CWS Packaging: The Small Town Company with Big Customers

New York State Manufacturing Now meets Eric Moore, Vice President of CWS Packaging in Norwich, NY. CWS Packaging is a certified supplier for top U.S. pharmaceutical, HBA (health and beauty aid) and retail companies that also specialize in processes that require greater manual labor. CWS is a diverse employer with a workforce that includes employees with physical and developmental disabilities.


Steve Melito: Hey, welcome to New York State Manufacturing Now, the podcast that’s powered by FuzeHub. I’m your host, Steve Melito. Hey, today we’ll meet Eric Moore, Vice President from CWS Packaging in Norwich, New York. Eric, welcome to New York State Manufacturing Now.

Eric Moore: Thanks, Steve. Thanks for having me.

Steve Melito: Hey, you’re most welcome. So, what is the CWS Packaging story? How would you like to introduce your organization to our listeners.

Eric Moore: CWS was founded 56 years ago here in Chenango County in a tiny storefront in a little town called Oxford. The basis was to provide employment opportunities for a group of parents with disabled children. Got to remember at that point in history, there wasn’t a whole lot of opportunity and unfortunately there was a stigma surrounding disabled folks. We’ve since moved to the small city of Norwich as a population around 8, 000, and our operation has extended to a campus that has four facilities, totals about a hundred thousand square feet. Within these facilities, we have capability of starting approximately 2, 000 skids. We currently employ about 44 folks with varying abilities and 20 neurotypical folks. CWS is a true staple in this community in downtown Norwich. When you visit Norwich, you’d be hard pressed not to see one of CWS employees. Our team has a pride that’s quite apparent when you cross paths with any of them. I’m proud to say the entirety of the staff’s tenure is around 15 years. That experience is quite vital to our existence. Without that tenure and that experience, we wouldn’t be where we are now.

Steve Melito: Yes, it’s a great place. As we were talking before the podcast began, Paige Franzek, our producer and I were there last year. We got to tour your location. I think we might have gone into the wrong spot because you do have four different buildings and I wondered if maybe you could tell everybody a little bit about your capabilities as an organization. What do you do, and how do you do it differently and better?

Eric Moore: Sure. CWS package is a broad range of goods, Steve, from blister packaging, which if you can imagine a Hot Wheels package to hermetically sealed goods, no air breaches in regards to that. We’re CGMP certified as well as FDA certified and pharmaceutical medical devices. We also hold a FDA agricultural license, organic and we’re ISO 9001:2008 compliant while working towards 9001: 2015. If you happen to walk the floors of our facilities, you would see that all the walls are fabricated to allow them to move about the floor to create any configuration of a package line. Example of this would be some years back we contracted with Starbucks to launch a potter mail campaign and we had to pretty much take the entire floor and make it into one production suite. And now in quite contrast, if you go out there now, we’ve got six lines. When you look up, you’ll see fly lines as far as power and air so that we again have that versatility. We can store within these facilities about 2, 000 skids, which I alluded to earlier. And during that Starbucks launch, we turned about 1, 300 skids, about six weeks. So, it was definitely a test in one of the basises of our differentiating factors, and we successfully pulled that off. I’m proud to say. Another strength of ours is that we combined semi- automatic processors with manual labor. This naturally evolved from obviously the course of business that we pursue and the nature of the folks that we work with and serve. We either test products and efficacy or stability or retail test markets for change such as Whole Food, Home Depot, Costco, and the likes. Gives us the ability to really work with startups and startup product development. Good example of this is Pathan Biomedical. It’s a pH indicator device that’s used in hospitals all across the United States. And Pathans been with us probably about a decade in development and we started by doing maybe a hundred pieces. And now again, they’re broad across the entire United States and many, many of the larger name hospitals. And I think we’ve done about a quarter million of those period to date being that we can start with little and really help to work with the companies to create their product and distribute their product and mass levels. For many years, P& G was in our backyard here in Norwich and we were blessed with the ability to form a relationship with them. We worked with them for so many years that the backbone of our quality systems were created off. So, again, that’s a differentiating factor with us is that our quality systems truly are world class and based on, at that time in history, one of the largest pharmaceutical providers in the world. We’re a 5013c, how we operate as a profit for profit entity. The goal is to really receive a little funding from county, state, and federal offerings as possible. And our average over probably the last seven years has been about 85% private enterprise and about 15% state and federal goods. So, we’re doing all right in that regard and we have to continue that because as you well know, state and federal dollars are becoming hard earned hard cap.

Steve Melito: They sure are and it’s interesting that you mentioned P& G and I think that’s probably what many listeners might think about when they hear Norwich in a lot of places across New York State in smaller towns and smaller cities. There’s some pretty amazing stuff going on. Some of the names that you mentioned are household names, Home Depot and Starbucks. You’re really doing work for some folks that people can relate to. What are some other successes that you’ve had over the years?

