AJ Adhesives Inc.

For 23 years, AJ Adhesives Inc. has had low turnover among its staff, which is a key focus of owner and President Andy Schwartz. “I work hard on a daily basis for my employees,” he says. “It’s a conscious effort to keep them motivated and enthused to work.”

This results in client loyalty for AJ Adhesives, Schwartz says. “At the end of the day, that’s what in my opinion keeps customers – that consistency and that brand reliability,” he states.

Based in St. Louis, AJ Adhesives supplies industrial adhesives and application equipment to multiple industry sectors. Schwartz started the company in 1992, after working for National Starch and Chemical Co.

Today, AJ Adhesives employs a staff of 35 and enjoyed sales of $24 million last year. “Our growth has been fantastic,” he says, noting that the market has been good to the company. 

“There’s a lot of small, medium-sized and even large companies that are underserved in the packaging and the converting business,” Schwartz continues. The company’s major market served is food and beverage packaging.

This includes adhesives for cereal, cake mix and frozen food boxes. “We also do a lot of beverage packaging,” he says, noting that this includes labels for soda, water, beer, wine and children’s juice boxes. 

“We’re also heavy in the converting side,” Schwartz says. “[We serve] anybody who makes paper bags, envelopes, magazines or folding boxes.”

Pretty Progressive

AJ Adhesives stands as a leader in its industry although it is modestly sized compared to some competitors, Schwartz says. “We’re pretty progressive,” he asserts, noting that the company stays abreast of state-of-the-art technologies, including systems for order tracking.

The company also operates a survey system where every customer is asked to rate its service and whether they would recommend it to others. “That data gets tracked all the way through the order system,” Schwartz says.

“If anyone had a complaint or issue, we’re dealing with it in real time,” he says. “I don’t know anyone in the industry that has a sophisticated ordering system like we do.”

It also has upgraded its adhesive application equipment, with line sight verification systems that confirm the glue is applied to its clients’ packages. “Before, products used to go out to market and they’d start having failures because there wasn’t any glue on the package,” Schwartz recalls.

“The cost for that recall is astronomical,” he states. “Now, it’s prevented, because everything is at the line of sight.”

Top Training

AJ Adhesives keeps the skills of its associates sharp. “We are a continuous learning organization,” Schwartz asserts. “I’m very proud of that.”

This includes training from Gazelles Inc., a provider of executive education, coaching and technology services. Annually, “Our executives and managers go to two seminars [from Gazelles founder and CEO Verne Harnish],” Schwartz says.

AJ Adhesives’ employees also attend local and regional customer service training seminars, and Schwartz himself attends learning events held by Entrepreneurs’ Organization. “Four of them are open to where we can bring key employees,” he adds.

Supplying Solutions

AJ Adhesives is coping with an industry that is trying to do more with less material, Schwartz says. For example, “A 24-bottle [pack] of water used to have a case around it,” he recalls. “Now, it’s just shrink wrapping.”

Food and beverage manufacturers also are manufacturing more single-serve products. “It cuts down on waste and it cuts down on packaging, too,” he says.

“We’re bringing solutions to our customers whenever they’re faced with those challenges,” he says. “No longer can you supply just a product.

“You have to supply solutions with your products,” Schwartz says. “That’s how the U.S. manufacturing sector has changed over the last six to nine years.” 

Despite these challenges, Schwartz predicts a strong future for AJ Adhesives that will include collaboration. “What I see is more of a sharing platform, where ... I may be going to one of my competitors to supply my customer,” he says. “I think the efficiencies and demands are going to drive the model to be something like that.” 

Currently, the company has supply arrangements with distributors who use the same suppliers, gaining access to their inventory supply. Other arrangements for AJ Adhesives have been mostly geographical.

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