Sunday 4 December 2016

Providing end-to-end solutions that offer clients the full package

George Banks and John Hudson share the secret of how they developed into worldwide players

Published 26/04/2015 | 02:30

WRAP IT AND SEND IT: George Banks, Sean Gallagher and John Hudson at The Packaging Hub headquarters in Waterford. Photo: Dylan Vaughan
WRAP IT AND SEND IT: George Banks, Sean Gallagher and John Hudson at The Packaging Hub headquarters in Waterford. Photo: Dylan Vaughan

Almost every product that we buy today comes to us encased in some form of packaging.

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Whether a plain cardboard box or a more elaborate decorative display case, the primary purpose of this packaging is to protect the product as it makes its way from its place of production through to the consumer. But in recent years packaging has also become an integral part of how products are displayed so as to make them visually appealing to potential customers.

Such has become the scale of goods being transported around the world on a daily basis that, today, the packaging sector has become a multi-billion euro industry in its own right.

This week I travelled to meet George Banks and John Hudson, co-founders and directors of packaging, logistics and supply chain company The Packaging Hub.

Although only five years in business, they already employ over 50 staff and have an annual turnover of €8m. In addition to their headquarters and manufacturing facilities in Waterford City, they also have operations in Leeds in the UK, Prague in the Czech Republic, Rogaska Slatina in Slovenia, New Jersey in the US and Shenzhen in China.

"There are a many other companies in the sector that have expertise in either packaging, logistics or supply chain management," explains George. "But our uniqueness lies in the fact that we offer a service that combines all these elements into one end-to-end solution for our clients," he adds.

Such has been the success of their approach that they can now count among their many customers, a growing number of global brands across a wide range of different sectors. These include such diverse sectors as the crystal and ceramics market, food and confectionary manufacturers, drinks and premium spirits producers and those in the cosmetics industry.

"More recently, we moved into supplying the pharmaceutical sector - and we believe that is an area that offers significant potential for the business," explains John.

Down in a production area, staff are busy folding and quality checking a range of luxury gift boxes for a local global giftware brand. Their ability to ensure the highest level of quality in both the production and assembly of this packaging has been central to their success so far.

They have worked hard too, to develop their own range of innovative packaging products - some of which are not patent protected. The pair proudly show me an example of one of their designs: a foldable premium rigid gift presentation case.

"The benefit of these is that they can be shipped in bulk, in a collapsed state and be assembled at the point of packing in the customer's premises. That way, you are not transporting empty boxes. And the costs savings as a result are significant for our manufacturing clients," explains George.

"We also have our own in-house product development, prototyping and graphics design team - and they are constantly working to bring new ideas to our clients, whether though enhanced printing and embossing techniques, or by finding innovative ways to reduce costs while still creating standout displays," adds George.

"And whilst initial production can be undertaken in Europe to achieve short lead-time requirements or meet time-critical runs, once the supply chain has been proved we can then switch this production to a Far East solution, so our clients get the best commercially blended solution," says John.

And it's not just about packaging. The company also delivers a complete supply chain and logistics solution that includes everything from warehousing, transport and shipping to providing a full pick, pack and fulfilment service for their customers.

Here, the manufacturer's primary product gets shipped to the local market where The Packing Hub then converts these into retail-ready finished goods. For example, a drinks manufacturer can ship bottles of spirits to China in large cases - and once there, these can be packed into their individual presentation cases for onward distribution to retail outlets locally.

Even though each has more than 25 years' experience in the packaging and supply chain sector, the last five years in particular, have been a rollercoaster period for George and John.

George Banks grew up in Waterford. After school he got a job as a junior manager with Nokia, producing paper-based products such as serviettes and toilet tissue for the catering and consumer markets. Later he joined a manufacturing company that supplied high-end adhesive tape to the medical device sector.

However, in 1996, driven by the desire to run his own business, George set up QC Logistics, where he focused on providing logistics solutions primarily to customers in the healthcare, pharma and medical device sectors.

Having successfully grown the business to a position where it was employing 52 staff, in 2014 he sold the company to Belgium logistics company ABX. As part of the deal, he stayed on for a period to manage the transition before moving on to work as in independent consultant within the supply chain sector.

