This is a very interesting story of an Indian Sandeep Lal and his family from Allahabad, a city in the most populous North Indian state of UP. They left India after having lost their business and travelled to foreign lands where they worked their way up to glory from scratch! I wrote about Sandeep Lal President Metro Label in Canada  in April 2009 for a magazine, but somehow it escaped my attention to post it on this blog. Metro Label is now a celebrated company headquartered in Toronto Canada. Recently they celebrated their 40th anniversary which was covered by the world press. I reproduce first the article printed in newspaper "Toronto Star", a link to the video on them and then the article that I wrote on them in April 2009. 
 At the last labelexpo in Brussels 2013 many of our Indian label printers attended a dinner at my apartment alongwith Sandeep, it was a fun evening when we cooked ourselves and exchanged stories of our inheritance and the way forward. I also reproduce one of the pictures of that evening.

‘Green’ firm marks milestone 



AARON HARRIS/TORONTO STAR Metro Label president Sandeep Lal, left, vice-president Nandini Chaudhary, Curran Chaudhary in charge of marketing and design, and chairman Narinder Lal are part of a family business that has become a top player in label manufacturing.
The company, which Narinder Mohan Lal founded in the family basement in 1974, has blossomed into one of North America’s top players. In addition to the main 132,000 square foot Progress Ave.-Hwy 401 facility, the 180-employee firm also has locations in Vancouver and Napa Valley.They produce pressure sensitive labels for a wide range of consumer goods, including internationally known cosmetic and liquor brands and the private labels of big Canadian grocery chains.“They have a very good reputation as progressive and eco-friendly manufacturers; and a tremendous reputation for customer service,” said Canadian Packaging magazine editor George Guidoni.
“The label market is roughly a $35 billion market worldwide, but there are hundreds of label printers around the world trying to get a piece of that market, so they do have to be competitive,” said Florida-based packaging strategist Michael Ferrari, founder of Ferrari Innovation Solutions LLC, who lauded Metro’s “culture of innovation and constant renewal.“There are mergers that happen all the time in this industry and obviously they are strong enough to stand on their own rather than either going under or having to sell out. Mergers and acquisitions have been rampant in this industry in the last four years.”
The family business, which transitioned from wholesaling to manufacturing on the strength of a $15,000 machine in 1976, realized exponential growth in the 14 years ending 2006 when revenues peaked at $63 million. The firm’s holdings include a golf course and residential development in Panama where they are considering launching a label business. But there have been hiccups. Business fell when the economic decline, price deflation and competitive pressures forced the 2011 closure of a fourth location in Montreal.“The U.S. recession cost us a lot of jobs; many of our customers got acquired which also cost us business,” said Sandeep Lal, who took over as president from his father in the early ’90s. “In the last two years we’ve grown our business by 30 per cent again. We’re climbing up to where we were and to get past that.”
He identified growth areas as pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and beverages, more so than supermarket perishables — meat, deli, bakery — which once commanded as much as 85 per cent of their output.
The offerings have also expanded to include glue applied labels, seen on water bottles; mould labels which are part of the container like on detergent containers; and shrink sleeves typically found on beverages.Differentiation is tough in such a competitive industry, noted Lal.
“Being green was one way to do it and the rest is all about service; and today price is also important; it never used to be,” he said. “We’re trying to be more efficient in manufacturing with newer product lines that can operate at higher speeds and then produce lower waste.”But there’s no compromise on environmental aspects. The 999 Progress Ave. HQ, completed in 2005 for $13.5 million, was designed to cut energy use and emissions. Among the initiatives: rainwater is collected to flush toilets; the use of waterbased inks instead of solvent-based inks; and exhaust from printing machines is filtered to heat the building in winter. The firm is currently awaiting building permits to install solar panels on the roof.“We wanted a green plant because we wanted a good place for our employees to work,” said Lal, 59. “It may sound corny but as an entrepreneur I feel I’m responsible for the health and welfare of the people that work for me, that I have a responsibility to them.”The eldest of four children, he dropped out of university to work with his father who had been a pharmacist in India, but couldn’t get similar employment here.
“As immigrant families we all arrive here and you want to somehow get to a point where there’s some financial security for the family. I remember late at night when my parents didn’t think I could hear them talking about how the bills were going to be paid this month or next month. “Those are difficult discussions to hear. You make choices to be part of the solution. For me working in the business rather than continuing in my studies was being part of the solution.”
Narinder, 85, comes in for an hour or so each day. He signs cheques, mingles with the staff and lights incense. His daughter Nandini Chaudhary is vice-president and her son Curran Chaudhary, who joined the company full-time in January, oversees marketing and design.
“Time will tell whether he has the skills and the motivation and the determination, but definitely it would be good if he does,” said Lal of the recent graduate and only member of the third generation at the firm.Curran, 23, has been pushing Metro’s online presence through social media, search engine optimization and Google advertising.“I want to see how it goes; obviously I’d be more than happy to continue the legacy but it depends on what’s best for all of us,” he said of his tenure.
His grandfather’s daily visits are a constant reminder that “hard work is everything; and determination and perseverance are enough to achieve anything.” 

