A Benton City wine label maker continues to grow its company, portfolio and staff of women managers. Headed up by part owner and general manager, Katii Deaton, Columbia Label has built out its niche near Red Mountain, offering big city capabilities in the heart of Washington’s wine county.
“It’s been really great because, as part of the wine industry and the camaraderie happening there, we have the ability for our customers to run down the road and pick up their labels and help them with whatever they need help with,” Deaton said. “People think the wine industry is pretentious, but it’s not. I love having people come here or have me go there.”
The company was founded as Ripped Sheets in the late ’90s, an expansion of raster image processing, or the conversion from a computer to a printer. It relocated from Seattle to 1580 Dale Ave. in Benton City in 2009. The location allowed for expansion and the addition of Columbia Label, a second arm of parent company Halldata LLC.
Deaton began soon after as a sales representative before working her way into her current role as owner/manager and encouraging the founders, Steve Hall and Leslie Ritter, to mostly retire. Together, the businesses now employ 43 people, with women working as primary managers currently and historically for Columbia Label.
“An easy way for me to grow my managers is by building up females,” Deaton said. “Once they have the confidence they can do it, they thrive. Even in manufacturing, it’s just about getting confidence. My wood shop class was the most influential class I had.”
A recent report from the U.S. Census Bureau says this is out of the norm in America, as women make up only about a quarter of positions in manufacturing. “Manufacturing jobs are not the hazardous and dangerous jobs they used to be. Many are now high-tech, from design and marketing to administration, finance and sales, and cybersecurity,” the report noted.
Still, while nearly half of the American workforce is women, only about 30% work in the manufacturing sector.
Deaton aims to hire locally, not just women, but those in and around Benton City to be part of the growing team.
The company’s in-house designer is also a woman.
“For her to have the ability to come in, sit down, ask questions to customers, ‘What’s your next big thing?,’ ‘What embellishments can I use,’ it helps people see the show and get a better understanding of everything,” Deaton said.
Deaton said a local winery overhauled its entire brand after working with Columbia Label’s in-house designer on how to stay within its budget while making its labels pop, which could include embossing, foil or even glow in the dark.
“The label is their calling card. That’s what’s going to make someone pick up a bottle on the shelf and we take care to make sure it stands out,” she said.
Standing out is exactly what Walla Walla’s Cougar Crest wanted when it commissioned Columbia Label to design its look for a new summer wine, Cat’s Away Rosé. The wine is named after its resident feline, Whiskey, who’s considered an “icon of Cougar Crest,” according to Jessica Hagen, whose family owns the winery.
The label features an image of Whiskey. “We put sunglasses on her with a holographic film, so she looks like a gangster cat. We are really excited about it and think it will sell well,” Hagen said.
This was Cougar Crest’s first time working with Columbia Label.
“I was a little surprised; they could provide the same customization I would have expected from a much larger producer,” Hagen said. She met with Columbia Label representatives in Walla Walla to help nail down the design.
“Having those face-to-face conversations makes it so much easier than over video chat or over the phone,” she said.
Cougar Crest has its own bottling line and will still use a larger commercial label manufacturer for most production, but it was encouraged by the outcome of this custom project and the chance to establish a new relationship.
Columbia Label also can print on cans and spirits bottles, covering the typical beverage lineup, while Ripped Sheets focuses on templates, tags, stickers, signs and sheets.
“A lot of prototyping happens with us because we have the ability to do smaller quantities instead of having you purchase an intense amount of material to find out it’s not going to work or it’s not going to fit,” Deaton said. “We have a 10-sheet minimum, so we can at least get our foot in the door to help people out when starting the project.”
Ripped Sheets is mainly an online presence and can ship worldwide. It has a lot of customers on the East Coast.
Deaton is proud of succeeding on a unique request. “They said, ‘I want a label I can write on underwater while scuba diving.’ I figured it out. It took some ingenuity, but I figured it out,” she said.
The company recently made multimillion-dollar investments in HP indigo digital presses, and was a stop last fall on a cross-state tour organized by the Association of Washington Business, the state’s manufacturing association.
The industry is hoping to double the number of manufacturing jobs in Washington over the next decade. AWB says more than 8,000 people work for manufacturers across Benton and Franklin counties, earning an average wage of more than $60,000.
Deaton is excited about the capabilities and cutting-edge technology in her shop.
“The closest places that can do what we do is Portland or Seattle, but they don’t grow their grapes there,” she said.
The proximity to the wine industry allows her team to work closely with winemakers to learn how much they yielded and when they’re bottling, bringing a rush that coincides with grape harvest or crush. This summer she’s expecting to get hit hard with orders in July.
“Having the ability to know exactly who you’re working with is amazing,” Deaton said.
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