My short bio: I am a 28 years old, and am a part owner of my families 3rd generation corrugated box company. I saw that there was already one AMA done for a cardboard box factory in the past, so I figured I would see if anyone wanted to know more. Indeed, it is exactly like the time Bart went on a field trip to a box factory. The industry is highly competitive based on the commoditized product. Profit margins are low, but business is steady. Feel free to ask me anything!

My Proof

EDIT: Wow, I definitely didn't expect this wave of people! I have to get back to work, but I will check back to answer some more questions. This made lunch interesting!

SIGNING OUT Happy Friday & Saturday World,

The moral of this AMA is to do something you truly enjoy, and feel close to your expressive spirit. Challenging oneself with hard work builds a strong base, but ultimately one must explore. The business world has tried to lasso this stallion, but for now this wild buck has to roam free or he will die.

Comments: 309 • Responses: 59  • Date: 

Captain_Quinn277 karma

Have any of the workers had their hands cut off by the machinery? And then the hand started crawling around and tried to strangle everybody?...Any popped eyeballs?

werterty53 karma

_Billup148 karma

Someone said my girlfriend has a nice box. How can I tell if it was purchased from you?

werterty466 karma

You'll see our stamp on the bottom flap.

tehpikey125 karma

Has anyone's boy been turned into a box?

werterty37 karma

BigGingerBeard93 karma

werterty66 karma

Unfortunately an employee injured their hand quite badly last year, and up until that point we had a perfect safety records for about 20 years. It was pretty intense.

9999999999999999998982 karma

Do you make the boxes that you use to ship the other boxes that you make in?

werterty51 karma

Only for prototypes that we send via mail for a customer to test out (if it isn't convenient for our salesmen to personally deliver).

WisdomModifier42 karma

So you're telling me this is 2 for 1 boxes?

werterty21 karma

I love this comment.

Penguin_Fan9317 karma

There are prototype boxes? o-o

werterty32 karma

As mundane as a box may seem, it is thing that ships the iPhone to your door, or the parts inside the iPhone to the different assemblers, or the refined & processed raw materials to manufacturers, etc.

Everything we make is custom based on the individual product that we are packaging. We use a CAD cutting system which quickly makes more complex designs based on a computer design. We can still do it old school, and make them by hand too.

If you are putting 1,000,000 things in boxes over the next 12 months, you're going to want to be damn sure that the boxes were well thought for the entire supply chain (warehouse, shipping, end user).

Hyp-no52 karma

How often do you get told to think outside the box?

werterty76 karma

Not as often as I see a competitor using that as their companies slogan. "XYZ Box Company....thinking outside the box since 1973"

waaaa waaaaaaaaaaaaa

jonesyjonesy26 karma

What's your slogan, hater?

werterty65 karma

" Call It Like You See It ............. boxesssssssss " (with kind of sssss snake sound at the end)

Slazman99951 karma

What is the protocol for a cat invasion seeing cats are attracted to boxes. Has this ever been a problem?

werterty64 karma

I simply sound the alarm for our emergency supply of catnip, and take over the city helped by my army of cats. Then we take naps.

Shaeos14 karma

Can you make a specialized box for my cat?

.... nvm. I can probably build something he will like better.... weird cats.

werterty36 karma

I love cats! Come up with a sweet design, & let me know. We'll name it after your cat & donate 10 cents per box to a cat charity of your choice.

TRget8838 karma

I assume you get your corrugated fiber board delivered in large sheets. What kind of ft2 do you need to run a box factory? How many styles of boxes are you making at one time? Does each box style require a specialized machine (I mean more of fixtures etc.) or can multiple styles be made without retooling? How often to the large scale consumers change their demands on boxes?

werterty37 karma

Yep, we purchase our board based on the job and relay specs to the mill. We purchase ~9,000,000 ft2 per month depending on how business is.

Each run consists of 1 style ( say an order for 10,000 of x). We are capable of producing an infinite number of styles, but there are roughly 10-15 industry standards that are the most consistent.

Different styles & sizes do require different machinery.

Once a large scale customer orders a design, they typically purchase the same design until their product is no long active.

fastfreddy79 karma

This is pretty interesting. I work for Pratt Industries and we convert about 12 million a day. I'm not sure how much we corrugate between the two corrugaters. I knew we were big, but wow.

werterty18 karma

You're talking about running a corrugator, not a sheet converting operation. Our supplier runs 240 million per month (12 million per day no weekends).

fastfreddy73 karma

Just edited my post to clarify.

werterty5 karma

I believe it, the integrated sector is huge!

