A Chat with the Tyson Foods In-plant Manager

Russell Gayer

Photo Credit: In-plant Graphics

I recently spoke with Russell Gayer, manager of Printing Services at the Tyson Foods in-plant in Arkansas. Gayer, a writer and humorist in his spare time — he finished third in a Toastmaster’s district humor speech contest, and has a humor blog and a book — shared with me details about this label in-plant (Tyson also has a “corporate” digital in-plant that handles stationery and forms). The label printing operation has 52 people and a budget of $10 million. It specializes in pressure-sensitive labels for both branded and private label brands for a variety of Tyson products. It currently produces about 25% of the company’s overall needs, but that percentage is expected to grow over the next two years.


Two areas we spoke about were of particular interest: the in-plant’s transformation to become a “solutions provider” and its innovation. In this case, I think the two are linked.

Becoming a Solutions Provider and Offering Innovation

Tyson Print Services (TPS) is re-branding itself as a “solutions provider,” something that I’ve heard in-plants discuss and counsel other in-plants to target as a goal. The label industry and technology are both changing and some commodity items now involve variable (and static) data printing, such as production information for traceability.

Gayer sees an opportunity for growth over the next three to five years in high-end prime labels for premium brands. He brought technical expertise into the shop from outside to support this when he hired new employees. Team members visit the food production plants to see what’s happening and make recommendations. These recommendations can be to solve problems, lower costs, increase production, etc. Solutions might include working with different substrates or new designs that catch shopper attention and help sell more products. The team also proactively looks at what is in the market and offers ideas to product managers, calling on them to get an idea of what projects are in the pipeline, just like an external salesperson.

“We’ll dress up a label and show marketing and say ‘what do you think?’” Gayer says. Bringing innovation and ideas to customers has been well received and has given the operation more visibility. “We demonstrate that we understand our customers’ business and that we are generating ideas about how to help grow their market share of the business,” he continues. “Bringing innovation to our customers exhibits our expertise and helps them meet their goals.” So far, this approach has been well received by our company’s marketing groups.

Support from the Top and Adding Value Through Sustained Relationships

Russell’s group reports to the director of packaging, who is a shop advocate and sees the value of having the shop in-house, particularly when negotiating with other vendors. The in-plant also has the support of upper management and is looked at as an asset, rather than a liability.

TPS has gone through an outsourcing cycle, which resulted in a focused analysis that took costs out of the process, but also found that short-run labels were not that efficient to run and outsourcing them cost more than running them in-house. Printing these short run labels in-house offers faster turnaround times and adds leverage when negotiating with external providers.

Russell sees TPS creating value in different ways. “Everyone wants a bigger share. It forces us to work harder,” he says. “My number one tip is to create and sustain relationships. When a salesperson leaves one company and moves to another they can take up to 70% of the business with them. People aren’t loyal to companies. They are loyal to people who have taken good care of them and proven to be trustworthy. These are your brand advocates.” And that’s no joke.

Let me know how you’re innovating in your in-plant, and how your in-plant matters to your organization.

This post first appeared in my In-plant Graphics blog column, “Print Center Matters.”