As traffic hustles up and down Sweeten Creek Road in Asheville, it’s easy to ignore the low-slung business park that sits just south of I-40. A narrow access road winds past a UPS delivery center and a couple of smaller, anonymous buildings until finally, tucked away in the back, sits a sprawling complex that houses a worldwide leader in its industry, an American manufacturer—yes, Made in America—that dominates its niche of 21st Century industrial technology. The company is PLI.
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n all likelihood you’ve never heard of PLI—and you’re probably carrying one of their products in your wallet. “If you’ve stayed in a major hotel anywhere in the world, you’ve used our product,” says Mark Goldberg, President and CEO. His right-hand man, Peter Krauss, picks up the theme: “If you’ve gone to a major retailer, you’ve probably used our gift cards.” Or if you have a supermarket discount card (called “Loyalty cards” in the business), you’re also an unknowing PLI user.
Warming to the topic, Mark and Peter begin to ping-pong the facts of their place in the plastic card market. First Peter: “We signed an exclusive deal with Hilton Worldwide in January of this year. We also have Starwood and Marriott as clients.”
Mark continues: “We also manufacture cards to play slot machines for several casinos. We serve the cruise lines. In the hospitality category, we have 80 percent of the domestic market and 60 percent worldwide.”
Peter moves on to the retail market. “We work with just about every major retailer. Barnes and Noble, Target, Victoria’s Secret, Domino’s, LL Bean, the Gap.” He rattles off a list of clients that sound like a virtual shopping mall. “We supply their gift cards, loyalty cards, point of purchase displays.”
Goldberg and Krauss take a visitor on a tour of their building, a printing facility and telephone sales center that covers 130,000 square feet. That’s about three acres, three football fields. The space is large enough to accommodate 310 employees on the printing floor and in the international telephone sales center. The printing area includes several rooms where computer technicians monitor the operations of massive machines that pump out more than two million cards a day.
The space is brightly lit and quietly active. The machinery produces a hum that provides a muted background sound quiet enough to allow normal conversation. The technicians perform their tasks with an economic efficiency that points out how far we have come from the brawny, sweaty era of the rust-belt industries. Blank sheets of plastic run through apparatus such as an Indigo digital press, a flatbed digital press, a high-speed optical sorter, or a plotter die-cutter. (We’ve also come a long way from photo offset.) The sheets are printed, cut, stacked and packaged in a series of sleek, seemingly effortless operations.
Peter estimates the equipment represents an investment well in excess of $10 million, and Mark adds, “We have redundant equipment to deal with any emergency. If we have a reprint, or were not satisfied with something, we can literally stop the press and go back on a job and make sure we deliver what the customer is expecting.”
“That’s the huge distinction,” Peter adds. “We’re a sales organization that happens to manufacture its own product, not a manufacturer that has to sell its product. There’s a distinct cultural and philosophical difference in what we do and how we do it. So when we always put the customer first, everything else has to fall into place to make sure we’re serving his ultimate need.”
Mark Goldberg, President & CEO of PLI
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