John Hudson, on the other hand, grew up in Leeds in the UK, where his family owned and ran a large packaging company.

"I literally grew up in the packaging business," explains John. "I can even remember, as a young child, spending my Saturday mornings sweeping the company's car park," he adds smiling.

However, after finishing school, John spent the next few years in the Royal Navy before returning to take over the running of the family business, which at one point was employing over 250 staff.

He then moved to the US, where he spent the next 10 years in senior management roles, becoming CEO of Interglobal SCS - an international packaging supply chain company based in New Jersey. Having grown revenues to over $15m, John then led the company through a successful exit.

During that time, he and George had met when their companies had been - independently of each other - supplying services to one of the world's best-known luxury brands, Waterford Crystal, part of the WRD group - Waterford, Wedgwood and Royal Doulton. In 2009, both men realised that, by combining their individual experience and expertise, they could create a newer, more complete solution - as a result The Packaging Hub was born.

The pair had developed an extensive network of relationship and contacts within the sector that enabled them to quickly build a strong and committed team, as well as helping them to win their first few contracts.

"But we also brought in some new staff, which helped inject new blood and new ideas into the business. Today we are lucky to have such a highly talented team - and this has become key to our success," explains George.

As they began to grow and scale the business, the pair realised that their existing IT systems were not capable of providing the management capability they required. By then they were dealing with a diverse range of companies of different sizes, in different sectors and different geographical locations. To add to that, they were dealing with multiple currencies across multiple continents. After much deliberation and research, they chose to run with SAP's cloud-based enterprise application software.

"It really revolutionised the business," explains John. "When you are operating from multiple locations like we are and dealing with so many different and diverse customers, you simply have to have systems that are capable of managing incredible complexity.

"While it was a significant investment initially, it has definitely been key to our ability to grow and scale the business. And it's also given us increased credibility with many of our larger customers, who also use the same software platform and this has allowed us to integrate our systems and processes more seamlessly into theirs," he adds.

Another move that proved beneficial for the business was their decision to establish a strategic partnership with international warehousing, transport and logistic company DSV. With operations in over 70 countries, the relationship allowed George and John to set up hub facilities in co-located sites with DSV. In 2011, they set up in Prague. In 2013 they established their New Jersey base and in 2104 set up additional hubs in China and then Slovenia.

And from listening to their plans, they seem to only be getting warmed up. What's next, I wonder?

"We see a lot of potential to continue to grow our customer base and our locations along with DSV," explains George enthusiastically. "In particular, we see a lot of opportunities to service the pharma and lifesciences sectors," he adds.

All of this is going to take investment capital - so I ask how they are managing to fund their growth.

"We have received great support to date from Enterprise Ireland, because of our manufacturing base here in Waterford," explains George. "And we remain hugely committed to helping grow more jobs here," he adds proudly.

Last year, the company raised some funds through the EIIS (Employment and Investment Incentive Scheme) and is now actively looking to raise additional investment to help it grow even further.

"The potential for us in Europe, the US and even China is massive," explains John. "And given our unique offering in the market, we feel we are really well placed to exploit this," he adds.

George Banks and John Hudson have each spent more than 25 years in the packaging, supply chain and logistics sector. Since setting up their business, they have built a strong team, invested in critical IT infrastructure and systems and have formed a strategic alliance with one of the world's leading logistics companies. And they want to lead the business from their Waterford base and continue to create jobs there.

All of this leaves them well set to become one of Ireland's newest international success stories.

Having spent the morning with them, I can testify that they have the focus and determination to make that happen.

George and John's advice to other businesses

Team, team and team

"You can't grow and scale up a business unless you have the right team. You should surround yourself with the very best team you can afford. And that's about getting the right mix of skills, attitude and motivation."

Proper financial reporting

"It is key that you have access to key financial information so that you can understand what is going on in your business. It will also allow you to react to things and to intervene wherever you need to in a timely manner."

Get an IT system in place

"A good IT infrastructure is vital if you want to manage your business efficiently and effectively. It's also key if you want to grow and scale. The bigger a company gets, the more complexity it need to cope with. A good IT system is vital."

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