In February 1998, a new company based in Gray Court, S.C., launched itself onto the flexible packaging scene. Jon McClure started ISO Poly Films with little money, but a whole lot of hope. Over the past decade, the once-budding company has grown into a leader of custom extruded plastic films for food, medical and industrial industries.

While 10 years may not seem like a lot, in the world of flexible packaging-where companies are continuously bought, sold, consolidated and always jiggering to be at the forefront of the industry-it’s more than many companies will ever see. During this time, ISO Poly has seen growth through good business practices, strategic planning and, most of all, faith in the people running the company.

“What we started 10 years ago based on a vision and with a team of passionate professionals has steadily grown into a business that is still turning heads in the industry,” said McClure, founder and chief executive officer of ISO Poly, in a recent press release marking the company’s anniversary. “Our success can be directly attributed to our people and everyone’s strong commitment to ISO’s success and core business values. None of this would be possible without the industry knowledge, leadership and dedication of our board of directors, management team and entire staff.”

The company remains small, with a mere total of 80 employees, but other numbers aren’t as small: ISO Poly brings in sales approaching $50 million annually.

“Quality is the engine that pulls the train at ISO,” says McClure. “We’ve invested in the latest technology and surrounded it with the best people. It’s taken some time to implement a world class operation. Quality, quality, quality; we cannot stress it enough. "Our mission at ISO Poly Films is to manufacture and deliver value-added custom films and provide solutions for strategic markets and customers,” adds Dale Brockman, president and chief operating officer of the company. “We realize that to be a preferred supplier for our customers we have to practice a philosophy of continuous improvement in everything we do.”

How to grow good business

It may have taken time to build ISO Poly into what it is today, but it was time well spent. While the company has achieved a firm position in the industry, its philosophy of continuous improvement is still going strong.

“We strive to bring creative film solutions to deliver higher value and solutions to these markets,” says Russ Joseph, vice president of sales and marketing. “We have equipped ourselves with the latest technology in high-throughput extrusion equipment processes. We can use these wide, fast, accurate and efficient assets to produce the highest quality film with the best economics for our customer.” Such technology and solutions, Joseph continues, are paramount to the success of ISO Poly and its customers.

Building a business, however, also means looking into the future. Focusing on meeting trends in the marketplace and customers’ needs have been the keys to growing ISO Poly throughout a decade of business, and much of that focus comes from the beginning of the client-manufacturer relationship.

“The key in providing film solutions to our customers is making the investment up front,” explains Joseph. “This investment is making sure we understand their wants and needs while identifying the drivers behind the market trends. We enhance product design through a multi-tiered screening process of the opportunity.”

Once an application is defined, Joseph continues, any barriers to success can be eliminated and ISO Poly can work past what is expected and move on to exceeding customers’ expectations, all on a tightly measured timeline.

“If we do our job thoroughly, we get the very best product to market quickly,” says Joseph. “And that makes everyone happy.”

ISO Poly has its strength in working in the now but the company also has an eye on the future, anticipating needs before they occur. It is a must for any company wanting to stay ahead of the game in the ever-changing landscape of flexible packaging.

One such trend that ISO Poly is looking at is sustainability, which has created a larger demand for flexible packaging as opposed to rigid, and provides packaging source reduction, says Russ Gehrke, product development manager for ISO Poly. “Our film solutions help to enable these transitions by providing the needed barrier, needed physical properties and needed pouch aesthetics,” he says. “Our advancements in materials technology and structure design enable us to provide downgauging to existing flexible packaging.”

Additionally, notes Gehrke, ISO Poly’s products give convenience to the consumer with appropriate peel-open or tear-open features. “Film designs with increased stiffness help enhance packaging display at the retail level,” explains Gehrke.

Sustainability is the buzz word du jour in flexible packaging, and for ISO Poly. It also has a heavy hand in the future focus of the company.

“We are continuing to look at advancements in barrier technology, both oxygen and moisture barrier materials,” notes Gehrke. “In doing this, we enable replacement of foil in packaging structures. It’s a need driven by sustainability, structure simplification and metal detection.” Gehrke adds that ISO Poly is looking at adapting materials from renewable sources, and will further evolve polyethylene and polypropylene structures with enhanced physical properties.

Growing strong

When you’re in business for 10 years, change is inevitable. For ISO Poly, those changes have come not only from the outside, in the form of different needs and films for different customers, but from the inside as well.

In 2006, ISO Poly doubled the size of its facility, effectively adding a second facility to its Gray Court location, notes Joseph. The expansion added 80,000 square feet and cost $25 million to build. It allowed the company to ramp up its capacity to support its growing customer base and new opportunities, and houses eight advanced film lines that use the latest technology to produce specialty multilayered films.

