I'm not in the sheet feeding business anymore. I'm in the box business. It takes time to build systems that people can understand. Even people I've known in this town my whole life don't truly understand what I've done."
From left, Fosber's Paul Hrubesky, sales manager, and Jeff Pallini, vice president and general manager, discuss sheet quality with Rick Van Horne, president, Corrugated Supplies. Fosber engineers worked very closely with Van Horne to develop a true breakthrough in downstacking.
Such talk from industry veteran Rick Van Horne, president, Corrugated Supplies Co. (CSC), Chicago, is startling, especially when you visit his new 248,000-square-foot facility close to Midway Airport and see the new, state of the art corrugator, dubbed "Moms," humming away, producing nothing but sheets. But look into his eyes as he's uttering these words and you know he's dead serious. Over the past five years, he has spent millions of dollars backing this talk up.
What Van Horne is preaching to anyone who will listen is the importance of creating choice and value for customers. It sounds straightforward enough. So why are his business peers having so much difficulty understanding him? They look at him and say, "Rick, you're still making sheets, aren't you?"
Yes, he is. But years ago he realized that if he didn't distinguish himself from his competitors he could be extinguished. So he aggressively started giving his customers (and their customers) more and more packaging options.
Pick and Choose
"The new business I'm in is like a buffet table," he states by way of analogy. "If someone just wants chicken salad, they can sit at the end of the table (and eat that) their whole life. Some want to walk the whole table with different food on their plate every day - it's there. If someone wants to call up and ask for a special dessert just for them, that's fine too."
Colored linerboard gives Corrugated Supplies' customers many packaging options.
Still, if you're going to successfully provide choices to your customers, you have to efficiently handle all the orders. For 24 years, Van Horne was part of CeCorr, a group of sheet feeders headquartered in Indianapolis, and now owned by Georgia-Pacific. Through CeCorr, he met David Pung, who today is his director of information systems.
"In 1997, Pung convinced me that we could hook up into the Internet," Van Horne says. "Then our customers could see everything live. They could see if an order is scheduled, if it has run, if it is in shipping, or if the truck has left."
The transition didn't happen overnight, of course. Van Horne and Pung went through a lot of trial and error, but they stuck with the Internet project and spent the money necessary to see it through. The payoff? Today, 80 percent of CSC's orders come through the Internet.
Keep It Open
"It has freed up our internal staff so our people spend their time solving problems instead of solving problems and taking orders," Van Horne states. "The interfacing between our system and the systems that are in the industry took some time. A lot of people were more interested in selling their own systems than hooking up into somebody else's. That attitude has changed. Everybody is trying to build as open a system as possible."
Van Horne quickly adds that he still has customers who order the old-fashioned way because they want that relationship. But even with the Internet, he doesn't see relation- ships being lost as customer service reps focus on other unforeseen problems that arise.
Three key people behind CSC's success are Rick Van Horne (left), John Schweiner (right), and John Potocsnak. Not pictured is another key employee, David Pung, director of information services. Photo by VisCom Commercial, Cleveland, Brad Ronevich, Photographer
One of CSC's biggest customers is Commander Packaging in Chicago. When ordering sheets, it used to have to create an internal order number for its own system. That order number then had to go through different departments, a cumbersome process. But CSC changed that by using HRMS software to streamline Commander's ordering process. Now an in-house order for sheets just needs a few more keystrokes to become an order sent to CSC.
"Everything is now at a click of a mouse instead of an interdepartmental transfer," says Van Horne. "The employee performing that job can now do something that has more meaning than just ordering raw materials."
Jet Age, a Chicago-based sheet plant, has been placing Internet sheet orders since the beginning of this year.
"My people can access information and place orders (to CSC) right through our HRMS software," says President Marty Field. "That eliminates a lot of double work and is a major time saver. When I arrive in the morning, I can track what's on a truck, what has run and what hasn't run. It's very efficient."
CSC, which does about $85 million in sales annually, now has software that tracks roll stock consumption. That in turn, allows it to track paper to each unit, which has never been done before by anyone, says Pung. CSC now knows what three to five rolls were used for every job and can track them all the way to the customer's doorstep.
CSC's corrugator, named Moms, at its newer facility smoothly handles up to 150 slitter changes a shift. Photo by VisCom Commercial, Cleveland, Brad Ronevich, Photographer
"Typically, when you call a mill and say you're having a problem with its linerboard, they ask for a roll number," he states. "In our industry, the traditional response is to say you don't know the roll number but know it was 42-pound. Well, now we know exactly which roll number it is."
Van Horne is pleasantly surprised at how well his customers have accepted the technology CSC is using. After all, they already had their own system. But that has a lot to do with the flexibility CSC's Internet technology now offers these customers. For example, they can order sheets on Saturday night or Sunday if they want.
This isn't to say that the systems meshed perfectly. One of the initial hurdles concerned defining grades. This was overcome when Pung developed a dictionary so CSC customers didn't have to change their system.
"Now when a customer calls a grade clay white, those words go into the dictionary where the rule is that clay white is really bright white and it gets printed as bright white in our system," says Van Horne. "If it's not in our dictionary, they get an e-mail asking them to tell us what it is and we will put it in."
Keep Moving or Die
For Van Horne, it's all about innovation. He simply refuses to stand still. If he's not constantly reinventing, he knows his business will be toast.
Corrugated Supplies' latest way to provide its customers with more choices is through its "Ice" linerboard line.
"Our customers are already being supplied by fine competitors," he admits. "Places like mine won't exist forever." But he's not wringing his hands, waiting for that day to come. Instead, he's constantly working on giving his customers more and more options. Take the Colors of VanKraft™, started up five years ago to introduce colored linerboard. Today, he's working with Becker, Minn.-based Liberty Paper Inc. to develop new ways of dying paper fibres. A few years ago, Liberty started Dreamworks Coating Solutions, an off-line coating operation that can make custom and standard colored linerboard.
"If you buy a white piece of paper and put red ink on it, you have one cost level," says Van Horne. "But if you take a brown fibre substrate that has been especially made to receive what goes on top of it and you turn that red, you have inherent cost differences."
So now CSC is making three times as many products as it did in the mid-1990s.
"When you make more products, you create more waste, not less," admits Van Horne when asked about reducing waste. "We have what we call the efficiency zone. We try to run our process inside this zone every day. If you get lucky and get some big orders with fewer paper changes, you might even get out of that zone. If we're running below that zone, something is wrong."
CSC's customer service employees handle about 500 orders a day. Management realizes that accommodating their needs goes hand in hand with them handling more orders. That's why any of them with young children can dial in from home and use the Internet to place and track orders.
Just as people's jobs are evolving, so is the sheet feeder's role in the industry.
Today, they are just extensions of paper mill inventory, states Van Horne. They move product in an efficient manner, creating value.
"What does that leave us to do?," he asks. "Build the next model. This is the beginning of the next model."