Denver, Colorado

Despite the challenge of operating in a pandemic, President Stacy Warneke says the family-owned company has been able to sustain its growth trajectory.

Photos Jonathan Castner

Founded by brothers Maynard and Bill Warneke as Inland Paper Box in 1907, and now run by the family’s fourth generation, the manufacturer of custom folding cartons, rigid set-up boxes, point of purchase displays, and pocket folders has grown substantially over the last 114 years. In fact, in the past five years alone, the company’s carton production has increased from around 75 million to about 90 million annually.

Even the COVID-19 pandemic couldn’t slow Warneke Paper Box Company down. “We were lucky to see an 8 percent increase,” says Warneke of the box company’s production during the difficult months of 2020. “We felt very fortunate to be able to keep our employees in their jobs and actually see an increase in business.”

She says that 2021 is shaping up to be even better. “As of right now, we’re up 25 percent from last year,” Warneke explains. “I hope to see that continue if not even grow through the rest of the year. It has been very busy with lots of quotes going out and orders coming through. I don’t see it slowing down anytime soon.”

Warneke and her team manufacture custom folding cartons for customers in a wide variety of industries. She notes that food and beverage, cannabis and CBD, medical device, pharmaceutical and nutraceutical, cosmetics, and electronics companies make up the majority of their customer base.

“We’re pretty diversified in who we sell to,” Warneke continues. “It’s really beneficial to us as far as sales are concerned. When one market is down, other ones are up. It keeps us consistent sales wise.”

Unlike many other packaging manufacturers, Warneke Paper Box does everything in-house from structural design to finished product. They even make their own dies for die cutting and foil stamping, which Warneke says definitely sets them apart from competitors in the market.

“Because everything is done right here, we have complete quality control over everything we’re producing,” she explains. “It also helps reduce our make ready times and waste.”

The box company’s quality management system is ISO 9001 compliant. They’re also certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI). “Both of those standards are based on the same foundation as the ISO 9001,” Warneke says, “and we’re audited annually by them to ensure that we continue to conform to the requirements.”

Investing in industry-best equipment is also important to Warneke. “We do our best to work with the top manufacturers,” she says. “We have Heidelberg printing presses, Bobst die cutters and gluers, and Emmeci set up machines.”

The company’s newest printing press is equipped with Prinect Impress Control. “It manages color in-line while the press is running,” Warneke explains. “That’s very important to help keep color consistent throughout the run. It can run 18,000 sheets an hour and uses less make ready sheets, so we produce less waste.”

Warneke adds that the company’s die cutters are all equipped with photo registration to guarantee perfect cuts every time. “And all of our gluing machines have glue detection systems,” she says. “They detect for the amount of glue being put down, different versions, color density, and they eject any box that doesn’t meet standards. We’ve put a lot of technology in place to help us deliver as perfect of boxes as we can to our customers.”

Challenges: “Our biggest challenge is getting materials,” Warneke says. “We hold, on average, about $2 million in board inventory for our customers because we size and cut board specifically to their orders to help reduce waste. In the past, lead times were about three weeks for paperboard. Now they are three to four months. It’s really difficult to order so far in advance because you never know when a big order is coming in.”

Warneke says that freight is another big challenge, both in getting materials to the company’s 110,000-square-foot facility and in shipping finished product out to customers. Price increases are also a complication. “In the past, we’ve been able to hold pricing for our customers for years,” Warneke explains. “But this year we’ve already had four price increases from our suppliers.”

Opportunities: Warneke says the company has “opportunities everywhere” from existing customer growth and new customers to the technological advances available in machinery.

“So many of our existing customers have grown significantly during the pandemic and this year,” she continues. “Being there to support them in their growth was a huge opportunity for us. We’re seeing a lot of large orders and also new customers. We now have the opportunity to be there for them, help them build their brand, and package their products.”

Needs: Warneke says the company always needs more people. “Mostly factory and machine operators,” she adds. “Manufacturers have done a good job of making new equipment fun and exciting for the next generation. They’ve added touchscreens and advanced technologies and things like Google Glass to help find problems when something goes wrong with a machine. I want to be able to show young people that this is a fun, exciting, and sustainable field to be in.”