The new definition of Resilience Zippy Labels – back from catastrophe

The printing industry is a capital intensive one with many millions of Rands invested in equipment, consumables, stock and completed work. For most of us a catastrophe would be a machine seizing or a platesetter blowing a laser and requiring weeks of waiting and repairs to bring it back up to working condition. But what is a real catastrophe? Imagine having your entire company washed away in a single event, all your equipment, your stock, consumables and completed work gone in one afternoon – that would be a catastrophe.

For Kevin, Maryke Bev and John Thomas of Zippy Labels, this was their reality on 9 November 2016 when the heavens opened and the rains came down in deluge. What made this event all the more devastating was considering that Johannesburg – and most of South Africa – was in the grips of a severe drought, the worst in many years. Receiving a phone call to say that water was coming into the factory seemed to be something of an over-reaction. However, the true magnitude of the incident left them speechless. 

The deluge resulted in huge volumes of water accumulating outside the retaining wall of the property where Zippy Labels was situated. Eventually the sheer volume of water proved too much and the wall collapsed sending a swathe of water hurtling towards the buildings on the inside. Only solid bricks and mortar were able to resist the force. Cars of all sizes were moved like Matchbox toys, roller doors offered no resistance and machinery was either flooded or cast aside like veritable flotsam. Terrified staff were left stranded, standing on top of the very machines that they had been operating minutes before.

The true devastation only really became apparent the next morning, once the reality of the event came to full realisation. Machines were flooded, moved and damaged beyond recovery. Stock – tons of stock delivered on the morning of the flood – was destroyed. Printed labels – for many customers of all sizes – ready for delivery were water-damaged at best or washed away completely at worst. One set of labels was found as far away as Midrand. 

Maryke stated, ‘It was surreal, I felt like I was dreaming and that I would wake up, but the reality was far worse than any nightmare. Everything was gone. I was absolutely speechless, everything we had spent more than 20 years building was destroyed.’

Kevin added, ‘Despite the scale of the destruction, we were certain Zippy Labels would survive. We had no idea how we would do it but from the very beginning we were determined to make it work. Our strong Christian faith gave us strength throughout the ordeal.’

When asked how they tackled the process of trying to see how they could salvage their business, Maryke commented, ‘It all seems a bit of a blur. We just went day-by-day and one task at a time. After our staff, the priority was our clients. We went through the process of contacting all our clients and informing them of what had happened, especially those who had lost work.’

Kevin added, ‘Then the most amazing thing happened, the first of many – other label printers around Johannesburg started to contact us with offers to assist us. What this did for us was to give us the ability to act as brokers while we went through the process of rebuilding. Our insurers were also fantastic, they assisted in getting an assessor out to evaluate the extent of the damage and they expedited pay outs to allow us to start again. Before we knew it, there was hope once again.’

However, there was still the matter of the staff. With no equipment of its own, Zippy Labels was left without any choice but to retrench almost half of its workforce. Maryke commented, ‘This was heart-wrenching, many of these wonderful people had been with us for a number of years, even since the very beginning and it was like having to retrench our own family. With the help of a labour consultant and in close discussion with the staff we were able to be as fair as possible to those staff that we could not retain.’

Despite difficulties of this nature, gradual progress was made. A big part of this was the co-operation and assistance of suppliers who expedited the placing of orders for new systems and solutions to replace all the equipment which was damaged. Kevin commented, ‘Once we had been paid out by Renasa Insurance Company, it was obvious that there would not be sufficient funds for us to re-establish without financing. We have banked with Standard Bank from the beginning and there was no hesitation on their part to provide us with the necessary financing to essentially give us a clean-slate start.’

Past experience played a major role in the decisions for the future. All the existing suppliers rallied around Kevin, Maryke, Bev and John to assist in facilitating fast delivery of new equipment and solutions in order to allow Zippy Labels to get up and running as fast a possible. Maryke commented, ‘The response from all our suppliers was unbelievable. Orders were placed and they ensured the fastest possible delivery dates.’

However, before any installation could take place, Kevin, Maryke and operations director Gavin Letcher decided to find new premises. This was done for two main reasons, firstly the ability to start over meant that processes could be streamlined and secondly, the memories of the fateful day were still too fresh and painful. While time was of the essence, suitable premises appeared limited, but the final decision was made for a factory in Greenhills Industrial Park. Although considerably smaller than the original premises it was ideal for Zippy Labels’ requirements.

The first machine to arrive was a new HP Indigo digital label press from Kemtek. Kemtek stated, Following the flood at Zippy Labels production premises, the two HP Indigo 4600 machines were deemed destroyed due to water ingression. As a result, Zippy asked Kemtek Imaging Systems to assist in expediting the supply of a new digital press. As luck would have it, a WS6800, currently HP’s market-leading narrow-web printing solution for digital labels and packaging production, was already ‘on the water’, originally destined for installation at Kemtek’s Digital Centre of Excellence in Johannesburg. 

With some speedy decision-making and paperwork concluded, the press was purchased and installation and training was duly undertaken and completed by the qualified and experienced Kemtek sales and technical team, ensuring that production could get underway as smoothly and swiftly as possible.

