Heartland Label Printers LLC

When is a commodity not a commodity? When it is provided by a company that does not treat its product like a commodity. For Heartland Label Printers – which prints labels for a wide variety of warehouses, grocery stores and other applications – the product is only the beginning.

“We have the technical capabilities to create a product as good or better than anyone else,” Vice President and General Manager Steven Wilhelms maintains. “What sets us apart are a couple of things: We take a very hands-on, relationship-type of approach to drive most of our sales. We believe in the ‘high touch’ quality and service approach, even though to a great extent we’re dealing with commodity products. This approach is somewhat unique in the commodity label market, but it allows us to get close to our customers, creating a positive framework for collaboration. Heartland collaborates with customers and partners to develop innovative solutions. Collaboration is the key to making us different in the eyes of our customers. We work together to identify new ideas and develop new products that create value.” 

Heartland Label Printers thrives on developing new products for new applications and working closely with its customers to do so. “Based on our size and the technical depth of our team, we have the ability to handle challenging – and at times, even strange – requests that deal with developmental products,” Wilhelms says. “If you have something different, strange, something that needs some technical development, like a unique application-type label, Heartland is the place to call.

“We have a great deal of experience developing unique new things in conjunction with our customers and partners,” Wilhelms continues. “This is our passion. We don’t position ourselves as somebody who is going to make the fanciest, 12-color package labels for cosmetics, beverages or the like. That is not our game. Our game is to play primarily in the shipping, grocery and specialty label businesses and produce great everyday products, at the same time as developing unique new, high-value products for current markets with the ability to extend into adjacent markets.”

That kind of innovation has resulted in 6,000 different parts for more than 1,500 customers. “One new innovation we have recently invested a great deal of time developing is a line of liner-less label products,” Wilhelms says. “We call it ECOTECH™ Liner-Free Labels, and its development was based on strong, collaborative partnerships with others in the grocery and distribution markets.”

The advantages of liner-less labels are many. “You can put up to 70 percent more labels on a roll because you’re not throwing away the liner, which represents about 40 percent of the roll,” Wilhelms points out. “This improves productivity by reducing the number of roll changes required and also reduces landfill waste, saves on packaging and ultimately, makes the labels significantly more environmentally friendly. In addition, you don’t have used liner laying around on the floor, which can cause safety problems in some operations.

“Liner-less labels have been around as a niche product in the label market for a long time, but with better face stocks, better cutting and dispensing technology and the new advantages of Heartland’s ECOTECH™ production methodology, liner-free labels are starting to become much more mainstream,” Wilhelms asserts. “Heartland is leading the way on this. We believe we have developed a better mousetrap and are putting our ECOTECH™ products into everything from back-of-the-house restaurant applications to deli counters in grocery stores, coffee houses and even into high-speed variable print applications in large distribution centers.” 

Unique Synergy

Heartland Label Printers is part of a larger company called Heartland Technology Group, which also owns Heartland Business Systems. Heartland Business Systems has been helping Enterprise organizations meet their IT goals through customized hardware, software and service solutions since 1992.

“Our relationship with Heartland Business Systems provides a unique synergy with Heartland Label,” Wilhelms says. “Because both companies grew up together, the label business has also developed a niche that is unusual to the industry. As a key platform for sales, Heartland Label Printers also sells thermal printers, bar code scanners and label-printing software. Additionally, Heartland Label Printers can tap into the expertise of Heartland Business Systems to offer even more. 

“The example I like to use with people is if somebody was building a new warehouse across the street and they wanted a company to install the wireless infrastructure, sell them a warehouse management system, install all of the IT infrastructure needed to support their operation, provide them with all of their scanners, label printers and oh-by-the-way, sell them labels, we could do it,” Wilhelms says. “I am not aware of a company in our market that can do all of that.” 

Physical Expansion

Heartland Label Printers has more than 100,000 square feet of space in its facility in Little Chute, Wis., with expansion plans on the drawing board. Additional space will be required to handle existing product line growth and provide the capabilities needed to support Heartland’s new product development efforts. The company has added multiple presses to its operation in the last two years and has expanded the square footage and capacity in its California operation, as well.

The California plant in Rancho Cucamonga serves the western portion of the country and manufactures much of what is sold in that region. “We also use the California location to distribute some of the specialty products produced exclusively in our Wisconsin facility,” Wilhelms says. “Much of the business in our California location is small-quantity customer pick-up, which is quite different than in other parts of the country. Our operation there is well-suited for that type of business.”

Research and Development

Several people on staff work on research projects as well as have other responsibilities. “We have several new people that have extensive experience in product development,” Wilhelms says. “By adding those folks, we have extended our knowledge base so that we can take on more challenging raw material, products and technology development initiatives. This bolsters our strategy of being able to create new things for customers and partners.”

The company has incorporated lean manufacturing concepts into its operation. “We brought the lean manufacturing model into Heartland a year ago,” Wilhelms says. “We are converting much of what we do to the lean model, which combines good standard operating procedures with detailed metrics and regular review processes. That has given us better process control in all aspects of the operation and has allowed us, specifically in the area of quality, to reach industry-best levels. Our quality improvement is one of the things we’re most proud of.”

In addition to the wide variety of label products discussed, Heartland Label Printers also provides point-of-sale receipt paper rolls to distributors and direct customers nationwide. Point-of-sale receipt paper rolls are used extensively in such retail outlets as grocery stores, fast-food restaurants, convenience stores and ATMs.

Wilhelms attributes the company’s success to its employees’ entrepreneurial spirit and its desire to keep finding ways to grow. “We maintain strong personal relationships with our customers,” he says. “We listen, we think outside of the box and we support all of that with operations and customer care teams that truly believe that the customer is king. When we get a new customer, we keep them.”

In the future, Wilhelms sees continued geographical expansion and continued product development. “Our future is as bright as ever,” he declares. “Our capabilities are growing all the time, and I don’t see anything slowing us down.” 

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