Bentley World Packaging Ltd.
Bentley World Packaging Ltd. (BWP) came about almost by accident in 1973. Tom Bentley III, owner and chairman of the board of BWP, launched the business as an offshoot of his family’s longstanding construction company.
“I am the fifth generation in the family business,” Tom says. “We started in 1848 as a construction company in Milwaukee. The magazine, Family Business of America, canvassed the country to find the oldest family-owned businesses in the country and we ranked at No. 72 of the top 100.”
Tom goes on to explain that in the early 1970s, local manufacturers started approaching the company for carpentry services. “They were asking us to build boxes for exporting,” he continues. “With this as a starting point, over the next 10 years we built the largest export packaging company in Wisconsin, named it BWP, and spun it out as its own firm. In another 10 years of internal growth we were larger than all the other Wisconsin export packaging firms combined.”
The following years brought further growth through external means. “We started acquiring other small packaging businesses,” Tom explains. “We bought businesses in Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Baltimore, among others. BWP is celebrating 40 years in 2013 and has become one of the largest export packing companies in the eastern United States.”
Dennis Axelson, CEO of BWP, has been leading the business toward additional growth. He has deep experience in family-owned businesses, as he previously worked for fourth and fifth generation SC Johnson and second-generation owners of InvestorsBank.
“I’ve reached a point in my career that I can work wherever I want,” Dennis explains. “I wanted to work with a growing, family-owned business, a company that is committed to customers, service and the well-being of the business as an entity.”
Dennis is proud to note that the core values at BWP attracted him to the company. “I am proud to be in the CEO chair, though I have to fill some big shoes following Tom,” he says.
A Growing Export Market
“Wisconsin is one of the biggest manufacturing states in the country,” Tom explains. “And exports are going to be one of the largest factors in the economic recovery. The U.S. imports more than it exports. This country has been running that way for a long time. People are worried about the U.S. budget deficit, when we should be worried about the trade deficit. It should be the patriotic mission to support U.S. manufacturers, and specifically, enhance the ability to export products to overseas markets.”
According to Tom, BWP’s mission is to provide top-notch, quality services to help manufacturers be successful in a global world. “If they’re not successful, we’re not successful,” he elaborates. “We have implemented our own lean system in order to be more cost-competitive. We stay on the cutting edge in order to provide value to customers, and stay in the top of this country’s export packers.”
BWP works with major manufacturers, such as Briggs Stratton, Caterpillar, Westinghouse, Goodyear, General Electric, Rockwell mining companies and others. “Our clients are all big in the Midwest, but at the same time, a lot of them need to move product through a port,” he explains. “When they need a port location, it can be cheaper to transport product and package it at ports in Charleston and Baltimore. We are looking to expand on that. BWP goes where our customers need us to go, stays close to them and responds to the services they need. It’s a win-win.”
Go Big or Go Home
BWP also specializes in export packaging for unusual items. “We’ll do anything oddly shaped, oddly sized or very heavy,” Dennis explains. “We help our clients get their product to a destination safely. We have packaging engineers on staff to help our clients redesign packaging for better performance and/or cost savings. Companies sometimes think they can just hire a contractor, but mistakes are made and carpenters often don’t understand the design needs of a shipment. BWP lowers their costs by doing things efficiently the first time.”
The team is not only focused on getting a product from point A to point B, but also on maintaining the quality of the contents within a package. “Products being exported are generally handled pretty roughly,” Tom explains. “You also have to worry about humidity and salt air; BWP often provides treatment internally that involves rust proofing and cushioning. Many products are vibration-sensitive equipment, like electrical cabinets or medical equipment. We cushion the product, so if a trucker hits the brakes hard or it gets dropped at a port, the contents are protected from damage.”
BWP is also one of the only few select packagers for the U.S. military. The company is certified to send out packages immediately with no inspection, which saves either two or three days in transit. Throughout conflicts overseas in the last decade, the business has had a constant flow of military shipping work, which has kept the company thriving throughout the recent recession. With military activity winding down overseas, BWP is shifting focus to new endeavors.
“Now that the military has slowed down, we have refocused,” says Dennis. “We have organized ourselves to grow with the markets that are growing, too. A lot of nuclear power is going to China, and we are packaging equipment for that. BWP is focusing more on port cities, like Baltimore and Charleston. We are spending time and energy to make sure we reduce variable expenses and become more competitive, even as BWP is at times less busy. At the same time, some customers’ industries are booming, such as oil, gas, power generation and water treatment equipment. We have to be there and be prepared to help them grow. We are shifting our expertise away from defense and into different industries.”
The company’s mobile unit is growing. “BWP has road crews at all locations that can be sent out to do on-site packaging at a manufacturer’s facility using their cranes,” says Tom. “All of our trucks have mobile compressors to run nail guns. On occasion, BWP does full plant relocation, when plants are close. We move hydraulics, pipes, equipment and machinery. Customers often relocate the entire plant. Smaller packers don’t have the manpower or mobility to provide that service.”
BWP has recognized how far behind the United States has fallen with sustainable packaging. Globally, reusable packaging has become the standard in most countries. BWP has introduced SnapCrate to customers, which is a reusable, heavy-duty shipping crate that can be used more than 30 times.
“You don’t have to build 10 crates when you could just build one and reuse it,” Tom explains. “More importantly, you don’t have to dispose of 10 crates. Our customers save on the purchasing side and can recognize the green benefit on the disposal/waste side.”
Dennis adds that the return on investment is staggering. “If a customer uses a SnapCrate twice it has already paid for itself and then some,” he says. “After that, you still have 28 more uses.” The durable wooden crates can be customized, just as any of BWP’s products can be. The crates’ snap-together design makes package assembly quick and simple, too.
BWP continues to improve services and pursue excellence. Both Dennis and Tom agree that much of the credit goes to an excellent staff. “Operating as a privately held company allows us to do things public companies can never do,” Dennis explains. “We keep people longer in a slowdown than a public company. When we need them, they are there for us. Tom got an urgent call at home a few years ago the night before Fathers’ Day. A mine conveyor belt had busted at an overseas location. The next morning 90 percent of the employees Tom called showed up to get that equipment loaded up and exported before the mine started losing money.”
By addressing each client’s needs and providing reliable and efficient packaging services, the company’s reputation is growing. With a solid standing in the industry, Dennis, Tom and the rest of the team will continue to offer dedicated service to approximately 300 manufacturers. Bentley World Packaging Ltd. is a growing force in the packaging business, helping American manufacturers export more, grow faster and enhance profitability.