With a nod to the past and an eye to the future, the great-grandchildren of company founder Frank Shields are taking 73-year-old shields bag and printing to new heights by emphasizing quality, customer service and emerging technologies.

Perdue, Hearst, Cargill, Gallo, Shields.... Okay, maybe they’re not yet in the same league as some of the others, but the Shields family has certainly earned itself a spot on an increasingly short list of families that still privately own and operate the businesses started by their great-grandparents decades ago.

Founded in 1935 by family patriarch Frank Shields, Yakima, Wash.-based Shields Bag and Printing Co. has grown from a simple print shop into a custom blown extruder, printer and converter with more than $150 million in annual sales both in the United States and in 13 different countries around the world.

Although a bit of a rarity, a family-owned company of Shields’ size offers some unique benefits. “We have large company buying power and business practices,” explains vice president of sales and marketing Chris Daniels. “But we offer that small-, local-, family-owned style of service. And because we don’t have to run every question by a board of directors, we’re very agile when it comes to decision-making. It’s the best of both worlds: A large company with a small business feel.”

Presided over by siblings Pat Shields and Lisa Shields-Long, the fourth generation of Shields’ to take the helm, “The company operates under a lot of the same business philosophies implemented by my great-grandfather 73 years ago and carried through the generations,” says Shields, who shares president duties with his sister. That steady leadership has translated into the kind of stability - in every facet of operation - rarely encountered in today’s business environment.

“More than 350 of our 500-plus employees have been with the company for more than 10 years,” says Shields. “And after 10 years, they’re very highly skilled. They know the machines better than the manufacturers.” The company also boasts long-standing relationships with its raw material suppliers, buying the same materials on contract from the same suppliers year after year to help ensure both consistency from order to order and continuous supply, even in times of crisis.

“We also use consistent equipment suppliers, so a lot of our equipment is interchangeable,” adds Shields. “If a part goes out on one line, we can usually get it from another without having to shut things down.”

Broad Product Capabilities
Despite the emphasis on consistency, Shields’ product line is anything but. “We’re a custom extrusion facility,” explains vice president of manufacturing Earl Williams. “We don’t just make widgets all day long. We fill up to 1,000 [different] orders a month. One day we’ll be making single, loose bags on a particular line, and the next day, bags on a roll, etc.” He adds, “That’s why all of our equipment has wheels.”

Product Diversity
Although Shields does a brisk business in heavy-duty packaging - for housing and construction materials, lawn and garden supplies, agricultural products, wood pellets, fruits and vegetables, and the banking industry - it also supplies highly engineered packaging for medical supplies and meats and cheeses, two rapidly growing pieces of the company’s portfolio. In fact, says Shields, the company is equipped to supply almost 200 different target product markets, helping insulate it against downturns in certain industries.

“Few competitors can do as many different product lines as we do as well as we do,” says Daniels. “A lot of companies focus on just a few. But we do a wide array and all of them very well,” allowing clients with a broad array of flexible packaging needs the opportunity to consolidate orders with one vendor.

According to Williams, the company takes the concept of one-stop shopping a step further.

“We’re completely self-sufficient,” he explains. “From artwork and plate-making to the extruding of film, printing and bagmaking, everything is done on-site,” resulting in reduced turnaround time, lower costs, and fewer opportunities for error, among other benefits.

“It’s really important to be able to take an idea and see it through to completion,” says Shields. But the company’s commitment to its customers doesn’t stop with the finished product. “The service we provide after they receive the order is key. For example, we have close relationships with many machine manufacturers, so we can often go to a client’s plant and tweak their machines so they run even faster than their competitors’. The sale isn’t over until the product leaves their factory.

“We’ve always placed a tremendous focus on customer service,” continues Shields, adding that the company’s very first customer remains its customer today. One of the ways it keeps buyers coming back year after year is through the use of sophisticated forecasting tools that let the company know what a client is likely to need even before the client itself knows. But simple, low-tech touches are just as important.

For example, says Daniels, “Unlike at a lot companies where any one of five or 10 or even 20 sales reps will take your call when have a question or concern, at Shields, you usually get the same sales rep who’s worked on your product from conception, a person who’s intimately involved with and knowledgeable about your account.” And the company stands behind its products 100 percent.

