BREWERTON — If you are looking for an explanation for how Schneider Packaging Equipment, a 47-year-old company in a mature industry, managed to grow sales by 90 percent in 2017 over 2016, company President Bob Brotzki offers a one-word answer: focus.
“We didn’t split the atom,” he quips.
“We narrowed our focus and gained a ton of efficiencies,” adds Michael Brewster, Schneider Packaging’s director of sales and marketing. He says sales jumped from $12 million in 2016 to $22.3 million in 2017.
The 120-employee company, located on Guy Young Road in Brewerton (Town of Cicero), designs and builds packaging equipment, the machines that turn cardboard flats into boxes full of products. Workers in the company’s two buildings weld together metal and integrate components to create the machinery that helps keep products moving through modern factories. Customers include some of the largest names in consumer goods as well as lesser-known companies. “Food, beverages, and pharmaceuticals are our top three,” Brotzki notes.
The average piece of packaging equipment going out of the facility costs about $350,000, he says.
Walking through one shop, Brotzki points out a nearly finished piece of equipment. Through multiple steps, the machine will fold boxes, glue them, fill them with product and place the freshly made boxes into even larger boxes so they can be sold at warehouse clubs.
Each machine’s operation depends on complicated controls and complex gripping equipment, designed and made at Schneider Packaging, and one-armed programmable robots made by a Japanese company, Fanuc, Brotzki says.
In the industry, what Schneider Packaging creates are called case packers and palletizers. It has been the company’s work since it was founded in 1970 by Dick Schneider, who built machines based on his own design.
Today, the company is run by Dick Schneider’s son, Rick Schneider. It was Rick Schneider who hired Brotzki in February 2016.
Brotzki readily admits he wasn’t hired for his knowledge of the packaging-equipment business. He played football at Syracuse University and had an NFL career as offensive lineman for the Indianapolis Colts and Dallas Cowboys. Other work experience included three years with Yellow Freight. The trucking firm moved him six different places in that time, he recalls. He came to Schneider Packaging from Syracuse University, where he had returned to work in player development.
“If you don’t know a lot, that’s an asset because you have to simplify things,” Brotzki says. He spoke with people in all departments and learned what they thought needed to be done. “The answers have always been in this building,” he says.
“We had to break down some walls,” he adds. For instance, control engineers were moved to be closer to the mechanical department.
He also learned that the company had core products it had designed and could build at a profit and other goods that had to be custom-designed and custom-built. The company tightened its focus on the former.
“We were really hunting with a shotgun, now we hunt with a rifle,” says Brewster. That change allowed the company to boost sales without having to increase the number of workers on the payroll.
However, Brotzki says he has been hiring. His first “big hire” was Brewster, whom he brought on in October 2016. “He came in and simplified things.”
Narrowing the focus on core products has meant not bidding on some jobs that Schneider Packaging would have once pursued. “From a sales standpoint, you really hate to say no,” says Brewster. However the tighter focus allowed the company to meet customer deadlines more consistently.
In addition to Brewster, Brotzki says the company has been hiring aggressively and plans to do more. Brotzki says his experience recruiting college football players has helped him recruit a specific type of employee: “We wanted young, high-energy people who are interested in something that’s growing.”
He says the company has great experience on staff. The average engineer or service technician has been with Schneider Packaging 10 years, he adds. The experienced workers can share what they know with newcomers.
“I can teach you what you need about the business if you’re smart, young and high-energy,” Brotzki says.
Brotzki and Brewster see growth moderating in 2018. The goal is an 18 percent revenue increase. Brewster, who has added an inside sales position to the sales and marketing staff, says that increase isn’t going to come from changing the focus. Instead, he sees the company gaining sales by expanding its relationships with customers, for instance getting clients that have bought a Schneider Packaging machine for one plant to add machines to other plants.
He sees a bright future for increasing automation, noting that companies are trying to reduce the physical demands on workers and that the demand for packaging increases when consumers buy more goods for home delivery instead of at brick-and-mortar stores.
Likewise, technology improvements that make equipment and processes more efficient create demand as companies see the benefit to their bottom line. “They gain a lot of efficiencies on the back end,” he says.
Brotzki says workers at Schneider Packaging have been very receptive to the changes made at the company and the rising sales. “They wanted to be successful,” he says.