After nearly 140 years, Smyth Companies LLC has nurtured a strong reputation in its industry, President Scott Fisher says. “There’s a lot of respect for our knowledge and problem-solving abilities,” he says. “We’re very well known as an organization that’s been able to drive the market.”
Based in St. Paul, Minn., Smyth Companies manufactures primary labels, shrink and glue-applied labels for a multitude of market segments. Founders Henry H. Price and Elijah B. Mitchell founded the company in 1876 as Price and Mitchell.
When Henry Martin Smyth joined the company in 1877, its name was changed to Smyth and Mitchell, and Smyth became its sole proprietor four years later. Over the years, the company changed hands in ownership before William Hickey purchased it in 1948.
Now, Fisher says, Smyth Companies is in its fourth generation of Hickey family leadership and it serves a client base that includes many Fortune 500 companies. “We’re primarily in the food, beverage and health and beauty market segments,” Fisher says, noting that its customers include leaders such as The Clorox Co.
Smyth Companies has achieved success by keeping its 445 associates closely involved in the business, he says. “It’s not a structure where one or two individuals are telling everybody what to do,” Fisher asserts. “It really is about getting all associates engaged in the business and using their ideas to transform the business into a ‘best-in-class’ organization.”
Smyth Companies is dedicated to staying sustainable, Fisher says. “We’re very focused on sustainability with all our associates, both on an energy consumption standpoint and by reducing our landfill waste,” he states.
The company takes part in sustainable operations initiatives, including Tag and Label Manufacturers Institute Inc.’s L.I.F.E. and today, Smyth Companies has achieved L.I.F.E. certification at all of its production facilities. This has been achieved through practices such as the “reduction in waste that we generate during the production of labels and generating packages,” he says.
Additionally, Smyth Companies has earned Forestry Stewardship Council certification for its paper business. It also sells sustainable label products, including labels printed with soy-based inks. Through these practices, “We’re creating a healthy environment for future generations,” Fisher says.
A Lean Vision
In the past two years, Smyth Companies also has focused on reducing waste through lean initiatives. “We’ve created a good, strong vision around continuous improvement,” Fisher says.
Smyth Companies accomplishes this by communicating its strategy to its associates and empowering them, he says. “We teach our associates the tools and get them engaged in the transformation of the business,” he says. “In a lot of cases, organizations look at lean as an operational tool, when in fact it’s an enterprise tool.”
Lean helps nurture a culture of continuous improvement, building towards a “pit crew” mentality focused on getting things done efficiently, Fisher says. Although NASCAR pit crews focus on cars, “It’s no different with presses,” he asserts. “Today, we have to have a pit crew go in and rapidly change those machines.”
He adds that Smyth Companies keeps its associates engaged in its lean transformation through the use of videos created by Allen Hallberg, vice president of continuous improvement and lean. The videos, which are educational tools, “record the lean events, track the after actions and create awareness of how we would like to continue to transform our organization,” Fisher says.
He adds that he is proud of the level of quality in the videos. “These are equivalent to movie productions,” he says. “What better way [is there] to involve the associates and encourage them to engage in our quest for creating a ‘sustainable competitive advantage.’”
Up to the Challenges
Like many, Smyth Companies’ industry changed after the financial collapse of 2008. But the company did not remain stagnant, Fisher says. “You just can’t wait, hope and pray the market comes back,” he asserts. “You need to be extremely proactive in all the functional areas of your business.”
Looking ahead, Fisher says, Smyth Companies has to face the challenge of recruiting new workers.
“We can do it with the evolution of technology,” he says.