Small Business Unwraps Better Thinking to Meet Soaring Demand.
KJB Packaging Solutions has earned a reputation for thinking out of the box, and that’s bringing a lot of attention to the family-owned Martin City Business. Nearly five years after opening its new headquarters in our neighborhood, business is booming as KJB’s ideas become the glue holding key pieces of all kinds of brands together.
“Every day there are many challenges that create opportunity,” says Janelle Burlin, a principal of the company along with her husband Kevin and their son Jacob. ”Years of packaging experience play an important role in our ability to help our customers with design, packaging products, and costs.”
“There are so many facets to our business,” adds Jacob, talking with us on the warehouse floor. “Delivering a wide range of services has really kept our business strong even through an up and down economy.”
The wide range of services Jacob’s talking about is what sets KJB Packaging Solutions apart in a traditional industry. Rather than focusing only on sourcing volume materials and living inside the narrow margins that come with them, KJB is much more. As they approach a decade in business, they are now experts in turning packaging into more powerful solutions molded precisely to the needs of businesses right down the street and across the country.
KJB is one of Martin City’s lower profile businesses, tucked away behind Habitat Restore and Radio Controlled Garage Door & Gate on Wyandotte Street. It doesn’t need to look flashy. This is a business that depends on storage space, a wide-open production area, and a loading dock. Pallet jacks criss-cross constantly with inventory that can stack all the way to the ceiling and then empty out in a week or sometimes, even in a single day.
Nine employees never unbox a dull moment. They’re putting all types of bags, boxes, and containers together, printing massive orders with proprietary technology and crafting custom bags, boxes, and e-commerce packaging with custom services. No two projects are exactly alike and that pretty much goes for everything that happens at 13621 Wyandotte.
“Custom work is the nature of just about everything we do,” explains Jacob, proud to show us around. “Stretching our skills and applying them in different ways is a way of life. If there’s one thread running through our team, it’s flexibility. We all pitch in and do what needs to be done. That’s just how it is here. It’s what our business demands.”
“Our people are willing to learn and explore their potential,” says Janelle. “We work in an industry that’s going through constant change. We know we have to adapt and stay ahead of the curve.”
KJB’s ability to both adapt and stay ahead of the curve has been tested during the pandemic. They’ve seen big month-to-month fluctuations in demand as many customers guard budgets closely. Meanwhile, new demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) has emerged, growing to roughly a third of their revenues in 2020. Janelle says companies all over the country were looking for help.
“So many masks. Sanitizer too. We would package everything for their employees and other groups. I remember we had an order for 16,000 PPE products that needed to be packaged up within about two weeks and sent to distribution centers across the U.S. UPS trucks were routinely at our dock late at night. It was quite a process.”
“We worked hard to try to avoid going overseas for PPE materials and pointed our customers to U.S. manufacturers who were retooling their operations to answer the call,” says Jacob. “We get a lot of requests for referrals and helping good businesses is important to us.”
Many companies refer business back to KJB too. In fact, word-of-mouth is the main source of new business. KJB attends trade shows and a steady stream of customers discovers them at KJBpack.com, but a good reputation in this line of work simply gets around fast all by itself.
“We are growing and growing,” says Jacob. “A big part of that is we’re also doing more business with companies the pandemic has favored, especially alcohol and other beverage makers.”
Martin City Brewing Company is one of those companies, tapping new packaging as new brews come off the line down the street. Lukas Wine & Spirits Superstore at the other end of the neighborhood also counts on KJB for classy wine and beer boxes, especially around the holidays. “We did the first printed box for shipping online steak orders from Jess & Jim’s too,” says Janelle, browsing her display cases.
KJB works quietly in Martin City, but that doesn’t mean their groundbreaking work within the packaging industry is going unnoticed. You’ll see the Burlin team featured in trade magazines and earning the praise of business and industry groups. Enterprising Women Magazine gave Janelle top honors in 2019 and the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce named KJB Packaging Solutions a 2021 Small Business Superstar.
Assembling a Bigger Reputation for Solutions
KJB’s business has more than doubled in size since the move to Martin City. Growth has a lot to do with the Burlins’ ability to position packaging as a bigger solution and convince companies of all sizes to think differently about the possibilities. While most packaging companies tend to specialize in one aspect or another, KJB takes a comprehensive approach, drawing on materials, know-how, and deep experience to customize solutions for non-traditional needs.
“Our competitors still mainly source materials for manufacturing and distribution customers. We do plenty of that too and have great supplier relationships,” says Jacob. “But we explore the bigger picture as well. We’ll look at new ways of using materials and equipment to achieve your goals and even install equipment inside your business if that works best for you. We can also produce original packaging and design it from concept to label. Displays too. We’ll do what it takes to shape our service to fit your needs. And if we can’t help, we’ll point you toward one of our partners.”
Jacob Burlin is a former engineer. Watch him light up when you plunge into a conversation about all the many directions a packaging solution can take, “You’d be surprised at how packaging and packaging processes can dramatically change the way a company does business.”
Rather than talk of box dimensions and tape adhesives, Jacob sparks conversations with new customers with bigger questions about their business. What are you trying to achieve and what’s getting in your way? What can be done smarter or faster? What kind of efficiencies are available?
“Every solution arises organically from a customer’s need,” Jacob explains. “The challenges can get very complex ranging from materials to marketing. It’s not just about ordering up bags or boxes. Who’s using your product? Where is it seen? How is it handled? Every customer experience teaches us something new that we master, and we just keep building on that accumulation of knowledge and understanding.”
The results can be highly creative and sometimes game-changing in more ways than one. The right package can boost sales, sharpen efficiencies, and help a customer fine-tune or even revolutionize its internal operations. The Lawrence, Kansas business Grandstand took its glass products to a new level with KJB’s help. And the Missouri company Sioux Chief looks to KJB for packaging assembly to free up its plumbing manufacturing staff for more important tasks.
The Full Package in Martin City
KJB Packaging is a proud member of the Martin City business community. They consider moving to our neighborhood one of the best choices they’ve ever made. Our central location in the Kansas City metropolitan area, easy accessibility, and hometown culture make them feel right at home.
“You hear a lot these days about ‘supporting local’ and it just couldn’t be easier in Martin City,” remarks Janelle with a smile. “There are businesses here you can really get excited about and where would we be without places like RC’s Restaurant and the Martin City Brewery?”
The overhaul of 135th Street is our crowning revitalization achievement so far in Martin City and the Burlins would like to see similar improvements made throughout the neighborhood. They’re also excited about life after the pandemic and building their business along with the future of Martin City. Every week, hundreds of the company’s customers, suppliers, and shipping partners pass right through our community.
“And we don’t hesitate to send them exactly where they need to go to shop or get a taste of Martin City cuisine. Partnerships are critical to our business and we appreciate our partnership with this community and want people to know.”
Thanks, Janelle! We’re proud of KJB Packaging Solutions and look forward to what’s still to come on Wyandotte Street with so much talent and ambition rolling up inside each package!