Inside Popular Ink’s Drive to Become ‘the Google’ of Packaging
From $100,000 deficits to unprecedented growth, McKinney, Texas-based printer/converter continues ascent in flexible packaging industry.
These days, Dru Riess is living the American dream.
Today, the co-founder and CEO of McKinney, Texas-based Popular Ink Co., a printer and converter of flexible packaging, is helming a company that’s achieved year-after-year sales growth and is currently on target to reach $30 million in revenue by the end of 2016. While $30 million is about double the total revenue that Popular Ink did just 24 months ago – the last time Flexible Packaging profiled the company – Riess and co-founder Ray Salinas have their sights set on an even more ambitious revenue figure. It’s their goal to reach $100 million in revenue by 2020.
Considering Popular Ink’s trying beginnings – the company was operating with over $100,000 deficits the first two years Riess and Salinas took over – company growth has been remarkable.
“I had a 500 credit score, $500 in the bank, no car when I moved to Texas to start the company,” Riess says. “We took an old wheel, we just made it better.”
From Tumultuous Beginnings to Unprecedented Growth
Riess and Salinas took over the company, which was then known as Flex Pac, LP, back in 2007 with no experience in printing or packaging. Working on virtually no operating capital and hundreds and thousands of dollars’ worth of debt on the books, you might wonder just why two individuals in their mid-20s would have taken such a gamble on a flailing company. And Salinas and Riess might not even have a specific answer, other than their thinking that they had an “it factor” that could make the business successful.
From 2007 to 2011, the duo learned the industry. In the meantime, the company was becoming profitable again. After reporting $100,000-plus losses in 2007 and 2008, it was profitable starting in 2009. In 2011, Riess and Salinas formally purchased the company, rebranding it as “Popular Ink Co.”
“It was pretty unheard of,” Riess reflects. “The growth rate we were having, the things we were overcoming.”
POPULAR INK CO.
Plants: 1 (McKinney, Texas)
Popular Ink has achieved this growth with no sales reps, but more on word-of-mouth referrals and developing smart working habits. The company’s big competitive advantage thus far has been its low-margin, high-volume business model and its speed. It also makes all of its ink in house.
“This industry … typical lead times are 3-4 weeks, specialty products are 6-9 weeks,” Riess says. “We turn stuff in 2 weeks.”
Striving for $100 Million
As of press time for the October issue of Flexible Packaging, Popular Ink was operating out of a 45,000-square-foot facility. The business consisted of about 50 employees, who completed runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 363 days a year. On the floor are 16-, 18- and 32-inch water-based flexo presses.
But this month, that’s all set to change. The existing equipment isn’t going anywhere, but Popular Ink’s facility is scheduled to cap a $3-million, 25,000-square-foot expansion that will bring the facility’s total space to about 70,000 square feet. As part of the expansion, it has ordered a new Uteco press and a Nordmeccanica solventless laminator.
“It’s a goal of ours to be at $100 million in the next four years,” Riess says. “We think it’s achievable with this next move of getting to 70,000 square feet. It’s going to give us the capacity to get there.”
Aside from adding more capacity, another key cog to Popular Ink’s growth is none other than its staff. Though Riess and Salinas had to learn from scratch, the duo made sure to surround themselves with accomplished professionals in the packaging industry.
“There’s really no weak link in the starting five lineup that we have, whether it’s our product lines or our staff or our speed,” Riess explains using a sports analogy. “We feel like we are a team that is now poised to go to the playoffs every single year and compete for a championship.”
‘The Google’ of Packaging
Riess doesn’t think of Popular Ink’s headquarters as just a facility, but a campus. And he doesn’t want Popular Ink to be remembered as just an ordinary printer or converter.
“We’re trying to be ‘the Google’ of manufacturing in America,” he says. “You come to our facility and there are pool tables, custom-made pool tables. We’re putting a basketball court inside the shop. We’ve got an Xbox room. We’ve got DirecTV, so on their break (workers) can hang out and watch their favorite show. We’re trying to make it so that people enjoy being around our campus.”
Upon stepping foot inside Popular Ink’s building, visitors are greeted by an all-glass conference room and a waterfall that’s backlit by LED lights.
“We’re just trying to bring this industry a little bit of sex appeal,” Riess says.
“We want our reputation in the industry to be pure. We want to redefine doing business in America, and especially manufacturing in America.”
Popular Ink Co.
The Wall of Fame
Like most companies, Popular Ink is nothing without its customers. That’s why Salinas and Riess instituted a “Wall of Fame” inside the office space of their McKinney, Texas, facility.
“When someone becomes a cornerstone to what we are doing, we add them to the wall,” Riess says. “Every person within our organization knows that those individuals on that wall are the reason we have jobs every day. When someone visits and they see their name on our wall, they form a connection with our brand. When our guys know someone is visiting that has their name on that wall, they show extreme respect and gratitude.
“Not everyone on that wall is a huge customer – or a customer at all. It may be a mentor of ours, someone that helped us solve a huge problem, a consultant we brought in that impacted our workflow process, etc.”
Popular Ink's "Wall of Fame"