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Boxes Inc. and Mid America Display

By AICC Staff

March 12, 2020

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At an open house in December, Eric Benardin, vice president of operations for Boxes Inc. and Mid America Display, conducts a facility tour. (Photos courtesy of Mid America Display.)

Companies: Boxes Inc.,

Mid America Display

Established: 1977, 2005

Joined AICC: 1977

Phone: 314-781-2600,

314-781-7771

Website: boxesinc.com, midamericadisplay.com

Locations: Bridgeton, Mo., Bentonville, Ark.

President and CEO: Michael Patton

 

Michael Patton enters the cavernous design and graphic arts studio at Boxes Inc. and Mid America Display and says, “Here is a place where young people want to come to work.” Patton is president and CEO of the companies, both headquartered in the St. Louis, Mo., suburb of Bridgeton, and judging by the number of youthful faces collaborating in the space on customers’ structural and graphic design requirements, he’s clearly right.

The company recently moved into a new 530,000-square-foot manufacturing plant and assembly and pack-out facility, where it produces its signature packaging, display, and signage solutions for major brands and retailers across the country. “We are one of the top independent manufacturing facilities in this country,” Patton says. “We continue to install the latest innovative technologies to boost efficiency and respond to customer requirements regarding innovation, cost, quality, critical delivery dates, and our assistance in maximizing their ROI.”

From the Start: Core Principles

Boxes Inc. was founded during what many consider the “golden age” of the North American corrugated business, that time in the late 1960s and ’70s when the containerboard mill system was seeing a wave of vertical integration. It was a time that saw the birth of many new independently owned and operated corrugated sheet plants, as company mergers spun off talented and ambitious entrepreneurial thinkers who said, “I can do this better.”

“I was one of the principal founders of Boxes Inc.,” Patton says. “Along with my partners, Lynn Carroll and the late Gene Wicks, we started the company in December of 1977 to continue our business beliefs and approaches serving our customers who required smaller quantities but higher service.” Patton explained that the three partners had been senior managers at another St. Louis-based company that decided to replace the management team. “We were out, and the three of us decided, ‘We can do this better.’”

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Patton alongside a print sample from the Nozomi C18000 one-pass digital printer. The sample, printed on kraft, shows the printer’s capability to print white.

Patton says that, to his partners and him in the newly formed company, “better” meant: instilling a “customer-first focus”; “doing the best you can by your people”; and “reinvesting in the company, continuing to get the tools necessary to serve customer requirements.” Reflecting on those early principles, Patton says little has changed. “The need for this culture has only magnified over the years,” he says. “These remain our guiding principles.”

A Brown-Box Market Sees POP Growth

Situated at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, St. Louis has been a principal commercial center since the early days of the republic. Trade, transportation, and an influx of Irish, German, and African American migrants in the late 1800s enabled the growth of an industrial economy that produced agricultural commodities, manufactured goods, clothing, and food and beverage products. Its location and commercial importance made St. Louis the jumping-off point for America’s early westward push, earning it the moniker “Gateway City.” As manufacturing grew, so did the packaging business, first in burlap bags and wooden crates, then in the early 1900s, the first corrugated paperboard.

Today, while the manufacturing core of the city is a shadow of its former hulk, the St. Louis metropolitan area is still a good market for industrial brown-box packaging. In recent years, however, the St. Louis retail packaging market has grown as the city is home to consumer packaged goods producers that require high-impact point-of-purchase (POP) displays and retail signage. This growth has been augmented, too, by recent gains in e-commerce and online sales with marketing and promotion efforts directed by advertising and creative agencies.

In the early 2000s, seeing the potential for growth in the display and signage business, Boxes Inc. formed Mid America Display, a wholly owned subsidiary. “We always did display and signage from our earliest days, but our customer base was only in the local area,” Patton explains. “In 2005, Boxes Inc. recognized an opportunity to form Mid America Display as a subsidiary focused on custom product displays and signage, national in scope.” This growth in the retail sector prompted a move to establish a presence in Bentonville, Ark., home to Walmart. “In 2011, Mid America Display expanded its presence into Bentonville, continuing our long history of trusted service to retail giants such as Walmart, Sam’s Club, and the vendor community.”

Investment in Equipment, Technology

Take even a casual walk through the plant at Boxes Inc. and Mid America Display, and you’ll see state-of-the-art technology at every turn. Each machine, each piece of equipment, every pre-feeder, stacker, and conveyor validates the company’s principle of reinvesting in the capacity to serve the customer’s need.

In addition to two rotary die cutters—a Langston 66×114 and Giant 66×113—Boxes Inc. in November 2018 added a Young Shin 210S high-speed 82×60 flatbed. Four flexo folder-gluers dominate the north end of the manufacturing floor: a Bobst 618 four-color with dual die-cut section, 26×73; a Bobst 8.20 four-color, also with dual die-cut, 32×85; a Bobst 1636 five-color with die-cut section, 66×147; and a Langston 86×194 one-color with die-cut section. Rounding out the main converting lines are an Automatän 81×65 and Nutech 81×66 laminators and a Bobst EXPERTFOLD specialty folder-gluer.

The newest technology investments, however, are two EFI Nozomi C18000 single-pass inkjet digital printers and an EFI VUTEk super-wide-format printer. These high-speed printers are complemented by two Zünd D3 digital cutters with BHS150 automatic board-handling system. The company’s first Nozomi was installed in September 2018 and the second in December 2019; the VUTEk printer was installed in April 2019, replacing a previous multipass printer used primarily for low-volume orders and sample making.

