Tapemark Company Inc.

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Tapemark Company Inc.

150 Marie Avenue East
West St. Paul, Minnesota 55118
Telephone: (651) 450-8410
Toll Free: (800) 535-1998
Fax: (651) 450-8403
Web site: http://www.tapemark.com

Private Company
Incorporated: 1952
Employees: 245
Sales: $71 million (2003, est.)
NAIC: 322221 Coated and Laminated Packaging Paper and Plastics Film Manufacturing; 322299 All Other Converted Paper Product Manufacturing; 325412 Pharmaceutical Preparation Manufacturing; 339113 Surgical Appliance and Supplies Manufacturing

Tapemark Company Inc. converts paper into specialized printed, coated and adhesive products for industrial and consumer uses. The development of the company's product line over the years has been driven by advancements in adhesive and printing technology. In the early 1950s, Tapemark attracted its first customers with the ability to print on self-wound tape. A decade later, with the development of pressure sensitive adhesives, the company began printing color labels for consumer products. In the 1980s, Tapemark's expertise in handling difficult materials found applications in the manufacture of medical devices and electronics components. The company's capabilities now include precision die cutting, custom coating, laminating, packaging, and 16-color flexographic roll printing, as well as the ability to work with a client to engineer a product meeting specific demands and specifications. Tapemark does not market its products under its own name. Instead, most of its business involves supplying custom components to original equipment manufacturers in the diagnostics, medical device, consumer products, and electronics markets. All of Tapemark's manufacturing is done at five facilities in West Saint Paul, Minnesota. The company sells its products through a nationwide network of sales representatives. Company founder Robert Klas, Sr., still chairs the company and his son Robert Klas, Jr., acts as president. While Tapemark's industrial clients appreciate its manufacturing capabilities, the company is best known locally as the sponsor of the annual Tapemark Charity Pro-Am golf tournament, which raises money to help people with developmental disabilities.

1950s Origins

Tapemark was founded in 1952 when Robert C. Klas, Sr., bought the experimental division of a larger stamping and imprinting company, Northwestern Stamp Works. Klas had grown up in a small southern Minnesota town, attended Hamline University in St. Paul, and began working as a sales representative for Northwestern Stamp Works shortly after graduation. When he bought the Tapemark division, its primary technology was the ability to print on self-wound tape. Tapemark could print a text or logo on the nonsticky back of the tape and then wind the tape up onto itself into a roll. When the roll was unwound, the sticky side came loose without pulling the printing off the tape below. One of the early applications for this technology was the tape used to wrap bananas in grocery stores. Klas printed the Red Owl logo on the tape and sold it to Red Owl grocery stores.

For more than a decade, Klas operated out of the second floor of a small building in St. Paul. He rode the streetcar across the Twin Cities during the day to drum up orders from clients, then ran the orders on the press in the evening. Tapemark's original location was inconvenient because all materials had to be brought up to the second floor using a pulley. In 1965, increasing sales allowed Klas to build a new facility in the suburb of West St. Paul. By this point, most of Tapemark's business growth was in the area of label printing. The paper company Avery Dennison had recently developed a technology known as pressure sensitive adhesives. This was the type of adhesive that came with a liner that was pulled off to uncover a sticky surface that would adhere when pressed onto a material. The adhesive did not need to be moistened to function, and it was often more convenient than using glue to affix a product label. Pressure-sensitive adhesives stuck particularly well to plastic. As the use of plastic packaging became more prevalent, pressure-sensitive adhesives began to be more widely used to label consumer products. The pressure-sensitive segment grew rapidly starting in the mid-1960s and into the 1970s. Tapemark grew along with the pressure-sensitive business, becoming an expert in printing, cutting, and converting the material into labels.

An important Tapemark tradition was started in 1972 when the company sponsored its first golf tournament. Tapemark's manufacturing facility happened to be located close to the Southview Country Club golf course. Southview had hosted the Peters Open, sponsored by a local meat company, for 13 years. However, the meat company had recently fallen into the hands of new owners who were not interested in sponsoring a golf tournament. Southview contacted Klas, an avid golfer, about taking over the tournament. Klas, who had a daughter with mild mental retardation and another with learning disabilities, came up with the idea of using the tournament to raise funds to support social service agencies for the developmentally disabled. Tapemark's sales manager Pat Cody, Sr., was skeptical of the idea at first but eventually took a lead role in developing the tournament. The first Tapemark Pro-Am raised $9,000 for the St. Paul Association for Retarded Children (later known as Arc), starting a tradition that was still going three decades later. Tapemark paid for all expenses at the golf tournamentsincluding lunches, advertising, salaries, and a banquetand gave all proceeds to charity.

