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Niche Fort Myers wrap packaging firm celebrates steady wins

The executive at a family-run business with five decades of success says a key lesson along the way is simple but scary at first: Over-communicate with customers, especially when things go south.

Ryan Van Horn became president and CEO of Custom Packaging & Products in 2004.
Ryan Van Horn became president and CEO of Custom Packaging & Products in 2004.
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‘Think small’ isn’t your typical business strategy for many companies. But it’s an approach that’s paid off for Custom Packaging & Products. 

The company was founded by John Van Horn Sr. 50 years ago in Atlanta, making printed gift wrap and cardboard partitions for cheesecake packaging. When he got a request in the 1990s for a small order of custom-printed deli paper, the business found a new focus. 

That emphasis on short runs mainly for small independent restaurants convinced Ryan Van Horn to join his father in the family business, and he became president and CEO of Custom Packaging & Products in 2004. He’s also the reason why the company moved from Georgia to Fort Myers.

“When I came on board, I said I’d live anywhere but Atlanta — take your pick,” recalls Ryan Van Horn. “I went to school in Southwest Georgia, and I liked the slower-paced atmosphere. We went up and down the coasts of Georgia and Florida and picked Fort Myers.”

The company works with clients all over the United States and in the Caribbean, Canada and Europe, giving them the chance to have branded packaging just like the big guys without the commitment or financial outlay of a large order. “For small, independent restaurants or smaller chain restaurants, they just can’t afford to put out that much cash to order such large quantities — or if they could they don’t want to,” says Van Horn, 49. “We offer smaller quantities, as little as one case, so they’re able to get custom-printed and -branded deli paper like McDonald’s or Subway.”

Homing in on that niche has definitely paid off. Custom Packaging & Products has seen revenue growth between 20% and 30% year-over-year for the last 15 years, and in January 2024 the company saw its highest monthly revenues ever.  (Officials decline to disclose specific revenue figures.)

Custom Packaging & Products works with clients all over the United States.
Courtesy image

Its smaller focus even helped the company navigate the difficulties of the pandemic, when restaurants faced so much uncertainty. “We stayed somewhat busy, because some restaurants were still doing takeout and they needed paper for takeout,” says Van Horn. “The short runs for sure helped: They could order a smaller amount and weren’t having to put out that much cash to do that.”

Yet the success has brought challenges. The business will likely need a bigger building soon to house its current staff of 17 and all of its equipment. And while the company does a good job at employee retention (“Most employees have been with us an average of 12 years,” says Van Horn), finding new press operators can be a struggle. 

“It’s such an ‘older generation’ job that it’s harder to find new people,” he says. “But we do have some young guys in house now who have been training for a while.”

Controlling lead times also becomes more difficult as orders increase. “We’re so busy and have grown so much that our lead times can start extending, and some customers don’t like that,” says Van Horn. “We’re trying as hard as we can to decrease lead times and to keep them to a normal amount of time customers would be happy with.” The company purchased a new press recently to help alleviate some of those lead time issues.

The cost of raw materials is also a concern for the company — as it is for so many businesses these days. “We’re trying to not pass that on to customers,” says Van Horn, “but it’s been a challenge to navigate that.”

Being a small family business, of course, does come with some advantages. “We’re very nimble,” says Van Horn. “If we need to change on a dime, we can do it that afternoon. A lot of bigger companies have trouble doing that. But if we see changes that are coming, in one afternoon we can pick up and do something different — and we’ve done that on numerous occasions.”

Effective communication is another company strength, whether it’s between leadership and staff, with customers, or among Van Horn, his father and his wife, Natalie, who all play roles in operating the business.

“We talk every day,” says Van Horn. “For my father and me, we’ve always had a great relationship. We always communicate openly. We might not agree sometimes on things, but we’ve never had a harsh word with each other. I think it’s huge that he’s willing to listen, and it’s huge that I’m willing to listen.”

Van Horn considers himself “a sponge” when it comes to soaking up lessons and insight from his father. A key one? “Always communicate with your customers, no matter how bad a situation is,” he says. “If lead times start getting longer, always have that open line with customers…Communication has been the biggest part of what’s made us successful.”



Beth Luberecki

Nokomis-based freelance writer Beth Luberecki, a Business Observer contributor, writes about business, travel and lifestyle topics for a variety of Florida and national publications. Her work has appeared in publications and on websites including Washington Post’s Express, USA Today, Florida Trend, and Learn more about her at

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