Beyond the brown box

8 Min Read
Beyond the brown box

When Converting last visited Proactive Packaging & Display, the converter was in the process of building its newest facility, which was the next step in its plan to consistently offer customers the best boxes at a competitive cost and in an eco-friendly manner.

“Our goal is to be the best graphics producer in the United States and to grow to a national position where we can give the same product, utilizing the same technology, with the same service model in the major regions and have that done in the next three to four years,” says founder and owner Gary Hartog.

The new 300,000-sq-ft Stockton, CA, facility is a testament to Hartog's vision, one that he plans on spreading to the whole of the country, one box at a time. Hartog's passion for creating the best product he can is apparent the moment you walk into the new plant. Building it from the ground up, the entire past year ,Hartog and his team were dedicated to getting the site up and running—and it hasn't been easy.


Sleeve technology on the nine-color Drent Goebel web-offset press speeds changeovers for short-run printing.

The Stockton location, which specializes in single-face laminated packaging, corrugated boxes and folding cartons—as well as supporting Proactive's Ontario, CA, headquarters facility—was supposed to be ready to take on jobs in the first quarter of this year. It was not until the current third quarter, however, that the new plant was in order.

Hartog accepts nothing below his standards, so to start production, the facility, equipment and people making these boxes must all be aligned. “The machinery has been the biggest challenge,” he explains. “For me to start holding people to an expectation above what the machine can give is wrong.”

Proactive wanted to ensure that the nine-color VSOP sleeve web-offset press from Drent Goebel (, which was specifically made for Proactive and is reportedly the only one of its kind in the U.S., delivered the printing it promised. This press is to work in conjunction with the Bobst ( Asitrade Microgator, a “cold” corrugator that produces high-quality flute grades including double-wall, using B-, C-, F-, E- and N-flutes for flexo post printing.
Once the machinery was in place and working as hoped, Hartog then was able to concentrate on the staff. “When you're working with a greenfield, you can't just sit back and delegate people to departments,” he says. “I sat with each department and each person. Let's walk through each job and make sure it's aligned. I'm taking it to the micro detail, showing why the person next to them is so important in the process. The only way I can do it is with one person at a time.”

And because the press was late in becoming operational, Drent Goebel employees are still in the Stockton plant to make sure it continues to run as expected. Getting the staff up to par has been put on “super hyper drive,” Hartog says. There are currently 38 hourly employees on the floor. Hartog plans on increasing that number to 70.

Despite the holdups, the plant is now running, and Proactive can focus on its S.P.A.C.E. (Sustainable Packaging Accentuates Clean Environments) program and provide customers with choices and alternatives for greener packaging.

“Our industry is very specification-driven,” says Mark Hines, chief operations officer. “In many cases, customers get used to certain board combinations, and so what we're doing is coming in and looking at alternatives where we might be able to use less source (material) and still deliver the same level of (board) strength.


The proprietary, 100-percent defect-detection system helps reduce material waste.

“Even if the customer comes to us with a specific spec, we want to know what it's going to be used for, and we might come back with an alternative spec where we might use a lighter medium. Because of the way we manufacture, we can actually create the product with less source, which is one of the sustainable initiatives, and still come up with a box that is adequate, if not exceeds expectations.”

Whenever Proactive talks about packaging, it's in the context of sustainability. Plus, its S.P.A.C.E. program helps its customers comply with Wal-Mart's packaging mandates. With consent from the client, Proactive adds its Eco-Lith stamp to every box to show that the package was created with the most sustainable graphic-packaging process.

This is achieved with the nine-color VSOP variable-sleeve press, which uses roll-to-roll printing that enables it to run at higher production speeds—1,200 fpm—therefore lowering production costs. This allows Proactive to do shorter runs for its customers and still be cost-competitive. The quick setup via sleeve technology also reduces production time. The 66-in. Microgator also adds to the sustainable process through its cold-set glue method. It does not use heat to laminate the top sheet, eliminating most flute-line issues, and handles liners from .006 to .030. It is reportedly the only machine of this kind set up this way.

Proprietary 100-percent print-defect detection lowers waste, and the electron-beam curing system from Energy Sciences ( does not use heat or light to cure coatings, and the volatile organic compound-free inks from INX Intl. Ink Co. ( add up to a box that is not only environmentally-friendly, but it is also Food and Drug Administration-compliant for both indirect and direct food contact, Proactive says.

“Eighty percent of the consumer buying decision is made at point of purchase,” Hines says. “At the end of the day, our goal or mission is to get our customer's product off the shelf into the shopping cart,” Hines says. Proactive's commitment to stochastic-screen technologies coupled with the rub-resistance and gloss provided by the EB-curing system ensures graphics capture the consumer's eye. This not only provides the customer with an eye-catching product—but a sustainable one as well.

But Proactive's commitment to sustainability doesn't end at its Stockton plant. “With what Wal-Mart is asking for, you can't do it in a regional setting,” says Clive Costa, marketing manager. “Part of sustainability is to be able to keep from spending a lot of resources on fuel. We decided to go with this national vision to fall into the sustainable category.”

Proactive is currently in talks with a Midwestern company and once that is settled, the company plans on partnering with companies in the Carolinas, Mississippi and Texas. Unlike Stockton, none of the future plants will be greenfields.


The custom press has a corrugated section that uses a cold-glue method to laminate the top sheet, which is said to eliminate most flute-line issues.

“I will totally retool (the other plants),” Hartog says. Proactive is Bobst Corp.'s largest independent customer in the U.S., and it plans on putting in Bobst machinery as it moves forward. “That gives us consistency of model of practice,” Hartog explains. “The printing model we set (in Stockton), we will reproduce in the Midwest, the South and there's nobody else that has that.”

The plan is that a Proactive box will look the same and have the same sustainability model no matter which plant converts it. “I'll bring in a management team and build a winning organization,” Hartog says. “Once I have my team, I'll give them the tools to make them the winning team from the technological side.”

Because of all the passion and effort Hartog pours into creating a box, he wants to make sure that his clients share the same eagerness for quality. “We want to work with companies that are working from the same foundation we are,” he says. “We're going to create value through quality and bring something of value to the market. As a whole, what we offer as a group has not been valued as important as it really is. If we all quit making boxes today, watch how the world comes to a stop. We need to hold on to that and how we approach the marketplace.”

If the potential client is not aligned with Proactive's commitment to quality and sustainability, the converter will walk away. “We put in all our passion, our effort, our expertise, and we take an extra risk to bring something better, something that is really in demand.”

As the first set of boxes roll off the Stockton lines, stamped with the Eco-Lith emblem, Hartog's vision is starting to become even clearer. It may have taken longer than expected to finally take shape, but Hartog isn't fazed. “I come from a place from the heart. It's a personal investment, and it's about being patient. At the end of the day, people ask, 'how do you do it in spite of all these obstacles and everything else?' I say one thing: It wasn't a leap of faith. It was a passage I had to take, and this is what I learned on the journey.”

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