The plant is so big and runs so smoothly that one would guess it has been several decades, perhaps a couple of generations, in development. One would be mistaken. Mark Goldberg enjoys recounting the company’s relatively brief history.
“The business actually began in 1988 right here in Asheville—in the basement of the step-father of the man who is now our chief financial officer.” He laughs at the complicated relationships. “At the time I was living in Miami, and we began as strictly a sales organization. Someone else manufactured the cards. We were doing well enough that I moved here in 1990, and a couple of years later we realized that if we wanted to provide the level of service we needed for our customers, we’d have to start making our own product. So we went about learning how to print on plastic.”
That was in 1993, a mere 20 years ago. Goldberg explains the learning curve had some steep stretches.
“In commercial printing, it’s all very open. Everyone does pretty much the same thing, and they’re all willing to share what they know. Plastic printing is nothing like that. Everybody’s got their own secret recipe and secret sauce and product. Nobody shares any information. There’s a lot of voodoo in printing on plastic and then laminating and applying mag stripes.”
They learned their lessons, and along the way, Mark realized a secret ambition. “I was always told growing up that I would never make it as a jack of all trades, so I set out to find a position where I could prove people wrong. And this is it. We have constantly changed our size, our focus, our product, like IT systems, manufacturing equipment. It’s only been in the last ten years that I didn’t have the work shirt hanging in the closet to strip a press. My hands got dirty a lot. But the joy in later years was growing to a size that I could take some of those hats off.”
The key cards have been the anchor of the PLI line, which now numbers more than 100 products. And as business has grown, the percentages have shifted. Mark explains: “Now the hospitality cards account for about 70 percent of our business. The key cards themselves are about 50 percent.” Again, Peter joins the statement. “Three to four years ago hospitality represented 80 to 90 percent of our business, and it has continued to grow. But the growth of our other product lines has been so fast that, while hospitality keeps getting bigger, it now represents only about half our business.”
As the company grew, it acquired Locktech and became Plasticard-Locktech International. But that full name has become a formality limited to things like legal documents. The day-to-day identity is simply PLI. As chief sales and marketing officer, Peter Krauss was looking for ways to improvise additional sales.
“We consider key cards from a marketing perspective a mini billboard. Think about the number of times that a guest looks at that card on a daily basis, you’ve got advertisers who want to promote their product and service to those same hotel guests. It was a match made in heaven. The advertisers actually pay for the card, the hotel gets a free card, the advertiser gets to promote his product to basically a captive audience, and we get another revenue stream. So we have an entire division of our company that handles that.”
Peter’s realm is the sales center, which shares a common wall with the printing plant, but appears to be in a different universe. Here the sound is muffled under the insulation of several dozen telephone cubicles, where the sales staff contacts PLI’s 35,000 active customers. Peter says they also have an international staff that works from 10 pm to 7 am to reach clients in different time zones. He says many of the calls go to established clients, selling additional products and services.[quote float=”right”]“To sell a customer just one product is silly. We joke in our sales meeting, ‘Would you like fries with that?’ Now we’ve moved beyond that to, ‘Would you like a milkshake? How about apple pie?’”[/quote] “To sell a customer just one product is silly. You’ve already got the relationship established, you’re already in there. You want to sell that customer as much as possible. So we’ve continued to expand our portfolio of products. We joke in our sales meeting, ‘Would you like fries with that?’ Now we’ve moved beyond that to, ‘Would you like a milkshake? How about apple pie?’ So we’ve added all these incremental elements of products and services that we’re able to offer a customer a one-stop shop.”
Under the category of “milkshake and apple pie,” he lists the printed material in hotel rooms, such as TV listings, room-service menus, even “Do Not Disturb” signs. Employee ID cards and credentials are part of the ancillary products, along with street graphics and banners. And as their product line has expanded horizontally, they have also expanded vertically, serving the client at every step from sales pitch to delivery of the finished card.