How many flexos do you have on site?

fastfreddy73 karma

Pratt in Valparaiso, IN. We have 10 machines total and I believe 5 of them are flexos. We do a lot of sheets for outside sales as well between the two BHS corrugaters.

werterty17 karma

I always thought that was only a corrugating facility.

I have a Pratt story though.......

Anthony Pratt, the Australian Billionaire/ Chairman & CEO of Pratt strolled into our office about 3 years ago and laid an offer down on my pops to buy our business. My pops politely declined, and Pratt returned to his limo that he double parked outside the door.

AzureRay5 karma

Why did he want to buy it? Are you a major competitor?

werterty11 karma

No, we hold a solid niche market and have a very profitable customer base. Those big companies are constantly running on fumes and large cash flows. That, and the purchase price would be pocket change for him.

Edit: The meeting wasn't arranged, and we had no idea he had any idea we even existed. It was pretty surreal, to be honest. I thought it was cool that my dad just calmly welcomed them into his office, sat across from him at his desk and said "no thanks".

werterty4 karma

Milligator in Georgia??

brokenmandible34 karma

"Do any of these boxes have candy in them?" "No." "Will they Ever?"

werterty24 karma

haha, yes, we actually do make boxes for a few small scale candy companies. ;)

oictyvm25 karma

I'm moving, can I get a few boxes?

werterty30 karma

Where are you?

TecumsehSherman22 karma

Is it true that Milhouse's Dad is a Big Wheel down @ your factory?

werterty55 karma

I believe that was his stepfathers Cracker Factory, but I could be mistaken. I do sleep in a racecar though.

whisky_dickerd14 karma

do you only make square and rectangle boxes? or can they get funky?

werterty15 karma

The specifications are always changing. We rarely run square boxes, as those are mostly run for companies that inventory a massive quantity and slowly sell them over time.

whisky_dickerd15 karma

also, do you get mad when people call corrugated fiberboard "cardboard"?

werterty24 karma

I personally do not care, and actually use cardboard if I feel it benefits a potential customers understanding of what we do. The older guys though, they definitely get mad. haha

WolfSwag6 karma

As a packaging student who did an internship in corrugated I get mad when someone else in the packaging industry calls it cardboard. But a lot of people don't know what you are talking about if you say corrugated. So it's a lot easier to just say cardboard.

werterty2 karma


petewilcock13 karma

What do you store your boxes in? Where does boxception start and end?

werterty10 karma

haha, I really like that this question comes up. Unfortunately, our material is just stacked on pallets, loaded on a truck and sent out the door.

The same goes for receiving our raw material.

werterty2 karma

coolplate10 karma

werterty12 karma

I think that looks really useful for some purposes. Perhaps an ebay seller or someone who consistently ships items of varying sizes.

tim40410 karma

Part of my job involves interfacing with and programming automated machinery that takes stacks of unassembled boxes, forms them, packs them with cartons, and then tapes them up.

Sometimes the boxes we get are really terrible. Like, poorly cut such that there's hanging bits still there at the corners and such. This royally hoses my machinery. I am told by the operators "Oh yeah, they switched vendors and you can tell these are way worse."

My question is this: can I tell by looking at my boxes what quality they might be? And why does it seem so hard to make sure all the boxes come cut and glued the same? I understand some variation, but I have way more than I'd consider acceptable.

werterty9 karma

This really helps outline the importance of sticking with a good supplier, even if the boxes are a few cents more. Think about all of the lost productivity every time your packer needs to be shutdown. A few years ago, I went on site to a national beverage distributor who said they were having problems with our boxes (and they were livid). I showed up, put on all of their food safety gear and walked over to the problem machine. I took one look at the boxes, and said "we didn't make these......we made those...."

The purchasing agent turned beet red, asked me my opinion as to what was wrong with the other companies product and asked if we could quote them on running the other job. We have that business to this day. ~150,000 boxes per month.

The paper would be the most important. Does the paper look mottled? Dry? Torn? Cracked? Then after that, assess the depth of the scores on the box. If they are not folding well, request 'deeper scores'. It sounds like the supplier your company chose is working with suboptimal equipment.

This is a perfect example as to why saving a few cents on the front end, can lose you lots of dollars & time on the backend.

reallifeisreal9 karma

When will we be able to see a finished box sir?

werterty14 karma

kagere2 karma

Those are blanks.... ;)

werterty3 karma

Yup, some of those are

GearHead1009 karma

What machinery do you run at your plant? Do you run corrugators, or buy your sheets and convert? I've been supplying parts and service to box plants for 15 years (the company I work for has been doing it for 30 years) and find that there are a TON of mergers and acquisitions taking place recently (at least in the U.S.)

werterty6 karma

We are a sheet plant, so we purchase material and convert. You are damn right. The industry, like many others, has been whittling itself down over the past 25 years. We're one of the last independent sheet plants in our city (major city).

taytermuffin4 karma

Like rock tenn

GearHead1004 karma

Which is now WestRock

taytermuffin2 karma


werterty5 karma

Like Rocktenn, International Paper, Pratt Industries, Smurfit Stone (which sold operations to Rocktenn and launched Smurfit Kappa Group). The number of mergers and acquisitions is dizzying.