Eric Moore: Well, the transition with P& G went to Warner Chilcott, and that was a nervous time for us. Obviously, pharmaceutical industry drives some pretty significant margins, so when I’m touting these enterprise revenue numbers, that’s an important factor that our margins are long aligned with some of the industries that allow those margins to exist. So, when we transferred, it was sold to Warner Chilcott, and we were very happy to see that Warner Chilcott continued to remain with us throughout the duration of their ability to be able to provide goods to market. Unfortunately, what happened there was in the pharmaceutical industry, once you run your prescription meds and the patent runs up, the generic market takes over.
So, the generic market swooped in and no fault of either Warners or CWS is the business exited stage left. We’ve also done business with the likes of Coty Cosmetics, one of the largest personal care and cosmetic companies in the world. Done that business for over three decades, through several different iterations of ownership in branding. Our portfolio of local companies like Raymond Corporations, the division of Toyota. With Raymond, we help to evolve their ability in regards to roller assemblies and battery rollers. And what that is the large batteries that you find in material moving equipment, batteries have to come in and out of the piece of machinery and we fabricate and assemble all those that are distributed globally. We’ve also been an act, part as far as success and regards to helping to engineer and improve upon that design, which is no small feat considering Toyota and Raymond have a pretty high standard in regards to engineering. GlaxoSmithKline, Burland, Prestige, Bausch + Lomb, HomeAgain. There are few of our portfolio, both currently and historically, and really a point of pride in success that we’ve had as our accreditation is the ones that I listed earlier. In our industry, when you talk sheltered workshop and what we do, there’s a stereotype again that’s associated with that and CWS has broke that mold and really accredited ourselves in many areas and maybe we’ll have the opportunity to discuss later some areas that we’re working towards in our future.

Steve Melito: Yeah. And that was an area that I wanted to talk about as some challenges that you’ve overcome. You had mentioned some of the financial challenges in terms of money that’s available for assistance and then the certifications that you’ve got are really impressive. They’re not easy to come by, so what are some of the challenges that you’ve overcome?

Eric Moore: I alluded to earlier that we’re semi- automated, and it has its advantages, but it also creates a market that’s tough to sell at times, just because of the margins and the price model that you have to try to work into that. Labor isn’t cheap as you know, Steve, and we’ve overcome this by developing a robust sales strategy that has metrics and expected outcomes associated with it. Again, that’s not typical for our industry and the area in which we serve. And our sales pipeline is driven by analytics and effective routine review. Back to the labor. We also had to target the manual labor efficiencies by creating an access database that ages and measures our throughput information entered every day while also evaluating our employees’ effectiveness in their efficiencies. Through those two items, we’re able to really kind of pinpoint our pricing and be able to be much more competitive in the market. The labor market is, as you well know, Steve, is ever thinning and we work with two fantastic local temporary agencies. And in the past, we’ve had as many as a hundred temporary employees in our facilities, who were working on launches, which in this community to have that kind of revenue that is dumped into community is actually a very big thing. And that was sustainable for about a year and a half, and that was with the Coty Cosmetics. It was really a challenge because we had to transition from that manual labor market to obviously a phased to a semi- automatic. And then, actually by the end of it, Steve, we were fully automatic in regards to it. Unfortunately, obviously those temporaries went away and created here at CWS. We created other job opportunities that have since been filled. However, at the end of the day, through that process, we learned a lot about going from manual to semi to fully, and I’m always at the mantra that obstacles are stepping stones. And when you have those kinds of things, it’s a real can- do or how can we type attitude. And if you explore the why’s of a situation, usually you can figure out the what and how. And we’ve applied that here and it’s been effective as we work through a lot of the challenges. Another big challenge that we face here is local public transportation. There really isn’t a lot being as rural as nature as we are, we’re a beautiful community, but we are removed from a good part of the, or metro type areas such as Binghamton and Syracuse, 30 to at least an hour in either direction. And what we’ve done to overcome that is we’ve really targeted the local city population in regards to workforce. And as targeting to that, there’s unfortunately with a lack of public transportation. There are people that from a commute perspective, really don’t have a whole lot of options. Again, being very rural in nature. So, we’ve been able to really use that as an advantage within the community. One of our target areas is to employ those folks and bring them in and be able to, if there’s a big difference between walking to work and driving to work, and we’ve really grown our workforce in that regard. So, yeah, that’s a few examples of some of the challenges during my tenure that we’ve managed, and I’m sure there’ll be more to come from.

Steve Melito: Those are really varied challenges as well, and it’s interesting to hear about your path towards automation. It sort of leads me to wonder where do you think the company will be in five years from now?

