What to look for when choosing a labelling machinery supplier

Talking to some of our customers about how and why they chose ALS as their supplier, a few interesting facts came to light which I thought I would share, as since you are reading this, you too may be considering which labelling companies to contact to start discussing your requirements.

I’ll assume you have done the obvious and Googled like mad, flicked through a few pages of each web site and made a few quick decisions on who to shortlist for contacting. I guess if you’re still reading, ALS has at least got through round one!

Next up, you’ll want to discuss your labelling application face to face with a knowledgeable Sales Engineer, who can quickly grasp an understanding of your needs which may cover; speed, accuracy, product variations, production line space restrictions, ease of use and budget. During this meeting, the Sales Engineer will show you examples of similar previous installations the company has supplied and offer references of satisfied customers – possibly even arrange a visit to another customer’s site.

Most times, the Sales Engineer should be able to formulate an idea of what the final solution will entail during the initial meeting, after all, he is a Sales Engineer and will have had previous engineering roles, so can talk on both a technical level but keep an eye on the commercial aspects for you too. We find that most new labelling requirements are solved using old techniques, applied in a new way.

However, there are times when a challenge is presented and you want to be assured that the Sales Engineer has a technical team to call upon to help engineer a new solution and which has the resources to build a test machine to check a theory or prove a principal and give you some reassurance.

When the solution has been decided, the Sales Engineer will write a proposal as part of a fixed-price quotation, which clearly states the user requirements specifications that you have given and a functional description of how the labelling system will operate. If you need aspects of the project cost broken down then this is what you will get, all laid out clearly and unambiguously. Alternatively, if you prefer an all-inclusive, fully commissioned price then we can do that as well.

If it’s a close call between two or more suppliers and so far we’ve all done a good professional job of listening to you and then presenting our individual solutions within your budget, then you need to start looking more closely at your offers and the companies behind the quotations.

Go and visit them! You can tell a lot by watching other customers’ machines being made (if they are indeed made in the UK) and the people who make them. Are they using stainless-steel or aluminium? Is it an efficient looking workshop? Is it clean, well-lit and are the staff helpful, knowledgeable and look happy to be there? We had one customer come to ALS once who remarked that it was good to see an “honesty” box of cash, accessible to all who bought chocolate, crisps and drinks from our snack/canteen area – he remarked that they daren’t leave out money at his own company for fear it would disappear overnight!

Back to checking out the company – do a credit check! We’ll have done one on you! Its nothing personal but the past two years has seen some good businesses go under and if we are giving you credit, over stage payments, then we want to know we’ll get paid at the end. And if you are going to give us a deposit, you’ll want the same assurance.

What about installation and service? Does the company send out its technicians when you need support or does it have its own regionally based Service Engineers? Do they carry spare parts, just in case? Ask whether the Service Engineers are actual employees of the labelling company or whether they just use contractors? It makes a big difference. Contractors can’t possibly know another supplier’s machines better than they do, so why use a company that relies on a 3rd party for customer support and which also supports 50 other companies? Remember that servicing labelling equipment is not as simple as fixing a washing machine or a photocopier and chances are, if you’ve stopped labelling on-line, you won’t be shipping product out the door, so yes, service response is important but it also goes hand in hand with quality of response.

Is all that talk of machines breaking down making you nervous? Well, I’m not going to tell you that ALS labellers never break down, let’s be realistic, all machines need some attention at some point. The trick is to specify the right machine for the job. If the Sales Engineer has done his assessment correctly, he won’t be selling you the entry level machine if you clearly stated you need it to run 24 hours, 7 days a week. That’s counter productive for both of us. We would rather turn down a sale rather than sell you the wrong kit for the job – we don’t want our Field Engineers’ time taken up by multiple visits back to your place every other day trying to get a machine to work which really wasn’t up to the job in the first place. This is why we sell a complete range of machines.

Experience counts for a lot in our industry and that is how we can offer an unconditional 2-year on-site warranty on all our label application machinery. If we regularly made mistakes selling customers the wrong machines, we could not offer a guarantee as long as this and still keep going. Maybe you’ll get other offers that match our 2-year warranty but ask whether it is just a one-time offer to win your order or whether it is standard. ALS started offering our 2-year warranty in 1997, so its safe to say we haven’t made too many specification gaffes. This is how we have retained our customers and get repeat orders.

So, in closing, after you’ve compared label machine prices, I urge you to look at the company behind the quote and ask yourself if you really feel happy doing business with them.