Established as a second hand box seller in 1983 by Stephen Hutchinson, UK-based S Lester Packing Materials Ltd has grown significantly from its humble roots. Having started out in a 2,000 sq ft facility in Leamore near Birmingham, the company branched into producing boxes a few years later in 1990. They moved to a 10,000 sq ft facility in 1992, investing in further equipment before moving again in 2010 to its current location on Mount Road in Burntwood.
Having utilised standard sheet plant equipment such as a Kirby roller press and Kirby printer/slotter, the company invested in a Ding Long casemaker in 2014. They then added a CAD table, renovated the offices and added a further 5,000 sq ft to the existing 25,000 sq ft facility for storage of finished goods.
A significant turn of events saw the company grow further, following the opening of a second unit on Mount Road, a 12,000 sq ft facility. This is when business started to boom and they added a new business that they had acquired, naming it S L Packaging & Transport Ltd.
“Now, we not only design packaging, we can produce even the most complex designs, store it and then deliver on a just-in-time basis thanks to our fleet of wholly-owned transport,” explains Billy Hutchinson, Director (and son of the founder). “Business has treated us well and as a result, we have continued investing in our people and our equipment.”
Today, the company employs 30 people – 10 are office based, with 17 people in production and three drivers. Group turnover is in excess of £7m.
“Due to the bespoke nature of our work, we serve a wide range of industries,” explains Hutchinson. “From aerospace to electrical, to industrial and building supplies and in recent years, e-commerce. Our core area of manufacturing is heavy-duty, large format packaging, which positions us as a key supplier to all tiers of the automotive industry. We have also found good suitability for our heavy-duty boxes in the fresh produce and growers’ market.”
Located in the West Midlands, S Lester have centralised distribution to the rest of the UK, distributing through its own fleet of plain vehicles, which are all GPS tracked. “We obviously have a large customer base in the West Midlands, but we also supply to areas such as East Midlands, Northampton, Milton Keynes and Reading on a regular basis,” adds Hutchinson. “Through our sister company, S L Packaging & Transport Ltd, we have the capability to offer logistics throughout the UK and Europe.
Plenty of Facilities
The company has invested in a wide range of systems and equipment to help its growing customer base. From packaging design and manufacture to storage, fulfilment and delivery, the S Lester Group have the ability to provide a customised end-to-end service.
“We offer competitive lead times throughout the UK, offering a just-in-time delivery service which helps our customers optimise the supply chain, maximise storage space and ultimately keep costs down,” says Hutchinson (pictured left). “We take pride in our work, ensuring each pallet is handled with the greatest care. Our state-of-the-art live operating system gives us full control of the manufacturing process, including delivery, allowing us to notify customers of upcoming deliveries.”
Through its Group partner, S L Packaging & Transport Ltd, they operate a multi-drop delivery service if a customer has various individual deliveries to be made on a daily basis. They also offer dedicated ‘pick and pack’ services at the warehousing facilities, to effectively manage products for customers.
Thanks to a suitable CAD cutting table and associated software, the company can create a wide range of packaging designs for customers, and with facilities for stocking of finished packaging products, a ‘stock and serve’ service is also available.
The company took a big step forward in early 2020, with the installation of a new TCY jumbo casemaker. “This is the single biggest investment in the history of the company. We worked closely with Olivier Toutin from TS Group who was able to piece everything together for us, source and deliver the new machine as well as provide service going forward. Their European Organisation – TS France, Germany and CM Service in Italy – with technicians, has been one of the reasons we partnered with this company,” explains Hutchinson.
“The reason we invested in the new TCY jumbo was to strengthen our position in the market. This is the first of its type in the UK and certainly sets us apart from many others in the big box sector. We really want to create a reputation as being the ‘Big Box Specialists’ within the UK. There aren’t many companies in the industry who focus on this area of the market, so we saw it as an opportunity to differentiate ourselves. We are also keen to stress that we want to be a respected key trade partner to the UK corrugated industry,” continues Hutchinson.
The TCY ‘Smart Tech Jumbo Flexo’ casemaker is a large format, two colour machine. It features in-line gluing, stitching and die-cutting. It is suited to high volume and heavy-duty work, handling a wide range of corrugated board grades, from single wall through to triplewall, offering both quality and efficiency on large format and heavy-duty case work. It has a 2500 x 4800mm maximum blank size and S Lester chose to further automate the line with the addition of a Fossaluzza pre-feeder, stacker and handling system and PZ in-line stitcher unit.
He continues, “We first entered the big box market in 2007, investing in a single machine that could convert large format corrugated packaging. We found success in this area of the market and made further investment to enhance our capacity with two additional machines.
“While we continued to have success, we wanted to enhance our offering to both current and prospective customers. Adding this jumbo TCY, we saw the opportunity to bring further benefits, such as increased productivity, which would reduce lead times for our customers. Investing in specialist production technology allows us to increase the quality of our finished product, while offering additional features such as flexo printing and rotary die-cut capabilities for big format boxes.”
Hutchinson adds, “At S Lester, we offer a reliable and trusted trade service to other corrugated manufacturers and suppliers in the UK and it is an integral aspect of our business. Our dedicated team are highly responsive, offering a quick turnaround service with quotes. Offering both a quality product and service, we have built strong relationships with various key trade partners.”
Big, Big and Bigger
“Our core products to the trade are large format, heavy-duty solutions from pallet boxes and bulk shippers, to Octabins and XXL packaging,” adds Hutchinson. “We actively source the most cost-effective, sustainable raw materials which allow us to offer our trade partners competitive prices. Our fleet of plain trucks and use of supplied delivery notes allows us to deliver on our partner’s behalf, in the strictest confidence.
He concludes, “We are always planning long term and our investments provide the capacity to grow further as a group, all the while, enhancing our offering. We will continue to make corrugated boxes and packaging of all sizes and styles. However, we really want to focus on large-format, heavy-duty industrial solutions such as bulk shippers and pallet boxes. The addition of this new TCY jumbo should certainly help us achieve our ambitions over the coming years.”