“We’ve broadened our capabilities with high-barrier assets and have reinvested yearly in our original equipment to keep them updated with the latest technology to stay competitive. We have virtually no limitations when it comes to product design and flexibility,” says Joseph.

Getting into the barrier film market with the new facility was a costly learning curve for ISO Poly, but working its way through that complex challenge has brought the company both new insight and new accomplishments.

“Prior to October of 2006, we only had monolayer and three-layer coextrusion capabilities,” explains Brockman. “In the last three years, we have built a barrier plant with the entire infrastructure that includes seven-layer barrier film technology to provide solutions for customers that require barrier protection, enhance the drive for flexible packaging to provide solutions for sustainability and to provide the value that our customers require to improve their competitive position.” Brockman adds that the company prides itself on now being able to make order changeovers from nylon to split nylon with ethylene vinyl alcohol (EVOH) to EVOH with a minimum amount of changeover waste.

Also in the ISO Poly plants, the production lines are capable of running wide, flat sheets with high output. “And on the innovative technology side, we have blending systems available that control our blend formula down to a fractional percentage of each additive. This is critical with the cost of raw materials today,” says Brockman.

While growing at home, the company has also grown overseas through exports. “ISO Poly Films is also capitalizing on export opportunities with product innovation and application specific markets,” explains Joseph. “Our growth abroad has been spurred by our advanced film technology and world economics. Today, we are a global supplier.”

Building better business

Staying in business means staying on top of success as well as recognizing where your company can improve. For ISO Poly, success and improvement are intertwined with the company’s desire to be a supplier of choice.

“To be the supplier of choice in today’s market, we must get performance feedback from our customers,” says Valerie Anderson, quality assurance manager for ISO Poly. “From that feedback, we apply what is learned to other areas within our organization. An improvement for us would be to formalize this process of customer feedback and effectively communicate that information to everyone in the plant. In the end, ourcustomers make us a better supplier.”

Common to the industry, ISO Poly also faces a challenge in striking the balance between cost and quality.

“Our top production challenge at ISO Poly Films is producing consistent quality while maintaining relentless pursuit of being a low-cost producer,” Brockman explains. “This is no easy task given the volatility of the raw material market. At ISO, 80% of our costs today are raw materials.

Therefore, with everyone focused on maximizing cash flow, we have to execute flawlessly on each order and every opportunity to ensure we deliver value to our customers, shareholders and provide long-term security to our team members.”

Team members have played an integral part in ISO Poly’s success over the last decade, and the company has worked to elevate its skill level to better compete with other companies and keep on top by recruiting the best employees.

“We’ve implemented a pay-for-skill compensation program,” says Brockman. “We realized as we entered the complex barrier film manufacturing that we would have to develop a new skill base at ISO Poly Films. My philosophy is that training and development is a 50/50 responsibility between the company and the individual.”

Brockman explains that ISO Poly worked with Piedmont Technical College in South Carolina to build the pay-for-skill compensation program, which drove the skill-baseimprovement.

“At the same time, additional benefits [to the program] included an improvement in the safety performance of our plant by reducing recordable injuries by 32% and significant improvements in the quality delivered to our customers byreducing customer returns by 80%,” notes Brockman. “The quality and safety improvements were accomplished by increasing the understanding of the customers’ wants, needs and expectations, as well as increasing the accountability for each team member’s individual performance.”

As ISO Poly looks to the next 10 years and more, no doubt the company will continue its emphasis on quality employees producing quality product. In the near future, however, ISO Poly has more tangible innovations in sight.

“We are looking for new high output blown film die technology that will give us the maximum pounds of extrudate per inch of circumference of die,” says Brockman. “With the high output, we are also looking for the ability to produce the flattest film sheet with the tightest thickness tolerance in the industry. Our goal is to be the low cost producer with the best quality in the markets we compete in.”

“In the coming year we will continue to meet or exceed our customer’s expectations for quality, service, cost and innovation,” says Gehrke. “We will continue to improve our speed to market as we work with our customers on new applications and cost-reduction opportunities for existing business.”

Gehrke notes that these goals will be accomplished through working more closely with customers to understand and help define their requirements for new products. Additionally, he notes, “We will further advance supplier partnerships as their contributions are critical to our success.”

Success for ISO Poly has been borne out of hard work and dedication over the last 10 years, and the once-budding company with big hope looks to the future to continue great growth.

“Our go-to-market strategy is built around technology with a world class team,” states founder and CEO, McClure. “Anyone with money can invest in new equipment, but it takes great people to make great film.”