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New York City Container Company Provides Custom Packaging Solutions Abbot & Abbot Relies on Acquisitions, Internet, Networking to Maintain Growth
New York City-based wood container manufacturer shows it can survive and prosper despite a shrinking industry; acquisitions and Internet marketing have helped company move forward.
By By Rick LeBlanc
Date Posted: 6/1/2005
LONG ISLAND CITY, New York — Abbot & Abbot Box Corporation’s wood box manufacturing business is a one-of-a-kind specialty packaging business in the New York City region.
Things used to be different years ago, however. Box suppliers used to be extremely common in port cities 100 years ago, especially in metropolitan New York City, which for many years was the largest port city in the country. In addition to the harbor activity that generated the need for wood boxes and crates, there was also a tremendous amount of manufacturing that required wood containers.
Corrugated packaging later became widely accepted, and still later, containerization took another bite out of the wood container business. Manufacturing began to gradually wane, too. Many wood container companies know only too well that the last job they might do for a long-time customer is to crate up its production equipment for shipment to another state or country.
"The box industry therefore found a need to shrink," explained Stuart Gleiber, owner of Abbot & Abbot in Queens, just across the East River from Manhattan. "From a hundred or more box companies in the city at that time, now it is down to just me."
While other box suppliers based in New Jersey and Connecticut compete for business in the New York City metropolitan region, Abbot & Abbot literally is the only show in town when it comes to the skilled crafting of wood boxes. While the company is well known for its quality products and prompt deliveries, it also has pursued such business strategies as Internet marketing, informal networking, and ongoing acquisitions to maintain and grow sales in a declining market.
Abbot & Abbot was founded in 1888. Stuart purchased the company in 1968 after being in the steel business. Since then, Abbot & Abbot has bought out no less than 14 other New York City area box companies as the market continued to shrink. Basically, Stuart took over their customer commitments. Under present ownership, the company has
Stuart’s son, Doug, supervises day-to-day sales and production, with the shop foreman, Percy Motle, reporting to him. Stuart handles purchasing and administrative responsibilities. The company has a 10,000-square-foot shop and about 20 employees.
Abbot & Abbot’s customer base is primarily for industrial, military and commercial applications. "When I say commercial, I’m thinking of something smaller than heavy equipment – say a copying machine or that type of thing," Stuart explained. In addition to the commercial and industrial customers, Abbot & Abbot also does work for individuals. "People call us to ship a motorcycle or an individual piece of art work," he said. The company is also well versed in military specifications.
Abbot & Abbot buys a variety of materials, purchasing directly and through brokers. The company buys lumber and panels from throughout North America, including the Northeast, Canada, the Pacific Northwest (Douglas fir) and the South (Southern Yellow Pine). Oak, maple and pine lumber are commonly used.
The company also uses a variety of hardware and fasteners, particularly for assembling containers, crates and specialty boxes. For example, 6-inch hinges and hasps are used to assemble display boxes for trade shows. "We do a lot of trade show work," Stuart said.
One of the company’s strengths is the experience of its workers. "Many of the staff members are highly experienced, with seniority ranging as high as 25, 40, and 48 years," said Stuart. "A lot of guys are in the 10 to 15 year bracket." The production workers use drawings and cut lists that have been created by customers or developed by Abbot & Abbot.
With its knowledgeable and experienced production staff, Abbot & Abbot can quickly determine if a customer’s proposed design is over- or under-designed. The company will make recommendations to modify the design if the staff recognizes opportunities to reduce container costs or improve quality.
Abbot & Abbot’s 10,000-square-foot plant is equipped with Morgan nailing machines, and the company also uses Stanley-Bostitch power nailing tools. Other plant equipment includes panel saws, table saws, cross-cut saws, swing saws, drill presses and glue guns. Abbot & Abbot contracts for machine maintenance and repair services.
The company has a 15,000-square-foot yard for storage – not large, but with expensive land prices in New York City, it is sufficient. "If you own the property, it does make a difference," Stuart said. "The land is quite valuable, but as long as we are in business, I am happy to stay here. It keeps going up in value."