Pratt put an offer on the table to buy us out, but we declined.

ITravelin_Man8 karma

Do you have economist keeping track of your productivity? Since almost every consumable product is packaged in a box of sorts, it is said that your productivity is a good measure of how the economy is doing.

werterty15 karma

That's cool that you picked up on that. We don't have this happen as a regular occurrence, but we are avid investors in our personal lives. Having our finger on the pulse of the economy definitely helps our understanding of what is happening on the ground.

My pops was invited to sit down with a group of investment bankers who were looking to research an acquisition, and needed expert advice. That's about the closest we'd get. I'm sure the larger integrated companies have valuable data to economist, traders and bankers though.

Keksus_8 karma

Ever had any problems with snakes?

werterty23 karma

No, but we’re prepared for that. We’ve lined up a fabulous type of gorilla that thrives on snake meat. (not true)

drocks276 karma

who generally purchases your boxes?

werterty10 karma

National food companies, auto parts manufacturers, metal fabricators, bakeries, brokers, etc etc

Drunk_Narwhals6 karma

Do you guys design pakaging for other companies?

What goes into the design of a box? Is there an engineer involved or do you just have standard "this box should work for you" type stuff.

What's the biggest box you've ever made?

Do you use recycled materials?

Do you purchase your raw material as wood or pulp?

I think packaging design is awesome and I really appreciate a well designed box.

werterty9 karma

Well, the process is different depending on the customer's needs. Sometimes brokers call with the exact specs that they want quoted and ran, but other times our designers use CAD/ experience/ and customer's wants & needs to make the designs.

Our designers interface with engineers to create solutions that tackle logistical needs, product based requirements (weight, hazardous/ non hazardous, end user (warehouse, retail, commercial). etc

The largest box we are currently making is about the size of 2 washing machines stacked on top of each other.

Depends. All of our board contains a minimum of 30% recycled materials, but that number can go up to 100% if the customer desires that. It does reduce the structural integrity a bit, so you have to beef up the grade of paper being used.

No, the general supply chain is forest (or recycled boxes), paper mill, corrugated mill, sheet plant (us)

simmonsg6 karma

It has been said that only about 30% of family run businesses survive the 2nd generation, 12% the third. SO, what is your plan, box man?

werterty4 karma

This statistic has definitely challenged me in the late hours of the night........ The main goal I have for my company is stay relevant and improve efficiency. This means making wise capital investments (purchased a new machine last year for $1 mil that allows us to run our existing business 150% faster with less machine maintenance/ smoother production runs), maintaining a high level of service, and keeping in tune with the business trends in our market.

In summary....... low prices, on time deliveries, keeping costs down, directing salespeople in the right direction and not over compensating ourselves. In this industry, the winners are consistent and conservative. It's a grinders game. Time will only tell, but things have ben looking pretty good for last 3 years (with a bump during the recession).

almightyjebus996 karma

Which box is your favorite box?

werterty22 karma

My fiances (accent on the e)

ichbineindonut12 karma

Need two "e's" for the type that would have a box.

Fiancée = girl engaged to marry

Fiancé = guy engaged to marry.

werterty7 karma

You learn something new everyday. merci

daftpunkfunk5 karma

How much do you guys charge for each unit? I'm in the clothing business and we use boxes all the time.

werterty9 karma

It is an ever changing price based on customers delivery location, quantity and specifications (size).

troutonafly5 karma

Do you use rotary die boards to produce the boxes? Is there newer technology/material than a round piece of hardwood plywood?

werterty6 karma

Yes, we use rotary and flat tooling to run die cuts. The wooden dies have probably stuck around due to being generally low cost, and easy to produce. Our tooling guy can make a new cutting die in about 6 hours.

As of today, this is still the cheapest and most efficient method to create flexible designs that can run at high speeds on the machinery.

05ekul5 karma

What's your salary?

werterty9 karma

Nothing extravagant, but enough to be more than comfortable. When my father retired, he was making about $280k per year from company related compensation.

fishandchips205 karma

What's the hardest part about running/owning a box factory? Are there any issues you have to deal with you never thought you would? Or is it all pretty straightforward since you were raised in that family?

werterty6 karma

Good question.

