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Under wraps

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  • | 11:08 a.m. June 4, 2010
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Don't ask Ryan Van Horn to show you around his print shop. He'll politely decline your request with the Southern drawl of his native Atlanta, offering to meet at a nearby restaurant instead.

That's because Van Horn, 35, and his father, John Van Horn Sr., 72, built a custom printing press that they don't want their competitors or anyone else to see.

The Van Horns' company, Custom Packaging & Products, print sandwich and food-service wraps for small restaurants and sports teams such as the New York Yankees, the Florida Gators and the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Cape Coral-based company only does small press runs, supplying individual restaurants and small chains with sandwich paper emblazoned with a logo. It has also provided sandwich paper for the caterer of the U.S. teams at the Beijing Olympic Games and the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games.

Ryan Van Horn, who became the president and chief executive officer of the company in 2004, says Custom Packaging is the only company that sells sandwich paper in quantities as small as one case. Each case contains about 5,000 sheets. Many of his larger competitors require minimum purchases of 50 cases. “A lot of small businesses can't afford 50 cases,” Van Horn says. “Our typical restaurant uses a case a month.”

Because the Van Horns print only small batches of sandwich wraps, they have perfected their printer to be super efficient. “We have parts made and we fabricate it,” Van Horn says. They use vegetable inks for food safety and won't buy paper from overseas.

While Van Horn won't discuss the press in detail, he says the printer uses rubber plates instead of metal ones. That lets employees quickly reset the plates for another job in less than 10 minutes, a once-laborious process that took much longer.

Custom Packaging competes more on the small volume than price, which can range from $40 to $600 a case depending on the type of paper, size and colors. That's because no other printer prints in such small batches, Van Horn says. For restaurants, tying up cash in 50 boxes of sandwich paper isn't smart management. Van Horn's pitch to restaurants that previously ordered sandwich paper in bulk: “I can free up some of your cash flow.” Several Gulf Coast-based restaurant chains use Van Horn's paper, including Pinchers Crab Shack and Rib City.

“We like the paper and it looks good,” says Grant Phelan, Pinchers' director of operations. “He gives us a good deal and we like it for the branding presentation.”

While Van Horn doesn't disclose financial details, he says sales so far in 2010 are running 20% ahead of last year at the same time. The company uses distributors to sell its product in the Southeast, but sells directly to restaurants in other parts of the country and overseas.

The company has not had to absorb the four increases in the price of paper in the last six months. “We've increased prices three times,” Van Horn says. “Restaurants expect it.”

Besides restaurants, Van Horn prints sandwich paper for special events, such as The Masters and the Olympics. For example, athletes and guests of the U.S. team munched on sandwiches wrapped with the company's paper in Beijing and Vancouver.

To reach the sports teams, Van Horn relies on Gator Paper in Venice to supply teams ranging from the University of Georgia Bulldogs to the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. The owner of Gator paper, Chris Novack, is a distant relative. “We've left him to handle all the sports business,” Van Horn says.

The Van Horns moved to Cape Coral from Atlanta in 2005 for lifestyle reasons

The challenge now is to grow the business. While distributors cover the Southeast, Ryan Van Horn says he's expanding into other areas of the country by using Internet marketing and social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. That's worked better than trade shows, he says.

Busy restaurateurs prefer to communicate via the Internet. “People respond better to e-mail than a phone call,” Van Horn says. While it's hard to get new customers, the 90% customer retention rates show they're loyal.


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