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Increase Profits- An Intro to Corners

Binder and Menu Corners: cornering the marketplace is easier than you think.

Have you ever turned away a job because it called for decorative metal corners? If so, you are missing out on a profitable, value-added opportunity.

Decorative metal corners are used on many types of vinyl and leather goods including pad holders, business card cases, weekly planners, and menu covers. Available in an assortment of shapes, styles, sizes, and colors, decorative metal corners provide an upscale appearance and the potential for increased margins when applied to your product.

Choosing The Right Corner

Corner selection is not difficult, but there are a number of important factors to be considered.

  • Corner size — Corners are typically sized by referring to the length of each leg, and most range from about ½" to 1" in length. A ½" corner might be used on a menu, a ¾" on a bill folder, and a 1" on an 9½" x 12½" binder.
  • Channel size — Each corner must have the proper channel size to go over the thickness of the binder material. Channels range from about .062" to over .250".
  • Style — Many different styles are available and include squared and rounded tips, plain surfaces and filigreed patterns.
  • Finish — Standard finishes are frequently called "gold" and "silver". In actuality the most used finishes are brass plated ("gold") or nickel plated ("silver"). Gold plating, as well as black oxide or painted finishes are available at an upcharge.
  • Finish quality — You get what you pay for. The lowest quality parts on the market are plated after stamping and you can expect large lot-to-lot variations in color, dullness and lacquer stains. High-quality corners are manufactured from polished, preplated metals with a baked on proprietary finish. Expect to pay a slight premium for preplated corners, but the payoff will be more than worth it. Over 99% of Atco's production is of the preplated variety.
  • Protective coating — Atco’s preplated corners are manufactured either with or without a peelable plastic protective coating . This coating is used to protect the finish of the corner during shipment from our plant, during your assembly operations and can be left on to protect them during shipment to your customers. This premium feature is also a selling point and is a no-cost option. This coating is only available on preplated finish corners.
There are other peculiarities that make corners from one source very different from another. For example, most Atco corners have at least one "tooth" on the inside edge that grips the binder material to enhance the clinch. In addition it might have a turned in edge along the outer periphery, providing a finished look and further strengthening its clinch. These features are not found on the common "low end" product.

Applying corners

Attaching corners to your product is relatively easy. After fitting a corner over the edge of the cover, pressure is applied to squeeze the corner so that it grips the book. Application methods range from using common hand tools, small arbor presses, and air presses to fully automatic machines.

You do not necessarily need high volumes to apply corners in house. For very low volume users (less than 1,000 units annually), corners are typically applied with non-marring pliers or even with a single hit from a rubber mallet. Obviously, production rates using such methods vary greatly. Other home made application methods include small arbor presses or even readily available adjustable clamps.

Our experience shows that kick presses are probably the most predominantly used method to apply corners throughout the industry. These commercially available human-powered machines have few moving parts and are easily operated. The machine operator sits at the machine, fits the corner on the cover, inserts the cover into a gauge-die, and activates the mechanism with his or her foot which crimps the corner into place. The cover is removed, and the operator goes to the next corner, until the unit is done.

Although more modern equipment is available, kick presses are so widely used because they can be found cheaply at bankruptcy auctions and used machinery dealers, or already sitting on your shop floor. They are usually available for just a few hundred dollars. Often, they will only need to be fitted up with an assembly die for the specific corner chosen. With four corners per book, expect one kick press operator to produce 150 to 180 completed units per hour.

It is common to find that many kick presses have been modified, replacing the human "kick" with an air cylinder. Otherwise the assembly operation is the same, although compressed air is obviously required. In many shops this is already available. If not, the addition of a small paint spray type compressor is all that is required. If a kick press is not available, a table top air powered press will do the job (pictured above: Atco #14XA air powered table top corner clinching machine). The overall operation is the same, less the kicking. The corner will crimp with the same pressure every time. It won’t make a difference if an operator’s leg is tired, if they had a bad night at home or they don’t kick as hard. Production rates range from 180-200 completed units per hour.

Top-of-the line fully automatic machines have buckets that you toss corners into, and they feed them out onto your product with minimal operator intervention. These machines probably only make sense if your corner volume exceeds 10 million units annually. Such machinery is expensive, and is the reason why even the largest companies stick to kick press or air powered machines.

No matter the type of machine, it has to be fitted with the right tool for the job which consists of a top and bottom die that is shaped to the corner. Some tools can be used on more than one style corner. For example, most square edged corners can be applied with the same set-up. However, corners with an outer edge radius or the common "café style" menu corners require specific shaped dies.

It is easy to spot corners applied with Rube Goldberg machinery or incorrect tooling. These corners usually have crimped marks on their surfaces, may be squashed– distorting their shape, or are not fuly crimped to the cover. Ask your corner supplier to assist you with equipment and tooling, and technical consultation for application.

The Economics of Corners

Corners generally range in cost from $20.00 per 1,000 to $120.00 per 1,000, depending on the style, finish and volume. Usually, the larger the corner size, the greater the cost. Also, you should expect to pay more for brass finished corners than nickel corners. Because of economies of scale, your cost may vary considerably between 100 and 50,000 pieces, but little between 50,000 and 1,000,000 pieces.

The perceived value of a corner when applied to your product usually greatly exceeds your cost of acquisition and application. Our survey of vinyl and leather goods producers found that corners costing from $.02 to $.06 each are sold for $.13 to $.25 each to distributors and wholesalers, with another 40% mark-up for sales to end users.

Therefore, let us consider the economics for a typical 500 piece order of 9½" x 12½" turned and stitched vinyl padholders using four 1" corners. Corners would cost $.24 per book. Average labor assembly (fully loaded cost of $20/hour and using an air powered press) would add $.11 per book for a total added cost of $.35 per book. At a common upcharge in the selling price of $.25 per corner, the book would sell at an additional $ 1.00 each. With your costs at $175.00 and additional income of $500.00 you will add $325.00 to your profits on this one order!

Now Get Out And Market Them

Having the capability to apply corners, and a wide selection of corners available to you is a start. But you're not going to go anywhere unless you market them too. Make sure your accounts and prospective clients know that they are available. Show them in your marketing literature. Bring samples when you make sales calls.

Sometimes we hear that "we get no requests for corners". However, when the client is asked if they actively market corners, the answer is an inevitable no. It's the go getters with marketing savvy who have found corners to be a great way to increase sales, and make a significant contribution to the bottom line.

Your Supplier Can Be Helpful

Choose your corner supplier carefully. Their expertise will be a great help in getting you started. Ask them about machinery and tooling. Rely on them for their technical consultation. Send them samples of your covers for fitting with the best corner.

For special projects, ask your supplier about custom corners. For instance, corners can be produced incorporating a unique design or your company logo. Also, special finishes such as red, green, black, and even marbleized are available. In addition, corners in solid brass and exotic materials can be made.

You have now mastered Corners 101. You've learned how to apply and choose the right corner, the economics of corners, and some marketing tips. When done right, corners can positively affect your bottom line. Go ahead and start cornering the marketplace today.

©1998 Atco Products, Inc. this is the full text of abbrieviated version published in the Binding Edge Winter 1998

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