Ray Products Inc.

The Internet and email have made life simpler for so many, but for a few, the advent of these modern technologies has made things a bit more difficult. 

“Back in the ’60s when we started, letters were flying everywhere, so we were making millions of stationery and note boxes each year,” says John Ray, president and third-generation owner of family operated Ray Products. “Once the Internet and email began to take off in the mid-to-late ’90s, our industry took a significant hit. For the better part of 30 years, large quantities of simple two-piece rigid boxes were the norm. Companies like ours were forced to reinvent themselves.” 

Just as its stationery and note box business began its dramatic drop, another area of Ray Products’ business began to move. In addition to stationery boxes, Ray Products now makes various styles of setup boxes and folding cartons for consumer products. As many brands began moving the manufacturing of their products to China, the packaging for those products followed suit. However, Ray says there was one lesson to be learned during this time. 

“The Chinese were manufacturing more elaborate packaging pieces,” Ray says. “But there were a lot of folks who did not have the volume to justify making the move over to China, but they still wanted that style of packaging. The iPhone box became the gold standard for packaging and that resulted in an increased demand stateside for nicer packaging, so we started adding features that we had never added previously.”  

Fortunately, equipment manufacturers kept up with the trend and invested in the R&D to produce rigid box equipment that would allow packaging manufacturers to meet these new demands. Ray Products’ rigid box capabilities include tightwrap, loosewrap, clear vinyl boxes, shoulder boxes, slipcases, book boxes, boxes with hinged lids, and platforms. It also can produce die-cut inserts for products such as candy/chocolate boxes, gift boxes, game boxes, cosmetic boxes and CD/DVD boxes. Additionally, the company manufactures turned-edge binders, game boards, and performs custom laminating work. Finishing processes include high-end litho printing, embossing, foil stamping, UV, aqueous and film laminate coatings. 

Ray Products today has 10 manufacturing lines and is one of few in the industry that can manufacture both folding cartons and setup boxes, giving the company an advantage with customers who require both in their product packaging. Ray Products’ decision to diversify its capabilities has put it in a prime position to retrieve business returning to the United States.

Business Comes Back

“Over the course of the last five years, China has become a less attractive option because of the increased freight costs and increased wage rates there, so we’re seeing some of that business come back,” Ray explains.

Another reason business is starting to move back domestically is because of the shorter lead-times required by many manufacturers. During the Great Recession, product manufacturers decided that just-in-time manufacturing was preferable to stocking inventory that moved nowhere during tough economic times. But to achieve the just-in-time schedules, manufacturers needed to bring things closer to home. 

“Some people are coming back and some never left because they don’t have time to deal with long lead-times for product coming from overseas,” Ray explains. “We’ve been working on shorter lead-times and are able to respond to customer demands in a much faster fashion than what we’ve done in the past.”

To accommodate the shorter lead-times of its customers, Ray Products stocks a larger inventory of raw materials. Having 10 production lines also allows it to be more flexible and adjust scheduling with the last-minute rush orders. 

“We utilize ArtiosCad software and our sample table to quickly design and turn out samples,” Ray explains. “If anyone needs a mockup, it can happen that same day and we have it in their hands tomorrow. Everything is happening fast. The turn times for folks are shrinking.” 

In addition to its equipment, Ray Products also ensures its company-owned facility is ready to handle the new demands of its customers. Its 55,000-square-foot Parsons, Kan., facility houses manufacturing, warehousing and back-of-house functions. The company is currently putting new skins on the walls of its production facility and resurfacing the concrete floors. Recently, Ray Products replaced lighting in the entire facility with high-efficiency bulbs and installed motion sensors to control lighting. The facility facelift will help the 48-year-old company keep its competitive edge by providing employees with a safe and efficient place to work. 

“Our strength lies in our people, so we give them all the resources we can,” Ray says. “The lead people on our rigid box production lines have an average tenure of 22 years, and we have very low turnover. Their knowledge gives us the ability to compete and the ability to do things that are unique that maybe everyone wouldn’t tackle. I also think there’s a lot of strength in being a family owned business; it gives a continuity and commitment to our customer base. Some of these customers we’ve had since day one, 48 years ago.” 

 

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