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Spokane Firm Packages Big Deals

Tue., Jan. 9, 1996

To most people, corrugated boxes are the brown, throw-away walls wrapped around dishwashers, computers, apples and other valuable merchandise.

But at Spokane Packaging in the Valley, officials believe the sturdy containers are the things that transfer wealth to those who risk going after it.

Thanks to a series of deals struck recently between the owners of Spokane Packaging and Micron Electronics Inc., Nike Inc. and others, the box maker this year could haul in some serious money.

Spokane Packaging said Monday that it has landed its biggest contract ever with Boise-based Micron Electronics to manufacture the majority of Micron’s personal computer boxes for at least one year. The deal should mean more than 250,000 boxes for Micron.

Production of the elaborate Micron box, with Spokane Packaging’s uniquely designed “M-shaped” handles and internal compartments, will start up this spring, said general manager Bob Stevens. Spokane employees initially will produce the containers and a new warehouse in Boise will service the Micron plant. The deal will require the company, with 60 employees, to add 10 to 30 additional people.

“There is a God!” an exuberant Stevens said while announcing the deal.

The contract comes at a critical time for Spokane Packaging, with annual sales of $9 million to $12 million. The company last summer invested nearly $3 million in high-speed, color-printing processing machines. The equipment, Stevens said, made it one of the most modern corrugated sheet plants between Seattle and Minneapolis.

But the investment was largely speculative since Spokane Packaging had no major customers who required the equipment.

“I know our competitors were wondering what we were doing,” sales manager Craig MacDonald said. “We were sort of wondering ourselves.”

A few months later, however, things began to turn when a sister company, Seattle Packaging, won a huge contract with Nike to replace Nike’s collapsible cardboard shoe box with a micro-corrugated box and hinged lid. Cranking out millions of Nike boxes each month has nearly exhausted Seattle Packaging’s capacity. Seattle Packaging began to shift spillover business from other customers to Spokane Packaging’s 120,000-square-foot plant in the Spokane Industrial Park. One sale called for Spokane Packaging to produce 450,000 seafood boxes in five days, just in time to catch a commercial fishing ship leaving for Alaska, Stevens said.

Spokane Packaging for years has built corrugated keyboard boxes for Key Tronic Corp. It also makes displays and shipping boxes for Zak Designs, Columbia Lighting, Telect, Olivetti America, Bayer Corp., Plum Creek and many others.

Boxes range from a 30-cent generic container to a $200 model lined with foam and internal compartments.

Stevens said the Micron deal was possible because of Spokane Packaging’s decision in recent years to hire three design engineers and graphic artists, three times the size for design departments in many corrugated sheet plants. The computer box created for Micron was so impressive that Micron ordered samples to enter in a national design contest even before it had signed a deal with Spokane Packaging.

“We’re light years away from where we were in the design department,” MacDonald said. “Everyone of our sales people knows that the reason we can make the deals we do is the design department.”

Spokane Packaging designers use a computer-driven cutting table to create samples containers. The table swiftly cuts the design from corrugated sheets. Like a piece from a jigsaw puzzle, the strange shape of tabs, slots and panels fold neatly into a stout box.

To mass produce the design, dies are built for the company’s high-speed four-color rotary die-cutter press and flexo-folder gluer. The one-pass machines can turn corrugated sheets into printed boxes at a rate of 15,000 boxes per day.

“Our philosophy is not just to stay ahead of our competitor’s (production) capabilities, but to be one step ahead of where they’re going,” Stevens said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

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