In the fall of 1975 Austin Tape & Label co-owners Jim Burkle and Darrell Floyd were full-time students at the University of Akron and part-time employees at a local printing company called Excelsior Tape & Label.
Despite "many" years having passed since their college days, Jim Burkle still fondly remembers the experience.
"It was nice to have a flexible job while we were going through college." Recalled Burkle. "They let us work nights, basically whenever we were available and that really helped us manage our student workload while also financing our college education."
Upon graduating from Akron, Burkle and Floyd were hired as full-time employees by Excelsior. Darrell began working as a salesman while Jim took a position with responsibilities that included both Inside Sales and Purchasing. As employees at Excelsior they were able to engage with customers and developed excellent working relationships with local Akron-based tire manufacturers including Goodrich and Goodyear. Those relationships would later prove to be valuable.
In the spring of 1976 the once booming rubber industry in Akron, Ohio was going through a major strike. "This was the strike that killed the rubber industry in Akron and had ripple effects on the companies that produced products for the industry and it left a lot of people without jobs. Unfortunately Darrell and I were included." recalls Burkle.
Later in 1976 a handful of former Excelsior employees would go on to create and launch their own independent printing companies. The entrepreneurial spirit of his peers inspired Burkle and the idea for Austin Tape & Label was born shortly thereafter when he approached Darrell Floyd and another partner about going into business together.
"I kept saying guys, we could do this! We should really look into it."
Eventually they all agreed and Burkle began writing a business plan to get them started.
"We named the company after a guy named Austin that we worked with at Excelsior." Burkle fondly recalls with a smile. "He was the guy who kept the atmosphere light and enjoyable. He really made it fun to work there."
This new endeavour would require some financial backing. Luckily they were able to borrow some money to purchase their very first printing press. That's when things starting moving forward but not without almost taking a turn for the worse.
In order to secure their first piece or printing equipment they drove from Ohio to Cape Coral, Florida in a 1966 Rambler Ambassador fashioned with a hitch so they could pull the equipment back to Ohio. What seemed like a relatively simple task proved to be much more difficult than they anticipated. It's a trip that Burkle remembers very vividly to this day.
"The Ambassador kept overheating, all the way down and all the way back. So here we are in the summer of 1976 driving through southern Florida with the car's heat cranked all the way up to try to keep it from overheating. We had to make a pit stop somewhere in Tennessee to replace a bearing and luckily we met a few mechanics who were willing to help us on their way to hunt for raccoons!"
They would eventually make it back from Florida, no worse for the the wear and on August 9, 1976 Austin Tape & Label was officially incorporated.
Now they had a printing company but they still needed to find a home. In 1977 they secured a location on South Broadway in Akron in a 100 year old building that they shared with a neighboring paper company. With a roof over their heads and operational printing equipment they began to learn how to operate the press and quickly found a niche by manufacturing a custom printed tape utilized by the tire industry.
It didn't take long for them to recognize that they needed to bring on a more experienced pressman and that led them to reach out to an old friend.
"We had the equipment and we had the space, but we really needed someone with the printing skills and mechanical expertise to help us get this thing off the ground so we made our first key hire, Bill Douglas, someone that we had known from our time at Excelsior."
The old building on South Broadway closer resembled a medieval dungeon than it did a printing facility but nonetheless additional customers and new employees would soon follow and the guys would begin to see their hard work starting to pay off.
Word around Akron started to spread as local demand for their products started to grow. To help keep up with the growing demand Jim and Darrell made another important investment. In 1979 they purchased a brand new, more advanced Comco printing press. Now armed with more sophisticated equipment and skilled expertise, Austin Tape & Label was ready for the 1980s.
In 1983 a newly hired salesman named Jim Horan would play a key role in securing new business from Akron-based tire manufacturer BF Goodrich (now known as Michelin). At the time, Goodrich was operating their own internal printing operation which was common at the time. "At first we were just handling their overflow work." Recalls Horan, "But eventually they realized that we were much better equipped to meet their needs than they were so they shutdown their printing operation and partnered with Austin."
The company's relationship with BF Goodrich would later be described by Jim Burkle as Austin Tape & Label's "first big break". It's a relationship that remains intact nearly four decades later.
Bill Douglas wouldn't be the only former co-worker to join the company as Jim and Darrell made another key hire in 1985 by adding Jim Kelly, their former boss at Excelsoir. Mr. Kelly would go on to handle Purchasing for Austin Tape & Label until his retirement in 2016. Sadly, Mr. Kelly passed away shortly after his retirement from the company but his impact and the legacy he left with us will forever be appreciated.
In 1987 construction began on what would become the new home of Austin Tape & Label in nearby Stow, Ohio.
"Three days before Thanksgiving in 1987 we decided we would begin to start moving into our new building right in the middle of a terrible blizzard." Recalled Burkle with a chuckle.
The new building included a dedicated shipping and receiving area but at the time Austin didn't have anyone on the staff with experience overseeing incoming and outgoing shipments. So in 1988 the company hired another old friend, Gary Seger. They had gotten to know Gary back at the South Broadway location when he worked for the paper company that co-exisited in the same building. Jim Burkle recalls many Friday nights when Gary would stay after his shift at the paper company to celebrate the end of the work week with the Austin crew. "He would come down on Friday nights to socialize and play ping pong and throw darts with us. We always listened to WMMS back then."
Gary Seger still manages shipping and receiving for the company, which also now employs his wife Carol and their son Caleb.
The early 1990's saw another big break in the tire industry for Austin when the company was chosen to service Firestone's label. Like Goodrich had done ten years prior, Firestone also decided to shutdown their internal printing operation and looked outside for a viable partner. By this time Austin had established a good reputation within the tire industry due to their relationship with BF Goodrich. The addition of Firestone would lead to the most aggressive growth period in the company's history to that point.
Steady growth continued for Austin Tape & Label through the mid-90s and into the 2000s, which saw the arrival of many new full-time employees including two additional salesmen, a graphics specialist and additional customer support and production staff. Multiple physical additions were also added to the Stow facility throughout the 1990s, culminating in 1998.
In 2019 many of Austin's original employees can still be found at their desks or behind a press, including Jim Burkle and Darrell Floyd, who are very proud of the fact that 60% of their employees have been with Austin for at least 20 years.
Austin Tape & Label takes a lot of pride in our history but more importantly we are proud of the dedication and loyalty of our hardworking employees including those who have stayed with us for all these years to help us remain true to the company we envisioned back in 1976.