Badger Paperboard grows in changing industry

Fredonia-based Badger Paperboard, Inc. has been manufacturing and distributing converted paperboard products in Wisconsin for more than 20 years, and its business continues to grow.

The company has continued to add new product lines and new employees, and has been growing about 10 percent per year, said Mark Smiley, president, owner and co-founder.

Badger Paperboard targets “niche markets” to grow its business, Smiley said.

“Anything that needs paperboard protection, that’s what we’re going after,” he said.

Badger Paperboard started by making paperboard slip sheets in the early 1990s for businesses in industries such as mulch, feed and agriculture.

Since then, the business has added products like Corner Guard, a laminated, v-shaped corner board that protects corners on customers’ products during shipping. Its newest product line, paperboard die cutting, was added within the last year after the purchase of a $1 million, high-speed flatbed die cutting machine from Milwaukee-based Kempsmith Machine Co.

The company now generates $10 million in annual revenue, and has grown its workforce to 25 full-time employees, adding nearly 10 new workers in the past two years.

Badger Paperboard prides itself on working with many Wisconsin-based businesses. All of the raw materials the company uses are from companies based in the state, including Wisconsin Rapids-based Corenso Group, Menasha-based Sonoco and Milwaukee-based Wisconsin Paperboard Corp.

Roughly 60 percent of Badger Paperboard’s business is in food packaging, and 40 percent is industrial. The company distributes its products to a number of large corporations, including Kellogg’s, Purina, Johnsonville, Cargill and Bose, and has accounts in all of the lower 48 states.

“People always think of us as a Wisconsin- or Midwestern-based company, which we are and are proud of, but we’re all over the country and that’s been key to our growth,” said Chad Kravick, vice president of sales.

Using 100 percent recycled paperboard that is brought in in large rolls, Badger uses a variety of precision-cut paper cutting machines to manufacture its slip sheets and other paperboard products. For its corner board line, rolls of paper are fed through a machine that will add heat, allowing employees to bend the paperboard into a v-shape. Things like glue and laminate are also added as the paperboard is fed through the machine.

Smiley said the company has done well to adjust to changes in the paper industry.

“What’s happened here is a lot of paper mills are either consolidating or closing down,” Smiley said. “What’s fallen through the cracks, we’re right there to pick it up and that’s really (created) a lot of our growth right there.”

Part of that growth, Smiley said, comes from changes made once the recession hit. These changes have ultimately made the company more nimble and better positioned it for the long term.

“In 2008 when the recession hit, we lost about 30 percent of our business,” Smiley said. “What we did then was restructure the company – bought new equipment, updated everything, etc. (The economy is) coming back now, so we’re ready for it. Even though we’re growing, we’re not growing out of our plant, we’re growing into it.”

Badger moved into a 20,000-square-foot facility in Fredonia in 1999 and built a 30,000-square-foot addition in 2002. It keeps $2 million in inventory on hand at all times so it is able to fill niche-specific orders, which Smiley says distinguishes the company from its competitors, who may go after “one big shipment” instead of many smaller ones.

The company also has distribution plants in Charlotte, N.C., Dallas, and Los Angeles and has more than 800 distribution representatives around the country.

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