Vonco Products: Flexible Solutions for a Rigid World
Categories: Member ProfilesBy Graeme Golucki | April 9, 2018 << Back to Articles
Brooms, mops, cleaning chemicals and solutions—indispensable tools of the trade for our industry. But have you ever paused to think how these items get from the manufacturer and into the hands of end-customers safely and ready to use? One company—Vonco Products, LLC—is at the front lines of product packaging, designing innovative bags, sleeves, pouches, and other forms of packaging with an eye towards increasing sustainability and reducing shipping costs.
While Trevor, WI-based manufacturer Vonco is a relatively new ISSA member, only joining the association last year, the company has had its hand in the cleaning industry for decades. “We started out in the 1950s manufacturing equipment that made plastic sealers,” says Keith Smith, Vonco president. “At the time we had the technology to create some rather unique shapes in plastics, and slowly but surely we went from manufacturing the equipment to making containers for the equipment. This led to the creation of custom-made bags and pouches.”
Those unique bags and containers were Vonco’s link to the cleaning industry. “One of the products we saw accelerated growth during the late 60s and 70s was what we call fast-load broom sleeves,” says Smith. “Back then, most brooms used bristles made of corn. Manufacturers were always looking for a way to keep those bristles clean and protected during shipping. So, we engineered a flexible sleeve specifically for corn brooms that also allowed manufacturers to print on the packaging, giving them an opportunity for branding as well.”
Janitorial equipment manufacturers soon were requesting specially designed fast-load, flexible sleeves not only for corn brooms, but also for wet mops and synthetic angle brooms.
Vonco’s production capabilities continued to evolve throughout the 1980s and the company expanded into customized packaging for the shipping and storage of liquids. “In recent years, we’ve really keyed in on the core competency of shaped, liquid tight packaging,” says Smith. “While we’ve always maintained a great reputation with the broom packaging, the liquid packaging has allowed us to make significant strides in a variety of marketplaces. Combined with the pouches and bags we offer, this has opened up [opportunities in] many industries—health care, food service, cleaning.”
Vonco’s flexible liquid packaging is what led the company to become involved with ISSA.
“With our knowledge and established history in the cleaning industry, joining ISSA is a natural leap for us to help evolve the packaging format,” says Smith. “While our top customers traditionally have been mop and broom manufacturers, we felt that by joining ISSA, we could offer something more to the industry by changing the way cleaning solutions and other liquids are shipped and stored with our flexible liquid packaging. Think of it as being like the way traditional jars of applesauce in grocery stores have been replaced with pouches. We want to offer users a light-weight, yet durable packaging solution that takes up as little space as possible.”
Smith believes this packaging can provide the industry with a variety of benefits. “So many cleaning chemicals out there are shipped in rigid bottles,” he says. “We provide a big opportunity to drive savings while offering a more sustainable solution then traditional methods. One truck full of unfilled pouches can be equivalent to 14-26 truckloads of unfilled two-liter rigid bottles. So not only are shipping costs reduced, but there’s less landfill waste.”
Another way that Smith feels flexible packaging can benefit the cleaning industry is by reducing water consumption and improving employee safety.
“When you think about it, the basis of most cleaning solutions is water,” says Smith. “Vonco works with customers to develop packaging to store high-concentrate solutions the end-customer never has to directly touch—the packaging prevents that; the company also develops packaging that works with tools to measure out the exact amount of water required for chemical dilution.”
Making work easier for its customers is the lifeblood of Vonco. Led by Smith, the company is committed to a collaborative approach to customer service.
“Fast customized development is one of the pillars of our customer service,” says Smith. “We have a design center where we can work with our clients on site. Our customer can send us a product to be packaged, and often times we can turn around with samples in 48 to 72 hours. Because of the specialty equipment and prototype tools the company has acquired over the years, we can give a half-dozen samples in a very short time frame.”
Another way Vonco differentiates itself from the competition is its interactive process with its clients. “Since almost 80 percent of the packaging we manufacture is custom-built for a product, our design team likes to get to know the customer needs as much as possible,” says Smith. “We see it as a partnership. When we click with a client, it really is something special. Our engineers get all excited. I even seen them start drawing out sketches on napkins or scraps of paper. And in the end, when the customer is satisfied, we all win.”
Passion for Packaging
Smith’s own personal history has influenced his leadership style at Vonco.
“I’ve been involved in packaging almost my whole life,” says Smith. “Immediately after high school, I started out with a packaging company. From the ground up, I started pouring inks, mopping floors, and running the printing press. Initially I was just there to earn money for my engineering degree and ended up being there for almost 12 years, learning how to build packaging structures and different types of laminations. I left to get my MBA and held a few other positions through the years, but my true passion has always been in packaging. Because of that passion, when I had the opportunity to acquire Vonco in 2013, I jumped at it.”
Even though he’s the president, Smith never forgot the lessons he learned on the shop floor.
“Core to our employees is a team-based management style,” says Smith. “I’ve tried to instill a great culture in my team; a competitive, yet supportive spirit permeates throughout our organization. When we moved into our new facility last year, we did our best to think about each employee’s work experience and tried to customize it as much as possible so it was a special place for everyone.”
That employee-first strategy has paid off for Smith. “In 2017, we saw almost 50 percent growth in our staff,” he says. “We now have more than 125 employees, and we’re still looking to add to our staff. For us it isn’t difficult to recruit. People come in, they see the facility and meet our team, and they’re excited to work here. If our workers are happy, it makes it much easier for them to focus on making our customers happy, too.”
About the Author.
Graeme Golucki is ISSA's digital strategy editor and can be reached at [email protected]; phone, 800-225-4772 (North America) and 847-982-0800.