Interview with Walid Boustani, VP of Operations, ePac Flexible Packaging
Walid Boustani is the managing partner and VP of Operations of the Boulder and Los Angeles ePac locations. He is a mechanical engineer with an MBA from Drexel University. He has over 20 years of experience in flexible packaging, mainly in Operations ranging from start-ups, turnarounds, to expansions of existing operations. His work in the industry has taken him all over the world, including Europe, the Middle East, and Canada.
ePac LA will focus on regional food manufacturers and contract packagers throughout Southern California and the surrounding area. With a focus on small and medium size businesses, ePac is the only US company based on the latest in digital printing technology, providing brands of all sizes fast time to market, high-definition graphics, low minimum orders, and the ability to customize packaging to select target markets.
Since opening its first plant in 2016, the rapidly growing Delray Beach, Florida-based company will have fifteen locations across the US by the end of 2019, six of which are now operational. In addition, the company has announced expansion into Europe, with its first plant to open in the UK later this year as well. For more information visit ePacFlexibles.com.
Tell us about your site search – what was important to the company’s new location?
We started looking into opening a South California location about one year ago. We wanted to find a business-friendly community and within proximity to our customer base since our mission is to serve the flexible packaging needs of small and medium-sized businesses of local communities. Furthermore, we wanted access to a skilled labor workforce to recruit from. Our workforce needs ranged from machine operator, sales staff and customer service to computer technology workers.
What made San Bernardino County the right choice?
We considered three different counties: San Bernardino County CA, Riverside County CA, and Clark County, NV. The follow up by the San Bernardino Economic Development Agency was second to none. It really made our search easier and eliminated multiple hurdles. In addition, San Bernardino County checked off several items from our wish list: proximity to a large customer base, access to a skilled workforce, and as noted – very business-friendly.
Describe your experience working with the San Bernardino County economic development team:
If I had to rate the experience of working with the San Bernardino County Economic Development Team, I would give it a 5 stars rating. Our questions were acknowledged immediately and answered within 24 hours. We were referred to the right contact people and were given a half day tour of different cities in the County, where the local city officials met us, explained the permitting process and corresponding lead-time to expect. The team really made it easy for us.
What incentives and/or programs have been especially beneficial to ePac in its move to SB County?
We have benefited from the California Competes Tax Credit and we are planning on applying for training grants.
Can you describe your workforce? How does the County help you in terms of talent?
For our business to succeed, we look at a workforce that is a mix of skilled machine operators, sales staff, customer service, and computer technology workers. We expect a high sense of customer service, as the brands we serve are often SMB’s whose livelihood depends on our performance. We value our employees because our success can only be achieved if they are committed and given all the tools to succeed. The county itself has a database of candidates that they put at our disposal.
What would you tell another CEO when considering SB County?
South California, in general, offers one of the biggest markets that a business can hope for. San Bernardino County is well located within this market where business can have access to customers without overpaying for rent or labor. I find myself surrounded by large choices of candidates for every open position, diverse market segments that need my products, and encouraging officials that want my business to be within their city.
As a new resident of San Bernardino County can you share what your experience has been so far of the community.
I’m very pleased with how ePac is being received by the market. We have been selling in CA for about a year, with manufacturing being done out of our Boulder, CO plant, and our value proposition of 10 to 15 business day lead time, small order quantities with the ability to order to demand, is being well received. Our presence online, www.epacflexibles.com, has been well noticed by Southern California SMBs. I highly enjoy sharing my experience with start-ups, compare it to theirs, and listening to what they went through to get to where they are now. From a workforce perspective, so far, I am very happy with the commitment of each employee we hired and I am looking forward to continuing to grow the team. As a resident, San Bernardino County has provided my family and me with a high quality of life, access to relatively affordable housing, excellent education, and proximity to plenty of entertainment and opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors. We are thrilled to call San Bernardino County our home.
