Sunday, October 5, 2003

Flottman printers thrive on constant changes

By Jenny Callison
Enquirer contributor

CRESTVIEW HILLS - The owners of Flottman Co. think that the entrepreneurial mind-set has been part of their company since its inception. For Sue Flottman Steller and her brothers Tom and Peter Flottman, setting ambitious goals and thinking strategically are second nature.

Their grandfather F.E. Flottman was in-house printer for a stove maker in the early 1900s. He faced unemployment in 1921 when his employer was bought by a business that had its own printing department. So, taking a calculated risk, he bought the equipment he had been using and set up his own print shop.

The gamble paid off. Flottman's enterprise became successful, and in the 1940s, his son Rodney joined him. When Rodney was at the helm in the 1970s, opportunity knocked once more.

• Although their expertise and high standards of cleanliness and efficiency have won over many customers in the pharmaceutical and consumer products industries, Flottman Co. counts on commercial printing (newsletters, brochures and other standard items) for about 40 percent of its revenues.
• Quality is the key, Sue Flottman Steller said, whether the product is a two-color newsletter or a meticulously printed set of instructions folded into a 1-inch-square insert. The company's partnership with Pharmalabel and Beck Carton has enabled it to better document the total quality procedures it had already implemented. The result is more consistency and fewer rejects.
• Flottman Co. is at 720 Centre View Blvd., Crestview Hills. Information: (859) 331-6636.
"Our largest customer was pharmaceutical company W.S. Merrell," Steller said. "They approached our father about purchasing special equipment that would allow him to fold printed paper into small sizes."

Added Tom Flottman: "The FDA required more information than would fit into a label, so Merrell needed to have that information printed and inserted in the package."

Rodney Flottman took a chance and bought one of the first pieces of such equipment in the country. As he began to produce the small, multifold inserts for Merrell, he got requests from other drug companies as well. A niche was born.

"A company can't stay the same," Tom Flottman said. "You have to look at opportunities as they come available, just like you take changes in the marketplace and try to see how your business is evolving. If you don't, you are producing 1980s products for 2000."

Flottman Co. was doing well, providing inserts and outserts - information placed outside a package - for pharmaceutical companies and manufacturers of consumer products. In the mid-1990s, another growth opportunity presented itself.

"Some of our larger competitors could offer all three products - labels, inserts, outserts and containers - and we couldn't," Peter Flottman said.

Realizing that risk was again necessary for growth, Flottman joined with North Carolina label maker Pharmalabel and Milwaukee packaging manufacturer Beck Carton to form Rxperts. This alliance would enable each member to draw on its partners' strengths and expand its own customer base.

Said Peter: "It put us in a position where we could compete."

Before signing on to the alliance in 1997, the three Flottmans debated the wisdom of entering such a mutually dependent relationship.

"There were questions," Tom Flottman said. "Are they any good? Will our cultures coexist?"

The decision has proved an inspired one.

"We were able to bring in new business right away, through accounts each other had," Tom said. "We have since hired a salesperson who is funded jointly by the three companies. We share information, and we cross-market to each others' customers. We do some advertising together, and we attend trade shows together."

About the same time that it joined the alliance, Flottman decided to commit itself to growth in a major way. The company built a 40,000-square-foot center here, even though its space needs were only half that.

"The plan to double their size - that's what is so amazing," said Nicole Christian, vice president of business development for the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

Since forming the alliance, Flottman has seen annual growth in the double digits. From 2001 to 2002, sales increased 17 percent. The company's strategic vision - and its commitment to developing its people, its capabilities and its customer base - were key factors in its winning a 2003 Small Business Success Award from the chamber, Christian said.

"They are so entrepreneurial, such risk-takers," she said. "They received high marks in all areas."


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