Sonderen Packaging has a long history, which we enjoyed reflecting upon as we celebrated our 50th year of business in 2013.
We threw an anniversary party in our warehouse, and many of our longtime customers, suppliers and employees attended. Mark Sonderen treated everyone to a look at how far we’ve come since his parents, Al and Mary Sonderen, started Sonderen Paper Box in the 2,000 square foot basement of Litho Art Printing in Spokane back in 1963.
They didn’t have a gluing machine, so Al would take boxes home at the end of the day and Mark and his sisters would glue boxes while they watched TV. Business grew steadily and in 1967 Sonderen Paper Box moved to a new location: a 30,000 square foot plant that was formerly a bakery. We also purchased a gluer, but the Sonderen kids would still have other jobs to keep them busy. Mark began helping out in the shop at the age of 11.
It was impressive back then that it was projected we would be able to churn out 5 million boxes/year. Now we do about 5 million boxes each week.
In 1978, Mark Sonderen became president at the age of 26, and he changed the name to Sonderen Packaging. He’s pictured below in 1984 with the new 2-color press. This photo received a roaring applause at the anniversary party.
When reminiscing about the history of Sonderen Packaging, certainly the fire of 1998 stands out vividly for many of us. Not just because of the shock of it or the challenges that followed, but also because it was a testament to the relationships we had built with our employees, our customers and suppliers. The fire revealed the strength of the company as a whole in that we were able to make it through with nearly 100% customer retention and without decreasing our workforce.
During the anniversary party presentation Mark joked, “that building had wood floors, wood ceilings, and paper in the middle. Makes for a nice fire sandwich.”
“People said, ‘gosh, why didn’t you take the insurance money?’ Well, you got good people and a good company… I realized, what am I going to do, be a bad example for my kids?”
So a trailer office was brought in, referred to as “the bunker.” Another print shop, Print Press in Union Gap, graciously allowed us to run jobs in their shop while they were closed Fridays through Sundays so we could keep up with production. We salvaged what cutting dies we could, replacing all the cork around them. The rate in which we got back on our feet was remarkable. We were cutting and gluing again in 8 weeks. In an industry where getting a new press takes 1 year, we were miraculously able to get one installed and running within 15 weeks; it would have been 12 weeks if the concrete to support the press could have dried faster.
Everyone came together and put forth their best efforts to get Sonderen Packaging back to full strength. And we came back even stronger. The strategic decision to purchase a large format printing press was a game changer. Unique to the west coast, this machine could output not only bigger boxes, but a larger volume of boxes as well, which allowed us to increase our capacity and position ourselves for growth.
In 2004, we acquired another folding carton company in Seattle and experienced a 30% jump in volume (from approximately $13.4 million in annual sales to $20 million), and we now maintain a sales office and warehouse in Puyallup to better serve our customers on the west side of the sate. We also bought a second 40” press for a total of three presses, as well as a bigger cutter and also added a gluer. In 2008, we added 40,000 square feet of warehouse space onto our building, and pursued our first AIB certification, in which we received a superior rating and have every year since.
With 130+ employees currently, Sonderen Packaging continues to grow, and it’s still a family business. Mark’s son, Matt, joined the company in 1998, starting on the production floor and learning the operation from the ground up. Mark’s daughter, Keva, joined the company as a customer service representative in 2004. Both are now co-owners of Sonderen Packaging; Matt is currently the Director of Quality Management and Keva heads up Inside Sales & Marketing. Mark remains the CEO and is enjoying his most recent title of “President of Customer Entertainment.”
From 2,000 square feet in 1963 to 130,000 in 2013, we have come a long way. We have seen the printing and paper board industry change drastically in that time because of several consolidations and closures in the market place, technological improvements, and equipment advancements. We’ve been through a lot and seen even more, but one thing remains certain: we are all ready for the next 50 years.