Thinking Outside the Box

ABOX Packaging
Written by Mark Golombek

ABOX Packaging hails from the state of Texas and has developed a niche in specialty packaging and design, making close to five million boxes a month. “We are custom manufacturers of high-end packaging,” says President and Chief Executive Officer Keith Thompson. Keith has been working in this industry for close to fifty-five years and brings a rare knowledge and understanding to the company.
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“The fields we work in include medical, cosmetic, pharmaceutical, food products, and office supplies,” says Keith. He sees this business as “making expensive trash.” However, for a company that makes a product most consumers will just toss, it is as green as possible. It uses a lot of recycled materials, with upwards of two hundred tons’ worth being recycled every month.

Recently, ABOX secured a new contract with a company that manufactures boxes for AT&T. It has also made packaging for Jack Daniels, Nestle Toll House Cookies, and Mary Kay Cosmetics.

The company began in 1976 and has always been privately owned. It was purchased by Keith Thompson in 2004, and since then, has grown 750 percent. When first purchased, the offices were in Kaufman, Texas and all located in one building. That soon grew to five buildings, and in 2017, the company relocated to Forney and consolidated the five into one space.

“This enabled more efficiencies and effectiveness, within a 110,000-square-foot facility, and an additional 40,000 square feet of warehouse space. It has been truly amazing, and having everyone together has been of great benefit to the company,” says Director of Sales and Marketing Pylar Pinkston.

This U-shaped building allows one to follow the product from the beginning of the process to the end and out the door for shipping. A study was performed to see if the new building would produce the needed effect for production and showed that, by moving everyone into one building, there would be a thirty-seven percent efficiency increase.

“There was a significant increase with efficiencies. The give-back to the employee has been tremendous. In the old facility – and in most manufacturing facilities – there was no HVAC as production took place in warehouses. We improved upon that, and all our employees work with HVAC. Shipping is the only area without, for obvious reasons, but all other aspects of production are in an environmentally-controlled environment,” says Pylar.

It was important to Keith that the new building be a place where everyone feels comfortable and proud of their surroundings. Inside, there is a warehouse feel with high rafters, wooden trusses, old-style brick, and barn doors for the offices.

Keith has witnessed some astronomical changes in technology over his time in the industry, but over the last seven to eight years, there have been more rapid advancements than in the first thirty to forty. Innovative technologies have enabled the packaging company to hit new heights in production, but the manual labor is still needed.

All the company machines are computer operated, and some are quite advanced. The state-of-the-art HP Indigo 30,000 digital printing press has seven colors and an in-line coating system. This is not for printing items like brochures but rather for heavier packaging substrates.

“It was the fifth or sixth one sold in North America, and we were early into the market, five years ago. Since that time, the technology has changed significantly, and we have upgraded three or four times. Currently, there are only about fifteen of them running across the continent. Its elevated packaging and printing to a whole new level,” says Keith.

There are so few in North America as this is very expensive technology, but Keith sees it gaining on conventional printing over the next five years. It will be a long time before digital printing takes over from conventional methods, but it is gaining quickly. “That said, we are still ninety percent conventional and ten percent digital, but the HP Indigo 300 has filled a gap that has complemented our customer base,” says Keith.

ABOX is proud of its company culture. Pylar makes the point that many companies use the word ‘care,’ but when people come to ABOX, they can feel that caring in how the employees treat each other, the clients, and management. The relationship also extends to the outside world.

The company’s charitable program was developed to encourage employees to get involved with the communities it serves. The company previously made financial contributions to various charities and civic organizations but decided to make it a more personal endeavor.

“The ‘ABOX Gives Back’ program involves ten listed charities from hospitals to children to animals. An employee will go on their own time to volunteer. For every eight hours of volunteer working over a ninety-day period, they get one paid vacation day. Initially they did it for the vacation day, but it has fostered philanthropy with a lot of community involvement. They are making a difference,” says Pylar.

Another incentive for its employees promotes a healthy lifestyle. If an employee commits to go to a gym three times per week, ABOX will pay for their membership. Many of its employees have taken this seriously and have made great progress with their health. It is also a smoke and tobacco-free facility.

ABOX has an incredibly low rate of employee turnover, and some people have been here for twenty-five to thirty years. It celebrates milestones with an end-of-year luncheon and monetary award that recognizes their service.

“One thing we stress daily is that our employees are the best asset we have. I can buy all the equipment in the world, but we can’t replace that value which the employees bring to the company. They understand this is a team game, and it takes thirty to forty people to make a box,” says Keith.

Contracts are the way of the industry, but Keith would rather deal with a handshake. “It’s about treating people the way you want to be treated. This goes back to our corporate culture of caring. We’ve been very fortunate. In the fourteen years that I have owned this company, only one handshake deal has gone upside down. Bottom line is if you agree to do something and your customer pays you ninety-nine percent of the time, that will suffice,” says Keith.

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