It's a highly competitive industry where unsatisfied customers quickly leave for other producers when mistakes are made. Customers need their packaging at EXACTLY the right time, otherwise their production/ shipping stops so things can get tense.

You don't really expect any of the problems until you've experienced them. They can be related to sales, suppliers, maintenance, employees, logistics, production, insurance...etc

We're not a huge company, and we run the place very lean. This means that we all 'get our hands dirty' when keeping operations smooth. We are owners, but we certainly aren't out playing golf 24/7. It's hard work.

needmoretape4 karma

That's really cool. Hopefully your kids can take over the biz one day as well. Have you ever had interest in doing anything else other than making boxes?

werterty17 karma

Yeah, I never had the intention of going into the family business, but was motivated by the challenges of keeping an old school American manufacturing company alive in the current business climate.

I'm a musician, studied chemistry & economics, and love to travel.

RandyRandolf4 karma

What kind of box do you live in?

werterty7 karma

A squarish domicile by a large freshwater lake (one of the largest bodies of freshwater in the world).

UnsubstantiatedClaim5 karma

Would you say this lake is pretty great?

werterty4 karma

Yes indeed. This lake is indeed a great one.

UnsubstantiatedClaim7 karma

Would you classify this great lake as one that is also superior?
Perhaps your relatives don't visit because it is a bit erie?
Are huron the water?

Uhh... Ontario? Michigan?

werterty2 karma

It's the only one located entirely in the United States ;)

taytermuffin4 karma

What company's machines do you use for running the boxes on the line?

werterty6 karma

Marumatsu, McKinley, Bobst, Latitude

RRettig3 karma

A. Do you work in the factory or are you just part owner?

B. If you do work for the factory is it more of an executive position or a labor job?

C. Are you rich?

D. How large is the company employee wise and scope of your production?

E. Did you go to school or work at the factory to earn a share in the company or did your family just groom you for ownership personally?

werterty4 karma

I work in the office (same location as factory).

It is more of an office position, but I'm out in the plant all the time going over details about production with our plant manager.

I am not personally rich at this point in my life, but I'm above average for a 28 year old.

The company employs around 45 people. We are considered a small to mid market company.

I worked in the factory for a summer in high school, and then took a low level administrative position for 5 years building experience & creating improvements/ bringing in new forms of revenue before I became management.

psillocyb3 karma

What is the biggest order you've had? What are your gross sales per year?

werterty2 karma

We're not a huge company, but we've averaged about 14 mil per year over the last 5 years.

Edit: Biggest order ~ $145,000 for one project.....combination of varying inner packing parts and outer cartons. We get that order once a year.

ItsDarts3 karma

I gotta ask... You said you were near a large lake, is it Michigan? If so, is the family name Ballard? If so is Dave your Dad? If so, tell him John said hello. I worked for a family owned box company back in the mid 70's, making the boxes for AMT model cars. I know the chances are slim to none and if you don't want to reveal that info publicly, it would be cool if it was the same family biz and a PM would do. Thanks, it just brought back a lot of good memories.

werterty2 karma

Nope, not a Ballard ;)

There is a lot of camaraderie in this industry, so I'm surprised that you have fond memories of your days in the biz. Regards

hmmpepsi2 karma

What is the box certification test consist of?

werterty3 karma

edge crush test, mullen test........

mullen = 1" radius circle applies force until paper burst, result measured in PSI

E.C.T = paper placed on side with weight applied until paper collapes

zyzzogeton2 karma

Favorite Simon & Garfunkle song?

werterty2 karma

omnibus342 karma

Do you do all/any of the 4 color printing on your boxes? Silk screen, litho?

werterty3 karma


CentaurOfDoom2 karma

How much effort/RnD goes into making a box...? Like, it seems like pretty simple stuff. Also, how many boxes do you make per... say... second? I've seen some videos of factories when they go blindingly fast, and then the narrator is like "And this is at 1/5 speed!", do your machines go mega fast?

werterty2 karma

Depends on the customer's product, and the customer's industry in general. Some products require quite a bit of certification, and lab testing to be verified for consistency & quality when they will be packaging hazardous materials (lithium ion batteries, chemicals, etc.). You saw what happened in Tianjin, China, right? It's tragic, but that was most likely from loose packaging regulations within the logistics facility.

Design wise, some products take more hand holding. Metal fabricators often need a new custom design that is measured out and tailored for the individual products shape.


that's making boxes

the thing that makes the actual board is even faster though

Gumbercules12 karma

Is MRSA ever an issue being in a box factory?

werterty5 karma

uncreative41 karma


werterty2 karma

Where are you located???

uncreative41 karma


werterty2 karma

No way dude, but I'm jealous because Wyoming is beautiful.