The Warneke family has stayed triumphant in the board converting business for more than 90 years, shifting its focus to survive in the changing times. Third generation president Steve Warneke has continued his grandfather's determination to make Denver-based Warneke Paper Box Co. a true success story.
Steve's grandfather, Maynard, and his brother George worked in a Cincinnati box plant in the early 1900s. While on vacation in Denver, George saw that Denver was a wide open market - there wasn't a box plant there so the two brothers opened one. Inland Paper Box Co. formed in 1907 in Denver's original state capital building as a corrugated, folding carton and setup box converter.
A few years after George died, Maynard passed away in 1934. Steve's father, Bill, just out of high school, took over the business. In 1937, Bill sold the corrugated division and changed the company's name to Warneke Paper Box Co.
In 1970, Bill asked Steve if he was interested in joining the company and Steve did after running seven successful tennis shops. He took over the business in 1975. While Steve isn't the oldest of his siblings, he was the first to join the family business. Shortly after he joined, his older brother Bill joined and then his younger brother Greg came on board, both in a sales capacity. Several years later, their sister Marye "felt left out," and she joined the company, in charge of billing and shipping. Within the past year, Steve's daughter Stacy also has joined the company, making her the fourth generation of the Warneke family to be in the board converting business.
The Warneke family is currently in its fourth generation of the business. (From left) President Steve, his daughter Stacy, sister Marye Warneke-Suarez, and brothers Greg and Bill Warneke.
Within the last three years, Steve has had to shift the focus of the business. With more consumables being produced offshore, the company expanded into other markets. The company's primary markets are pharmaceuticals, software, food and beverage, and still consumer products, but definitely a smaller percentage of the business. In 2002 alone, three customers, a total of 34 percent of the company's business, moved to China. Despite that big hit, Warneke has stayed strong and is trying to focus on packaging that will stay in the United States, like the pharmaceutical jobs. Last year the company was hit further with the loss of one customer - equaling $1 million of business - to China.
"Staying alive is the point," Greg says. "The shift of manufacturing overseas has definitely hurt us but we've been very resourceful."
Even in the face of those customer losses, Warneke has not laid off any workers or cut wages - something Steve hopes he can still say is true in a year. The company strives to find not only new customers, but help its existing clients manage their businesses better.
All of Warneke Paper Box's Heidelberg presses are equipped with a spectrophotometer, ensuring accurate runs every time.
"We strive to be as efficient as we can - no one can run as efficient as we are," Steve says.
The company sells the value-added as much as selling the packaging. Warneke has a program to assist its customers - it will evaluate how an order is done, from start to finish, and find out ways to save money for the customer. On average, Warneke customers have been able to save about 20 percent. "We're the experts in the area," Steve says. "We know how to run the board and what graphics will work, so we know where to save and how best to do the job."
The company's sales were up last year, almost 20 percent over the previous year, which is very positive, Greg Warneke says.
From Beer Boxes to Paper Dolls
At the time Steve joined the company, the business was still located in downtown Denver in a 16,000-square-foot, three-story building. "Imagine the machines on the third floor of a building - imagine the work getting the presses up there," Steve reminisces. The company had as many as 250 employees since so much of the business was handwork for items like hat and hinge boxes. A few years later in 1978, the business was moved to a 35,000-square-foot building.
President Steve Warneke believes in constant investment in cutting edge technology. The company's Bobst Alpina110-Matic gluing system (top left) was purchased for its quick setups. The company installed the first Bobst Sprintera diecutter in the United States (top right). Its Polar electronic cutter (bottom left) has automated loading and unloading while its Marquip sheeter (bottom right) is a one-man operation and allows board to go right to press.
The business kept growing and in 1990, it moved into a 105,000-square-foot facility in the suburbs with another 30,000 square feet leased for finished goods. With its 63 employees, the company has continued to add capacity but Steve has a novel approach to handle the upsurge. "I always handle the increase in volume with faster and better equipment," he says.
"We can and have created anything," Steve says. "From beer boxes to paper dolls, we can help our customers craft the perfect presentation for their products."
For the past 12 years, Warneke has been the only carton company in the United States to do calendaring, which Steve says rivals the gloss of UV coating but is water-based and in turn, better for the environment. The company has a Billhofer DSK high-gloss calendaring system.
Within the last year, the company has invested in a Heidelberg UV double-coater, one of only two in the United States and capable of coating at 15,000 sheets an hour.
Warneke also has purchased a new fully-automatic Bobst Sprintera diecutter, the first one sold in the United States. The diecutter has a speed of 12,000 sheets per hour and the machine is hooked up with Bobst's Lausanne, Switzerland headquarters. A camera watches the run and easily gives Warneke any software updates.
A year ago, the company purchased a two-color Heidelberg 102 CD with a tower coater, which is used primarily for pharmaceutical work, keeping the machine running at full speed.
While Denver isn't a great manufacturing area, Warneke has tapped into a new market Colorado wines. The company designs several boxes for local wine producers.
Warneke Paper Box is a huge proponent of Heidelberg machinery. The company has five
Heidelberg presses, including a 29-inch, six-color CD 74 offset press, the first in the United States. The press was a beta test site for Heidelberg and was linked with the German company's headquarters for quality assurance and design needs.
"We're able to do 5,000 to five million runs a day," Steve says. "It's very versatile and has a faster setup than we've seen before."
Warneke continues to look for equipment that runs like that - fast, efficient and accurate. That's how Steve came across Berlin-based System
Kurandt GmbH color and glue control and monitoring devices, sold by hhs. The Kurandt LNK200 detects undergluing and overgluing. The other Kurandt devices check diecutting registration and color density, all while running at up to 80,000 per hour.
"I can tell customers that they'll never get a bad box," Steve says. "Especially when you take the human error out of the equation."
Warneke's Heidelberg/Creo direct to plate system uses Artpro software and a digital Trendsetter Spectrum with an Imation Matchprint laser proofing system. The system eliminates variables that occur in other proofing processes, Steve says. The laser proofs are comparable to press sheets and it locks in precise registration between colors. Every customer receives a flat and 3-D proof.
When Steve joined the company 34 years ago, about 90 percent of the business was setup boxes. Today, about 9 percent is setup. Warneke has reinvented itself to adjust to those changes and with the right technology, it is poised to do it again.