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Ox Box Transitions with Times, Leverages Innovative Material to Offer Eco-friendly Container
Ox Box: Illinois-based pallet and packaging company develops innovative, strong corrugated container, offers a wide variety of specialized wood products.
By Rick LeBlanc
Date Posted: 2/1/2017
Illinois-based pallet and packaging company develops innovative, strong corrugated container, offers a wide variety of specialized wood products.
Ox Box has established a reputation as an innovative supplier of heavy duty packaging solutions including export compliant wood pallets and packaging, corrugated, mixed wood and corrugated packaging systems, as well as reusable shipping and storage containers. In recent years, it has added Eco-Shield to its product mix, an exciting variation of corrugated board that incorporates plastic from recycled bottles, and which can be used to make high performance weatherproof containers. Better yet, at the end of its life, the material can be easily recycled with regular old corrugated cardboard.
As such, Ox Box provides an example of a resilient company that has successfully transitioned with the times. It was launched over 70 years ago as Ockerlund Wood Products, explained Guy Ockerlund, third generation owner and President of Ox Box. The family construction business began the wood packaging operation during the 1940s in response to the wartime demand for durable wood containers to serve the needs of the military supply chain. In the 1960s, Ockerlund Container Inc. was founded to take advantage of the increasing important corrugated packaging market. Then, as now, Ox Box is guided by its slogan, “Strength you can depend on,” which is printed under the company name on the products it makes.
For Ockerlund, the key to the company’s success has been to stay focused on its strengths while expanding its product mix to meet emerging customer needs. “If it is within our expertise, we will consider adding new products and investing in the required machinery,” he explained. As case in point, the company is exploring the opportunity of expanding into combo bins for the meat and poultry industry. In spite of interest in new approaches, however, wood products still account for 40% of sales volume, sold as a complete solution or as part of a corrugated and wood combination product.
With headquarters and an 80,000 square foot plant in Addison, Illinois, Ox Box generates annual sales of $12 million, supported by a staff of around 30 people. It ships to customers across the United States, Canada and Mexico, and is supported by a network of Ox Box distributors. Some of them, Ockerlund stated, stock Ox Box product for immediate delivery. OX Box is currently looking for new distributor partners in some markets. This might be a good ancillary product for some pallet companies to consider.
In terms of competitive advantage, Ox Box has specialized in heavy duty packaging and durable packaging solutions as well as offering rapid customer response. “Our inquiry response and product lead times are unmatched in our competitive space,” Ockerlund explained. Another point of differentiation is its flexibility in regard to order size. The company prides itself in being adept at filling orders ranging from 25 to 25,000 boxes.
Ox Box regularly produces around 6-7 different custom pallet sizes on its Viking Champion 304A. These are mostly sold in conjunction with boxes, and produced in runs up to 1,000 units. The company leans towards softwood, although it does utilize hardwood in some cases. Ox Box also makes use of machinery from Baker for its cutup operation.
Aside from automated pallet assembly, the plant is also highly automated utilizing conveyors for box making with the capacity to handle corrugated sheet as large as 90x190inches.
“Once it is set down by a forklift, you never touch it again until it is bundled up and ready to go,” explained Stan Joray, vice president of Ox Box.
Joray has been in the wood packaging sector all of his life. He began at Aurora Container, where he worked with his father, who was a supervisor. When Aurora Container went out of business in 1988, he came to Ox Box.
“We do a few hardwood products, such as, skids for locomotive wheels,” Joray explained.” We don’t keep hardwood in stock. When we can, we move customers out of hardwood to softwood, because it reduces the lead time. With the Pallet Design System™, we can show customers how using softwood makes sense.” The company purchases only heat treated softwood. Scrap wood is sent to a third party for grinding, while cardboard scrap is hogged and baled onsite for recycling.
Aside from using PDS, the company makes use of Artios AutoCad for box design. The company has used JobBOSS ERP (enterprise resource planning) software for many years to help manage the business, starting originally with the original DOS version through to the current cloud-based system. Computer systems play an important role the company’s success. “The first thing customers want to know after the price is what is the OD (outside diameter) and how much does it weigh. If we can make the computer provide that, it makes things a lot easier,” Joray said.
While software is critical to providing a competitive edge for Ox Box, tried and true principles of customer service still have their place. “You have to think on your feet and try to keep the customer happy,” Joray commented. “Customers expect quality and they expect product on time, so let’s just make it happen. We want to be a company that is easy to do business with.”
Ox Box also practices vendor managed inventory, which refers to the practice of a supplier taking responsibility for maintaining agreed upon product inventory levels for the customer, typically at the buyer’s plant. As part of the company’s vendor managed inventory program, Joray has been visiting one account weekly for 21 years. “It helps you manage your production and their needs,” he explained. “And I’m still having a ball.”
The fastest area of growth for Ox Box has been Eco-Shield, a weatherproof corrugated board material it introduced in 2010. “Eco-Shield is in the same class as wood for strength and plastic for durability,” Ockerlund explained, but is a fraction of the cost and much lighter in weight.”
Ockerlund described Eco-Shield as “super green” in that it helps divert empty plastic bottles from the landfill. Plastic resin from recycled PET bottles is mixed with paper fibers to make it weatherproof and increase durability. One truckload of Eco-Shield products utilizes 70,000 recycled bottles. Unlike waxed cardboard containers, at the end of useful life, Eco-Shield containers can be recycled with standard corrugated material.
“Eco-Shield has received an excellent response from customers who are looking to save money on their wood or plastic packaging costs as well as customers looking to meet green initiatives,” Ockerlund stated. Eco-Shield bulk containers have performed perfectly in some daunting applications, including a shipment of 450 bulk containers dropped by helicopter in Antarctica.
While wood products remain important to Ox Box, Ockerlund and Joray agree that it comes down to creating and providing innovative solutions that offer customers the best value. “Wood works,” Joray concluded. “If they haven’t replaced it yet, then they probably can’t. There are uses for wood, there are uses for corrugated, and there are uses for plastic. It just depends on the weight, the application and the environment.”