There’s probably never a bad time to expand, but there are certain times when it feels just a little more exciting. Expanding after having survived the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression definitely qualifies — kind of like Muhammad Ali coming back to flatten George Foreman after weathering some tough rounds in the famous Rumble in the Jungle.
Alpha Poly Packaging Solutions doesn’t box, but the family-run, Brampton, Ont.-based company is as skilled in its field as the former Cassius Clay was in his. A leading Canadian manufacturer of polyethylene bags, Alpha Poly also offers flexographic printing and in-house design capabilities along with converting and laminating, and produces printed roll stock, stock printed bags, resealable zipper bags, boutique bags, food packaging, pouches, and lawn and garden bags. It buys polyethylene, PET, and oriented polypropylene films for conversion, and processes up to 100,000 pounds of film per week.
It’s a long checklist of activities, to which the company recently added another: a $3.5 million expansion, underway since March 2013. The investment includes the addition of a 20,000-square-foot warehouse — freeing up more of its 30,000 square feet for manufacturing and office renovation — and a slew of new equipment purchases to support expanding business. The firm ordered a Miraflex AM 8 flexographic press from Lincoln, R.I.-based Windmoeller & Hoelscher Corporation (W&H) — giving it a total of two flexographic printing presses — and is also adding a new laminator from Nordmeccanica SpA of Piacenza, Italy, and a slitter from Deacro Industries Ltd. of Mississauga, Ont.
It’s all in keeping with the company’s philosophy of reinvesting in itself to ensure state-of-the-art equipment and technology, and improved productivity. Patrick Kerrigan, Alpha Poly’s general manager, put it in a nutshell: “We always say that if you’re not moving forwards, you’re moving backwards.” It’s an adage voiced by umpteen other manufacturers, for sure. But here’s the thing: Alpha Poly is actually living it.
UP FROM INDUSTRIAL BAGS
Alpha Poly was established in 1989 by the Kerrigan family as Alpha Polybag, a polyethylene bag producer for industrial sectors. “In the early days, we were primarily making bags for a small customer base, but we always looked ahead,” Patrick Kerrigan said. “We branched into food service packaging for grocery stores and commoditized packaging for restaurants, and quickly became a leader in pound food portioning bags right across Canada.” The acquisition of KCL Promotional Packaging from a U.S. firm in 2000 opened yet another door. “Picking up KCL allowed us to double our sales overnight, and was also our introduction to the flexo-printing market,” Kerrigan said. “From there, the jump to running complex, high-end process print jobs, offering in-house design capabilities along with converting and laminating was a natural progression.” Natural enough that the company won a silver award in the Flexible Packaging category in the 2013 PAC Packaging Competition for its graphic design, structural design, and printing of Downey Potato Farm bags.
The company’s product range was sufficiently diverse to keep it busy during the global recession and, paradoxically, it didn’t run into trouble until the economic recovery was well underway. But it was the good kind of trouble. “We maxed out our existing flexographic press, needed a second, and decided to use that as the impetus for a rebranding, renovation, and expansion,” Kerrigan said. A first step came early this year when the firm changed its name to Alpha Poly Packaging Solutions.
The renovation/expansion was another. “We added 2,500 square feet of new office space, moved our sales and marketing staff into an open-concept workspace, installed new men’s and women’s employee change rooms, and renovated the cafeteria,” Kerrigan said. “We also added warehousing space, and removed a series of subdividing walls in the manufacturing section to transform it into a single, wide-open area, offering us better manufacturing flexibility and better process flow from start to finish.” The extra warehousing space comes in particularly handy for this firm. “We stock over 300 products,” said Kerrigan. “This sets us apart, because we can sell custom-made product to distributors all across Canada and the U.S. It almost doubles as a second company, and many of our customers of stock items will turn to us for laminated custom work.”
And into this revamped space comes the new equipment. Scheduled for installation in late 2013, the new W&H press is 52 inches wide, and equipped with a Turboclean automatic wash-up system, Easy Set HD for automatic impression setting and 3D plate topography, and Easy Reg S for automatic register setting. W&H claims it can run up to 1,300 feet per minute.
“We’re also moving into the multi-layer market with the new Nordmeccanica SpA laminator, which allows us to do reverse-printed work — laminating materials together for longer shelf life and the glossy, high-end look that all of our flexible packaging customers want,” Kerrigan said. “Until now, we’ve dealt mostly in low-density polyethylene; we’re opening new doors for ourselves with multi-laminates.”
A midsize company with 50 employees, Alpha Poly works with similarly sized Canadian and American clients, pursuing these jobs while others in the industry focus on larger customers. And as much as the Kerrigan family likes it that way, there are signs that Alpha Poly is poised on the brink of its biggest change yet, as it eyes further expansion into the U.S. market in its constant pursuit of double-digit growth. “This is a pivotal time in the firm’s history,” Kerrigan said. “We want to add value to the products and services we offer to help coordinate our customers’ packaging under one roof.”
Given Alpha Poly’s Ali-like rise through the packaging ranks, we wouldn’t bet against them.