Where in Rhode Island can you find products designed for world-renowned brands such as Sony, Adidas, HBO, National Geographic, and Nike — all under one roof? Child Street in Warren, of course.
Where in Rhode Island can you find products designed for world-renowned brands such as Sony, Adidas, HBO, National Geographic, and Nike — all under one roof?
You might be surprised to learn that the answer isn’t found within some swanky corporate office in Providence, or a haughty boutique in Newport, but right here in Warren, in an unassuming manufacturing facility at 293 Child St. with a company history dating back to the late 1800s.
The Taylor Box Company, founded in 1885, specializes in creating high-quality, rigid frame packaging for anything you can imagine — from laboratory test tubes, recreational cannabis products, and five-figure top-shelf liquor, to sports equipment, promotional movie materials, and high-end influencer kits shipped to reviewers of the world’s most well-known luxury products.
Fast-forward a lot of time and details (which we’ll get into), and that little Warren business is now in a whole different league. They announced recently a large merger deal with two other packaging leaders — both with their own roots dating back to the 1880s. Taylor Box and Burt Rigid Box, of Oneonta, N.Y., will both be integrated under the expanding tutelage of Italian luxury packaging giant, Pusterla, which employs over 1,700 people across 15 sites in the United Kingdom, Europe, North Africa, Asia, and now North America.
Burt Rigid Box’s president, Laura Brodie, will assume control of Pusterla’s North American operations, and Taylor Box will continue to run its own operation in Warren while being charged with manufacturing products for their new leadership company, which include some more of the most internationally recognized brands in the world.
“The addition to our group of two thriving American companies known for their quality, innovative solutions, and manufacturing experience will allow us to be present on a truly global scale,” said Roberto Marini, CEO of Pusterla, in a press release.
A specialty product for specialty products
Taylor Box is, by definition, a small business. It has around 50 full-time employees, with short-term work available for more people when they’re crafting a particularly demanding product. But although their overall capital net worth might be relatively small, they hit well above their weight class in industrial prestige.
The company has amassed an impressive array of awards and high-profile clients, creating exclusive, limited edition packaging for things like the 50th anniversary of the Adidas Superstar sneaker, and a custom magnetic package made for the promotion of HBO’s titanic hit, “Game of Thrones”, which utilized foil stamping, a ribbon lift, and a satin-covered, custom insert that housed a pair of branded Beats By Dre and an engraved iPad — an impressive enough creation to earn them the Paperboard Packaging Industry Association's ‘Best In Show’ award (imagine winning ‘Best Picture’ at The Oscars, but for North American packaging manufacturing).
A tour of the factory feels almost like a step back in time. There are large, intricate machines that appear to be taken straight from the pages of a Dr. Seuss book, with names equally fanciful and secretive due to their proprietary, highly-specialized nature.
Maze-like corridors snake throughout the deceptively large facility, leading to various departments with specific functions that can transform any onlooker’s conception of what making something so seemingly simple — a box — actually entails when it is done to a level of painstaking artistry.
But perhaps the most endearing element of Taylor Box is the array of people you will see working on the packages themselves. From those who digitally conceptualize luxury packaging products alongside the huge companies that order them, to those who fabricate the wooden structural framing pieces, cut out and emboss the paper elements, and the finishing hands that meticulously iron out air bubbles from the final external material that wraps the whole package up into a sleek parcel that is just as pleasing in form as it is in function.
Forever young, forever evolving
The Taylor Box Company has undergone much change since its humble beginnings within a rented building in Providence in the late 19th century. The company has persisted through vicious competition in Rhode Island’s manufacturing heyday and survived the industrial exodus in the decades that followed, as well as the 2008 recession that resulted in a 60% loss of revenue.
In 1952, the company moved to Warren. That same year, its third-generation leader of the family company, Daniel Shedd, was born. A graduate of URI with a degree in economics, Shedd was handed the keys to the company at just 29 years old, following the unexpected loss of his mother. His brother, Dave, is the company’s senior design engineer. With Shedd’s daughter, Marken (representing the family’s fourth generation in the company), now working alongside her father and uncle as a senior business analyst, Taylor Box’s claim of being a family-first company isn’t just a bunch of marketing gibberish.
In just a short time speaking to him, you can tell that Shedd is not your typical CEO. Describing himself as “forever young,” Shedd is turning 71 years old next week, but he speaks knowledgeably about keyword and SEO optimization of the company website, strolls down the halls of the office area in his socks, and his friendly yellow lab, Tobi, is never far from his side.
Shedd assumed control of Taylor Box at a tumultuous moment, and realized that the company would need to adapt and find niches to survive in an industry where the only thing that seemed to matter to purchasing agents was how many nickels you could shave off the cost per 1,000 boxes.
“I’m looking around at this insanely competitive industry, and I’m just trying to think of ways for us to get off this merry-go-round,” Shedd said of the early days leading the company. “It wasn’t even about the family legacy, it was, ‘How are we going to pay our bills?’”
He found inspiration in the optical industry in the late 1980s, where high-end eyeglasses would be displayed in fancy packaging. He asked a company in Attleboro to give him a trial run, quoting a cost so low that the prospective client actually turned him down, telling him, “Dan, you seem like a serious young man and I would like to do work with you, but I have no interest in putting you out of business.”
When that deal finally went through, thanks to Shedd’s persistence, he found that they had made a 15% profit on the specialty packaging, rather than the average 2% profit on more traditional, high-volume package deals. Since then, the company has become an industry leader in building customized packaging for clients who rely on a high degree of attention to detail, and consider the packages a part of their marketing budget rather than just another cell in an operating expense spreadsheet.
“It’s all about being relevant, and understanding the changing cultural shifts that happen,” Shedd said.
A good example of that is how Taylor Box specialized for a while in packaging computer software — when things like word processors and accounting tools came on floppy disks and CDs neatly packaged in fine boxes. When the writing was on the wall for that era coming to an end, they would pivot to the next idea, the next item in need of luxury packaging.
“You have to watch the ebb and flow of American culture to know where the next opportunity is going to come,” Shedd said. “When you have challenges, you can either embrace them or you can run from them. And so I think that is a big part of the company. We accept challenges and we challenge ourselves, and the glass is always half full here.”
Even though the company will now be technically owned by Pusterla, Shedd said he was reassured by the fact that the heart and soul of the original Taylor Box Company, its people, would remain working just as they are now, with the opportunity for even more people to begin working as new jobs come in.
“The people are everything in this company, and partners are absolutely critical to a small operator's success,” he said. “I’ve had the best accounting advice from my accountants, and they've been with me for 25 years. I’ve had the best possible legal advice from a lawyer who I've been with since 1979. I have had the best banking relationship you could possibly have with Bank Rhode Island.”
“We are small enough that everyone here is important, and that’s a blessing.”