More than a decade ago, Lou Le Calsey changed the direction of Tufco Technologies forever.
A veteran of the paper industry, Mr. LeCalsey recognized the potential of the emerging disposable wipes market and led the strategic shift that moved Tufco out of tissue and towel converting, which was the Tufco heritage business, and into the wipes market— a decision he has never regretted.
“We believed wipes were going to become a major area of consumer spending on disposable convenience products and I think over the past 10 years we’ve grown pretty well along with it,” he said. Mr. LeCalsey, CEO, and Michele Cherney, vice president of sales and marketing, had come to Tufco in 1996 from the paper industry where they saw an emerging trend of “disposable wipes replacing paper towels and spray bottles.” In 1999, Tufco developed the wipes market strategy and received board approval to fundamentally change the direction of the company. The next year, the tissue and towel converting operations were spun off and sold and the first wipes line was installed. Since then, the capabilities Tufco has added have been mirrored in scope by the tremendous proliferation of the wipes market itself.
“One thing that amazes me is the multiplicity of specialty applications for wipes,” said Mr. LeCalsey. “You can look at store shelves now and see so many different types of applications for wipes that I am, frankly, a bit surprised that it has grown to that extent. It really speaks for the perceived intrinsic value of the various wipes forms in the market that wipes’ popularity has grown so well.”
Taking it a step further than shorter term transactional “arm’s length” contract manufacturing, Mr. LeCalsey and Ms. Cherney describe their business model as a contract manufacturer designed to handle long-term partnerships with its customers. With capabilities ranging from wet and dry wipes converting to lotion delivery systems to flexographic printing to hot melt adhesive laminating— not to mention a number of single- and multi-use packaging options— under one roof, Tufco can reliably offer the best proven technology at the best efficiencies and lowest waste levels, on time and within our customers’ budget, according to Ms. Cherney.
“When a customer knows that its ‘manufacturer-partner’ has the consistency and capability to meet all the specified deliverables, the customer can then focus on the marketing of the product,” she said.
This strategy has been particularly effective in the increasing specialization of wipes. As wipes applications become more focused on specific uses and tasks, it takes long-term partnerships to efficiently integrate and optimize both manufacturing operations and supply chain management. Furthermore, many of the specialty wipes require specific equipment or equipment modifications and Tufco has all of this capability inhouse, shortening product concept to market lead times and generally making life easier for its customers. Tufco’s location in Green Bay, WI, where all of its wipes converting operations are located, contains contract production of both wet and dry wipes in flat packs, canisters and sachets, adhesive laminations and a specialty flexo printing department, along with a wide array of integrated downstream packaging options.
Tufco’s most recent equipment expansion occurred last fall with a new “state of the art” canister line, believed to currently be the widest and most efficient in North America. This was a key converting service Tufco was missing in its portfolio of services and enabled them to target some key wipes market opportunities they previously could not access.
Next up will be the Spring start-up and commercial operation of an in-house micro lab allowing Tufco to improve control and turnaround time for testing any wipes that require a micro process. Beyond that, Tufco will continue to evaluate the market direction and emerging trends in wipes and packaging forms and functions to determine what its next investment will be. This could include new equipment purchases and/or upgrading current equipment when new technologies are introduced which offer different and improved wipes formats and operating advantages, said Ms. Cherney.
“The diversity of the one-stop manufacturing services Tufco provides at its Green Bay plant is a key to the success of our client partnerships,” she added. “We have products that are printed, laminated and converted under one roof. Our customers are now taking advantage of our wide ‘one-stop’ menu of services. We have, for example, customers who previously had many hundreds of miles of non-value added freight costs moving a work-in-process from one contractor to another to get various steps done on the way to a finished product—all of which is now done within our Green Bay plant.”
“The most recent decade has been a period of significant growth for Tufco and we intend to continue that growth pace in wipes the next 10 years and beyond,” Mr. LeCalsey concluded.