Technically, Carolina Industrial Resources, Inc. (CIR) of St. Augustine, Florida provides flexible packaging products and services. The company takes orders from clients, then utilizes a network of manufacturers to produce packaging which is shipped directly to the customer.
What this family-owned-and-operated company really offers, however, is peace of mind.
“One of our main goals is to make it so our customer can pretty much forget about packaging and worry about everything else involved with production, because packaging is not something they want to be wasting time on,” states Chief Financial Officer Patrick Hoyle. Almost everything Carolina Industrial Resources does is related to packaging, he adds.
“We are, in a sense, a distributor or sales arm for our manufacturers,” says Hoyle. “We have also ordered machinery for customers, but these are rare occurrences.”
CIR’s packaging-related work is centered on films, bags, and lamination. “Films are mostly shrink film and stretch film. Shrink film goes around the end product, like a case of water bottles. Stretch wrap goes around pallets and keeps the bundles together. We also do mattress film and printed roll stock,” lists Hoyle. Bags can include pouches, microwave steam packages, printed and colored bags, and more.
Some packaging products are put through a lamination process which involves layering material to create a protective barrier. “If you’re putting a food product [into packaging] there are certain additives or certain layers of film that you can laminate together. It keeps moisture in, keeps moisture out, keeps air in, keeps air out, depending on what you need. If we do a laminated film, the customer makes the bag out of the film,” explains Hoyle.
The company maintains a close working relationship with its suppliers. Carolina conducts audits on plants with which it works and will offer recommendations on how these can enhance machinery and methods.
“We see where they’re losing efficiency, and we’ll try to improve on that. We’ll adjust their machines to work better or say, ‘You’re using this thickness of film; we can [make it] a little thinner so you’re using less film,’” explains Hoyle.
Other recommendations offered to manufacturers might include switching to smaller bag sizes, using a common bag size that can accommodate multiple products, or reducing the use of color on packaging products. Any idea to make the manufacturing process more productive and the products less expensive will be considered.
Suppliers are also expected to offer speedy delivery to CIR clients, and the company says it had a 99.8 percent record for on-time deliveries in the years between 2007 and 2015. Through the CIR network, clients can avail themselves of laboratory testing services with an eye towards improving products or determining the contents of a competitors’ product.
CIR’s vast connections and experience enhance the company’s problem-solving capabilities and customer-centric approach. “If a problem arises, we can deal with it, because we’re not limited,” states Hoyle. “We’re problem solvers, and we service our customer very well, from top to bottom.”
Core markets include automotive, food, foam, meat and poultry, pet food, lawn and garden, beverage, health care, textiles, printing and publishing, building, and roofing. Of these, food and beverage bring in the most revenue, but packaging for the roofing and shingle market is the most lucrative sector in which CIR works. “We’re currently in the process of growing lawn and garden and roofing. Those are more profitable. Basically anything that has print on it is more profitable,” says Hoyle.
Bags of fertilizer, roofing shingles, and other supplies contain text on their surfaces. The presence of print makes it more difficult for competitors to rip off packaging designs while the actual printing process is premium-priced, which helps CIR’s bottom line.
CIR was founded in 1986 by Patrick’s father, Tim Hoyle, in North Carolina. Tim had been a purchaser for a textile company, and when the textile industry hit hard economic times, friends encouraged him to enter the flexible packaging trade. At first, the firm mostly sold clear industrial film to textile manufacturers.
Along the way, the firm expanded into other areas, including zip-lock sock bags for the Fruit of the Loom undergarment company. Expansion was often driven by customer demand.
“For instance, we never used to do stretch film. One of our customers said, ‘We’re trying to make it so all of our packaging comes from one supplier, so we need you to do [stretch film] as well.’ Of course, we just said ‘yes’ and figured it out,” recalls Hoyle.
CIR continued to expand its range and moved its headquarters to Florida about a decade ago although it retains an office in North Carolina.
Tim Hoyle is still active in the company, serving as chief executive officer while his wife Terry Hoyle is company president and majority owner. This ownership model has allowed CIR to become Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) certified. Certification by the council is useful for networking and business opportunities.
Asked if being family-run has been advantageous from a business perspective, Hoyle says, “for the most part, I think so.” He laughs, and adds, “But, I don’t know what it would be like without it being family-run. I don’t see that likelihood either.”
At present, CIR has eleven employees. Being family-owned, it is not surprising that Carolina tries to imbue a familial culture among all staff. “Since we’re a smaller group, we’re kind of family,” states Hoyle. “A new hire has to mesh into how we act and treat each other. Everyone is really friendly. [Co-workers] are more like a friend than an acquaintance or just some random person.”
In addition to being family-oriented, CIR aims to be progressive. The company offers a biodegradable packaging option, for example. This option is fairly expensive, however, which puts it out of reach of many customers. Because of this, CIR works on other pro-environmental initiatives, such as trying to reduce the amount of plastic that its suppliers use to make packaging products by using thinner film among other methods. CIR also engages in plastic recycling and other green measures.
CIR hopes to grow while remaining firmly focused on packaging. “I don’t know if we will be adding new products, so to speak, but we’re always looking to expand, always looking to add more suppliers, so we have more options,” says Hoyle.
“We’re completely redoing our website to be more ad-friendly – something that will work with Google AdWords or different search engine advertisements,” says Hoyle. “As far as trade shows go, we don’t ever set up a booth. We do go to a couple a year. Some we go to are supplier related, some are customer-related.” Supplier trade shows include Pack Expo, usually held in Chicago or Las Vegas, where packaging companies show off their wares and look for new products, machinery, and customers.
As to the biggest challenges facing Carolina, Hoyle cites two related issues. The first concerns ‘price pressure’ which stems from the way CIR operates, he says. Since Carolina arranges deals with clients, then arranges for suppliers to produce the required packaging, its rates will be higher than that of a manufacturer who deals directly with customers.
“When we first started out in the eighties and nineties, there weren’t a whole lot of companies that we were competing against. Now there’s hundreds and hundreds of companies that do the same thing. Not necessarily like we do it but as manufacturers. Now we get hit all the time by a customer saying ‘Well so-so came in and they can offer us [a lower price].’ That’s mainly the biggest issue that we face because we’re going to be more expensive,” Hoyle explains.
Since a manufacturer working directly with a customer can offer lower rates, “We have to sell clients on our company. We have to sell them on cost rather than price. That leads to the second biggest challenge, which is explaining to the customer the difference between cost and price,” he continues.
Say CIR finds a way to offer a client a thinner film, says Hoyle. While Carolina’s price-per-pound for this thinner film might be higher, the client’s costs will be lower in the long run because the film requires less material to produce. Add to this CIR’s constant hunt for plant efficiencies, and the company begins to look considerably more cost-competitive.
In five years, Hoyle would like to see the company double its sales force to six people and enhance its existing market share. “I’d like to keep expanding of course. You’re either going forward or backward; there is no standing still. We’d like to add another couple suppliers to our partnership as well as increasing our sales force,” he states.