Focus on the Family Business: A Family Matter
If there's romance in starting and running your own business, it's the hard won kind.Barry Shepherd suggests as much by relating a story that took place shortly after he had purchased his first thermo...
If there’s romance in starting and running your own business, it’s the hard won kind.
Barry Shepherd suggests as much by relating a story that took place shortly after he had purchased his first thermoforming machine over ten years ago, transforming his company from a equipment supplier to a plastics manufacturer, Shepherd Thermoforming & Packaging Inc. The financial fortune of his company, and family, now rested largely on his ability to make good plastic parts. One night, having worked hours on his own to get the machine (an Armac in-line thermoformer) set-up and running parts, Barry heard his wife Denise arrive at the locked side door with dinner. Barry stepped outside to help her carry in the food, then watched helplessly as the wind blew the door shut. Standing outside the locked plant, Barry visualized the high speed machine spewing out parts, the equivalent of their life savings, onto the floor. Mentally and physically exhausted, he gazed at his wife and broke down.
Over ten years later, as one of the largest custom thermoformers in Canada, with sales topping $5 million last year, the family can find wisdom and humor in the struggles of the early days. Shepherd Thermoforming and Packaging Inc.’s main product lines are clear blisters and clamshells made from PVC, PS and PET, in industrial, food and pharmaceutical grades, in gauges ranging from 0.005 in. to 0.060 in. It also makes clear or colored trays, displays and special parts. Examples of some larger volume business includes clamshells for baseball cards, blister packaging for toothbrushes and packaging for cell phones.
The company has expanded from two employees, one machine and 6,000 sq. ft. of floor space to 35 employees and six thermoforming machines housed in 30,000 sq. ft. of facilities. It has also branched out from thin-gauge packaging thermofoming into heavy gauge sheet forming, with the incorporation of a second company, Shepherd Plastics Inc., in 1997. Still, with so much work behind and the establishment of the business apparently secure, Shepherd believes the company is just now entering the final stages of its start-up.
“If you have visions of building a successful manufacturing business and think it can be done in two to three years, think again,” he says. “It takes at least 10 years before you can relax a bit and go back to a normal work week approaching 40 hours.”
Shepherd’s two sons, Mark and Todd, joined the company, without any coercion by their father or mother, shortly after completing their education. Mark is vice-president of finance and administration, and Todd is the vice-president of sales. Both bring strong skill sets and high energy to their respective positions, says Shepherd, and have played a major part in the strong growth of the business.
To meet the demands of that growth, which has averaged about 16% per year and is on the rise, a new high-speed, in-line thermoforming machine from Brown Machine Company was recently purchased. The machine has a maximum mold size of 30 in. x 36 in. and will be mainly used to meet the growing demand for large-size, clam-shell packaging. Shepherd says the machine’s enhanced capacity may also permit the company to reduce the number of production shifts to two from three for the first time in years.
On the heavy gauge side, one of Shepherd Plastics Inc.’s higher volume product lines is pallet molds used for automotive seat assemblies. The pallets are molded on a three-stage rotary thermoforming machine. The company is also working hard at developing business opportunities with a major bathware supplier. Shepherd predicts that it will take another five to six years of growth for the company to reach the $10-million revenue plateau. While plans call for his sons, Mark and Todd, to eventually assume even more responsibility for day-to-day operations, Shepherd foresees staying indefinitely involved in the business in one capacity or another.
“I enjoy this business tremendously; especially the tooling and design side. I get a tremendous amount of satisfaction from the work.”