Boxes Inc. and Mid America Display are the first companies in the world to operate two Nozomi C18000 printers in a single production facility. The new Nozomi C18000 printer operates at speeds up to 246 linear feet per minute—the equivalent of up to 10,000 35×35 sheets per hour, two-up. Both of the company’s Nozomi C18000 printers have six-color (CMYK, orange, and violet) plus white configuration for expanded-gamut imaging with matte, satin, or glossy finishes. Additionally, the company’s VUTEk printer is an 80-inch-wide LED inkjet solution that prints eight colors plus white at speeds up to 22 sheets per hour in production mode.

Commenting on the company’s bold digital investment timeline, Patton says, “We feel the EFI Nozomi is the leading technology in this space; that’s why we chose to stay with EFI for a second printer. Not only will this second Nozomi help us maintain our prime position as a leading packaging and display provider, but it will also be a primary resource for new fast-turnaround, shorter-run work coming in with our e-commerce division.”

Patton believes digital printing is the future of the corrugated and paperboard packaging industries, saying the second Nozomi C18000 adds “a great deal of digital capacity to our offering” and allows Boxes Inc. and Mid America Display to better meet what he calls “the growing demand across all market segments.” At an open house held in December, more than 200 customers, suppliers, and industry colleagues toured the company’s design center and manufacturing floor, seeing these latest additions to its already diverse capacity.

Patton’s reinvestment energy is seemingly limitless: “We will continue to invest in the leading equipment and technologies to support our sustainability efforts as well as our customers’ needs,” he says. “This year, we are also adding Nulogy software for increased efficiencies, real-time visibility, and agility in late-stage customization.”

E-Commerce ‘Xcellence’

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Top: An overhead view of the Boxes Inc. and Mid America Display manufacturing floor shows Bobst 8.20 and 1636 flexo folder-gluers with Alliance Machinery pre-feeders. Bottom: Boxes Inc. and Mid America Display are the only companies to have two EFI Nozomi C18000 printers under one roof.

Boxes Inc. and Mid America Display’s high-speed production capacities, especially in the digital space, have opened up new opportunities to serve a broader customer base selling in the e-commerce market. And they’re doing this by means of its new e-commerce divisions, Xceed and Xceed PRO. As Patton explains, “Xceed and Xceed PRO are our newest divisions, which offer both predetermined styles as well as completely custom designs through an outward-facing, easy-to-use and -order platform.”

With the rise of e-commerce, the corrugated industry’s customer base has delivered the companies a broad challenge: “Give us high-graphic printing, inside and outside, in small quantities we can order on demand and whose designs we can change on a whim,” Patton says. “Oh, and we need it tomorrow.”

It’s this demand, Patton says, that his e-commerce platform serves: “Xceed provides simple and custom solutions for packaging, beverage containers, and POP displays, allowing customers to design their own packaging product without sacrificing quality, speed, or customer support, while Xceed PRO is targeted to assist professionals that do not have manufacturing capabilities—for example, national brands, advertising agencies, or in-store marketing brokerage groups.”

The Key Players Are Key

In all our discussions with Patton, he came back to one thing: Boxes Inc. and Mid America Display would not be successful were it not for the talented team of people who are the key players in the company. “Our operational strategies, external communication, and business development tactics require input from all key players,” he says. “With the knowledge and expertise each member brings to the team, roles frequently grow or cross over in the process of meeting our customers’ expectations.”

In addition to Patton, the key players are Executive Vice President John Jones; Vice Presidents Eric Benardin and Jason Mueller; Controller Shirley Delahanty; Chief Information Officer Tim Korte; HR Director Cara Sullivan; Marketing and Communications Manager Brittney Beermann; Regional Manager Chris Watson; and Workflow Solutions Architect Matt Whitener. Of his entire team, Patton says, “I am very proud to also see even among the rank and file a coming together here in our new location.”

Patton believes the company’s next generation of talent will come directly out of its forward-thinking strategy. “Attracting talent is truly enhanced by our deployment of these innovative cultural strategies,” he says. “It’s the excitement of working with leading-edge technologies versus the old hot box shop we all grew up with.” He adds that a new leadership style is necessary to attract and retain younger workers, saying, “Retaining a motivated employee is a mixture of the way they are treated, trained, and given opportunities to advance. They must be respected and nurtured today.”

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Cierra Patton, manager of Xceed customer service, operates the Zünd D3 digital cutter.

In giving some closing thoughts, Patton credits AICC for playing a role in the company’s current success. “Through AICC events, directories, and publications, we’ve been able to connect with industry vendors and like companies, gaining insights and forming partnerships which have helped us get to where we are today.”

And of the future? Like all entrepreneurs in the corrugated business, Patton projects a firm optimism in the industry’s prospects, tinged with a dose of reality. “We have concerns for the slowing global economy and U.S. manufacturing sector, but I was reminded by a very positive fact on the radio the other day. In financial history, our down times are 15% while our up times are 85%.”

For Boxes Inc. and Mid America Display—a company reinvesting for the next generation—the times are certainly up.


width=150Steve Young is AICC’s ambassador at large. He can be reached at 703-535-1381 or syoung@aiccbox.org.