‘It was a stroke of luck that we had a WS6800 readily-available at that time,’ commented Carl Zerle, head of Kemtek’s digital division. ‘Replacing both of Zippy’s existing 4600 models, it offers the team a whole new scope of print capabilities and the flexibility to produce self-adhesive, wraparound, shrink and IML labels if required. Furthermore, we’re thrilled that we were able to assist Kevin and the team during such a tough situation and delighted that production recommenced within a matter of a few weeks.’

In addition, Kemtek also supplied a Flint FII Combi Uunit flexographic plate exposure unit to handle all of the platemaking requirements. 

This was necessary to keep the two flexographic presses, installed by the company, supplied with plates. Zippy once again opted for two makes of flexo press allowing it flexibility in production processes. From SArepco, Zippy ordered a Mark Andy Performance P3 press. Paul Bouwer of SArepco commented, ‘We have known Kevin and Maryke, Bev and John for over two decades, from the time they started in their label printing business working from one of the back rooms at home. We have seen the company grow steadily from locally made and second-hand equipment into brand new machinery.

‘The first big move was in 2004 when they purchased two Mark Andy 2200 eight-colour UV flexo presses. Another 2200 six-colour UV flexo press was added at the end of 2006.

‘As a result of the loss of production due to the disaster, Zippy Labels was desperate for equipment to be up-and-running ASAP. As the insurance claim was being finalised Mark Andy USA put an eight-colour P3 13”/330mm wide press into the production plan, this press was completed within only eight weeks and was sent on its way to Johannesburg. SArepco unpacked and did the installation and commissioning in under two weeks. 

‘The Performance P3 press is very quick and easy to set up for all sorts of narrow web jobs – especially short runs that are less than 500 running metres. Material wastage is low making it is a very cost-effective solution. This Performance press is the ideal solution for Zippy Labels which also runs digital work.

‘The Performance series from Mark Andy is the most sold inline narrow web converting system with over 700 installations worldwide, this since its launch seven years ago. 

‘In addition to the Mark Andy P3 press our showroom Rotoflex HSI 330 high speed servo drive rewinder was delivered and commissioned. This is the very first HSI horizontal series rewinder to be commissioned in South Africa. This rewinder has both rotary shear blades, as well as razor blade slitting that is used for extremely quick set up. The rewinder also has a very short web to enable digital jobs to be finished in extra quick time with the minimum of waste. Longer jobs are also run very efficiently as the HIS can run at speeds up to 300 metres per minute. Full electronic web inspection can also be fitted in the future as the additional inspection area and rollers are already in this section.’

The other make of press, installed by ROTOCON was an MPS EF-340 eight-colour high-quality and highly automated multi-substrate flexo press accompanied by two ROTOCON Ecoline RCSI-330 inspection rewinders. The MPS EF press is equipped with GEW low energy UV curing systems, the innovative MPS Quick Change die-cut station, multi-laminating unit, and a delam/relam station. For label finishing, the two ROTOCON RCSI inspection rewinders are equipped with BST web guiding systems and shear knives for slitting.

Patrick Aengenvoort, Director and Co–Owner of ROTOCON said, ‘ROTOCON has established a strong partnership with Zippy Labels, and is a long-time supplier of Zippy’s tooling including flexible dies, anilox rollers, magnetic and print cylinders. Zippy’s new investment of an advanced MPS flexo printing press and efficient ROTOCON Ecoline rewinders complements  its versatile offering in label printing and finishing.’

Zippy Labels also installed the Fastrack F350 digital finishing machine from Morgancoat. This machine features semi-rotary die-cutting, laminating and UV printing/varnishing. In addition, Morgancoat supplies Zippy Labels with a range of self-adhesive label stock materials.

Kevin commented, ‘While we have fewer machines in our production plant, all of our systems are brand-new state-of-the-art technology allowing production to be more efficient and streamlined. The service and support we have had from all our suppliers has been overwhelming and humbling. We are grateful for their support and assistance.’

The installation of these systems in a brand-new facility has meant that Zippy Labels has been able to create an ergonomic workflow ensuring maximum use of available space and optimal throughput of materials ensuring fast and efficient production flows.

Maryke added, ‘While the disaster was an horrendous experience, it has had a few positive outcomes. Most of the staff that we had to retrench have found alternate employment, in some cases we have been able to take a few back. From a process point of view it has allowed us to put new systems and structures in place to create smoother operating procedures and it has generally helped us to become more efficient. The only advice I would offer to other companies is to make sure that your are well insured, that your paperwork is in order and that you have adequate back-ups. Without these things we would not have been able to recover our business.’

While 9 November 2016 is a day that everyone at Zippy Labels would rather forget, the result has been nothing short of spectacular. A new and revived company has emerged from this disaster with a renewed drive and energy and a determination to turn adversity into opportunity and catastrophe into success. To Kevin, Maryke, Gavin, John and Beverley, thank you for allowing us to be a part of this heart-warming and encouraging story. Congratulations on coming back with such strength and determination. We join all your suppliers and friends in wishing you every success for the next 22 years and beyond.

For more information on Zippy Labels visit: , e-mail: or call 011 452 7708