About ePac Flexible Packaging
ePac Flexible Packaging is based on the premise that emerging digital technology will significantly disrupt the service and manufacturing models that have served the flex pack industry for decades. Founded in 2016, with a charter to serve small and medium size businesses throughout the United States, ePac is technology driven and built to provide our customers a fast and easy way to buy flexible packaging. Offering competitively priced short to medium run length orders, and 10-day turnaround, ePac is the first supplier in North America built entirely on the latest wide-web digital printing technology – the HP Indigo 20000. With our manufacturing platform optimized to provide industry leading customer service, ePac offers true high-definition custom printing with variable imaging and the elimination of plate fees, while enabling customers to print to demand and avoid inventory and obsolescence costs. With locations throughout the United States; our offices in Austin, Boulder, Madison, Miami, Chicago, Boston, Houston, and Los Angeles are open to serve local and regional brands of all sizes.
Supply Chain Delays and Strains to Continue through 2022
By Hema Dey, IEBJ Content Contributor
Managing Price Increases
From the start of the pandemic in 2020, businesses have been absorbing ongoing shocks that impacted operations and the bottom line. The supply chain delays and strains everybody hoped would resolve in 2021 seem set to continue through 2022; while the backlog of ships waiting for berths at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach fell to a low of 43 mid-March, experts expect a new surge of goods shipped from Asia after the Lunar New Year to drive those numbers up again. After that, the situation is unclear—the latest lockdowns in Shenzhen threaten to cut off supplies of parts and products when U.S. businesses are already starved from ongoing shortages.
At the same time, the war in Ukraine and sanctions on Russian oil are driving already-high fuel prices even higher around the world. While experts disagree on whether we can expect gas prices to keep climbing or that they’re near their peak, it’s clear significant relief is unlikely soon. That additional expense is unwelcome news for businesses of all kinds.
Knowing the current difficulties will be part of the landscape for the foreseeable future has brought many companies to the unavoidable conclusion that they have to raise their prices to stay in business. If you’ve delayed making changes in the hope that things would pass, you’re certainly not alone—but if you’re coming to the realization that you can’t wait to adjust your prices to reality anymore, then you’re not alone there either.
The Right Way to Handle Raising Prices
When raising your prices is a necessity, how you approach it can make a significant impact on minimizing any negative fallout. Your customers are naturally not going to be happy about seeing their costs go up. Anticipating such dissatisfaction is one reason why businesses put off making price adjustments much longer than they should. However, postponing the inevitable can harm your business and won’t change the factors that make an increase necessary. Here’s what you should be doing to manage price increases wisely.
The first thing to remember is that price increases don’t happen in a vacuum. Beyond simply considering the pressures on your business in terms of your growing costs, you need to know what your competitors are doing, and you need to find out fast. If your proposed price increases are wildly out of line with what the rest of your competition is doing, you could easily lose market share. We can assist in getting an up-to-date view on the moves your competitors are making to help you factor in this critical angle.
Next, you shouldn’t delay price increases, but you should also keep them realistic. Deferring the inevitable will weaken your business’s financial position and increase the pressure to put even higher prices in place when you finally do act. At the same time, you must keep in mind that your customers are almost certainly experiencing the effects of increased fuel costs and higher shipping rates just like you are. When clients feel like a business is taking advantage of a general atmosphere of inflation to boost their own profits at the expense of their customer base, they’re rarely quiet about it. Stick to doing what you have to do to keep your business healthy, and don’t be tempted to pad it.
Finally, this is absolutely the time to revisit your marketing strategy. When prices go up, buyer behavior changes. Review all your keyword searches to understand how these fluctuations may be affecting traffic to your website. Repositioning your business accordingly can help avoid unexpected hits to your sales and leads, and may even lead to new opportunities.
Trying to adjust to the current economic challenges can feel overwhelming for business owners. You don’t have to go it alone when you’re contemplating significant changes like raising your prices—calling in an expert consultant can give you confidence that you’re taking the right steps for the long-term good of your company and your customers. If you need benchmarking assistance, contact Iffel International here. We can help you take the right steps down a difficult road.
