Fred Grams, president of Sun Coast Packaging, Inc. in Sodus, Michigan, founded the company in 1995 after 10 years in the business. At that time, the company had one employee besides Fred, two offices, and a 2500 square-foot warehouse.
Today, there are 25 employees and a 250,000 square-foot warehouse. Fred’s son and daughter both have roles in the business as well, and are working to carry on his commitment to quality and service. Here, he shares more details on how the company started and what it’s doing today…
Tell us a little about your business...
Sun Coast Packaging is a wholesale distributor of flexible packaging. This includes bags made of paper, polyethylene, and polypropylene. We offer a range of sizes, from 2”x2” to bulk bags as large 4’ x 4’ x 8’, which can hold up to 5000 pounds of product. While we don’t manufacture the bags themselves, we do offer printing capabilities to allow our clients to customize their packaging.
Early on, we primarily served the agricultural industry, with packaging for animal feed and seed. Over time, our business has evolved into working with a lot of food-grade packaging. Now we serve diverse industries, from metals and dust collection to potting soil, pet foods, flour, and more.
We source products and have suppliers from pretty much all over the world — including Chile, Brazil, Columbia, Indonesia, China, Vietnam, Canada, and Mexico. The majority of our paper bags, however, do come from the U.S.
What sets your business apart?
Two key things: our employees — half of whom have worked here for more than 10 years — and our ability to manage our customers’ inventory for them.
Inventory management involves several aspects. Even with all the containers and semis that come in daily, we do a quality check on every order before we ship it out. We know that if we don’t catch a problem before the customer does, we can effectively shut them down, so we’re strongly committed to quality control.
Sun Coast also offers traceability on everything we ship. Our customers can issue appropriate recalls if there’s ever a product issue. Additionally, we send a rep to every manufacturing plant we use, around the world, every year. This helps us ensure that all industry standards are met — and if anyone is taking any kind of quality short cut, we’ll know about it and be able to rectify it.
Additionally, we carry a huge inventory — thanks in part to Horizon Bank. Our typical inventories are in the $4-5 million range, and everything is ready to ship. Typical turnaround, when someone needs something, is 24 hours or less. In fact, about a dozen of our competitors frequently pull from our inventory because they know we’ve got it, and we honor their customer privacy.We’re happy to be able to help them.
Small businesses present challenges. What are some challenges you have faced?
Initially, finding and retaining good employees — and finding credit-worthy customers. Plus, establishing credit lines with our own suppliers was a challenge starting out.
Early on, one of our suppliers tried to make us pre-pay, which wasn’t practical. These were orders in the range of $30,000 to $40,000 at a time. So we made a deal: If we were ever late paying by even one day, they could make us pre-pay on orders after, but we needed 30 days to start. We kept our end of the deal, and years later, they still consider us one of their best-paying customers.
Why did you decide to do business with Horizon Bank?
This story really goes back 19 years, when the majority partner decided suddenly that he wanted to leave the bag business altogether. This meant my stock was non-existent, and if I wanted to keep it going, I had to take over immediately.
I had one day to come up with half a million dollars — we found out at 10:00 AM on a Friday. Don Radde, who’s now with Horizon Bank, was at another bank at that time. But he helped us make it happen, and we got a loan within four hours, with a business plan written out on two sheets of legal paper.
So when Don moved on to Horizon Bank, we followed him because of that history and the lengthy relationship we’d built. We’ve stayed with Horizon Bank because they look beyond the numbers. No matter what branch we go to, they know us when we walk in, and treat us like we’re something special.
Whatever you need — a mortgage, credit line, new credit card accounts, ACH debits — they’re always on it. There’s always someone at Horizon that you can reach, and someone who will get things done. Just recently, I made a call for an employee who needed a six-figure cashier’s check. Five minutes later, Horizon called back and told me it was ready.
To sum it up — as a company, and as individuals that work with the bank — we value the relationship with Horizon Bank. They even work with us on new banking services. If they’re contemplating new procedures — like remote deposits — they use us as a guinea pig. We’re privileged that they want to try new things with us.
They really are a good ol’ hometown bank.