“We make the highest quality flexible packaging in the industry,” says Shields. “But if we do make a mistake, we’ll fix it and ship the new product immediately” - without quibbling over who’s going to pay for what. “We’re a relatively large company,” says Daniels, “but we act like a small business in the way we deal with our customers.”

Flexible Equipment
Although it operates out of a single location, Shields’ 525,000-square-foot facility in produces more than 100 million pounds of flexible packaging per year. According to Shields, the plant houses 26 storage silos, each of which contains a different virgin resin, and regularly stocks more than 125 colors and additives. As a result, “We can match - or beat - almost anything out there.”

The company also boasts 30-plus mono- and multi-layer extrusion lines, including a state-of-the-art seven-layer line that’s given Shields entrée into several new markets. But what really gives the company an edge over its competitors is its ability to switch out dies. While most extruders are fitted with a single die that limits them to one particular application, “We have more than 60 different dies that [can] sit on our extruders,” reports Williams. “So we’re very flexible.”

That flexibility carries over into the flexographic printing arena where the company operates more than 20 multi-color printing presses from W&H and others, including both eight- and 10-color presses for high quality, high-resolution graphics. According to Williams, the presses extend from 20- to a whopping 130-inches wide, offering a range of web capabilities not typically available elsewhere.

Shields’ print operations are supported by an in-house digital flexo plate-making center that expedites the entire process. “It was a significant investment,” says Shields. “The new technology allows us to complete the process in a couple of hours rather than a couple of days.”

That’s significant, says Daniels, because product life cycles are so short nowadays. “Once a product emerges into the marketplace, you have to be able to develop it and produce it quickly. With our digital plate-making capability, we can do that.”

After films are created and printed, Shields can convert them into a wide range of custom packaging, including bags, pouches, envelopes, liners and covers. Available options include side-welds and twin seals, zipper closures, customized wicketing, bar coding, sequential numbering and a myriad of other value-added features.

You name it, says Williams, and Shields will try to find a way to make it. “A lot of our equipment is customer-specific, modified to meet or exceed a particular customer need. It’s rare for us to buy a machine off-the-shelf and use it without modifying it,” he adds. Even when a machine does what the company wants it to, Shields’ engineers are always looking for ways to make it more efficient.

“We have an outstanding team that’s also very creative,” says Shields. “They’ll often rebuild or modify machines to make them run faster with tighter specs.”

World-Class Laboratory
While Shields pledges continued investment in state-of-the-art technologies, the company’s future success depends just as heavily on its ability to stay abreast of developments on the raw material side of the business. To that end, it’s spent millions to create a “world-class” laboratory that Shields calls “probably the best in the industry.”

The lab performs three basic functions: Testing incoming resins and raw materials as they come off the rails, analyzing products as they’re run to ensure they meet specifications, and reverse engineering, so the company can duplicate - or improve upon - any samples it’s presented with. But it’s the lab’s role in research and development that’s perhaps most critical to the company’s future success.

“We’re attempting to reinvent packaging,” says Shields. “We’re trying to come up with our own formulas for resin, improving upon what’s already out there.” Oftentimes, he explains, that means coming up with a new formula that uses 30, 40, even 50 percent less resin but still meets package specs, resulting in significant cost savings. “Even if we’ve been manufacturing a particular product for years and there’s been no change in specs, we’ll send it to the lab to see if there’ve been changes in the last two years that would allow us to do it better, cheaper or faster.”

He adds, “It’s sometimes difficult to be a single-facility company situated in the Northwest and trying to do business across the as well as globally. One of the ways for us to stay in the game is to [produce packaging] with less resin so we can be price competitive.”

The company’s not-so-central location combined with escalating fuel costs has also forced it to develop more efficient strategies for shipping. “A systematic approach to transportation is critical,” says Daniels, citing Shields’ sophisticated warehouse management system that pools deliveries to help offset costs.

In addition, says Shields, “We use several warehouses strategically located in where we can ship and store full containers. From there, we can release product in smaller quantities as the customer orders them.” He adds that recent improvements in the rail segment have made intermodal transportation a much more viable alternative to more costly over-the-road shipping.

“We’re very proactive” when it comes to finding newer, better ways to do things, concludes Shields. “We’re doing everything we can to make sure we’re here for another 73 years.”

Shields Bag and Printing Co.
(800) 541-8630