Thinking inside the box: Business booming for packaging machine manufacturer

Thinking inside the box: Business booming for packaging machine manufacturer
Merritt Kinsey, president of Western Slope Industries, displays some of the folding cartons made by machines manufactured at the Grand Junction company. WSI machines make cartons for everything from Mexican beers to Russian cranberry juice. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)
Merritt Kinsey, president of Western Slope Industries, displays some of the folding cartons made by machines manufactured at the Grand Junction company. WSI machines make cartons for everything from Mexican beers to Russian cranberry juice. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Like most successful business executives, Merritt Kinsey spends part of his time thinking outside the box, the well-worn metaphor for considering different perspectives or unconventional approaches. But Kinsey can be forgiven for spending a lot of time thinking inside the box and what literally goes into packaging a wide range of products.

That’s because Kinsey works as president of Western Slope Industries, a Grand Junction company that manufactures machines that make folding cartons and liquid packaging for everything from six packs of beer and aluminum foil to milk and juice. It’s his business to think inside the box. And business, he says, is good.

Kinsey expects gross sales for the 2014-2015 business year to jump 40 percent even as global demand for folding cartons and liquid packaging in particular increases. WSI machines operate in about 80 countries worldwide, Kinsey says, including developing markets in China and Korea.

Kinsey doesn’t expect such rapid growth every year. He prefers, in fact, slow and steady growth that generates profits. But the forecast, he says, remains upbeat as more and more people buy beverages, food and other goods in packaging. “People don’t want to dip pickles out of a barrel anymore,” he says.

WSI has operated in Grand Junction since 1983, one of the first companies brought to the Grand Valley under organized economic development efforts. WSI has operated out of a building on Foresight Circle since 1987.

WSI was founded as an offshoot of Southern Tool Co., a Louisiana-based company that made packing equipment for two paper companies. Southern Tool no longer exists, but WSI has survived and thrived, Kinsey says.

Over the years, WSI has bought out a number of competing manufacturers, including the Staude Line of gluing and window machinery and folding carton machines of International Paper Box Machine Co. and Multifold International.

Kinsey, who used to work for Multifold, joined WSI in 1996.

Today, WSI operates out of a 45,000 square-foot facility and maintains a work force of between 60 and 70, Kinsey says.

The company designs, manufactures and services a variety of machines for the folding carton industry, including equipment that folds and glues cartons and corrugated packages and flame-sealing systems for liquid packages. WSI is among the few United States manufacturers left that make machines for liquid packaging.

Those machines make packages used for a lot of popular brands, Kinsey says, among them Budweiser, Coca-Cola, Kelloggs, Pepsi, Reynolds Wrap and Tropicana. WSI machines manufacture all of the various cartons for Grupo Modelo, a brewery in Mexico that bottles Modelo, Corona and other brands of beer.

WSI machines also are used to make everything from packaging for pharmaceuticals to elaborate cigar boxes. Still other machines pack cartons into boxes. “There’s so many things that we do, it’s unbelievable,” Kinsey says.

While WSI manufactures a line of standard machines, the company also designs and builds machines to specifications or to accommodate special circumstances or packaging, Kinsey says. Engineers on staff use computer software to design components and machinery in three dimensions. Employees use computer controlled equipment to fabricate parts and then assemble the machines.

Business is divided about half and half between domestic and international sales, Kinsey says, and WSI exports to markets around the world. In 2007, the company won the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Exporting, a program that honors Colorado companies for their contributions to exporting.

When investment in capital equipment dropped during the recession, WSI remained profitable from selling parts and refurbishing existing machines, Kinsey says. The company maintains a large inventory of spare parts and also can fabricate parts for a variety of machines manufactured in the U.S.

As the economy has rebounded, though, capital investment has increased and demand for new machinery and sales along with it, Kinsey says.

Kinsey attributed growth in part to increasing demand for packaged goods in emerging markets, especially China. There’s a growing demand in particular for machines used to make cartons for milk, juice and other beverages, he says.

In addition,  some companies that previously put products in plastic have gone back to paper as demand grows for packaging that can be more easily recycled, Kinsey adds.

The outlook for the industry is for continued growth, Kinsey says, perhaps
2 percent to 3 percent. And WSI continues to fare well in an sector that’s experienced consolidation from what were hundreds of smaller, independent businesses to fewer and larger firms, he adds.

Meanwhile, Kinsey continues to think both outside and inside the box.

For more information about Western Slope Industries, call 241-2085 or log on to the Web site located at www.wslope.com.