The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines longevity as “long continuance”. In the business world, it is very rare to come across a family owned company with a great degree of longevity. Landaal Packaging Systems is one of the unique manufacturing and service organizations that has been able to weather the volatile storm known as the American Marketplace. Landaal will be celebrating their 60th anniversary this year and I thought it appropriate to reflect on some of the milestones in what has been an amazing journey for the Landaal family, all of their employees, vendors and many valued clients.
To start, I must take you back to a thriving Flint, Michigan in the year 1959. I use the term thriving as the city had a lot of momentum and growth during this time in history. General Motors, the country’s top auto manufacturer, had made a solid commitment in the city and the surrounding communities. Auto manufacturing was the foundation that lead to many supporting companies and service entities. One of those companies was AC Spark Plug.
AC Spark Plug had actually been founded in Flint, Michigan in 1916. It was originally named for it’s owner Albert Champion but rebranded as AC Spark Plug in 1922. The reason that AC Spark Plug is so relevant to the Landaal Family is that they provided the first significant revenue opportunity for the start-up box manufacturer.
Robert Landaal Sr., the founding member of Landaal Packaging Systems, was familiar with operations at AC Spark Plug as he had made several sales calls to the main manufacturing facility. AC was a very integrated company in which they not only made auto parts, they also made the containers in which the parts were packaged. This is where our historical story really begins.
The phrase “timing is everything” could never have been more true in this instance. As fate would have it, AC Spark Plug was going through a business model change. Their new focus was to keep all efforts aimed at the manufacturing process of their auto components. This meant that it was time for them to find an outsourcing partner for their carton manufacturing operations. This was a perfect fit for Robert Landaal, as he had spent many years managing sales/operations for a previous employer, MEAD container.
It did not take long for Robert to convince fellow shareholders the value of this opportunity and within a short margin of time Flint Boxmakers was founded. The company was able to purchase some initial machinery from AC Spark Plug and continued to add to their equipment holdings during the next few years.
Flint Boxmakers had a good reputation for the quality of the containers that they manufactured. They also had a very successful on time shipping performance within the industry. This reputation led to other opportunities.
In 1962, Robert Landaal Sr. was approached about providing packaging services for General Motors. GM was in search of a qualified company that could assist with ensuring safe delivery of their products to the many dealerships that had been established. Once again, Robert offered a solution.
Flint Packaging Inc, was founded to provide contract packaging solutions to the local market place. The opening of FPI allowed General Motors to send bulk auto parts into a new facility for unitizing. The product then could be forwarded to a distribution site or sent directly to an individual dealer. This model again assisted General Motors and provide them with the ability to focus on their core business of manufacturing automobiles while limiting some stress within the network of delivering service components.
The growth potential did not stop within Flint and Genesee County. Surrounding areas were also seeing manufacturers selecting their cities as ideal sites for business. In 1966 Robert began another new venture. He founded Delta Containers Corp. This would eventually be the main manufacturing hub for all production of the corrugated containers. This facility was ideally located in Bay City and was developed to support manufacturing companies within Saginaw, Midland, Bay City and other smaller communities in northern Michigan.
Robert Landaal spent the next 20 years managing multiple businesses, raising (4) children, along with his soul mate, Virginia Landaal, and providing unparalleled support to his community. In 1986, Robert passed and left the management of the business to his sons Robert Landaal Jr. and Thomas Landaal. Shortly thereafter Stephen Landaal joined the organization and the three brothers handled all day to day operations of the (3) companies.
As many small business owners are aware, maintaining a successful business into a second generation is an extremely difficult task. Fortunately, the three brothers were up for the challenge. Sales were starting to flourish in the late 80’s due to some very savvy contract negotiations with the region’s largest manufacturers.
The untimely death of Robert Landaal Junior in early 1992 was a blow to the organization. His sales minded approach to business had fueled much of the recent growth and positioned the company for years of success.
Thomas Landaal, the president, and Stephen Landaal, the VP of Operations began planning for the future of their companies. In 1993 they began a corporate reorganization that would strategically position managers within each division to assist in running the day to day operations. This was an important move that allowed them to focus on long term visions for the business units.
One of those visions was to grow the contract packaging operations. The Flint Packaging Division began providing packaging services to the American Isuzu Corporation. This was a similar model to their other auto related accounts but had many additional challenges as most component suppliers were from overseas. Parts had to be imported, packaged and then distributed to parts distribution centers and dealerships. This entailed adding additional facilities to manage the inbound/outbound volume of product.
