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A Package Deal
J. Lee Howard, Senior Staff Writer
Copyright 1999 American City Business Journals, Inc.
When the owners of Imex Vinyl Packaging decided to move the company to Charlotte five years ago, their primary objectives were to be close to textile manufacturers in the Southeast and to golf at Lake Norman.
But the relocation also boosted the bottom line for Imex, which makes vinyl plastic bags used to package everything from pillows to golf balls.
The 24-employee family-owned company expects to do $10 million in sales this year, roughly twice the revenue it had in 1994, when Imex moved here from New York.
“Moving to Charlotte was the best decision we ever made,” says Michael Jeffrey, who founded Imex 25 years ago. “We moved here because of The Peninsula, but we wouldn’t have come to Charlotte if it hadn’t been good for our company.”
Imex, which specializes in zippered and buttoned vinyl bags, has improved its fortunes primarily through diversifying its products. While textile companies continue to comprise much of the customer base, Jeffrey and his son, Steve, have expanded the product line to include packaging for hundreds of consumer items, from health and beauty aids to children’s toys.
“I redefined the image of the company and brought in some marketing strategies,” says Steve Jeffrey, who has been Imex president since l990. “Now we don’t have to go to companies and try to sell them on vinyl. They come to us”
That effort has involved stepped-up marketing within the packaging industry, with Imex touting its products in trade publications and at trade shows.
And more family members have become involved in the business, as its second generation takes on increasing responsibilities. Michael Jeffrey’s daughter, Catherine Jeffrey, is a sales executive, while [brother] Andrew runs a West Coast operation near Los Angeles.
The company discovered its niche almost by a fluke. At the time when Michael Jeffrey started the business, shrink-wrap was the preferred packaging choice for linens, bedspreads and similar goods. But the elder Jeffrey noticed that consumers couldn’t resist the temptation to poke a hole in the thin plastic to touch the fabric -- which, in turn, led to sloppy-looking store displays and damaged goods.
Enter Michael Jeffrey’s idea for clear but thicker vinyl packaging that could be opened and closed.
Even so, it took nearly three years for the then-two-employee business to catch on. The company brought in $92,000 during its first year, Jeffrey says, noting that revenue barely covered operating expenses.
He eventually landed a contract with Sears Roebuck and Co., and his fortunes turned. By 1985 -- the year son Steve joined the business -- sales totaled $3.6 million.
Steve, now 38, admits that he knew little about his father’s company when he joined Imex.
At the time, Steve had been manager of a seafood restaurant chain in Los Angeles and was due for a promotion that he knew he wouldn’t like.
“I didn't even know what the company did,” Steve says. “But I wanted to be in a business with growth potential.”
That potential has expanded with the company’s move, although that move also came about by happenstance. While Michael was looking for a place to retire, Steve was trying to raise a family and knew that New York was not the ideal place.
During Michael’s retirement search, be stumbled upon Lake Norman and was hooked.
The company already had a distribution facility here. After assessing the Queen City’s business climate, father and son decided the headquarters would work here as well.
The move has been beneficial for customers, too.
“They’re an excellent vendor with great service and great prices,” says Phil White, director of purchasing at Atlanta based Crown Crafts Inc., a textile company specializing in bedding.
White says the Imex team, with whom he has worked for more than six years, helps him properly display his wares and saves him money at the same time. “They make my life a lot easier.”