Abbot & Abbot offers custom packing supplies under a division called Armor Packing Supply Corp. Products under this line include customized corrugated board — a corrugate board with die cut foam pieces attached to fit a specific part, to give one example.
"We don’t compete with the masses," Stuart explained. "We stick to specialized packaging."
Over time, crating and packing services have become an important aspect of Abbot & Abbot. "We pack and crate art work, objects for museums, medical equipment, computer equipment, communication equipment — that kind of thing," Stuart explained.
Like other professionals in the packing and crating business, his veteran employees utilize materials such as specialized foam, shock mounts, anti-static material, and large barrier bags in conjunction with wood packaging. Abbot & Abbot also has been certified by the Northeast Lumber Manufacturers Association as a supplier of ISPM-15 compliant packaging.
The works of art that have passed through Stuart’s building read like a fine art gallery guide book. A few years ago he crated up a Picasso painting for an international shipment; his insurance company required him to hire security guards around the clock for the job. There have been other famous artists and prominent projects, such as packing the Warner Bros. Oscar awards for shipment across the country. Stuart’s wife was thrilled to be able to hold the best picture Oscar for ‘Gone With the Wind.’
Stuart recently had an oil painting of Louis-Francois Cartier, the founder of Cartier Jewelers, in his office, waiting to be packed up. On the shop floor, meanwhile, his crew was in the process of packing about 60 paintings in a reusable trade showcase to send to an art show in San Francisco.
(Stuart not only has a professional interest in art, but he is also an accomplished amateur painter, which he modestly downplays; several of his paintings are on his office walls.)
One interesting product that Abbot & Abbot produces is a lock corner box. A recent order was made up for an aerospace company that needed a durable container for a part that would be used and reused. Usually the lock corner box is a high quality container with a lacquer finish used for presentation, Stuart explained. He also manufactures them for companies looking for a promotional box; they are often made from birch. Abbot & Abbot also builds inexpensive coffins or ‘john doe boxes’ for burials of indigents, a product it has made for decades.
While much of the business of Abbot & Abbot’s is for local shippers, Stuart emphasized that the company has customers across the U.S. It continues to ship packaging to customers as far away as Texas, California and Florida. Stuart attributes this far reaching presence to the company’s early Internet marketing as well as the power of networking.
The company Web site, which was launched back in 1997, has proven to be a valuable investment. It has paid dividends over time, and an updated version is in development. "It’s been terrific," Stuart said. The site has drawn sales orders from around the country.
Abbot & Abbot keeps a list of other reputable wood container manufacturers around the U.S., and Stuart and Doug will refer customers to them. "I may have a customer of mine locally, and they may need something crated in San Jose or Seattle," Stuart explained. "And because I can refer them to someone I know of who does quality work, I’m happy to do that. And sometimes I’ll get a call that involves a customer looking for pallets, for instance, in Puerto Rico. They’ll ask if I know anyone who sells pallet in that area that they can recommend." The network the company has developed generates reciprocal referrals to Abbot & Abbot from container manufacturers in other states.
Ultimately, Abbot & Abbot’s success hinges largely on its ability to produce quality containers promptly. "What we are known for is getting our customers out of a jam with our speed of operations," Stuart said. "One of our greatest assets is our capability to put together orders very quickly. For example we’ll have a situation where a customer has to have a box in Europe the next morning. One day we got a call at 4:30 in the afternoon for a box that had to be picked up at the customer’s by 5:30. We got it to him right away, and he packed the art so it was ready for pickup at 5:30. It made it to the airport at 7 p.m. and was in London the next morning."
Abbot & Abbot has demonstrated how a company can endure and prosper in a shrinking industry through consistently delivering quality packaging punctually. It has expanded its reach by acquiring competitors, developing an Internet presence and networking. Even as the market for wood packaging has waned in recent decades, Abbot & Abbot has shown that quality manufacturers that adapt to the changing business environment can survive and prosper.