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CastlePierce continues to have eye on future growth, 135 years later

New offset press reduces turn-time through increased capacity, efficiency and flexibility

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December 14, 2022

OSHKOSH – Growing up, working in the family business – CastlePierce Corporation, an offset folding carton and flexible packaging print company – fifth-generation CEO Tom Castle said he never saw himself being in it for the long run.

“I grew up in the business and I worked on equipment starting at 15,” he said. “So, I grew up running presses, working on presses, in the bindery, in shipping, did that through high school and then spring/summer breaks from college until I came back and got involved on the day-to-day.”

During that time, Castle said working for the family business was more of “an easy way to make money for summer fun.”

“I didn’t want to be involved in the family business,” he said. “I think family businesses are awesome, but with a lot of pressure and a different stress, and I didn’t want to do that.”

That was, he said, until he started learning about graphic arts at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.

“I started to do packaging classes,” he said. “We were a commercial printer at that time. So, we did catalogs, annual reports, calendars and booklet displays for people. And I realized there was this world of packaging I could take us in that direction while utilizing the equipment we already had and going out and finding some different customers that would be more repeat work.”

Castle said he thinks the potential to take the business in a new direction – establish those repeat customers – is what solidified his desire to return to the family business and eventually take the reins as CEO.

“I think it was the interest in staying in the printing side of it – meaning that the ink on paper – but yet taking the business in a direction that challenged us to do repeat work and be involved in some that seemed to have a better growth,” he said.

135 years of history
The company’s history dates back to the turn of the 20th century – in 1888 as Castle Printing by William Morgan Castle.

It consisted of William, a typesetter and a pressman and two, one-color presses.

The company installed the first linotype machines in commercial use north of Milwaukee in 1899.

The company underwent a name change in 1900 when Harry Pierce, the pressroom supervisor and ace pressman, became a partner.

The two families worked side by side, generation after generation until 1963.

When Harry’s son Elmer died, the Pierce family’s involvement in day-to-day operations stopped.

The Castle family purchased the final company holdings from the Pierce family in 1982, however, preserved the CastlePierce name to honor the longtime collaboration.

“We’re one of the longest, continually same family-owned businesses in the State of Wisconsin,” Tom Castle said. “That family commitment is here to stay. I have no intent on selling this business.”

Castle said he believes in providing employees with a strong place to work.

“CastlePierce is here to continue to support the community,” he said. “We have been a mainstay in Oshkosh, and I want to continue to be a mainstay in Oshkosh and growth is what’s in our future.”

Castle said the company’s decades-long commitment to building partnerships with its customers is second nature – because they understand how to do that internally as a family-owned business.

“We have this statement that says, ‘When we make a statement, we make it an ink – kind of a play on the printing side,” he said. “But really, if we commit to something we’re going to follow through with it. We’re going to make sure it’s right. If it’s not right, unfortunately, the first time, we’re going to make it right on our dollar and we’re going to continue through that process to build a partnership and not just have a vendor or a customer relationship. I strongly believe in service and quality but building a partnership with them. I think that comes from family values and having to work through the conflicts of family business.”

Impact of COVID-19 pandemic
Castle said like many other businesses, the beginning of the pandemic brought with it great uncertainty.

“Like everybody else, we had the initial what was going to happen?” he said. “Where were we? Were we going to have a business? How dire was it going to be?”

Castle said when customers began reaching out to him confirming the necessity of the products CastlePierce provides, “it gave me some hope that, alright, we’re going to come out.”

// Komori Lithrone press at CastlePierce will be production ready around the first of the year 2023. Submitted Photo

He said the company also noticed a shift in the buying habits of consumers during and after the pandemic.

“What we hear in the industry is the center of the grocery store – comfort foods and sustainable packaging,” he said. “As we have always been able to do that – we saw growth on that side of the business, unexpected growth. So we were fortunate that after the initial ‘who knew what was going on’ – our business started to see quite an uptick.”

Castle said that growth has only continued.

“We actually had 22% sales growth for our fiscal year end 2022 – I’m in a September fiscal year-end,” he said.

Castle said like many other businesses, CastlePierce has run into challenges when it comes to hiring.

“Employees have been phenomenal, the ones we have,” he said. “It’s (been hard) finding the talent to come in as we’ve had this growth. We struggle to find machine operators who have experience, who have worked on our type of equipment in the valley or just in general.”

New press to meet demand
Recently, CastlePierce installed a Komori Lithrone GX40 Advance 8 Color UV press – which CastlePierce Technical Director Jeff Elmer said will add to the company’s print and converting capabilities focused on medium-large quantity paperboard packaging.

“The sophistication of the GLX840 advance press makes it possible to run faster, change over faster, print on a wider range of substrates, all while controlling and maintaining the brand color integrity,” he said. “Brand packagers crave the best retail shelf presence, so the inclusion of press features like UV curing, coater and fully automatic color and register control support our ability to print a wide range of embellishments like soft touch aqueous, spot gloss and dull varnishes, special colors and APET plastics.”

Elmer said the new press features include:
Eight color stations + Aqueous coaterUV inks and curing29-inch x 41-inch sheet sizeRun speed of 18,000 sheets per hourSubstrates from 40-pound paper up to 40-point boardPQA-S camera fully automatic color and register control
Castle said CastlePierce purchased some new equipment just before the pandemic, eventually leading to the UV press purchase.

“(The purchase of that new equipment) would take us and continue to give us growth opportunities and flexible packaging, which is another print medium we do,” he said. “As COVID hit and the consumers’ buying habits changed, that growth exploded internally at Castle Paris and with other printers. So, we needed to further our capacity and offerings on that, thus buying (the UV press).”

Castle said it wasn’t necessarily in the plans to purchase the Komori press this soon.

“Honestly, it was not in the plan three years ago to continue to grow this quickly on our offset side and to buy this press,” he said. “I was focused on the flexible side of our business. But as the consumer’s demand changed, our positioning with customers is growing. We want to be able to stay nimble and offer quick turn-times, and so we need to continue to grow our capacity offerings and that’s what this press does.”

Castle said the new press doesn’t enhance or change many of the offerings CastlePierce already has.

“It continues to grow us on the capacity side,” he said.

Castle said the new press extends the company’s key goals of best-in-class turn-times and quality for customers, while also increasing our efficiency, capacity and flexibility in operations.

“We’re excited to share this speed-to-market and excellence in print capability with our customers,” he said. “What a great way to kick off our 135th year in business.”

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