The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have been widespread and far reaching.
Conway-based packaging manufacturer Wonder State Box wanted to do its part to help fight the virus, and luckily it, too, has a far reach.
With vaccine supply chains strained, as well as supply chains for vaccine shipment products, Wonder State utilized its extensive network and relationships to produce and ship the packaging needed to protect the doses and help get shots into arms as swiftly as possible.
“We will be ready to meet whatever demand is required,” said Vice President and General Manager Jimmy Toal. “It’s a huge asset having sister plants located across the Midwest to assist our production demands, if needed. This duplication of production capabilities is another factor contributing to our ability to participate in this type of business.”
Who and What
Wonder State Box is a corrugated packaging manufacturer with locations in Conway and Harrison. The company, established in 1987, is one of four divisions of SMC Packaging Group, which was established in 1972 and has locations in Springfield, Missouri; Kansas City, Missouri, and Tulsa.
The company’s primary products are corrugated packaging, point of purchase displays and shipping cartons. It also distributes packaging supplies like tape, stretch wrap and packaging machinery.
“Think of it as we design, engineer and manufacture the boxes,” Toal said. “And we distribute almost anything that it takes to pack your product in the box.”
Overall, SMC Packaging has 500 employees, with 95 in the Wonder State Box locations in Arkansas. Through its employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) Wonder State Box is employee-owned, and the company shares financial and operating information with, and seeks input from, its employee owners.
“Also, they know that their efforts have a direct impact on the success of the company, which in turn leads to their long-term success,” Toal said.
How and Where
Conway, Toal said, has always provided an excellent base to supply products throughout Arkansas; its reach extends into Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Missouri. The Conway workforce and the central location proved instrumental when it came to supplying the vaccine shipment packaging for pharmaceutical distributor McKesson.
The effort also enhanced the employees’ feeling of being part of a successful enterprise, Toal said.
“It’s a very positive thing for our business,” he said, “not just from an economic standpoint but from the perspective of our employees feeling a sense of pride and professionalism that their work and their efforts are directly contributing to fighting the pandemic and hopefully saving lives.”
Toal said Wonder State Box’s long-standing relationships with contract packagers throughout the Midwest enabled the company to meet the pandemic-related challenges.
It was all made possible, Toal said, by “our ability to respond during unprecedented times in this industry coupled with our flexibility and logistics capabilities. As a box company who owns our own corrugator — the machine that takes the paper from the paper mill and converts it into a corrugated sheet — it provides us great flexibility in delivering a quality product to the customer at the right time.”
Pandemic and Packaging
As more and more people were being vaccinated throughout the spring, Toal said Wonder State Box would continue to exercise its flexibility to produce the needed shipment packaging.
“While we work off of forecasts based on vaccine production and delivery requirements, this changes rapidly and we have to be able to respond quickly to meet the growing demand,” Toal said. “We expect this to continue into the summer. However, we cannot see beyond that timeline.”
As with many other industries, the COVID-19 pandemic has left its mark on the packaging industry, though it’s too soon to predict some of the long-term impacts. The need for social distancing and safety precautions forced adaptations in everything from sales techniques to the way plant-wide meetings were held to the way shift changes were conducted, Toal said, not to mention the increased need for shipment packaging.
“With the tidal wave of online ordering, the packaging business has seen extraordinary demand,” Toal said. “This pressure has created a tightness, or limited supply, of paper available in the marketplace to manufacture boxes, not to mention its contribution to extended lead times. However, we are responsive and we continue to meet customer needs, because while the online business has increased, our Arkansas manufacturers have also seen sustained demand for packaging.”
Located on Commerce Road in the Conway Industrial Park, Wonder State Box — led by CEO Kevin Ausburn, President Rich Bachus and Executive Vice President Rany Bachus — has enjoyed a solid relationship with the Conway area and its people. The neighborhoods and the entertainment and retail infrastructure make it a good place for families, Toal said, while the city provides a solid support for business.
“We have an excellent relationship with the city, through the chamber of commerce, who has really been proactive in supporting growth with local businesses,” Toal said. “We work hand in hand with the chamber on several projects throughout the year, including Toad Suck Daze and the Business Expo. Our relationship with the city extends to Conway Corporation’s dependable and competitive supply of power to our operation — which is critical to our success.”