Ripe for Growth

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Ripe for Growth

June 30, 2001 - 21:00

Terry Roof, co-owner of Peachtree Packaging, Lawrenceville, Ga., keeps on his desk a page from a November 1983 issue of Paperboard Packaging magazine. It is a news story and photo about the company installing a rotary diecutter purchased from McKinley Machinery. On the other side is a full-page, four-color advertisement for Langston Machinery.

For Roof, this is a humbling reminder of how things can and do change. In 1983, Peachtree was just a bud on the vine while Langston was a strong and flourishing branch on the corrugated industry family tree.

Today, Peachtree is blossoming while Langston is out of business.

"When Peachtree started, Langston was the No. 1 name. Now they're gone and these poor little fly-by-night guys here have done real well," Roof says pointing to the photo on the page.

After three moves and two plant expansions, the 120,000-square-foot sheet plant, which was founded in 1980, remains dedicated to its basic principles of staying focused on the customer and treating employees right.

Management by Committee

Wayne Morrison, founder and president, and Roof, chief executive officer, have watched the 150 employees help the plant succeed and prosper the way proud parents watch their children grow.

Morrison's expertise is in sales while Roof focuses on manufacturing and administration. The two share a large rectangular office with desks at either end.

Both men have been in the box business all of their professional lives.

Morrison's father, James, was president of Rock City Box in the mid-'60s before it merged with Tennessee Packaging to become what is now Rock-Tenn. Wayne Morrison was a sales representative there, eventually becoming general manager. In 1979, he decided to start his own company.

Meanwhile, Roof worked for Mead, International Paper, JJ Mid-south in Augusta, and then a sheet plant in Atlanta before joining Morrison in 1982.

Morrison and Roof share ownership of Peachtree Packaging with key employees who represent management, sales, design, customer service, manufacturing, and transportation. In all, there are 18 employee owners who on average have 21 years of experience in the corrugated container industry.

The owners meet regularly to discuss customer orders, equipment needs, personnel issues, and other day to day business. All decisions are made by committee.

"It's the most unofficial organization," Roof says. "There are no politics between production and sales."

"This is a great template for running a company," adds Chet Warner, sales manager.

Peachtree Packaging co-owners Terry Roof (left), and Wayne Morrison, have been in the corrugated box business their entire careers. The two share a large rectangular office at their Lawrenceville, Ga., sheet plant.
Peachtree Packaging co-owners Terry Roof (left), and Wayne Morrison, have been in the corrugated box business their entire careers. The two share a large rectangular office at their Lawrenceville, Ga., sheet plant.

The shareholders and employees have steered the company through several relocations and expansions. Growth has been consistent over the years and is a topic of discussion at many meetings.

The company moved to its current nine-acre site in 1996, and added 20,000 square feet to the manufacturing area last year.

"When we built this building, we thought we were set for life, but it took about three years to blow the walls out and get more space," Roof says. "We built the biggest building we could on this piece of property. We did all we could with what (money) we had to work with."

The managers knew they had a certain amount of space in the new facility for offices, manufacturing, storage, and other plant functions. The committee had to decide how to allot this space.

"It doesn't work to dictate to people," Roof says. "It takes a group effort. We're smarter as a group than individually."

Markets and Machinery

Peachtree Packaging serves a broad range of markets, including automotive, information technology, industrial lighting, publishing, and personal care. Its geographic area is within 250 miles of Atlanta.

Traditional brown box represents about 75 percent of the mix. The company is focusing on high-end graphics and value-added to grow the business. Its Display Division specializes in enhanced graphics and labeled designs, everything that isn't brown box.

 The plant cut its teeth on equipment from McKinley Machinery.
The plant cut its teeth on equipment from McKinley Machinery.

"We're very focused on increasing sales," says Warner. "One of the biggest areas of growth is point-of-purchase, which is 20 to 25 percent right now, but we would like it to be more."

More than 95 percent of the boxes coming out of the plant are run on B- and C-flute, E singlewall and B/C doublewall. Annual capacity is about 300 million square feet.

In the manufacturing area are 20 bays for shipping and receiving. "We move a lot of stuff through here for a little company," Roof says.

