As he turned the final corner on the drive to his printing plant, Joe Elphick saw a bright glow lighting up the night sky. The second shift at Colonial Carton Co. was underway and Elphick’s mind raced with concerns over the safety of his employees.
Earlier in the night, Elphick, the owner of Colonial Carton Co. (now known as 3C! Packaging), was jolted out of bed when he heard a loud pounding on his back door. It was a police officer sent there to inform him that a large fire was raging out of control at the Clayton, North Carolina facility.
“When I arrived there it looked like the scene of a major explosion,” Elphick recalls. “There was smoke all over. There was every kind of emergency vehicle, news reporters and satellite dishes.”
Luckily none of the approximately 30 employees who were in the building at the time were harmed in the fire. However, the entirety of the company’s manufacturing equipment was wiped out and there was substantial structural damage. In the 10 years since that devastating night in August 2005, Elphick and the team at 3C! Packaging have demonstrated how developing a strong network in the industry, having a good contingency plan and maintaining a “never say die” attitude can turn the tides from disaster to prosperity.
First Steps to Recovery
Though the fire claimed the entirety of the company’s production equipment, luckily for 3C! Packaging, it spared the computers and administrative equipment. Once temporary trailers and electricity could be set up on the property, the 3C! staff went to work recovering graphic files, purchase orders and other essential files that had been backed up prior to the fire.
Through his involvement with the Independent Carton Group, which at the time consisted of about 15 other folding carton companies across the country, Elphick was able to arrange for some of 3C!’s work to be sent offsite to these locations, which offered the use of their facilities and equipment to help 3C! during its down time.
“I had members of that organization call me first,” Elphick says. “I had one company call me and they offered me all their equipment on the third shift and said that we could send employees there. We do a lot of pharmaceutical business, so it’s important that we keep our accountability moving forward on these orders.”
With a “command central” established in the temporary trailers and production capabilities offered offsite, Elphick explains that one of his next big hurdles was getting a better handle on the company’s insurance policy. He says that for a period of about two weeks, he wasn’t sure if the company was going to survive the damage. But then, Elphick realized the two words that would help keep 3C! afloat: Business Interruption.
Elphick explains that this section of his insurance policy would guarantee a profit of an allotted amount over a specific period of time. That was the window he had to get the company back up and running.
“We knew we had time to breathe,” he says.
With time playing a major factor in 3C!’s revival, Elphick says he created a “survival culture” with his management team. Part of this meant that if there was a predicted measure of time on anything, Elphick says he instructed his team to demand it to be cut in half.
If a piece of equipment was expected to take six weeks to arrive, they were told to cut it to three weeks. If a task usually took 20 minutes to complete, it needed to be done in 10.
“We worked on that and worked on that,” Elphick says. “Every meeting was about shrinking turnaround time at every level.”
Once the dust settled a bit, the next step was to start to involve local printers to assist in manufacturing while 3C! focused on bringing diecutting, blanking and gluing back in-house. The company utilized its building’s existing foundation and constructed a temporary structure that would house a new Bobst gluer that had been ordered from Switzerland and an Iberica blanker that had to be brought in from Barcelona.
Within 30 days, these new pieces of machinery were up and running. Then, to bring everything full circle, printing returned to 3C! Packaging with a KBA press that was flown in from Germany that November, requiring the use of two jets.
“I’ll never forget on Thanksgiving, putting on a meal here for a group of German technicians who didn’t know what Thanksgiving was,” Elphick reminisces.
While no business wants to be struck by disaster, some silver linings can typically be found when these situations arise. In the case of Elphick and 3C! Packaging, going through this ordeal was an encouraging display of the loyalty of the company’s customer base.
Despite the downtime, uncertainty and service interruptions, 3C! did not lose a single customer and has managed to grow its company substantially since the fire.
Now, in addition to cartons, the company offers labels, flexible packaging, blister packs and beyond. Elphick explains that he felt the best way to serve his customer base was not to focus on becoming the biggest packaging provider around, but one that could offer a full array of packaging to its current, satisfied customer base.
“Through the fire, we really learned how loyal our customer base was,” he says. “It was amazing the loyalty we had. It’s something that you can’t measure. You can’t see it. But a fire illustrates all of that.”
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