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Emphasis on R&D, Service are Keys to Kustom Group's Success

By David Savastano, Ink World Editor | 06.02.11

In the late 1980s, the varnish industry largely consisted of large-scale suppliers shipping out truck loads of products. The idea of a supplier of vehicles and varnishes creating small, customized orders was considered to be unique.

However, Mike Gerkin Sr. saw an opportunity for a varnish supplier that would focus on developing individualized solutions for its customers. After the sale of Ecovar, Inc. to Lawter International in 1988, Mr. Gerkin, Ecovar’s president, decided to “go it alone,” and founded Kustom Group in 1989; he named the company after Kustom guitar amplifiers that were popular in the 1960s and 1970s.

Today, 23 years later, Mr. Gerkin’s vision for Kustom Group has proved to be correct. Kustom Group, which includes Kustom Blending and Kustom Services, is enjoying strong success in the areas of vehicles and varnishes for offset and flexo inks as well as specialized coatings. With the August 2010 acquisition of Var-Chem Products LLC from Sun Chemical, Kustom Group added a host of new formulations to its already-rich portfolio of products.

Kustom Group’s success has been driven by its high-quality products, services and know-how in the printing arena. Mr. Gerkin noted that R&D has been an essential element of the company’s success, as Kustom Group has been able to quickly move into growth markets.

“Our major highlights include our expansion into the energy cure and water markets in the early 1990s, our move into our new state-of-the-art facility, and our specialty coatings lines, which include strike-thru, soft-feel and scented coatings for the packaging industry,” Mr. Gerkin said.

“Kustom Group has always tried to be an industry leader in the development of products aimed at the market segments that we serve,” Mr. Gerkin added. “We use quality raw materials that have been tested by our labs and on press for consistency and performance. This has led to the expansion of our coatings and ink products line into a well-rounded offering for our customers. If you need to adhere to plastics or difficult substrates, print on low quality stocks or board, or dry in a short time, or through a short oven configuration, Kustom can do.”

The vehicle and varnish industry has seen many changes during the past two decades, and the ability to develop and provide custom batches of varnishes is no longer seen as just a quaint vision.

“When Kustom was first founded, our customers’ biggest complaint was that we were too small and our batch sizes were smaller than our competitors,” Mr. Gerkin said. “That was during the heyday of the printing ink industry. Today we have become ‘right sized’ for all of our customers. We can produce truckloads to five-pound cans. We can manage our inventories, price our products and scale our operations to the needs of all our customers, large or small. We don't have to learn how to handle this new mix of products; we have been doing it this way for more than 20 years.”

As a result of its emphasis on R&D and technical excellence, Mr. Gerkin feels that the Kustom Group is well suited for the challenges that lay ahead.

“We have excellent technical, sales and office staffs, dedicated to serving the printing ink industry,” Mr. Gerkin concluded. “Our operations are modern, safe, green and sized to handle our customers needs, and we do not have to re-invent ourselves to serve the ink market today.”

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