By Stephanie Irwin
Innovative Health Magazine
I often had noticed the Landaal Packaging Systems office when eating in Blackstone’s Pub in Flint. But, aside from the attractive building façade, I had never given much thought to who they are or what they do. Package what? But as the industry — many industries, in fact – know, the Landaal family is a leader in packaging items large and small, consumer and industrial, in paper, cardboard, and many materials.
But was I ever impressed when I walked in there to meet Robert B. Landaal, V.P. of Sales and Marketing. In the two years they’ve occupied it, the old downtown building has been beautifully transformed, preserving some of the original features while mixing in an industrial edge and modern furnishings. Landaal’s wife, Christine, did the interior design and decorating. The Saginaw Street office is home to structural and graphic designers who test out new designs on a large format printer, cut them out on a CAD cutter, assemble them and evaluate whether any tweaks to the design need to be made (the modern version of “back to the drawing board”), all right on-site.
Founded in 1959 by Landaal’s grandfather as Flint Box Makers, Landaal Packaging Systems now employs 200 people in three locations, which also include a 320,000 square-foot contract packaging facility at the original location in Burton; and a 113,000 square-foot corrugated manufacturing facility in Bay City. Moving the designers to downtown Flint served two purposes. One was to provide the design team with a quieter work environment, away from the distractions of the manufacturing facilities, fostering more creativity. The second was to be a part of Flint’s downtown revitalization. “We wanted to be a part of that and to contribute to the great things happening here,” said Landaal.
“What is green cell foam?” I asked. Landaal described that it’s an extruded product manufactured in bulk in Lansing by KTM Industries and fabricated (saw- or die-cut) at Landaal, then used in place of Styrofoam when packaging pharmaceuticals or food products. Green cell foam temperature controls the product (hot or cold) and, unlike Styrofoam, when discarded it biodegrades in 90 days. Green Cell coolers are a perfect earth friendly solution for shipments that require temperature control.
“Bag in a box” products are also easier on the environment. The thin filmy bag, together with the box in which it is contained, leaves a much lighter footprint than a thick sturdy standalone plastic bottle. It’s not enough to be “green.” A business needs to be competitively green. The things that never cross your mind when you’re buying a “box o’ wine”!
There are lots of Landaals involved in the business but none of them was simply handed a job. Founder Robert S. Landaal had specific requirement in place for family members who wanted to work for the company:
To earn a bachelor’s degree; to work five years for another company (that is, to make all your rookie mistakes for someone else); to submit a letter of intent to work for Landaal Packaging Systems; and to interview for an open value-added position. Tough love! But that’s how Landaal has maintained the entrepreneurial spirit for more than 50 years.
Another great resource pool of employees is Michigan State University’s packaging engineering curriculum. Landaal’s uncle is on the advisory board of this specialized program, and the company offers internships to students in that field. One goal is to keep local talent in the local community.
Landaal Packaging Systems has seen some tough times through the years. As a longtime General Motors vendor, the company lost $9-million and had to eliminate jobs when GM “in-sourced” packaging to its jobs bank employees.
But Landaal survived that – smarter and more efficient, with a diversified customer base.
The owners and employees of Landaal Packaging Systems work hard to find the best solutions for their customers, from design to delivery.
The people who know them best use words like “innovation,” “integrity,” “leadership,” “passion,” and “vision.”
As Landaal showed me through the office and demonstrated how some of the processes work, I felt a strong awareness of those descriptors too. When we parted, Robert Landaal was off to go watch his young children perform in a holiday play, evidence of a balanced life. And I walked out, resisting the temptation to take a sample of their high-graphic packaging with me, a life-sized, full color, cardboard Miguel Cabrera.