By Rock LaManna

Passion and bold equipment investments have led to LTI experiencing 273% growth over the last four years.

What happens when you invest heavily in your equipment, machinery and personnel, but maintain a sales force of zero? You experience 273% growth over four years, that’s what. And the company that generated this amazing stat is LTI (Labels,Tags & Inserts).LTI’s growth rate is incredible in its own right, but jaws hit the floor when you add in the fact that there’s no dedicated sales staff.

This blueprint was established long ago by Rhonda’s father, Leroy Baker, who founded Roto-Plate, Inc. in 1974 and LTI in 1994. His influence is clear in every aspect of LTI’s operations. According to Rhonda Baker, LTI president, the method to their “madness” is nothing more than solid business fundamentals and plenty of backbone.

Rhonda’s passion for her company and the industry is in the blood, as evident from the company’s early beginning as a printing plate manufacturer. She recalls Leroy’s commitment to his customer typically extending into the wee hours of the morning.

“Sometimes my father would leave work at 5 pm and go help a printer with a difficult job,” Rhonda recalls. “He wouldn’t get home until 2 am.”

That commitment helped grow the company to the point where the family decided to sell it and transition into commercial printing. With a deep knowledge of printing, the Baker family experienced the same success they had enjoyed when making printing plates.

Then, as opportunity emerged in films and labels, the company transitioned to the converting realm. Through it all, four key differentiators emerged for LTI.  On paper, these aren’t revolutionary. It’s LTI’s execution that makes the difference.

While many companies approach new equipment purchases with fear and trepidation, LTI believes it’s the key to their success. Leroy always encouraged investment in equipment. It allows the company to remain innovative even if it means sacrificing short-term profits.

“We would sometimes butt heads over a new purchase,” Rhonda says. “I wanted to hold on to the money, but my father always wanted to turn over the equipment while you could still get value out of it.”

Investing is difficult, especially when conventional wisdom says pull back on the reins. It led to Rhonda’s first true challenge as company president.

She assumed leadership of the company after her brother died in an accident, and Leroy had taken ill.  The year was 2008, and the company had been making plans to invest in a $2 million Mark Andy XP500.  That’s when the Great Recession hit.

“The market was crashing, and everyone was holding on to their money,” Rhonda says.  “I stopped watching TV and decided to be positive. I invested in the equipment we needed.”

A few years after she bought the first press, she purchased a second.  And she hasn’t stopped since. The company’s most recent purchase is a second Mark Andy Performance Series P7 20″ press with nine colors, and is equipped a Martin Automatic butt splicer and a PAC waste removal system and turret, for complete end-to-end printing.

All that equipment means little unless you have the right people to run it. That’s why the Bakers emphasize hiring and retain quality people.  “When we hire people, we tell them we are a big family. We’ve got their backs,” Rhonda says.

This talk isn’t cheap, either.  The company pays all employees medical insurance, 401K, short and long-term disabilities and life insurance.  One of the big contributors to retention (Rhonda could only recall two employees leaving in the last 20 years) is the culture.

“There’s no drama here,” she says. “When there’s an issue, we don’t come down on anyone. We find the solution and get it solved.” As a result, employees take responsibility for what they do. Which leads into the next important aspect of the company:  Quality.

A few years back, Rhonda and her team wanted to get Six Sigma certification. They discovered that they’d already met many of the quality standards. Once again, the focus on processes and efficiency had trickled down from Leroy.

Back when the company transitioned into the printing world, Rhonda recalled her father and brother drawing the layout of the production floor.

Presses, plate mounters and ink rooms were made easily accessible.  Supervisors could easily walk down the middle of the floor and see everything. Even bathrooms were positioned close to the equipment.

Today, the efficient design also extends to work roles. Everyone is focused on their specific task. “Our press operators never mount a plate or pull ink. They just run the job,” Rhonda explains.

The emphasis on equipment, people and quality ties in with the company’s rather unconventional approach to sales. For LTI, a sales force simply does not exist.

LTI has no paid, dedicated sales force.That’s not to say that they don’t pursue new prospects. They do, but instead of hiring a team to bang on doors, they take a razor-sharp focus on only a few, select new prospects.

“We only look for big companies,” Rhonda explains. “We know the industry very well. When we see a company of a certain size that we know we can help, we go after them.”

From that point, when people see LTI’s quality, processes and consistent product, they’re sold. “There are very few accounts we go after and don’t get,” Rhonda says. “They know we will help them grow and have less problems.”

LTI serves a variety of markets, priding itself on its diversity. And when Rhonda says they go big, she means it, supplying some of the world’s biggest brands with all types of products. “There is not a store you walk into where you don’t see our products,” she adds.

Many in the industry aren’t even aware of them, and they like it that way. They have no aspirations to be one of the RR Donnellys of the world. “We’ve been called the industry’s best kept secret,” Rhonda says.

But their revenue and profits are no joke. This is a company as innovative as it is lean, and as smart as it is generous. It’s a perfect example of how family values and business acumen can be combined into a potent force.  –Rock LaManna