In a repurposed mill building on the banks of the Delaware River, where the Commodore Barry Bridge connects Pennsylvania and New Jersey, old meets new.
The city of Chester, Pa., is home to Dee Paper Box Co., a folding carton printer and converter that has been in business since 1921, and manufactures cartons that span nearly all market segments.
But for the past year, it has hardly been business as usual for the 95-year-old company. A revamped leadership team, the installation of a seven-color, 57˝ KBA Rapida 145 double-coater UV press and plans to rebrand as Dee Packaging Solutions has Dee Paper Box buzzing with excitement for the future.
“The world is ever changing and we have to keep pace with it,” says Steve Harrell, Dee Paper Box’s president. “We have to be bigger and more competitive, and to do that you have to invest.”
Eye on the Future
Though the company is approaching 100 years in business, Harrell is a fairly new presence around the facility. He joined the company in 2014 as general manager and assumed the presidency in February of 2015, taking over for Jay Dee, who after more than 40 years in senior management at Dee Paper Box, still maintains his position on the board of directors and remains active in sales.
Harrell, who has 30 years of experience in the printing and packaging field, explains that in coming to Dee Paper Box, he recognized the company’s potential for substantial growth.
“It was an opportunity where they needed an infusion of new leadership and new vision,” Harrell says. “From a Northeast standpoint, there’s a strong foothold here and a strong customer base that we can continue to grow.”
Built on a foundation of nearly a century of history, Dee Paper Box is no stranger to growth. David Dee, Jay Dee’s son, a member of the board of directors and part of the sales department, explains that when the company was founded by his grandfather Max Dee, it specialized in wrapping paper and twine.
In the 1950s Jay Dee and his brother Robert Dee took over the business and developed it into a company that produced shirt boards and shirt collars. But during the 1960s, Jay Dee connected with someone involved with the popular Slim Jim meat sticks and the company transitioned into a packaging business, developing Slim Jim’s packaging and continually adding other markets and accounts.
With the new KBA press installed and running around the clock, David Dee says that in his 36 years with the company, this is one of the most exciting times he’s experienced. The double coater capability allows the company to incorporate special effects that it previously couldn’t tackle, and as a licensed Color-Logic vendor, implementing metallic effects has become a reality.
David Dee says that with the new press, the company has encouraged customers to make their way to the plant to see firsthand how this future-ready technology can help their brands. “We try to bring customers in to see the equipment,” Dee says. “It gets you very excited when you see something that’s state of the art. With the color controls and the camera inspection system, it assures people that they’re going to get the quality, consistent folding carton they expect.”
A Full-Service Solution
Though the new KBA press provides an impressive centerpiece for Dee Paper Box, the company’s expertise extends far beyond printing.
Customer involvement begins in the computer aided design (CAD) department, which receives an art file from a customer. The department then works with the customer on that conceptual packaging idea to develop and tweak the mechanical elements of that package to ensure it meets the customer’s requirements.
After proofs are approved and the customer signs off on a completed package, Dee Paper Box manufactures plates and dies in-house, prints and finishes the cartons and then ships the final products to the end user.
The cartons that Dee Paper Box Produces are for a variety of customers that span multiple markets. Sales Manager Gordon Hyde explains that the company needs to fully understand the production process on the customer’s end and the environmental needs of the packaging. This could include any temperature resistance requirements or graphical durability.
“It’s really critical that we go in and do a really profound Q&A to understand what the logistical concerns are in manufacturing and in shipping,” Hyde says. “What’s the relevance on the shelf? Is it a dry good? What’s the life expectancy? What’s the environmental exposure? … Is it refrigerated? Is it frozen?”
Once the cartons come off the press in sheet form, they’re then sent to Dee Paper Box’s cutting department, which utilizes large-format Bobst diecutters. The finishing department is located adjacent to cutting, allowing boxes to be cut, folded, glued and shipped in a streamlined process.
In addition to improved print quality, the new KBA press has also helped boost Dee Paper Box’s color and quality control through its ability to scan each sheet as it passes through the press, which helps give customers more peace of mind, Customer Service Manager, Tracy Strohmetz, says.
Internally, Strohmetz explains that as the company has become acclimated to some of the press’ most exciting features like one pass double coating, and explores new capabilities with coatings, she can sense the excitement from the full team.
“I do try to meet with all of the customer service reps and purchasing … to bring them up to speed,” she says. “They’re very excited once they learn about it. You can see it firsthand and they can communicate it better back to the customer.”
Next Level Packaging
Dee Paper Box has prided itself on its versatility and presence in many market segments, and Hyde explains the goal in adding the KBA press was not to enter different packaging segments. Instead, he says, it has allowed the company to be able to help bring its customers’ packaging to the next level.
As printing and packaging technology improves, Hyde says, shelf presence becomes that much more important for brands. With the press’ ability to provide soft touch grit coatings, spot UV varnishes and other special effects, Dee Paper Box has been able to leverage these capabilities to improve the visual appeal of some of its customers’ existing packaging.
“It’s afforded the sales group the opportunity to go out and refresh packaging,” Hyde says. “There are a number of customers that have been doing the same thing for a long period of time. We can go in, and for a minimal upcharge, either enhance the existing graphics or make recommendations that will give them a little more curb appeal. Shelf presence is what it’s all about. You need to capture the consumer. Anything we can do to differentiate their product on the shelf is a strong advantage to them.”
Similarly, Hyde explains that the printing industry is one in which a business cannot afford to stay stagnant. Though adding new technology and staying on top of the latest capabilities is important, a company’s investment should go beyond the capital expenditure of adding new equipment.
He says that understanding the natural learning curve that comes with adding new technology is essential and implementing the proper training techniques and methods is necessary to ensure a company is using its tools in an optimum fashion.
“We’ve been a big proponent of cross training and bringing in technologies outside this building that can support and help us grow,” Hyde says. “There’s a big training enterprise going on here to make sure we’re giving our operators the best resource management along with the technology that we’ve purchased.”
While the past year has provided exciting times for Dee Paper Box, Harrell says he will continue to look for ways to continue its growth. After all, not being afraid to evolve over the last 95 years has brought the company to where it is today. Continuing that evolution will ensure the company can write a successful next chapter.
“My focus is to enhance capabilities and grow the company,” Harrell says.