Don’t be different, but differentiate. That is the most important lesson Wilmington Paper Corp.’s (WPC’s) President Stuart Lurie says he has learned at an industry conference, and it is a practice of the Pine Brook, New Jersey-based company.
“The most important thing I ever heard at a conference is someone say, ‘You must differentiate; not to be different … What you need to do is differentiate yourself and your company from what other companies can do,’” Stuart Lurie explains. “And our program allows us to differentiate, to provide something no one else can do.”
In 2017, WPC celebrates 40 years of setting up its Recycling Management Program at folding carton and converting plants throughout the country and across the globe. The company also performs waste audits, works with businesses on landfill diversion and zero waste goals and offers secure document destruction, logistics and all-around recycling services.
Stuart says it is WPC’s commitment to providing these various services—and ultimately value—to its customers that has set it apart from the competition over the last four decades.
Specific to the packaging converting industry, WPC’s Recycling Management Program is in more than 140 independent and integrated folding carton and converting facilities. As consultants, WPC outlines ways these facilities can make more money by making some tweaks to their operations. By adding a baler, making procedural changes or including clearer signage in employees’ work areas so they better understand which grades go where, companies can realize more revenue streams, says Brett Lurie, WPC vice president of sales.
Brett, who represents the third generation of the family-owned company, says WPC takes what its clients once considered byproducts and creates new revenue streams for them.
“How the [WPC] business was started was by going into these converting facilities and teaching them how to manage and handle their scrap, as well as buying it from them and representing it in the market,” Brett says.
“We go through every generation point where scrap is being created and make sure it’s being handled in the most efficient way that will net them the highest possible revenue,” he adds of the company’s Recycling Management Program.
WPC sees the Recycling Management Program it offers as a business within a facility’s operations, Brett says. “It’s not just a byproduct that needs to be moved out of the facility, but it’s [also] a profit center that we treat like a real business within their plant,” he says.
A different viewpoint
Harvey Lurie started WPC in 1977, with his son Stuart joining the business six months after its inception. At first the company mainly served the New York metropolitan tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
Brett says that while many box makers at the time already were recycling their scrap paper, they weren’t necessarily doing so efficiently. Paper grades were mixed together, and WPC recognized more long-term value could be realized by separating the streams rather than offering a higher price for the mixed material. That is what the Lurie’s brought to the table: Rather than buying a mixed grade, Brett explains that Harvey and Stuart worked with a facility’s personnel to train and teach them the value in separating secondary fiber grades.
“People were recycling but mixing different substrates together and not getting the most value for it,” Brett recalls. “The difference my father and grandfather brought to the table was going in and managing the process with the plant personnel in the facility.”
James Rokuson, WPC chief operating officer, who has been with the company for 35 years, says the Luries’ viewpoint helped the company to take off. Rokuson, who Stuart calls his “right-hand man,” explains a typical situation where a plant would generate three different grades of paper and operate one baler, with a recycler buying the mixed grade. WPC recognizes and recommends a better way.
Rokuson explains, “We would go in and say, ‘Wait a minute. If we put this machine over here, we could separate grade A out, and B and C would be worth $5 a ton, whereas grade A is $50 a ton.”’
“There is always a value to scrap paper, so someone is going to be willing to pick up your scrap paper and pay you for it. We look at it a little bit differently and go in there with you in mind,” he says. “A lot of these places are very good at making boxes, cups and containers; that’s what they do. What they don’t do very well is handle their scrap paper. That’s not their business; it’s just a byproduct of their manufacturing. We look at it differently.”
WPC buys materials from a number of generators, including facilities for folding cartons, printers, paper mills, distribution centers, warehouses, retailers and other recyclers. The company exports much of the material it handles to consuming mills overseas, with its largest customer base being in China. WPC sells old corrugated containers (OCC) and other bulk bown grades. The largest volume high grade the company deals in is solid bleached sulphate (SBS), which heads to tissue mills, WPC’s main market.
WPC’s services have expanded over the years at its customers’ request: The company already was segregating secondary fiber streams, could it also do trash management and landfill diversion?
Brett says the company’s brokerage division, led by Phil Bellafiore, recently has served as a source of growth for WPC.
Beyond organic growth, WPC has widened its reach through acquisitions. However, it was not the company making these purchases but its customers: As large companies bought independent converters, consolidations helped WPC to expand.
Rokuson says, “M&As helped us because what would happen is a large company would buy an independent we were handling, and they would say, ‘Why don’t you come into this plant? We have five plants around the country, do a trial and see if it works.’”
He continues, “Almost inevitably, we’d get the additional plants because it’s really dollars and cents.”
Printing and folding carton facilities have closed in high numbers because of more efficient presses, gluers, cutters and other equipment that can make more products more quickly and in a smaller footprint, Brett says.
With tight margins, independent converters and plants find it more difficult to compete with larger corporations that can upgrade equipment and close facilities when necessary.
“Larger groups look at their synergies and savings and are constantly shutting facilities and combining businesses. They’ll quickly shut two facilities to make one larger regional facility,” Brett says.
“A lot of these places are very good at making boxes, cups and containers; that’s what they do. What they don’t do very well is handle their scrap paper. That’s not their business; it’s just a byproduct of their manufacturing. We look at it differently.” – James Rokuson, COO, Wilmington Paper Corp.
Rokuson explains that when WPC gained “corporate control” over companies’ scrap paper revenue rather than working with individual plants that were doing what they wanted with the material they generated helped to make recycling fiber grades more universal and profitable.
Yet, Stuart says consolidations are challenges that keep WPC on its feet. As the industry shrinks, he says, WPC wants to ensure it is continuing to create value for its customers.
He says, “If at any time we get lazy and don’t stay on the forefront of technology, don’t stay on the forefront of the marketplace, don’t stay on the forefront of how to pay people faster, how to transmit information to them quicker, how to handle their landfill reduction, how to do zero landfill—if we don’t know how to do all of these things, then we will have lost our opportunity to differentiate and be special.”
Commitment to conduct
It is this commitment to growth and change that has kept WPC in business for four decades. Brett says WPC regularly visits plants where its Recycling Management Program is set up to ensure the facilities are adhering to its recommendations.
Once the new procedures are in place, he says WPC’s logistics group is responsible for moving a facility’s secondary fiber by the truckload. Daily communication is a must.
In addition, WPC reviews reports monthly to gauge how successful the program is running.
“On a weekly, monthly, quarterly basis, our sales group and account management group are reviewing the facilities. Do we have the best plan in place there?” Brett says. “We look at those reports every month, and we don’t accept [packaging converting facilities] getting a lower value.”
Another way the company goes the extra step for its customers is by financing equipment when necessary. If WPC recommends new or different equipment to meet the new plan for materials management, in some cases it will help the facility to purchase those machines.
Looking ahead, WPC will continue to grow its brokerage division, Brett says, which includes working more with single-stream facilities to sell other commodities, including plastics and aluminum.
“We’re buying from different types of both high-grade and single-stream recycling groups, sometimes the same groups we compete with and sell to,” Brett says. “In a converting plant that we manage, because some tons are mill-direct ready, and others need to go through a recycling facility, we have a lot of these relationships already and look to add value to them in the purchasing of material from them, which has been an area to grow and has increased our volumes.”