Eric Moore: In my position, have to be forward- looking, Steve. And right now, we’re really trying to develop, the accreditation has gotten us to where we are so reasonably seem that accreditation will move us forward. So, within the next five years, I’m about to present a business plan to the board of directors here and within that business plan, we’re going to have a HACCP program which is food oriented with AIB certification that’s associated with that. Also, we’re looking at other facilities to get some FDA standards as far as regulatory and all the obligations that we have to the federal government to achieve that status within those facilities. And lastly, and probably most importantly, not that those aren’t important matters, but one of our main goals here is obviously employment in our community. We take a lot of pride in that. In order to achieve some of these goals, we really have to expand our organizational structure and begin to look at how we’re shaped and how we run and again, the why in that and what options are there. So, working really actively to begin to develop that as far as a different kind of an organizational structure to prepare us for the future. And talking in regards to the semi- automatic, we actually, the last piece in regards to the non- labor component is we have an opportunity with an Italian- based company that has a technology that really is not that present in New York currently, or in, I should say, in the United States. And we want to bring it to New York. And we really envision that through this automated packaging equipment that we really will have a corner on the market again, because I believe there’s only one large corporation in America that is utilizing it. However, the product that we would be manufacturing, and packaging is innovative and far ahead of probably a lot of the other products on market, it’s eco sustainable. It’s small in nature. It’s versatile. There are a lot of real positive attributes to that product that will be able to hopefully help support our path in growing that product line and distributing to the US market.

Steve Melito: That’s great. So, as you know, because we came and toward your plant before, FuzeHub is the statewide manufacturing extension partnership center. And part of our mission is to help make companies aware of the innovation ecosystem, the resources that are available to help them. Have you ever worked with any New York state assets or received help in any way?

Eric Moore: Yeah. As alluded to earlier, that 15% comes from funds to offset from the state and federal government to help to balance some of the scenarios that you wouldn’t find in a typical corporation. When you work with people with varying abilities, there’s a certain level of support that needs to exist there. So, again, we want to really stand free and be able to give that support without those funds. And we’ve also actively worked, especially through this pandemic with Empire State Development in regards to a couple large- scale opportunities and potential manufacturing and packaging opportunities to be able to birth a larger place in the market. And with working with the EDA, we have been granted a couple different large monetary values in that effort. The projects are still in the developmental phase, however, it’s good to know that in our backyard and as far as the representation from the state and the dollars that we’re not looked over in that regard, and that we are a part of the conversation, and we receive that support.

Steve Melito: So, before we close, Eric, is there anything else you’d like folks to know about CWS Packaging? For example, the type of customers that you’d like to work with or things you might be looking for these days?

Eric Moore: Yeah, we offer a broad range, Steve, everything from pharmaceutical to industrial mechanical. In this conversation we’ve discussed Warner Chilcott and the likes of Raymond Corporation. And as far as the messaging, again, I can’t speak enough to the stereotype that surrounds not only CWS and the sheltered workshop type environment, but also the folks that we support in that regard. We strike a real good balance here between neurotypical and varying ability disabled people. And we take great pride as far as integrating all levels of intellect and ability in all of our packaging lines and it truly is rewarding to be a part of that and to see that. And it does take effort and focus, and you really have to concentrate on the small nuances of every aspect of the packaging process. However, that’s rewarding in its own regard too, because you see things that you might not have seen otherwise. We really have a pervasive attitude of how can we, it’s very positive in nature. I alluded to the tenure of our team, and that’s such a huge, huge aspect of our success. And without that, I truly don’t think we would be where we are. And when you do business with us, I think you feel that, and you see that and that resonates outwardly. And our customers, once they start to do business with us, they rarely, unless the product kind of exits the market, which you well know happens often. They don’t really exit on us. They stick with us, and that’s a testament to the team and our ability to be able to support. And I think a pervasive attitude that exists within that team. My wife stated years back to me that she can’t understand why the state characterizes people with developmental disabilities and mental disabilities as individuals or clients or consumers. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard that terminology associated with that. What my wife said is she goes, ” I call them people.” And that sums it up for me, Steve.

Steve Melito: It sure does. You do good work and just at a very personal level, I’ve had an opportunity to tour a lot of different plants and factories over the years for FuzeHub and people with developmental disabilities deserve a chance. They tend to be underemployed or unemployed in numbers that are frankly disturbing and scary, especially because we need their contributions, and they work very hard. So, I appreciate what you do, Eric, on behalf of FuzeHub, I say thank you. Let’s keep in touch.

Eric Moore: Certainly, Steve.

Steve Melito: All right, very good. So, you’ve been listening to New York State Manufacturing Now, the podcast that’s powered by FuzeHub. We’ve been talking to Eric Moore from CWS Packaging in Norwich, New York. They are a small to medium manufacturer, maybe a lot of folks out there that are listening. So, if you fall into that category, if you’re at New York State, if you’re an inventor or an entrepreneur, reach out to FuzeHub. The easiest way to do so is to go online to www. fuzehub. com. When you get to the website, look for the solutions program menu, and then look for the ability to ask for an expert consultation or speak to a manufacturing expert. Now, you’ll probably talk to me to start with. We’ll get you to that manufacturing expert. We are a navigator. We are your single point of contact to connect to a great innovation ecosystem across New York State, so I hope you’ll take advantage of that. So, again, on behalf of FuzeHub and New York State Manufacturing Now, this is Steve Melito signing off.

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