Well into its 50th year in business, Spokane carton maker Sonderen Packaging Inc. is preparing to transfer control of the company to the Sonderen family's third generation of ownership, says company President Mark Sonderen.
The transfer is occurring, he says, as the company has recovered fully from the effects of the recession and appears to be on pace to improve its revenue this year.
"We've been steady," Sonderen says. "If this keeps up, we'll have a reasonable increase" in revenues this year.
Located in a 135,000-square-foot plant at 2906 N. Crestline, in northeast Spokane, the company currently employs about 125 people and handles all printing, cutting, and gluing of the cartons it makes. Sonderen declines to disclose sales figures, but says its annual revenue consistently exceeds $20 million.
Sonderen's son and daughter, Matt Sonderen and Keva Humbert, have been acquiring interest in the company for about 15 years and now are majority owners, the elder Sonderen says. He says he expects to complete the ownership transfer by the end of 2014 and to retire from day-to-day operations at that time, though he likely will remain board chairman.
The family currently is working with an advisory group on the transition and hasn't settled on titles. In general, Sonderen says, Matt Sonderen, who joined the company in 1998, is focused on lean manufacturing and finance, and Keva Humbert, who has worked there since 2004, is involved in sales and marketing.
Sonderen's father, Al Sonderen, started the company in 1963.
"I have worked here since I was 11," Mark Sonderen says, smiling.
Sonderen makes paper cartons largely for the food and beverage industry, including containers for fish, tea, pasta, and confections, among a number of other food products. The company's largest customer is Reser's Fine Foods, the Beaverton, Ore.-based company that produces refrigerated fresh foods, such as deli-style salads, side dishes, and dips.
While food makers comprise the lion's share of Sonderen's customers, the fastest-growing segment it serves is ammunition makers. Specifically, he says, the company has had an uptick in activity from ATK Inc., making cartons for its CCI brand of bullets. The company has emerged as one Sonderen's top five customers in recent years, he says.
"Obama has outsold Clinton and all the rest in causing bullet sales," he says.
The company sales reached pre-recession levels once again in early 2012 and have stayed consistently above that mark since then, Sonderen says. The effects of the recession hit the company in 2009, when it suffered a relatively sudden 30 percent drop in activity, he says.
Because the company serves a wide variety of customers, he says it previously had been able to weather economic downturns without significant declines in activity, but the 2009 recession proved to be different.
The company's employees took an across-the-board pay cut that year, Sonderen says.
The next year, he says, "I was able to pay back what I had borrowed from them, basically."
The company's employment has stayed relatively stable, plus or minus 10 positions from its current level of 125 workers, during the past five years. Much of its workforce works in one of six skilled trades, ranging from prepress workers to cutting die makers.
The company doesn't have any imminent plans for significant capital investments, but it expects to invest in new equipment in the next two years. He declines to disclose the types of equipment it's considering investing in, but he says it would be upgrades and new efficiencies.
In general, he says, the company has to invest in new equipment regularly to remain competitive.
"Somebody said that capitalism is the continuous investment of capital, and we reflect that," Sonderen says.
The company's last significant expansion and equipment purchase occurred in the mid-2000s, right before the recession hit. At that time, the company added $3.5 million in equipment, including a die cutter and gluer, as well as a printing press and sheeter.
Sonderen also added roughly 40,000 square feet of floor space to its facility.
Expanding shortly before the recession hit proved to be taxing for the company, he says.
"That's behind us now, but we'll be much more cautious about what we take on," he says.
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