Entering New Markets in the 1970s80s

Tapemark became involved in decorative automotive striping in the 1970s. St. Paul-based manufacturer 3M made the basic striping material and Tapemark converted it into multi-colored strips ready to be pressed onto a vehicle. The conversion process involved laying several colors together in a precise alignment to create the desired pinstripe pattern. The finished product was sold to body shops and Detroit automakers. Tapemark operated 3M's automotive striping warehouse in St. Paul and eventually bought the building.

By 1978, Tapemark had built two facilities on its West St. Paul campus and purchased a third building. The company had close to 200 employees and about $8 million in annual sales, making it one of the larger label manufacturers in the nation. Revenues grew as plastic packing became widespread and more manufacturers switched from the traditional heat-glue labels to pressure-sensitive labels. The converting industry, as Tapemark's segment was known, was growing about four times as quickly as the printing industry as a whole since pressure-sensitive products were replacing older types of labels. Most of Tapemark's business came from pharmaceutical and cosmetic companies, who bought labels for shampoo bottles, antiperspirant containers, and similar consumer products. Tapemark also made the labels for Tonka Toys. When Tonka moved production to Mexico, Tape-mark opened a facility in the southwestern United States at the company's request and continued a close relationship with Tonka for many years. Other Tapemark customers included Pillsbury, General Mills, 3M, and Delco Batteries. Klas, who developed a reputation as a workaholic by putting in 12-hour days, emphasized the importance of the label for selling any product.

Tapemark began distributing automatic labeling machines in 1978 in order to give its customers the equipment they needed to efficiently apply labels to containers. Tapemark was also starting to manufacture products for medical purposes. Years of printing on sticky, multilayer paper stocks had given Tapemark a reputation for being good at handling difficult materials. Because of this, medical concerns came to Tapemark in the later 1970s to see if the company would apply its expertise to the medical field. Some of Tapemark's first products in this segment were a plastic sheet used to suppress pain and the electrodes that were affixed to skin for electrocardiograms. In 1980, Tapemark began providing custom medical devices to domestic and international original equipment manufacturers. The company was branching out beyond the label printing business not only into the medical field but also into areas like personal care products, meat packaging, and promotional products.

In 1981, Tapemark bought a building in Woodville, Wisconsin, and renovated it to serve as the location for the manufacture of medical products. After a few years, the medical products division was moved back to St. Paul and Woodville became the center for the automotive striping business. The facility was expanded three times and became an early example of just-in-time manufacturing. If an order came in at 11 a.m., it was sent out by the end of the afternoon. According to Tapemark, the facility operated for ten years without a back order. Visitors came to the tiny Wisconsin town from far away to see how Tapemark's facility was set up.

Tapemark's sales grew to around $17 million in 1984. As Tapemark's activity in the medical field increased, the company registered with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1986 as a device contract manufacturer. Three years later, Tapemark was also certified as a drug contract manufacturer, which allowed it to incorporate medications in products such as wound dressings and patches. Klas's son Robert C. Klas, Jr., who had left a career in banking to join the company in the early 1980s, became president of Tapemark in 1990.

Company Perspectives:

Tapemark is driven and supported by a set of simple, yet fundamental, values that contribute to a rewarding, productive and trusting environment for our employees and customers. These values are evident every day in our pride of workmanship, quality and service: ExcellenceResponsibilityIntegrityCommunityKnowledgeAttitude. Guided by our mission, we believe that Tapemark has maintained a strong reputation throughout the industry, among our employees and within our community: One Tapemark. Delivering the Promise To provide our customers with innovative solutions to complex converting challenges through strategic collaboration, integrated capabilities, emerging technologies and value-added service. To encourage our employees to achieve their full career and personal potential, offering opportunities for feedback, growth and rewards. To support our community through individual leadership and corporate sponsorship of significant events and charitable donations.

Tapemark branched out to the industrial and electronics markets in 1988. This new business area developed naturally from the company's work with medical products, since electronic products required a similar controlled manufacturing environment in order to keep dust particles and contaminants off sensitive components. One of Tapemark's first products in the electronics field was the so-called "slack tab" used to control videotape slack. During the videotape cassette craze of the late 1980s, Tapemark made millions of these tiny tabs.

