Out of the bottle

Container Service Inc. has experienced steady growth since its start in 1991, but the success of the Hillsboro company has been bottled up, so to speak, in regard to public awareness.

?I think most people have no idea what goes on here,? co-owner and executive vice president for sales and marketing Darrell Driggers said of the stock and custom plastic bottle business located in the Hillsboro Industrial Park.

To enter the company?s 74,000-square-foot facility, which includes a warehouse the length of a football field, is to enter a surreal world of around 35 workers with hairnets hustling through thousands of plastic bottles each hour in multiple forms and sizes.

In the container industry, CSI is known as a ?custom blow molder? because workers take test-tube-looking plastic preforms and run them through sophisticated machines that use heat and air pressure to ?blow? the preforms into the desired shape and thickness.

CSI?s most well-known product are the honey-bear bottles created primarily for its local neighbor, Golden Heritage Foods, one of the nation?s leading honey processors.

But the customer list also includes companies that sell automotive, floor care, household chemical, animal-health pharmaceutical and even black powder products.

Within the past year, CSI has added perhaps its most widely known client, Dorothy Lynch Salad Dressing, which will translate into multi-million units annually.

A place to start

The brainchild for Container Services Inc. is co-owner and president LaVerne Esau, who saw an entrepreneurial opportunity while working for Golden Heritage Foods (then known as Barkman Honey) in the 1980s.

?Part of my job was to place blow molds,? Esau said. ?Quite frankly, like everybody else, we were having trouble getting the quality of product we wanted.

?Basically, I said here?s an opportunity, so we sat down and started running the numbers. When I figured out it might be a viable thing, I called Darrell and asked if he would be willing to work on the marketing side of it.

?That?s where it started.?

In the early years, the fledgling company was dependent on Golden Heritage for survival. The honey company remains CSI?s No. 1 customer, but also a key reason it has been able to expand its client base through the years.

?Golden Heritage Foods holds a position in the honey industry as the top of the heap in terms of quality,? Esau said. ?Their goal has been to be the best.

?If you?re going to be the best, then you have to get the best from your vendors,? he added. ?Consequently, that has driven us to be a lot better at what we do in our goal to meet their requirements.?

Added Driggers, ?They have made us a better blow molder, and we can take that (knowledge) to the customer because of their instance on good quality.?

A changing industry

Another component fueling CSI?s development has been a fundamental change within the container industry in regard to product material.

Having started with a low-density polyethylene honey container?noted for its opaque look but soft squeezability?CSI and most other blow molders work now almost exclusively with high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE).

HDPE is a stiffer, opaque polymer most recognized for the formation of milk jugs. PET is the glass-clear plastic used for water battles and myriad other applications.

The change has been fueled primarily by the recycling movement, as consumers become more ecologically aware, according to Esau and Driggers.

But an additional driver of PET is the marketing advantage of having a product showcased to consumers in a container with the clarity of glass, but also is lightweight and durable.

?A true advantage of PET is the freight-sensitive issue of weight and breakage,? Driggers said. ?You can put a lot more product on a given truck, with the limitations of weight, with PET than you can with glass.?

Consumer safety is a related factor.

?What happened was that in the food-service kitchens, they were buying those large glass containers,? Esau said. ?And what happens when it hits the floor? It throws glass everywhere. So you were having injuries.

?That?s what drove glass out of a lot of those places.?

A new day

CSI has come a long way since it started with a half-dozen employees and two small, used two-cavity blow-mold machines. Pushing 40 employees today, the company runs seven multi-cavity machines on a normal production schedule of two 10-hour shifts.

The owners credit a lot of the growth to the quality of their employee team.

?We?ve got great employees,? Esau said. ?We have tried to build an employee base that works well together. Everybody wants their paycheck, but we both have a vested interest. We want a good product, so we want good employees who will give us that. In return, they want to be paid for it.?

The mutual-benefit approach has enhanced employee longevity at CSI.

?The first employee I ever hired for second shift is still here and now runs our second shift,? Esau said. ?We?ve got a lot of longterm employees.?

About 95 percent of the workers live in Marion County, Driggers added.

With growth comes the need to broaden the management base.

?You can?t do it all yourself,? Esau said. ?We?ve built a base of good, solid management people that can take the thing forward. If I don?t want to be here today, I don?t have to be here. That?s the kind of management you have to have.?

Different, but alike

While their complementary gifts in production and marketing have made Esau and Driggers an effective partnership, the areas where they?re alike have had a significant impact, too.

One common tie is their local background, but another is the values with which they run the business: a core commitment to quality and service.

?Certainly if we were to create a mission statement, it is our Christian belief that we want to treat people and customers like we want to be treated by others,? Driggers said.

Add Esau: ?I?ve always said, if you do a good job taking care of your customers, they?ll take care of you. Like the old saying goes, if you take care of the pennies, the dollars will follow.?

That doesn?t mean they haven?t encountered occasional challenges.

?Over the 19 years, certainly there have been differences,? Driggers said. ?But I think we complement each other more than we adversely affect each other.?

Esau said, ?We are two different people, we have different opinions with different visions. On top of which, marketing has an agenda and production has an agenda. You have to make those two come together.?

Driggers added with a chuckle: ?They never come together. We (in marketing) can?t understand why production can?t beef it up, and production never understands why we aren?t giving them orders.?

As the partners look to the future, Esau and Driggers intend to remain on the growing edge.

?We want to continue to push that envelope,? Driggers said. ?It think we?re now in a position where we can take on even larger projects than we could when we started this business.?

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