There is no average order run. In fact, no order is too small for Peachtree, which will run 100 boxes for a customer if necessary. "This company has been built on the fact that one's a sample, two's a favor, three's an order," Roof says.

The plant cut its teeth on equipment from McKinley Machinery. That first machine, featured in the 1983 Paperboard Packaging article, was a 66- by 80-inch rotary diecutter. The plant has since installed a McKinley 66- by 110-inch rotary diecutter and a McKinley 50- by 110-inch flexo folder-gluer, which it bought in 1996 when it moved into the new building. "We run it two shifts every day, all day," Roof says.

The most recent piece of equipment is a Grant International 66- by 135-inch four-color Workhorse rotary diecutter with lead edge feeder, chambered blade system, vacuum transfer, dwell station, stacker, touch screen setup, and logic set.

On the plant floor are two diecutters and a flexo folder-gluer from McKinley and a new Workhorse rotary diecutter from Grant International.
On the plant floor are two diecutters and a flexo folder-gluer from McKinley and a new Workhorse rotary diecutter from Grant International.

"It was a sad day for box makers of our age and experience to watch the demise of Langston, the No. 1 name when Peachtree started," Roof says. "On the plus side, however, is the continued success of companies like McKinley that started about the same time we did and the emergence of new companies like Grant International."

Additional equipment at the Lawrenceville plant includes a 50- by 103-inch Greenwood printer-slotter, a 74- by 182-inch S&S rotary printer-slotter, two Thomson flatbed diecutters, a Post folder-gluer, a Kongsberg sampletable with CAD, a Universal six-bar slitter, a General gluer, and a Crathern & Smith label laminator that the company purchased when it moved in 1996.

The flatbed diecutters are used for litho label work. "A rotary diecutter could try to run this job but it would smudge or smear the printed surface," Roof explains. "Also, if you diecut it from the other side, it leads to a lot of severe score cracking."

This took quite a bit of trial and error over the years, Roof says. "We've had our learning curve and figured out how to be able to run these types of items for this kind of box."

Peachtree Packaging also tackles labor-intensive, specialty work, such as display assembly.

"We do a lot of things that are not able to be done on machines," Roof says. "We have several really good display customers who want us to pre-assemble the display and ship it set up. We run some displays that have 30, 35, 46 parts."

The company occasionally branches into markets other than corrugated, depending on customer need. "We twist in the wind," Roof says. "We'll diversify wherever we have an opportunity to make money. We've been through stages where we did a lot of fulfillment packing of a customer's product.

"We'll head in any direction. Hopefully it's related to something that has to do with our core business," he adds. "We make it easy for people to do business with us."

Customers are impressed with what Peachtree will do for them, Morrison says. "If you get them in here, we'll make a customer out of them."

Warner recalls how the company's policy of taking care of the customer got him one of his first and best accounts. "The customer was bellyaching that another supplier couldn't meet his fulfillment needs. I ended up with five other salespeople and 10 other shareholders packing the boxes ourselves. That probably kept me in that account for years."

One job that the managers are most proud of involves a product display for a major motion picture studio. A sales trainee saw the display in a grocery store. He bought one of the products and contacted the manufacturer. As a result, Peachtree Packaging was presented with "one of the biggest manufacturing challenges we've had," Roof says.

The design had 24 parts and the customer wanted it fully assembled.

"It turned into a very big account for us," Roof says. "We ran several thousand units last year."

"There's always some trepidation going into these things, but no one is putting the brakes on," Warner says. "That's the secret of our success."

How does the manufacturing staff feel about these types of jobs? "Production's attitude has always been, 'Bring it on,'" Warner says.

"I imagine this would have scared some companies to death," adds Harry Warneke, design and systems administrator.

The Next Move

With two expansion projects in the past five years, the company is settling, concentrating on current capacity needs. However, looking at the company's history of consistent growth, the expectation is that the shareholders will face another decision to expand.

"This might be the longest that we spend in one place," Roof adds. "The next logical step would be a second facility just like this one. It's hard for us to envision what we'll be doing next week, next month, next year, five years from now."

Bottom line: "If you pay attention to the basics and take care of your people and your business, you can make it," Roof says.