Trending Content

Washington Box

By AICC Staff

May 20, 2020

Washington

Humberto Trevino, president of Washington Box, a sheet plant in the industrial city of Monterrey, Mexico, had been under COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders for 13 days at the time of this writing. It was fitting in terms of timing, because it was during a time of turmoil 25 years ago that Trevino started in the paper industry and, soon after, his business.

From Banking to Boxes

The boxmaking business was not a venture he ever imagined undertaking. Trevino worked in his family’s thriving financial services business straight out of college. His path had been laid out for him, and he had no intention of straying from it. But fate saw a different future for him.

On December 20, 1995, a day Trevino remembers well, newly inaugurated Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo announced the Mexican central bank’s devaluation of the peso. Soon after, the Mexican economy experienced 52% inflation, and several large Mexican banks collapsed amid widespread mortgage defaults. In short, it was not a good time to be in the financial services business. Trevino soon found himself looking for a new job in the middle of a recession.

“In some places, they told me I was overqualified, and in others, there were hundreds of applications for one seat. It was like a nightmare,” Trevino says.

Finally, his perseverance paid off, and he was offered a position with General Electric. The job came with perks, including managing the company’s skybox at Texas Stadium, home of Trevino’s beloved Dallas Cowboys. But the entrepreneurial blood ran strong through Trevino’s veins, as he had also been considering starting his own business.

“I had the opportunity to be a very important executive with a large company, or I could start making boxes,” Trevino says. “I chose to make boxes.”

Humble Beginnings

With just US$700 in capital, Trevino got to work. His first customer was Soriana, a popular Mexican grocery and department store chain. They needed a box that wasn’t available in Mexico, but in such a low quantity that importing them from the United States was not cost-effective.

Trevino told them what would become the company’s motto: “We can make it.”

Soriana approved the prototype, and after some tough negotiation with three of the Soriana sharks, Trevino had his first order for 700 custom-made boxes to be delivered each month. He just needed someone to help him make his boxes and a place in which to do it.

Trevino signed a lease on a tiny workspace—about the size of a small bedroom—and built some tables and bought a few knives, a lot of glue, and corrugated sheets. Then he hired a ragtag crew to work for him.

“There were, at that time, 17 young guys and one ancient guy—85 years old,” Trevino says. “No one knew who brought him, but he arrived for work every day.”

Trevino grew his business solving problems as they came at him. One problem was trying to get the corrugated they needed. Because they required such small quantities, they had to piggyback on someone else’s order. That was too unreliable, so Trevino and his crew built their own first die-cutting machine.

As business increased, so did their need for more equipment. Trevino traveled through the U.S. Midwest, looking for a bargain on used equipment. Their first purchase was an old S&S letterpress built in the 1950s. “I had no idea how these machines worked or about inks,” Trevino says. “I had zero experience.”

Their customer just happened to stop by for a visit as they were taking their first box off their new machine, and the customer exclaimed, “Hey, is this the first time you were making a box or what?”

Trevino laughed and said that while he didn’t own up to it at the time, he did tell him many years later that yes, it was their first time—their first box ever made.

On Expansion

Trevino’s son Patricio joined the business about 2½ years ago. He now leads operations, and Humberto has been reassigned to do what he does best—talking to the customers, coming up with innovative ideas, and developing additional services to offer customers.

“It was pretty tough letting the young guys do things in a different way than how I had been doing them,” Trevino says. “But I finally understood that we need to do things differently if we want different results.”

And so far, those new ways of doing things are working out well for Washington Box. They have four factory buildings, a distribution center on the southernmost border with the U.S. in Matamoros, Mexico, and another distribution center in north central Mexico opening soon.

Trevino had hoped to announce the building of a new plant to consolidate all its operations. However, that plan has been put on hold while he concentrates on getting his business through the COVID-19 pandemic. As of late March, his plant was still operating, taking all the precautions to keep workers safe, but Trevino doesn’t know how much longer that will last.

But Trevino has not let up despite the shelter-in-place orders. He jokes he is working only a bit more than half days now—from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. So, what keeps him going during this time of crisis? “I guess it’s in the blood,” he says. “I learned from my father. He worked every single day until the day he passed.”

For now, Trevino is focused on building the business for his family, much as his father did. He hopes that sooner or later, the rest of his family will join the company. The doors are always open to them if they can add value to the business, help it grow, and make it stronger.

Investing in the Industry and the Future

Besides running Washington Box, Trevino is on the board of directors of AICC and is a founding member of AICC México. He is also a frequent speaker at different international forums in countries such as China, the U.S., Brazil, and Mexico, among others, on topics related to the box business and commercial trade among the nations.

But Trevino is not just focused on growing the business. He is also investing in the future by leading two foundations. One is a scholarship program that provides a dedicated mentor, funds for brilliant low-income students, and funds for those students to attend school. The other foundation supports a school for high-achieving students in a low-income town. That school is rated one of the top-10 schools in the country.


PortraitVirginia Humphrey is director of membership and marketing at AICC. She can be reached at 703-535-1383 or vhumphrey@aiccbox.org.


Love at First Sight

Humberto Trevino, president of Washington Box, says a significant milestone in his business was the day approximately three years ago when they purchased their first brand-new U.S.-made machine—a beautiful Baysek Air Logic die cutter.

“The first time I saw the Baysek, it was at SuperCorrExpo in Atlanta, and I was in love with that machine,” says Trevino. “For years, I would go back to the company’s booth at every show, and I was like a poor kid in a candy store looking for it. So, the machine got a nickname—Humberto’s girlfriend.”

Naturally, the Helbachs—David, Mark, and Heidi, who owned Baysek—were referred to as “the in-laws,” and they’ve been friends ever since. Trevino says that machine is an integral part of Washington Box operations and is used almost every day.

Post Tags