What I wrote in 2009:

Recession or slowdown…it is time to innovate!
In 2002 I was on a trip to Toronto, Canada and had the opportunity to visit Metro Labels, owned by my friend Sandeep Lal. It was an impressive factory with a huge investment, latest presses and a great setup, producing an equally innovative and awesome product range. One of the many labels samples he gave to me was an interesting shampoo bottle label. On the very face of it, it was a very normal looking well printed and decorated label. It had all the statutory information, along with good branding on it. The interesting part is that it had a small diagonal half-cut on one of the top corner. Once a user had bought a shampoo bottle having such a label on it and had placed it on the counter in the bathroom, the user could lift the corner and peel off the top layer of the two layered label. With the top layer came off all the commercial information and the branding, leaving behind a nice bottle having a label with just a good looking floral design on it, nothing else! It served the need of such users who did not wish to make their private domain an advertising space for the manufacturer of toiletries. This maybe an issue for debate on label related laws but the point I am making is the innovation involved. Such endeavors appear to be the need of the hour in the present market conditions.
At this point of time, recession is hitting the global economies and making adverse impact on industry. In India it is cautiously being referred to as a slowdown. The economic figures being reported for our country do not put us into that category falling under the definition of recession. Fortunately our GDP is still showing positive growth. However still in the present circumstances most printers, press suppliers and industry suppliers maintain a restrained optimism on revival of the markets. It is a situation that generally appears after a bout of rapid growth and expansion. I would term it as time for consolidation. There was a spate of investments in label presses during the last couple of years much beyond what had been invested in the preceding years. This seems to have led to a state of overcapacity and fierce competition. When you look back and assess the situation, you are left wondering if it is really the recession or the slowdown or the after effects of growth in installed capacity which happened because of the euphoria of inflated projections of the rate at which the market was expected to grow. Anyway, it is time to consolidate. Label printers at this juncture should use the opportunity to innovate and use the full capabilities of their equipment to develop new products that would add value for them as well as for the users.
From being a country where traditionally labels were printed on conventional flatbed presses, we have seen the gradual shift to rotary flexo printing. Lately printers have indulged in high-end combination presses with a variety of advanced printing, decorating and converting capabilities. Ironically many of them have not exploited the full potential of their equipment. This is so because of their imperative need to break even and keep their machines running. In such a situation they continue to produce the same labels that they were producing on their older equipments. Now when it appears that they have a little time on their hands, they need to indulge in development and innovative products that will give the much needed profitability adding to their bottom lines. At the time of the last LMAI Label Awards, we noticed a vacuum in many segments of the label industry. While there were a lot of entries in the letterpress and flexo segment but when it came to offset there was only one company for all the awards. The case was same in the booklet label segment and the ultimate was when there was no entry in the electronic label segment and the award was given to a company who made a pioneering investment in an HP Indigo label press to produce labels in roll form. Evidently there is still room for investments in new segments as also the need for new products. It is time printers invested in new research and developments and spent some quality time quality time with professionals involved in packaging product development to create innovations in labels.
In the beginning of this column, I mentioned my friend Sandeep Lal of Metro Labels, Toronto, Canada. It is the success story of an Indian who travelled to foreign lands and worked his way to glory. Long years ago, Sandeep helped his father at their chemist shop in Allahabad, UP. Being the only successful and reliable chemist in that area, their business was good, growing and flourishing. Many smaller shops tried their hand in the same business but never succeeded in competition. They were envied by those who wished to copy their success but were unsuccessful. Then came a day when a protégé of a local politician managed a complaint against them and they were raided for drug law violations. Their business was sealed and they had to fight it out for six months before they could get to reopen their shop. Meanwhile the damage had been done! The competitors had firmly established themselves. The Lal family was dejected and disgusted, they just locked up the shop as it is and left for Canada to try their luck in foreign land. That was sometime in the early seventies. They started by selling labels sourced from other label printers. They worked hard to make their business grow and eventually started to produce labels themselves.  The first flexo press that they had used was displayed as a show piece in their reception area when I visited them. They have since moved to a much larger facility which has to its credit a host of awards.  By far it is perhaps the most impressive label factory setup in recent times. The unit has been recognized by the city of Toronto and TLMI in 2007, FTA and Label Expo in 2009 for environmental leadership awards. The company now ranks amongst the largest Label companies in North America and the largest producer of pressure sensitive labels in Canada. Recently they have been recognized as one of Canada's 50 Best Managed Companies for 2005, 2006 & 2007. They have taken over other units and are now operating from many locations. With Sandeep Lal aggressively heading the company, Metro Labels continue to grow and make worthwhile acquisitions. I wish more and more Indians work hard to take their companies the Metro label way!
Written by Harveer Sahni in April 2009
Story collated by Harveer Sahni Managing Director weldon Celloplast Limited New Delhi Indian August 2014