Vernon, Calif. — In January 2011, Great American Packaging LLC founder and CEO Greg Gurewitz made what he called one of his hardest business decisions.
Gurewitz recognized how technology is becoming a major component of marketing and for achievement of business growth. He reached outside his usual comfort zone and hired Bruce Carter as president.
Previously, Carter held key positions with management consulting firm Craft Strategies LLC in the Los Angeles area, material supplier Revchem Composites of Bloomington, Calif., and label and office products supplier Avery Dennison Corp. of Glendale, Calif.
Together, the two have blended Gurewitz's old-school values and Carter's technology and product-market orientations.
“It is this blend that has truly been the core of our success over the last five years,” said Gurewitz's oldest daughter, Beth Smith, the firm's director of marketing and recruiting. “We are projecting another 5-percent to 10-percent growth in 2016.”
Great American Packaging will observe its 50th anniversary on July 26 and hold an off-site celebration on July 30 in Long Beach. While withholding the statistics, Great American says that its sales have increased a total of about 50 percent during the past five years.
Meanwhile, the company is implementing enterprise-resource-planning processes and streamlining its extruding, printing and converting operations in Vernon.
Focus on lean manufacturing
Great American has embarked on as many as eight lean manufacturing and process improvement projects and received training support.
The economic development department of Cerritos College in Norwalk, Calif., arranged for employee training under a contract with the Southeast Los Angeles County Workforce Development Board. The State of California Employment Training Panel reimbursed the board for a significant portion of the costs.
The ERP effort is important.
In July 2015, Great American contracted with Electronics For Imaging Inc. of Fremont, Calif., which organized intensive across-the-board classroom training for use of its Radius management-information-system/ERP software for packaging companies.
Initial implementation occurred in November, and the capability “went live July 6,” a relieved Gurewitz said in an interview.
Great American anticipates the ERP software will bring greater visibility to the business.
“We will be able to analyze productivity on multiple levels and determine the optimum products and markets to help reach our growth goals,” Smith said. The analysis will allow the focusing of sales efforts on smaller market niches with growing demands.
“For us, the tone is amazingly upbeat,” Carter said, recognizing benefits of “the hard work with ERP system and what future holds for the business as a whole.”
New product initiatives
In one effort, Great American uses a proprietary polyethylene blend to make high-strength film for ice bags and sees applications for the frozen food market.
The firm is testing a bioplastic blend of corn and potato starches on a project.
Great American converts polypropylene into side-wall bags for the food industry and, to take advantage of PP's barrier properties, is developing its own blown PP version for food and vegetable packaging.
Great American upgraded the tension control on its printing equipment and adopted a newer flexographic plate technology to improve quality.
“We doubled the output in the printing department and cut setups by 50 percent, from multiple hours to less than an hour,” Carter said. “We worked with ink producers to educate our guys on blending.”
In a January upgrade, Great American installed a new air ring on its largest line, a Gloucester extruder, and is gaining 10-15-percent higher output and better gauge control.
During 2016, the firm is ramping up its online marketing activities, continuing development of new products and contemplating a possible equipment purchase.
Great American manufactures PE and PP printed and plain bags and films, primarily for the food, ice, consumer products and pharmaceutical/medical industries. Product styles include wicket, zipper, tape and tamper-evident bags and specialty films for form-fill-seal machines.
Great American operates three extruders including an FMC/Eagan, a Sterling and the Gloucester with a Brampton die; Manley and Kidder flexographic printing presses; and five converters including four from Roan and one FMC.
Great American manufactures all of its bags using Food and Drug Administration-approved virgin raw PE and PP in an eco-friendly environment compliant with South Coast Air Quality Management District and the food safety compliance requirements of FDA-enforced good-manufacturing-practice guidelines. All materials are recyclable.
High-profile customers include Costco Wholesale Corp. of Issaquah, Wash.; Albertsons Cos. Inc. of Boise, Idaho; Trader Joe's of Monrovia, Calif.; and Home Depot Inc. of Atlanta.
Great American employs 65 persons and has 15 others in training through a temporary staffing service.
Gurewitz's mother, Mickey Gurewitz, a widow, worked at Central Bag and Supply Co. on Central Avenue in Los Angeles to support her three children. “On summer vacations, I went there and earned some money,” he recalled.
During the summer after his freshman year in college, Gurewitz hatched the idea to start his own PE bag business and, independently, began trying to sell bag processing jobs on July 26, 1966 — initially working out of his bedroom and then the family garage.
His first customer — a modeler of clay and ceramics — placed its initial order in October 1966 with a deadline for completion in February 1967. Gurewitz purchased supplies from a manufacturing company that managed to lose the order. As a result, Gurewitz shipped the product to the customer two weeks late.
In 1967, Gurewitz started producing square-bottom PE bags for shipping of live tropical fish that arrived by ship from Asia. Brokers would acclimatize the fish for three days in Los Angeles and then ship them to customers in North and South America and Asia.
“At one time, we had 80 percent of that market,” he said. That portion of his business disappeared around 1973 when the tropical fish industry tanked.
At busy times, Gurewitz would hire his fraternity brothers for help on projects.
Gurewitz graduated from San Fernando Valley State College — now known as California State University, Northridge — with a bachelor's degree in business and commerce in 1969.
He began converting material for regular bags in 1972 and extruding in 1980 at a leased Vernon location that occupied 18,500 square feet.
In 1997, Great American acquired a larger facility in Vernon, moved 1.5 miles and installed two monolayer blown film extrusion lines, a 2.5-inch FMC and a 1.5-inch Sterling with a Brampton die.
Great American invested about $1.2 million in buying the current 40,000-square-foot plant and making infrastructure improvements.
The business remains in that plant, now utilizing about 80 percent of its potential production capacity but gaining efficiency with upgrades and process improvements.
Gurewitz, 70, views culture as important for his business. “We are like a family,” he said. “We care and help each other to get things done, and we look out for and take care of the little guy.”
In 1993, Greg Gurewitz received the Leo Shluker Award from the California Film Extruders and Converters Association, now operating as the Western Plastics Association. At the time, Gurewitz had just completed his term as president of the association.
Carter, 56, became a WPA board member in 2012.
Gurewitz's older brother, Richard, is owner and president of PolyPak America Inc. of Los Angeles, a manufacturer of heavy-duty and security bags, envelopes/mailers and specialty films/bags.