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Sixth and Seventh: NEWW Takes Pride in the Unusual Over Many Generations

By Steve Young

May 18, 2023

David Urquhart, president (left), and Ben Urquhart, sales manager, are the sixth and seventh generations of the Urquhart family, respectively, at NEWW Packaging & Display. (Photos courtesy of NEWW Packaging & Display.)

COMPANY: NEWW Packaging & Display



PHONE: 978-632-3600


Headquarters: Gardner, Massachusetts

President and CEO: David Urquhart

This is not a story about a 189-year-old New England company. It is not a story about how it was founded in 1834 by Elisha Murdoch to manufacture wooden household products such as buckets, firkins, and washboards and hence was eventually called New England Wooden Ware. Nor is it a story about how, in 1929, at the start of the Great Depression, the company gambled on a new packaging technology called “corrugated fiberboard.”

Rather, this is a story about NEWW Packaging & Display and the vision that the sixth and seventh generations of ownership envision for the future of this family business in a consolidating, challenging market. It is a story about a successful and thriving independent with a reputation for quality, service, and a “willingness to do the unusual.”

Ben Urquhart, 45, has been with the company for 12 years. He graduated from Princeton University with a bachelor’s degree in ecology and evolutionary biology. He also holds a master’s degree in forest management from Yale University. Before becoming a sales manager three years ago, he served as a corrugator supervisor, prepress manager, and production manager. “This is my fourth job at NEWW,” he says. “I keep my old business cards to remind me of my history here.”

Ben’s partner in leading NEWW Packaging & Display is his father, David Urquhart, president and CEO. The senior Urquhart, 73, is also a graduate of Princeton, as well as the University of Alaska and Worcester Polytechnic Institute. After a stint working for Alaska’s Institute of Marine Science, he returned to New England in 1981 to join the family business. He served on the AICC board of directors for more than 10 years and as the Association’s chairman in 2010–2011.

David remembers that Ben’s decision to work at NEWW 12 years ago was “of his own volition,” adding, “I did not ask him to come to work at NEWW. This event was of great significance to the eventual path to be followed by this now 189-year-old company. NEWW is very fortunate to have Ben working and now guiding this company through the present and into the future.”

NEWW Packaging & Display’s principal production facility is housed in a 300,000-square-foot plant in Gardner, Massachusetts, about 65 miles west-northwest of Boston. The company employs 150 people working three shifts, producing about 500 million square feet of corrugated packaging products annually.

The New England corrugated packaging market is, in Ben Urquhart’s view, a challenge. “One of the things I sometime hear is, ‘There is no new business in New England.’”

Ticking off a list of issues in the region vis-à-vis other parts of the country, he adds, “You know, who would invest in building new manufacturing capacity in this part of the world? Your energy costs are high, your labor costs are high, and the weather’s unpredictable.”

Yet, despite the market area headwinds, NEWW Packaging & Display continues to excel in serving a diverse range of stable corrugated users such as consumer goods, biomedical, food, and beverage. This customer-base stability allows NEWW to focus on long-term, core customers with unusual pack-aging needs. Says Ben, “I haven’t seen dramatic changes in our mix of customers over the past 10 years. Some come and go; we acquire opportunities, but our success is very much based on our capabilities and our consistency.

“We see ourselves as occupying a specialty niche,” he adds. “We think that we are good at serving customers with challenging structures, challenging artwork, and challenging expectations.”

Ben cited one area in which the company excels: specialty die cuts. In the past three years, the company has made major investments to support this niche. It acquired a Bobst VISIONCUT flat-bed die cutter, a Baysek die cutter, and a 115″ Kolbus five-color rotary die cutter. “The investments we’ve made in our machines and our systems are very much about supporting this niche,” he says.

He also noted that NEWW’s production excellence is a critical support for those customers who rely on automatic case-erectors and related packaging-line equipment with tight tolerances that demand precision. “I think our success is very much based on our die-cutting capabilities,” he says, add-ing that NEWW’s customers value the peace of mind knowing their lines will be running smoothly. “And yes, we also satisfy our customers’ psychological expectations.”

David agrees with his son’s take on NEWW’s ability to run demanding and challenging orders. “Some companies’ whole push is 90 black and 30,000 kicks an hour,” he says. “That’s not our niche.”