The relationship with American Isuzu soon led to an introduction to ITOCHU Corporation of Japan. Tom and Steve saw this as a strategic connection in which they could grow packaging operations throughout the United States.
In 1997, Unipak Logistics was formed. This was a packaging partnership between the Landaal owned Flint Packaging Inc and the Itochu owned PROMAX. Promax was a warehousing and logistics firm that handled most transportation related issues for many Japanese manufacturers requiring shipment of parts within the United States. Unipak housed operations in Grand Blanc, Michigan; Glen Bernie, Maryland; Grand Prairie, Texas and Whittier, California. This was a major step as the Landaal’s now had a national footprint for operations.
More change was on the horizon. In 1999, the company changed the corporate name to dba, Landaal Packaging Systems, to provide better focus for the marketing strategy and less confusion for their current and potential customers.
The late 90’s and early 2000 era had no real spark. Business was average but no real growth was on the horizon. The Unipak partnership had stalled as the Michigan facility was eventually phased out.
By 2002, the partnership with Unipak had dissolved and Landaal had no future commitments from the American Isuzu relationship. Sales were softening a bit and the management was faced some uphill challenges to lower cost and increase overall revenue. The FPI division was hit the hardest.
The next couple of year’s brought no new significant sales opportunities and profitability suffered. Fortunately, the tide was about to turn for the better. The FPI division and the Flint Boxmaker division had consolidated their facilities to reduce overall corporate costs. During that same time period, one of the company’s largest customers had decided to consolidate their contract packaging vendors. They began a bid process for (5) segments of business. Landaal Packaging was able to procure the contracts for two of those segments and sales began to rise again.
The sales momentum would be short lived. The ever shifting tide was changing again within the customer base. The decision had been made to insource a vast majority of the contract packaging parts that Landaal had provided for years. In 2007, management was notified that several business segments would be transferred to an internal processing facility and a new business model had been developed for all future programs. This was a devastating blow. Once again Landaal Packaging Systems would have to handle loss of revenue and “right size” the operations.
The sales vision for the company had been handed over to Bob Landaal, the name sake and grandson of founding member Robert Landaal Sr. Bob had been with the company for approximately 5 years and had plenty of ambitious ideas on how to grow the company back into prosperity.
By 2009, the majority of all parts identified for transfer had been removed from the buildings and Landaal Packaging Systems had been forced to reduce head count within the business. In addition to shrinking the work force, management moved forward with a new diversification strategy. It was time to branch out and offer more options for new potential clients.
The first significant attempt at diversification came through non-traditional channels. Landaal Packaging had been introduced to a small manufacturer who had spent years developing a biodegradable foam product. This technology, called GREEN CELL FOAM, drew the interest of the Landaal Management team and they began a strategic relationship to help market and distribute the foam.
The new technology had great protective characteristics but also was able to be used as thermal insulation for temperature controlled shipments. The combination was so promising that Landaal Packaging invested in equipment and man hours to ensure proper fabrication of the materials. The partnership began yielding good results right from the start and additional employees were added, trained and became skilled at processing the GREEN CELL.
It was in mid 2010 that Landaal Packaging found their next diversification model. The printing world had made many changes over the past 10 years and digital UV printing was starting to become a viable process for packaging materials. Landaal Packaging had visions of incorporating high end graphics to their product offerings for years but was limited to direct traditional print methods or a Lithography based option that had high minimums and significant set up costs.
Management had decided that it was time to grab some of the $17 billion dollar large format print market share and began searching for the proper way to enter the marketplace. That opportunity presented itself in the form of a small Canadian company named POPTECH.
POPTECH had owned the patent rights to several “auto assembly” point of purchase display units. This technology had an apparent benefit as it limited assembly labor at the retail site. Landaal Packaging entered into an agreement with POPTECH in February of 2011. This agreement gave the Landaal team exclusive manufacturing and distribution rights for all of the United States.
The POPTECH agreement was only the start of the Landaal’s commitment to the graphic packaging market. They spent the next couple of years investing in equipment, software, training, facility improvements and finishing equipment. The result has been a transformation into one of the most diverse graphic print providers in the entire Midwest.
Although today’s Landaal Packaging Systems looks quite different than the original founding concept, it is still thriving and supports the same family principles as the 1959 version. Customer service, superior quality, product diversification and commitment to their client’s objectives have allowed them to not only survive 60 years as a small business; it has allowed them to thrive in a marketplace in which others were forced to close their doors.
Marketing & Business Development Manager