NEW HAMPSHIRE (From news reports) -- How does a company founded just a few years after the War of 1812 remain profitable and relevant in the twenty-first century? Monadnock Paper Mills, Inc., of Bennington, New Hampshire, has had two centuries to figure that out.
It's not like they've been in an easy business, either. The paper industry has seen the closure of dozens of mills across the country in the last few decades. "New Hampshire had lots of paper mills, and there are three of us left," said Richard Verney, the company's Chairman of the Board and CEO. "Fitchburg, Massachusetts used to be the paper mill capital of the world. Then the Midwest took over." The commoditization of much of the paper market drove many mills under.
One element of Monadnock's longevity has been in finding more lucrative markets. "My attitude is, you just have to do what you have to do," Verney explained. "As the paper business changed, we had to change with it." The company has made a concerted effort to pursue higher value product lines requiring the best quality paper, and in building strong customer relations. "Quality has always been a hallmark of Monadnock," said Verney. "We continue to spend a lot of time finding niche products the big guys don't want to make and we establish relationships with our customers you just don't get if you just sell newsprint."
The company's customers couldn't be happier that they do. "Monadnock is unique, with their sense of history - their pride and their dedication to the papermaking industry," said Sue Losco, Marketing Manager with Nielson Bainbridge Group, a fast-growing company in the framing and framing products business that uses Monadnock paper to produce their framing mattes. "They're still interested in the beauty of paper, and in making a fine product. We use them for our highest end products, especially our 100% cotton product. They're very nice people who are into what they do and passionate about papermaking."
Tom Gallo agrees. He's VP of Strategic Business Development for G3 Enterprises, a wine packaging and raw material logistics company owned by the famed Gallo family. "Monadnock is really focused on our partnership," he said. "They think long-term, and they have very innovative product development." He pointed specifically to a 100% post-consumer recycled wine label stock they developed specifically for white wine bottles that are chilled, to reduce the plastic used in the old label stock. "It runs great on our high-speed lines. It has a side benefit in that it doesn't 'gray out' when the bottle is put on ice - it keeps the label looking beautiful. And it's greener, more sustainable, and reduces our carbon footprint."
That focus on the environment is another secret of the company's staying power. The mill sits on the banks of the Contoocook River, and Monadnock started using renewable hydroelectricity from it long before that was trendy - in 1894, to be specific. They purchased the hydropower facilities in 1922. "Our hydropower can make 50% of our electrical requirements in a good year," said Verney. "We're looking at how we can extend that. Solar is very attractive too. The concept of one day being totally on renewable energy is very exciting for us - that would be a great story.
"We've found that reducing pollution, reducing our environmental footprint, can actually put more money in our pocket," Verney continued. "It can be financially rewarding."
The company is also focused on using paper to replace products that aren't as environmentally friendly. "Walk into a CVS or a Walmart, and you'll see a prominent display of gift cards," said Paul Ciccone, Monadnock's VP of R&D. "We had a major user of gift cards approach us, looking for the feel, durability and aesthetics of plastic - we took it on. When you drop our card on a table, it still makes the same sound as a plastic card. We've been in that business for ten years now, and it has become one of our key product lines."
Monadnock's steadfast employees have been vital in its success. "Survival is a characteristic of New Englanders," Verney explained. "They're hardworking and loyal - and they never give up." Ciccone agreed. "We invest in people as well as technology. We have a perspective here - we try to do things you thought couldn't be done with a piece of paper.
"Our family ownership helps there too," he continued. "There's no bureaucracy - they make decisions very quickly."
It's those attitudes that will propel Monadnock forward into their third century of operation. "You have to do a lot to keep your product portfolio fresh - to keep from turning into a commodity producer," Ciccone said. "We talk about innovation every day, and not just in R&D - sales, manufacturing, and executives too."
"Nanotech and nano-cellulosic fibers are a growing opportunity," Verney added. "It'll take us a while to figure out what we have, but the next five to ten years will be big. It's got great strength and is very lightweight - it'll allow us to get into things you wouldn't imagine. Our livelihood depends on constantly bringing new products to market."
Their customers see that too. "We've worked with Monadnock for 15 years, and it's great to see their constant stream of new ideas," Gallo said. "They're willing to invest in new products to help their customers win.
"G3 has been around less than 20 years," he added. "Gallo has been around 85 years. We hope to get both of them to 200. We're excited and happy for Monadnock."