The following article originally appeared in Fall 2016 issue of “Connecting the Dots” magazine and has been republished with permission from AFFLINK.
By Michael Wilson
It all started in 1946 when brothers Ernie and Charles Wilson founded Ernest Paper Company in a Los Angeles, California garage. With Ernie focused on selling and Charles running the warehouse, delivery, and books, the dynamic duo set out on a journey to simply start a business where they saw a need. Little did they know that one day their entrepreneurial spirit would lead to building one of the largest independent packaging distributors in the country.
Though much has changed over the 70 years that Ernest has been in business, the founding principle of the organization remains: To always find the best solutions to fit our customers’ needs, even if we have to invent it. Today, with more than 480 employees, 12 locations spanning from coast-to-coast, and $220 million in revenue, Ernest Packaging is no doubt living their mission of Moving Packaging Forward.
Tim Wilson, second generation President and son of Charles Wilson, carries the torch today for Ernest. An entrepreneur in his own right, Tim continues to break paradigms within the industry – both inside the organization as well as in the solutions they provide to their customers. “When it comes to packaging solutions, we’ve found the CURE,” says Tim.
Referencing their go-to-market philosophy centered on a customer-first mentality, CURE stands for: Commit all resources toward the customers’ success; Understand the customers’ needs and objectives; Respond quickly with effective solutions at managed cost, and Establish true partnerships along the way. “We’ve always taken a unique approach to packaging and business,” says Tim. “From our CURE philosophy to our green initiatives, we don’t just talk about doing things differently; we do it!”
Doing Things Differently
When asked to describe Ernest in a word, Tim answered without hesitation: “Quirky.” And that can clearly be seen in their culture (Mr. Charles Wilson still comes in and does a dance for the receptionist almost daily), as well as how they go to market. Many AFFLINK members and suppliers may have seen Ernest’s “quirky” marketing videos as part of their “Cardboard Chaos” series. To date, the Ernest team has pushed the limits of innovation to produce a skateboard, snowboard, electric guitar, a push bike and a surfboard – all out of corrugated! “We’re an engineering company that just so happens to be in the packaging business,” says Tim.
Though some may cast him off as a mad genius, it’s actually part of the company’s overall marketing and branding strategy. Those quirky videos? Yeah, they’ve received millions of hits on Social Media to date, generated countless press opportunities, and even garnered media attention both at home and internationally.
But more than that, Ernest’s passion for innovation plays a key role in their journey to truly understand the customer experience. Tim uses a spider’s web as a metaphor for the company’s overarching goal of providing the ultimate customer experience. “We’ll catch and retain customers by building a web that entices and engages our customers by understanding what the customer wants (not what we want to sell), strengthening our team so that we have the right people to serve them, and provide support and communication that connects all parties involved.”
Where Culture Counts
To live up to this mantra, Tim believes that it all must start from within. “We’re not only a family-run business/ We are a culture of family,” he says. “We have a Brand Council here at Ernest that consists of all branches, in all areas of our business. These individuals are the ‘keepers of the culture’ and the voice of our employees.” They bring new ideas to light, mine unexplored opportunities, and create goals that keep…as the company’s tagline says, Moving Packaging Forward.
But does it work? Well, the typical tenure of an Ernest team reads like the jerseys of a backfield core – 26, 33, 20, 17 years… And, the average tenure of an Ernest customer is over 25 years as well. “You don’t sell to a customer for 25 years. You retain a relationship with them for 25 years,” Tim insists.
If the old adage is true, that a company is only as good as the people it keeps, then it’s pretty clear what has kept Ernest at the forefront of the packaging industry for decades – the same thing that will no doubt keep them Moving Packaging Forward well into the future.