Q&A Session with Black Cooperative Investment Fund Executive Director—Kaine Nicholas
Q&A with Kaine Nicholas, Executive Director of Black Cooperative Investment Fund
By Josaline Cuesta, Small Business Majority, Senior California Program Manager, and IEBJ Contributor
Why is financial literacy important for small business owners? What are the pillars of financial literacy?
Financial literacy is the comfort level one may have with topics related to money and its management. Financial literacy is critical to success, and it’s where everything begins for small business owners.
At the beginning of a business venture, an entrepreneur can be cash-challenged and relatively inexperienced in practical business versus theory. It is important that while learning the business terrain, entrepreneurs have at the very least, a baseline of financial literacy to question documents and do calculations or have support to negotiate effective business terms. Any terms that are negotiated at the beginning of a venture can significantly affect the projections or the valuation of a business. These effects can vary widely, depending on the comfort level of financial literacy.
The pillars of financial literacy are banking, budgeting, saving, credit, debt, and investing. What matters most to small business owners is budgeting, banking, and credit, and we recommend focusing on that order for small business owners. Understanding the numbers, having the assets with banking partners that can offer solutions, and building business and personal credit are all imperative to small business owners. BCIF and its trusted partner, AmPac Business Capital can help everyone gain a firm awareness of these pillars.
What’s needed to create a strong financial plan?
What is needed to make a strong financial plan is the actions that happen alongside writing the actual financial plan. While one may be uncertain of the “hockey stick” or optimistic revenue, what people can control is the cost. Know those costs and how they change in a good, better, or best scenario to keep you prepared.
No one likes surprises. There is security and comfort in knowing that costs are consistent and predictable. Spend time conducting the research and use due diligence so that you and the financial partners understand the financial plan and financial statements.
What’s in a business plan, and why is having one essential for a small business owner?
A business plan is a document that, at its most basic level, can help small business owners navigate the who, what, where, why, and how to generate income with a product or service. The business plan tells the reader that this “document” is your prototype on paper. The business plan also helps readers understand the basic valuation of your business.
If your business plan is on paper, does it articulate the vision, or is it a requirement for a loan program? The business plan is important because it represents as the creator of the business. Thinking business out on paper can reduce mistakes in real-world execution.
What’s the best way to document and share major changes to a business plan with your financial advisor and employees, such as becoming a corporation or expanding to another state?
Ensure the establishment of company meetings and hold them routinely, preferably with quarterly updates. This allows stakeholders to receive firm-wide public information and establishes communication between leadership, management, and employees.
What are some tips for thinking strategically about cash flow?
One tip is to understand what is in the pipeline and/or accounts receivables and monitor subscriber trends to your products or solutions. When I ask business owners how their business is doing, they usually respond with, “it’s going well.” And I always ask myself, what does that really mean, and is the owner aware of the items that support healthy cash flow?
Is a personal credit score relevant to small business success? What defines a “good credit score” and how can you maintain one?
Personal credit is relevant to businesses at the earlier stages of a business. If used correctly, one should leverage good credit and create business credit as soon as possible. Personal credit and business credit are created differently and operate differently. That difference can be critical to accessing capital. Unfortunately, a “good credit score” is not universal. We recommend owners investigate the potential creditor by asking what numerical score and credit history on the credit report will produce a favorable outcome. A credit score and credit report are two components that contribute to a sizable credit decision. With that information, the small business owners have a credit “road map.” What is most important is that the business owner is proactive in the credit conversation. One can maintain and learn more with one of BCIF’s trusted partners, AmPac Business Capital.
What are the top three easy-to-navigate business loans for a startup business? Do the types of loans that are needed change in your 2nd or 3rd year of business?
The top and the easiest loan is a zero-interest loan based on an alternative way of evaluating personal credit and traditional risk models. If one can find a small business loan that targets a certain demographic or type of business, that should be extremely helpful. Third, look for a small business loan that can be forgiven.
