High-quality shipping boxes combined with design capabilities and merchandising solutions set this company apart. It isn’t easy to be a consumer goods manufacturer these days, with retailers cutting lead times short and controlling inventory more tightly than ever. In addition, budgets for marketing, merchandising, and anything except churning out products are severely limited. Fortunately, TimBar Packaging and Display is here to help.

TimBar started more than 50 years ago as an industrial packaging company specializing in building boxes and packages for durable food products along with automotive parts and other heavy-duty items. About five years ago, though, the Pennsylvania-based company decided to radically diversify its business sectors.

“This decision wasn’t motivated by the economy,” said Matt Heleva, president and CEO of TimBar. He explained that, although the company anticipated a downturn, he and his team had no idea just how bad it would be. “Instead, we were more concerned about the trend of companies sourcing their packaging for durable goods overseas.”

Today, industrial brown packaging still makes up about 50% of the company’s business; another 30% comes from point-of-purchase display design and manufacturing for personal care, household products, toys, and other consumer goods companies. About 10% of its business comes from the food service industry. If you’re on the East Coast, you may have enjoyed pizza out of a TimBar box. 

The final 10% of the company’s business comes from the protective packaging segment: the company combines high-tech foam, corrugated cardboard, and other specially designed materials to safely transport medical, aeronautic, and electronic equipment.

This diversification is the first step in protecting TimBar from offshore outsourcing, but it has also been helpful recently as the company’s automotive, construction, and leisure product customers have been hit hard. Heleva said the company is seeing growth from its nondurable food, personal care, and household goods customers, however. TimBar is enjoying a healthy balance sheet and is currently seeking opportunities to expand, especially through acquisitions in the high-tech and nondurable food sectors.

Lean operator

Before TimBar could diversify, it needed to be sure it was getting the most out of its equipment so bringing in new kinds of products and processes wouldn’t break the system.

On the font end, TimBar has dramatically shortened the time between a client calling for a quote and placing an order and the factory filling that order through the implementation of a $4 million IT system. It took about three years to put the program in place and train the company on it, but the new system will make it possible for TimBar to deliver on Heleva’s goal: one-call customer service.

“We’re close to that now: our customer service associates have real-time data on our backlog, pricing, and specifications available right at their desk, which allows them to give an honest answer to customer requests for estimates,” he said. “Service starts with giving clients a realistic promise and then delivering on that promise.”

The company has seen almost $7 million worth of investment in the last three years or so. The primary goal has been to eliminate unscheduled equipment downtime, as well as implementing greater automation or computerized elements to make TimBar’s existing equipment work better.

The results are promising. Since 2005, the company has increased productivity by at least 6% each year, and in 2009, all the pieces coming together brought a jump of 10% in productivity. If necessary, TimBar can turn product around within 24 hours, but its typical lead time is down to three days.

More services

Heleva emphasized that service is truly what sets TimBar apart from the competition and that these measures to implement leaner operations are only half of the company’s journey to becoming a full-service packaging solutions provider.

“We focus on what our customer needs and create processes that allow for flexibility in meeting that need; these investments are a means to that end,” he explained.

The biggest way the company has moved toward true partnership with its clients is its investment in design and project management services for its customers. TimBar today has a staff of 25 creative designers who work to develop unique and cost-effective structures as well as eye-catching displays for customers’ products. Heleva explained these designers and the company’s project managers work very closely with the sales and marketing staff of mostly consumer goods companies to develop merchandising vehicles specifically suited for certain products and distribution channels.

TimBar has two design studios, one in Pennsylvania and the other in New Jersey, that are devoted to working with individual customers. The company will be opening a third studio in Providence, RI this year.

“We develop merchandising solutions for each season and for different distribution channels,” said Heleva, explaining how Walmart needs different displays than a grocery store. “We have a computer illustration system that shows what different displays will look like in a given store.”

TimBar will even take product shipments from its customers, pack the products in the displays it designed and manufactured, and ship the whole package to retailers or distribution centers, making it easy for them to showcase TimBar’s customers’ products. Heleva said the company has been able to provide this service for close to 10 years but has more broadly advertised it in the last three and has received positive feedback.

This highly collaborative process is a huge benefit for manufacturers, who’ve been coping with strapped merchandising and marketing budgets in the last few years. Although the process for attracting new clients to this service, which can require a lot of time to establish effectively, can take years, Heleva said TimBar’s reputation in the industry for delivering on its promises has made the service popular already.

“We provide a higher level of service to our customers; we’re a partner, not just a supplier. There is a lot of change in the packaging industry right now, but that focus on service is going to see us through,” concluded Heleva.