Portsmouth firm makes its mark in labeling industry
Companies around the world depend on Loftware's products to run their businesses
On June 26, 1974, a supermarket cashier in Troy, Ohio, scanned a pack of Wrigley's chewing gum on a newly installed price scanner. The pack is now on display at the Smithsonian Institution, going down in history as the first purchase ever to be rung up by its barcode.
In the decades since then, barcodes have become ubiquitous, tracking products in every step of the global supply chain. That advancement is thanks in part to companies like the Portsmouth-based Loftware Inc., which in just 25 years has become a global leader in labeling and printing solutions.
Loftware was founded in 1986, quite literally in the loft of founder and late president Andy Anderson's house. Anderson was at the forefront of developing barcode technology, which — though it was first patented in 1949 — only gained widespread use in the 1980s.
"He came up with this idea that wouldn't it be great if people could design their barcode label and actually see it on a computer screen?" said Brian Collin, chief financial officer of Loftware. "And so that was the idea stage, and how he actually founded Loftware."
After Anderson passed away in 1995, his sons Dana and Eric took the helm of the company, and together built what would become its flagship product: the Loftware Print Server.
Before the print server, customers could print labels only to a printer that was hooked up to their computer — suitable for small businesses, but inadequate for large organizations with high-volume print needs. The LPS centralized the ability to design and manage labels, which let customers print millions a day to hundreds or even thousands of printers anywhere in the world.
Additionally, the print server can be integrated into several operating systems and uses a universal language understood by all printers, regardless of brand.
"From the mom-and-pop arrangement where the family started, to where we are now, is an enormous transformation of who our customers can be," said Loftware chief executive Bob O'Connor. "We still have lots of small companies using our products, but a lot of our customers over the past few years have been larger enterprises who print huge volumes."
Fortune 50 customers
Among Loftware's roughly 5,000 customers are some of the largest corporations in the world. They encompass a broad range of industries, including aerospace and defense, manufacturing, consumer goods, electronics, medical devices, automotive and more. Of the top 50 companies on the Fortune 500, 31 are Loftware customers.
"While seemingly a small company — and relatively, we are a small company — some of the world's biggest companies rely on us to deliver solutions for them that are really mission-critical," said O'Connor.
Several shelves at the company's Pease International Tradeport office are housed with all makes and models of printers. Should a customer call for help, technical support employees can troubleshoot firsthand with the same machine to solve the issue.
Such service and around-the-clock support are essential to compete in the global marketplace, said O'Connor, which is why the Loftware office is staffed 16 hours a day and has support staff on call 24/7.
Serving international customers has made Loftware "more of a global company," said O'Connor, referring to recently opened offices in both Canada and the United Kingdom. Still, the large majority of Loftware's roughly 100 employees work in the Granite State.
Those workers fill a range of roles, from quality assurance engineers and software developers to technical support workers and customer account executives.
"We've hired quite a few people in the past year, and we will hire more going forward," said O'Connor.
The company has also ramped up its internal training, quadrupling the amount of employee training offered in the past year alone.
To acknowledge the employees' contributions to its success, Loftware annually hosts a formal, Oscars-like awards show — last held at the nearby Wentworth by the Sea Hotel — which recognizes employees for standout performance in areas like teamwork, customer satisfaction and creativity.
With more organizations looking to increase efficiency through automation, demand for labeling solutions will rise — which has the company investing heavily in product development and puts them "in a position of growth," said O'Connor.
This includes preparing for the eventual boom in radio-frequency identification, or RFID, tags, said Collin. Employing the same technology that's behind E-ZPass, RFID tags are widely expected to replace barcodes when they become more affordable.
Still, no matter what form they take, label solutions will always be essential to global commerce. "If the labels aren't on the products at the right time, things stop," said O'Connor. "People around the globe are depending upon us, our software, to run their businesses right now."
Citizens Bank's In Good Company is presented in partnership with NHBR. The series spotlights growing New Hampshire businesses with unique stories to tell.