The types of loans that could change in your second or third year of business can be tricky. Business success and loan/funding gaps require careful consideration, but most important, predictability.
How will I know that a financial literacy resource is proven and credible?
Financial literacy is a journey. One way to affirm credibility is to compare it to your financial situation. Always have a backup resource for validation.
How can the average entrepreneur improve their financial literacy?
This is an important and critical question that I will answer in an alternative, more direct way. I strongly recommend these three words as ways to improve personal and business financial literacy:
Start with opening your mail and being curious about the words that you do not understand in your statements. Call the service number and ask the person to explain what these words mean regarding your account. It sounds simple, but it truly is a free lesson that benefits your personal or professional situation. The information is memorable because the asker is learning even when configuring the question. (Do not forget your tax person or accountant. They are your resources).
Humility helps your behavior when you ask a question, and you partially know the answer, but you ask questions to attain mastery.
Lastly, you must be disciplined and determined when you call the service line or account representative when you do not fully understand a financial term. Do not feel like you are wasting their time asking basic questions. If they have chosen to do business, service your needs, or hold your money, you are only using your mutual rights within the relationship.
What is the best way to stay abreast of COVID relief funds and resources in the Inland Empire area?
Contact the Black Cooperative Investment Fund (BCIF) at www.bcifund.org, 310-904-6336, reach out to our partner, AmPac Business Capital at www.ampac.com, or visit Venturize: https://venturize.org/—Small Business Majority’s free online resource hub for small business owners who need help accessing tools and resources to grow their businesses.
City of Ontario adopts updated Housing Element to help address housing – and affordability – crisis across Southern California
The Ontario City Council Tuesday night adopted an aggressive plan that would position the City to lead the Inland Empire in addressing the housing crisis.
Ontario’s updated Housing Element lays out a series of planning and zoning changes that would allow the building of more than 20,000 housing units over an eight-year period ending in October 2029, including nearly 9,000 units for low-income and very low-income residents.
Those numbers represent Ontario’s allocation under the state-mandated Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) – a process governed by the state Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) and updated every eight years to address the housing shortage across California.
No Inland Empire city had a higher RHNA allocation than Ontario – testament to the City’s standing as one of the most dynamic economic and population centers in Southern California. Across the six-county SoCal region, in fact, only three cities – Los Angeles, Long Beach and Irvine – had higher allocations.
“Our updated Housing Element reflects the City Council’s commitment to Ontario as a complete community and a destination for individuals and families looking for a better quality of life,” said Mayor Paul S. Leon.
Under state guidelines, Housing Elements do not require a city to build their allocated number of housing units. That is ultimately determined by market forces, point-in-time demand and the ability of homebuilders themselves to meet those needs at the appropriate price points.
What HCD does require is that cities establish a framework that would allow that level of production if those other factors were met.
The updated Housing Element approved by Ontario’s City Council was built around several priorities:
- Addressing the needs of existing Ontario residents for quality and affordable housing at all income levels.
- Ensuring that the city’s housing stock matches the type, price and tenure needed by Ontario’s residents and workforce.
- Creating, preserving and (where needed) improving the quality and identity of Ontario’s distinct neighborhoods.
- Assisting residents of all ages and backgrounds to allow them to live, work and enjoy themselves and their families in Ontario.
- Obtaining financing for affordable housing as tax credits become more competitive and make it more difficult to obtain financing for affordable housing.
The plan also takes into account job growth and the City’s commitment to supporting business and employment opportunities. During Tuesday’s meeting, the Council certified the Environmental Impact Report for the South Ontario Logistics Center, which will create hundreds of new jobs on more than 200 acres of commercial and industrial space.
Other major economic development efforts in the City include the Downtown Renaissance, which, when completed, will include nearly 600 new residential units, 13,000 square feet of commercial space, a 450-space parking structure, breweries and tasting rooms, and college satellite campuses.
“The vision and leadership of our Council and City staff have made Ontario a model for business growth, career opportunities and livability. The future has never been brighter,” said Mayor pro Tem Alan D. Wapner.
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