Even though all manufacturing was done in West St. Paul, Tapemark found that it was useful to have sales representatives close to its clients around the United States. The company developed a sales network by hiring people around the country who operated out of their homes or an independent office. All sales representatives were Tapemark employees, but many were located far afield. At certain times, Tapemark had representatives in Europe and, during the high point of electronics production, in Singapore.

Continued Expansion in the 1990s and Beyond

As sales continued to grow, Tapemark added a fourth facility to its West St. Paul campus in 1992. This building incorporated a state-of-the-art clean room manufacturing facility for sensitive electronics and medical products. Soon after this facility was completed, the automotive striping business in Woodville was sold to Tapemark employees. Tapemark's community involvement also evolved: the Tapemark Pro-Am added a women's golf tournament in 1995. The men's tournament had raised around $2.6 million since 1972.

In 1997, Tapemark added custom coating to its range of capabilities. Now the company could buy plain paper and add a specific adhesive or other coating to it. The expansion into custom coating, when combined with Tapemark's existing expertise in printing, die cutting, and packing, made the company more vertically integrated. That year Tapemark was also certified to ISO 9001, the international quality management standard, and EN46001, the specific standard for the medical device industry. These certifications increased the company's market penetration, since some countries required ISO certification before a product could be marketed.

Over the years, Tapemark had tried to retain a productive work force by paying attention to the work-life needs of its employees. This became even more of a challenge in the late 1990s as the number of immigrants in the work force increased. Tapemark began offering on-site English classes for workers from Southeast Asia and Africa to enable them to learn the language needed to understand company policies and safety procedures. This helped the company keep the employees it needed to staff round-the-clock shifts.

Tapemark celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2002. That year the company certified its processes to ISO 13485, the medical device standard that was replacing EN46001. Even though the U.S. economy was going through a troubled period, Tapemark was prospering. Larger manufacturers were nervous about investing in new employees themselves, so they gave more manufacturing business to Tapemark. Tapemark invested more than $10 million in new die cut equipment in 2003 and hired many new employees, although they were temporary employees for the time being. The company also registered with the FDA as a food contract manufacturer, allowing it to make products classified as food such as breath fresheners on a strip or other edible films. In order to make room for expansion in new and current markets, Tapemark bought a fifth facility in West St. Paul in 2003.

In 2004, Tapemark began to offer chipless ID, a form of radio frequency identification, to its clients. This increased the company's existing capabilities for ensuring the security and authenticity of its products. Tapemark's major business areas now were the medical, consumer products, and pharmaceutical fields. In the medical and pharmaceutical sectors, Tapemark manufactured items such as diagnostic home test kits, transdermal drug delivery systems, suture strips, cosmetic cleansing pads, and hydrogel face masks. The company also made electronic products such as disk drive components, vibration dampers, and radio frequency interference shields. As always, Tapemark could also supply printed packaging and labeling for these products. The Tapemark Charity Pro-Am, meanwhile, was expecting in 2004 to surpass $5 million raised for charity over the decades.

Principal Divisions

Diagnostics; Medical; Consumer Products; Electronics/Industrial; Security.

Principal Competitors

Corium International, Inc.; 3M Corporation.

Key Dates:

Robert Klas, Sr., buys Tapemark from a larger St. Paul printing company.
Tapemark builds a new manufacturing facility in West St. Paul.
The first Tapemark Charity Pro-Am golf tournament is held.
Tapemark starts providing medical devices to larger manufacturers.
Tapemark begins making products for the industrial and electronics markets.
Robert Klas, Jr., becomes president of Tapemark.
A fourth facility is added to the West St. Paul site.
Tapemark moves into custom coating.
Tapemark purchases a fifth facility in West St. Paul.

Further Reading

Ehrlich, Jennifer, "Companies Offer Classes in English at Workplace," St. Paul Pioneer Press, May 14, 1999, p. 4E.

Greenberg, Herb, "TapeMark Man Charged by Life," St. Paul Dispatch, July 7, 1978, p. 36.

Meyers, Mike, "As Economy Improves, Companies Are Cautious," Star Tribune, November 9, 2003, p. 1A.

Shefchik, Rick, "Vital Links: The Tapemark Charity Pro-Am Has a High Profile among the State's Sporting Events," St. Paul Pioneer Press, June 25, 1992, p. 1D.

Wells, Jim, "Taped Together: After 32 Years, Tapemark Company and Southview Country Club Have Become Synonymous with a Golf Tournament," Saint Paul Pioneer Press, June 4, 2003, p. D8.

Sarah Ruth Lorenz