integrity of the product, and also with a construction consisting of kraft paper and PLA, making them industrially compostable.

‘We’re not producing highly decorative packaging, for now,’ says Mr Holderness. ‘That will come in the future as the packaging business grows and establishes itself, and we make our next investments in technology. That will likely come soon. We’ve already invested in the cutting side of the operation and the printing technology we are using currently is quickly filling up as it is serving both the sign and graphic and packaging divisions. As that gets busy, so there’s less capacity and we will need to reinvest accordingly. Our next purchase will likely be a proper box printing machine that will see Profile Packaging grow both in terms of capacity and capability.’

This feature article was first published in the November/December issue of digital Labels & Packaging, which you can read online here; register here to receive future issues of the magazine