Offering a confirming metric to emphasize the point, Ben says, “You know, on an average day we are shipping a couple million square feet, but the total throughput of the factory is often much higher. So, the amount of board passing through our machines is an indication of how many orders re-quire multiple passes.”

A corrugator plant, NEWW’s 98″ Fosber corrugator produces B, C, and E flutes. In recent years, the corrugator has seen several upgrades, which Ben says have been “gradual and judicious.” A new Fosber dry end was installed in the past three years, and plans are in the works to add more upgrades to the double-backer, splicers, and roll stands. “We are making gradual, judicious investments to bring the corrugator up to a more modern and capable system,” he says. “We are running substantially faster and better than we used to,” Ben adds.

Additional improvements for the corrugator could be in the future, as well, he says. “I entertain myself by looking for new and interesting opportunities to do unusual things. So, if our niche is the strange and the difficult, what about F flute?” This enthusiasm recently led Urquhart to experiment with unique grades of paper—running acid-free linerboard and vat-dyed liners. “I daydream about doing more unconventional things with our corrugator,” Ben adds.

NEWW is also a shareholder in New England Sheets in Devens, Massachusetts, a joint venture founded in 2010 with original partners Rand-Whitney, Horn Packaging, Interstate Container, and Norampac. The project is managed by Schwarz Partners. New England Sheets has a 110″ Marquip corrugator running B, C, and E flutes. “We became involved with Schwarz Partners and got the ball rolling with Ed Davis at Rand-Whitney, the guys from Norampac, and Peter Hamilton at Horn Packaging,” Ben says.

He says the decision to invest in a sheet feeder raised eyebrows among some of his business advisors. “A couple of the people who may read this article have been consultants to us in the past. Some of them felt very strongly that we were dooming ourselves to the trash heap by trying to be some sort of bizarre hybrid,” Ben recalls. “I remember one of them saying to me, ‘Nobody does this. You can either be a sheet plant, or you can be a corrugator plant. There’s nothing in the middle; don’t do it!’”

Now that the company is 13 years into this successful venture, how does NEWW leverage the firepower of New England Sheets along with its own corrugator capability? “We run our corrugator to maximize our internal efficiencies, but it’s really about utilizing both the sheet feeder and our internal corrugator.” Ben explains. “I could get all my board off our own corrugator, but how many days a week am I going to run frost-white double-wall? Or how many days a week am I going to run Kemi? The sheet feeder often comes through in these situations and of course when we need trailer loads of C flute every day.”

He praises the management team at New England Sheets, which is headed by Phil Barrett, general manager. “They do a good job for us,” Ben says. “There are many hardworking, talented people at the sheet feeder.”

NEWW Packaging & Display’s and New England Sheets’ corrugator output is supported by an impressive array of converting and finishing equipment. In addition to the die-cutting capability mentioned earlier—the Kolbus five-color rotary, the Bobst VISIONCUT flatbed, and the Baysek—the company has two Ward die cutters, three flexo folder gluers by Bobst, Langston, and Emba, and two litho laminators by Automatan. In addition, NEWW recently invested in a Durst 2500 digital printer and an Esko C64 digital cutting table.

Ben compares his early experience working with the plant’s converting machines with its equipment mix today. “My first summer here was in 1992,” he says. “I spent the entire summer feeding two-man feeds on a two-color Koppers letter press, where we had to staple the slugs to the impression roll.”

Guided by David’s philosophy of “gradual and judicious” investment, the company is well positioned to guarantee a high level of reliability and quality to its customer base. And as a testament to the intestinal fortitude of the NEWW Packaging & Display leadership team, the company made five significant equipment investments during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, NEWW Packaging & Display also achieved its ISO 9001 certification.

“We’ve made good decisions over the past years,” David says. “We are now at the point where we have a comfortable level of redundancy among our machines. We have three good and capable rotary die cutters, three flexo folder gluers, three flatbeds, two laminators—from the Kolbus as the best printer to our Baysek, which is able to stack small, intricate blanks. And with all these, when we have issues, we have the ability to back it up with our existing machines. Each of these investments was done in a thrifty, cost-effective way to expand our capabilities without taking on significant risk or debt.”

Robert French (right), operator of the Bobst VISIONCUT die cutter, with Ben Urquhart.

