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Member Spotlight: Rose City Label

Posted Friday, May 25, 2018 by Sarah Sudar, Copywriter, Printing Industries of America.

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Portland, Oregon based Rose City Label is the oldest label company in the Northwest United States. President Scott Pillsbury wasn’t passionate about the family business at a young age, but as he got older, he knew he would end up in it.

After high school, Pillsbury entered the United States Air Force Academy in 1985 and worked in sales at Merrill Lynch in Seattle before moving back home and joining Rose City Label in 1994 as an account manager focusing on the marketing side of the business.

“I didn’t want to go directly from the Air Force into the business,” says Pillsbury. “I wanted to do something else and bring some experience to the business.”

He never learned how to run a press but worked his way through the business, spending time in prepress, finishing, packaging, and shipping to understand the different departments. He became President in 1998 and his sister, Whitney, who had entered the business six months ahead of him in 1993, joined him as Vice President after the unexpected passing of their father, Mike Pillsbury.

“We had to pick it up, become partners, and move the business forward,” says Pillsbury.Mike Pillsbury purchased Rose City Label in 1974 from Wayne Frie, whose father, George, started the business in 1928. Mike had a background in the printing industry, working as a paper salesman for Zellerbach Paper. He didn’t know how to run a press but he had a passion for business and saw a good opportunity when it came along.

Rose City Label started out letterpress printing for cake box bands and insurance policy seals in the 1920s. The company moved to sheetfed offset printing for glue applied, heat seal, and adhesive back labels, and in the 1960s they were early adopters of flexographic roll label printing. In the 1980s, they became experts in foil and hot stamp printing and now embrace digital printing technology.

The company prints high-quality custom labels for anyone with a product in a bag, box, or bottle. They work with customers to decide the right printing platform, the right material (with over 50 label materials in stock), and other design options. Their current roster of clients includes producers of craft beer, premium wine, gourmet food, and consumer goods.

Rose City Label got into the craft beer industry about 10 years ago, but the movement from bottles into cans has slowed down that business. In the last five years, they upgraded their equipment to allow for the printing of challenging wine labels and have seen growth within that business line. And, being based in Oregon has allowed them to also print for cannabis products, another growing area of business.

Thinking outside the box, Rose City Label has also found nontraditional solutions for labels, such as dielectric mylar insulators for electronics, polyester barriers for cellular research, and die-cut protective labels designed to protect young tree branch buds from browsing deer. Pillsbury says he gets asked all the time if he’s going to diversify his business but he’s quick to say that they have been printing labels for 90 years and once they get it figured out, they’ll move onto something else. With commercial printers outsourcing label printing to them, business is steady. 2017 was the most profitable year in the company’s 90-year history. “Having a physical label on a physical product is hard to replace with a PDF,” adds Pillsbury. “Printing has gone online, but this still has value in the marketplace.”

Keeping technology current is something that not only makes them attractive to customers but also to their family of 19 employees. In fact, two of their employees have been with the company for over 30 years and several employees have been with Rose City Label for over 20 years.

“We have wives and husbands, brothers and sisters, and even at one point a mother and a son,” says Pillsbury. “Half of the employees are related to someone else, which can sometimes be a challenge when they want to take vacations.”

He adds that people are reassured by the company’s investment in technology in order to stay relevant and viable for the future. Even the traditional press operators are happy to see digital technology in the business because they want to work for a healthy, growing company.

In addition to advancing technology, Rose City Label also makes an effort to promote within the company so employees can advance in both skill and pay. Employees appreciate the company’s early adoption of the national TLMI LIFE eco-friendly certification. Being green is important to Rose City Label, so they water wash flexo plates, recycle, and have recently purchased 100% wind power to run the business. Celebratory pizza parties and the encouragement to bike to work make them stick around too.

Though there isn’t a third generation ready to take charge yet, Pillsbury says he’s focused on keeping the business strong and profitable.