On the cusp of TPC Printing & Packaging’s centennial, the Paperboard Packaging Council sat down with Hilda Murray, the company’s Executive Vice President and Owner, to learn the company’s history, how they have overcome numerous obstacles, and how they are staying competitive.

The independent, family-owned folding carton converter has adapted to market changes, generational shifts, new technology, and much more during its 99-year history. Here’s a closer look:

PPC: Let’s dive into the history of TPC Printing & Packaging. What motivated your family to start their own independent carton converting business? How have you changed over the years? 

HM: My grandfather, Joseph Schmissrauter, Sr., started the business in 1924 when he purchased used printing equipment for $250. We started out with letterpress and making labels for the textile industry, thus the name: Textile Printing Company (changed to TPC Printing & Packaging in the late 90s). Back then, there was a huge concentration of sock manufacturers in our area, and we produced pressure-sensitive labels that wrapped around socks. This was the majority of what we did until my dad, Joseph Schmissrauter, Jr., came into the business in 1955.

My dad was a super salesman. He could sell ice to Eskimos. When he joined the company, he went to New York City and brought on some business from a major women’s hosiery company in the textile industry. With that business, we then transitioned into a “converter” and added a cutter and a gluer to our printing operation so we could begin making hosiery envelopes. That was kind of our bread and butter in the 1950s and 1960s.

In the early 70s, we moved into a much larger facility and multi-color litho-offset presses, and we were a wide format manufacturer. We had 55-inch equipment throughout the building. Again, we were mainly focused on the textile industry.

PPC: What challenges did you and your family face when growing your business, and how did you overcome them?

HM: When the North American Free Trade Agreement was established in the mid-80s, the textile industry pretty much evaporated, and, with it, went its need for paperboard packaging. We had to go into survival mode and reinvent. We ended up working with Kmart and Walmart through a third party, and we also started manufacturing DVD sleeves. We manufactured millions of those, and we also produced cartons for Fujifilm, cereal cartons for McKee Baking, OTC pharma packaging for Chattem Drug, photograph carrier envelopes for the Olan Mills company, and even hair care display pegboard cards for Goody products.

In the early 90s, I managed our Prepress department. That was also the time that digital imaging and workflow were born. It was a total transition from what we were used to in a traditional darkroom environment. 

We purchased our first Raystar digital image setter from Scitex in 1992. This technology was the beginning of a completely new and efficient workflow that transformed our entire industry.

As technology advanced and much of our traditional business like the Fujifilm, DVD, and traditional photography went away, we had to reinvent again. We had to find a new niche, and that was when we got into specialty and luxury lines of packaging.

Partnering with an innovative design company in the UK, we became an exclusive licensee for paperboard tubes, which launched us into the spirits business.

My father passed away in 2000. He had been semi-retired, so my three brothers, Joey, Mark, and Kurt, and I were already integrated into managing our family business. When he passed, we became equal partners in TPC Printing & Packaging.

We survived the 2008 recession. All I can say was it was challenging, to say the least. We were then able to continue further development of the higher-end cosmetics and spirits packaging segments throughout the past 15 years.

Our most recent reinvention of sorts occurred as a result of Covid-19. We shut down our operations on March 7, 2020, when we quickly realized Covid was very serious. Our state deemed us an “essential” business, and we got the plant back into operation within a week.

To ensure our employees’ safety, we put many procedures into place. In addition to requiring masks and stricter hygiene, we installed acrylic shields in almost every part of the building.

Social distancing was standard operating procedure, as well as individual temperature checks, staggering shifts, and even adding a crew of personnel to clean each piece of equipment between shifts. Staff to maintain as sanitary a place as possible was added. Of course, hand sanitizers were placed everywhere.

It was a very challenging and surreal time. However, this time allowed us to develop a virtual press approval system that is still being utilized by the majority of our customers today. We also now have a more secure and safe working environment.

During this time, our biggest challenges were unprecedented supply chain shortages and pricing fluctuations. Although extremely challenging, it just taught us how to manage our materials purchasing in a more timely and efficient manner.

Our customers knew that they could depend on us to keep them supplied. It seems surreal now that we are on the other side of it, but I do think it made us a much better partner and supplier to our customers.

Finally, our latest adventure has been getting into the rigid box business, which has propelled us into brand new territory. It has also been so successful that we are completing a 65,000-square-foot facility to house our specialty and digital business segments.

Our growth has been fantastic and challenging. Growing pains are good problems to have, and we are excited about the future.

It has been a fun ride. Four of our 13 children are in the business now, so we will be leaving it in good hands. Our pledge is to stay independent. A lot of our competitors have been acquired or merged with great thoughtfulness to the best interest of their families and their businesses. 

We decided that our adult children are very capable of leading the company and taking it to the next level. We feel comfortable that we will stay independent despite any obstacles that may arise.

PPC: How do you stay competitive in a rapidly evolving market, and what strategies do you employ to differentiate your company from others?

HM: Quite frankly, it is very hard for our core accounts (or anyone) to move business. We, of course, must remain competitive in pricing, and there are also not many of us left.

We have found our niche in luxury packaging and highly decorated cartons, so we feel a little bit ahead of the pack or, at the very least, solidly “in the game.”

We have also had a digital enhancement machine from Scodix since 2016, so we have a multi-year jump on our competition. We saw the machine at Drupa in 2016 and secured it shortly thereafter. It is a unique, state-of-the-art technology that is extremely innovative.

We also have a huge focus on sustainability. We are always exploring initiatives to eliminate plastic from our cartons, and we are evaluating all the paper and paperboard tray options.

We are being challenged by our clients to take it to a new level, and some are willing to pay a little more for sustainable options. Packaging has become a hot topic for sustainability, so we are trying to stay ahead of that as much as possible.

Sustainability in packaging and materials is the standard of our future, and, if you’re not there, you’re probably not going to stay in business for the long term.

PPC: What do you think the future holds for TPC Printing & Packaging, and how do you plan to adapt and thrive in the coming years?

HM:  We are going to leave that to our kids. We feel like our future is in good hands. That said, continuing to think outside the box, stay innovative, and reinvest in our equipment, technology, and our people by providing continuous training and education will be key to a successful and sustained future.

PPC: Why are independent, family-owned converters important to the paperboard packaging industry?

HM: I think that we are giving big corporations a run (maybe, just a little one) for their money because we are so flexible, and we can make decisions a lot faster than they do.

We can be nimble about some decisions that we make, while also serving our clients extremely well. Our ownership is in the trenches, doing whatever it takes to stay connected with our customers.

Some larger corporations probably look at an independent carton company like ours, and they see distinct advantages and disadvantages to being independent. In the end, I think and hope that the independent segment will grow because of limitless technology and the spirit of entrepreneurship.

PPC’s Commitment to Carton Converters 

PPC offers opportunities for learning and growth, keeping converters at the forefront of industry advancements. Through meetings and events, PPC facilitates networking with peers and enables access to insights from industry experts, fostering valuable connections and knowledge sharing.

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