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How’s Business?

By Michael D'Angelo

March 20, 2023


A friendly greeting? Just making conversation? Really desperately seeking to know?

Generally speaking, “how’s business?” is asked often and everywhere around the world. These days, it’s asked because of the true level of uncertainty that exists in the economy at large anywhere and particularly in our great industry.

AICC does its best to track how our members are doing. We often poll membership. In mid-November, AICC surveyed members on some basic “how’s business?” questions:

  • We always ask about paper—70% of respondents had no getting paper, while the other 30% ranged from on allocation to having difficulty in certain grades.
  • Commodities other than paper—adhesives, trailers, strapping, replacement parts for equipment—were in short supply for roughly half of respondents.
  • To the question “how do you see business in 2023?” 30% said better than 2022, 20% said the same as 2022, and 50% said worse than 2022.
  • Interestingly, the above responses did not mirror the answers given to “how do your customers see their business in 2023?”—40% said the same as 2022; 60% said worse than 2022.
  • “Do you have equipment acquisition or improvement plans in place for 2023?”—70% responded yes, 17% responded maybe, and 13% responded no.
  • Respondents said their top three or challenges are staffing, equipment parts and lead times, and increasing costs.

The poll was a mixed bag backed by member comments. When we see members or speak with them on the phone, we always ask about business. There is a growing trend that business is slowing from the fever pitch of the past couple of years, and several would argue the slowdown began in earnest this past year. That said, the U.S. consumer held up their end of the bargain during the holiday season. According to Adobe Analytics, Cyber 5 (Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday) sales grew 4% year over year, and from November 1 to December 31, e-commerce grew 3.5% year over year—this despite increased foot traffic at brick-and-mortar retail. Annually, e-commerce topped $3 billion on 38 days in 2022 versus 25 days in 2021, a positive for boxmakers.

Manufacturing is making a comeback after clogged supply chains and transportation loosened. There is also an expectation of the reshoring of manufacturing, another positive for boxmakers.

Yes, inflation still exists for consumers and businesses. The year-on-year rate is declining, but it is likely underreported in terms of its true bite. Good news, bad news. The big question is how deeply a slowing of AICC member business from the pandemic-era highs will be felt. Many economists expect a recession in 2023 but also generally say it will be of a short duration.

I believe the industry will return to its long-term trend line of low single-digit growth in the next year-plus. Members are catching their breath, using AICC resources, relying on one another, and being resolute and disciplined.

AICC will keep listening to “could be better,” “surprisingly strong,” “good months, bad months,” and “holding our own”—keeping you informed and engaged.


Michael D’Angelo

AICC President