Ben was especially complimentary of key suppliers, singling out Kolbus and their work in hustling the delivery of the die cutter, and Baysek for their ease of communication and functionality of their machine. Baysek machines “are fairly easy to maintain, and the company is doing interesting things with what they’re offering. They were pleasant to deal with from a communication perspective. It was simple: ‘How much does it cost? When’s it going to be here? All right. We’re done. Sweet.’”

Like many independent companies in the corrugated industry, NEWW enjoys the loyalty and dependability of longtime employees yet struggles to find good, younger workers to replace those who are retiring. Says David, “Twenty to 30 years ago, everybody in the plant had been with us 20, 30, 40 years. Our maintenance supervisor just retired after 50 years. Amazing! Now it’s very different. I’d like someone to explain to me what’s going on with the younger generation. They don’t seem to need jobs or income.”

Still, despite the attitudinal challenge of the younger worker, NEWW has succeeded in nurturing a next generation of capable and versatile operators. “We have impressive, hardworking people next door, but we are in the midst of a generational shift,” Ben says. “There are a lot of good young people in the plant who we’re excited to have, and we want to keep them.”

David was equally complimentary of the commitment of the company’s workforce, saying, “NEWW has a nice coterie of young, focused people who show up every day and manage the plant.”

A union shop, NEWW has negotiated rules it must follow in staffing its machine centers. Yet both Urquharts see employee onboarding and training as an occasion for personal interaction. “Operating the machines, learning how to print, learning how to die-cut, how to glue—it’s always been a personal, apprenticeship-like program where the savvy veterans will take someone under their wing who meets the criteria of what skills are needed to do the job,” says Ben. He cited the case of one such worker, saying, “I’m thinking of one young man who joined us during the pandemic. He’s proven to be intelligent and capable. In a very short period of time, he has learned how to run several different machines. I’m going to try to clone him.”

Ben Urquhart (front) and Kolbus rotary die cutter operator Todd Alliy discuss a setup.

In recent years, Ben has taken up the rebranding of the company to NEWW Packaging & Display from its former New England Wooden Ware. “The intent was to have our stated name better represent what we do,” he explains. “I needed the word ‘packaging.’ I wanted the corrugated profile to visually be there but also represent a rotating gear.”

Turning to a graphic artist and his own internal management team, he went to work. “I hired a local graphic artist who has experience in such projects and then solicited my co-workers for input,” Ben says. “I pushed for the revised name, and then we settled upon the logo, font, and color scheme with an internal collaborative process involving sales, graphics, and our customer service reps.”

And in a tribute to his grandfather Alec Urquhart, who was a U.S. Navy veteran, Ben chose the colors of navy blue and gold for the company’s new look. “I quite like the new logo,” he says.

Ben maintains a New England-like skepticism about business conditions in the remaining months of 2023. “I anticipate serious challenges in the coming year with eroding paper prices, continuing labor shortage, increasing machine capacity in a competitive landscape, and falling consumer demand,” he says.

Indeed, his sentiments reflect those of AICC members at large, nearly half of whom said in a recent AICC business conditions survey that they expected their business to be down between 5% and 10% in 2023. He says NEWW’s business had declined early in the year, noting, “Our sales dollars and sales volume are down 5%. Our best projections for the year are zero growth, but in a perverse sense, some of that is OK because we were working so hard for so long during the pandemic, it was unsustainable.”

Yet, Ben’s caution is colored with optimism based in the company’s growing capabilities and dedication to customer service. He sees additional in-vestments in the company, but in doing so acknowledges the constraints placed by NEWW’s existing building. “We’re thinking about the machines of our future; we’re thinking about real estate options; we’re thinking about buildings and land,” he says.

David agrees. “It goes without saying that NEWW needs to focus on future investments. NEWW is a bit distinctive in terms of our current presentation to the market. Ben and I, in concert with our managers, need to rough out the best industry path we see as being before us.”

In the end, however, Ben, David, and the 150 employees at NEWW Packaging & Display understand that it’s more than equipment, real estate, buildings, and land. “It’s not about the machines; it’s about the people running the machines and the attitude they bring to their work each day,” Ben says. “We need people who are to be decision-makers and assume positions of responsibility, and we have people who come to work every day trying to do the best they can for their own sake and for the sake of the people around them.

“The foundation of our success is, you know, a willingness to go the extra step and get the job done right—generation after generation.”

Steve Young is AICC’s ambassador-at-large. He can be reached at 202-297-0583 or