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Whether it comes to giving back to the community or innovating for his company, Derek Volk always seems to be thinking, “What's next?”
Volk is co-owner with his uncle, Douglas Volk, of Volk Packaging Corp., manufacturer and distributor of corrugated and foam products and a leader in some cutting-edge technology and design initiatives.
He's the incoming president of the Manufacturers Association of Maine, where he has already been an advocate for manufacturing and jobs. He's on the board of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the Maine Economic Research Institute and was appointed to Gov. Paul LePage's advisory committee on fair competition with private enterprise. He also hosts a business talk radio show on WLOB 1310 AM.
Volk is active in philanthropic causes, including fundraisers to benefit military veterans, and other community organizations. With his son Dylan, he published a book earlier this year, “Chasing the Rabbit: A Dad's Life Raising a Son on the Spectrum,” about Dylan's experience dealing with Aspergers syndrome. On Nov. 14, Volk and his family will be honored as “Humanitarian of the Year” by the Spurwink Foundation for his work promoting autism awareness. Volk's wife is state Sen. Amy Volk (R-District 30). They have four kids.
“I believe very strongly in giving back,” he says. “I've been very blessed in this life, and I feel like I need to give back, even if it's just a fraction of what I've been given.”
Volk Packaging was founded in 1967 in Biddeford's industrial park by his grandfather and father, Benjamin and Kenneth Volk. Born and raised in Maine, Volk started at the family-owned business on the production floor at age 17. After working every job in production and administration, he came on as one-third owner in 1997 and president and co-owner in 2007 upon the retirement of his father.
In 2008, the company moved from its original 65,000-square-foot plant to a 141,000-square-foot building and increased its machinery, significantly boosting capacity and setting the stage for major growth.
“We're now putting out more in our current facility by August than we did [in the first plant] in our best year,” Volk says.
In 1996, Volk Packaging produced 162 million square feet of corrugated cardboard. For 2015, the company is on track to produce about 260 million square feet. It should be noted that 100 million square feet of cardboard fills about 1,000 tractor-trailers, so that means the company will ship about 1,000 truckloads more this year than it did 19 years ago.
Volk Packaging had a record year in 2014, with $26 million in sales. This year it expects to be up 8%, despite losing its largest customer, United Technologies Corp.'s Pittsfield Fire and Security plant, which closed earlier this year.
“We have 1,200 active customers,” Volk says. “Because we're so diversified in our customer base, we don't have any one customer that will crush us if we lose them.”
Geographically, Volk Packaging is solidly New England, with more than 600 customers, about 55%, located in Maine. Customers range from Fortune 500 companies to mom-and-pop operations.
“There are a lot of people we do business with who make wicker chairs in their garage or candles in their kitchen,” Volk says. “They all need boxes. I have a sales rep dedicated just to those customers. And there's a lot of them. About 30% of our customers bought under $1,000 — a pallet or less of boxes — over the course of a year.”
The company has about 85 employees. About 65% have been with the company at least 10 years. Nearly 10% have been with the company more than half their lives — and of course Volk himself is part of that club.
Corrugated boxes go back to the 19th century, but Volk Packaging is at the forefront of production and design developments. It has the exclusive New England license to market THATBox, which was developed in South Carolina and has an auto-lock bottom and doesn't require tape. With the help of a paper company, Volk Packaging created the Supershield wax-free box, which is used for shipping wet food products like seafood. It's biodegradable, so food markets no longer have to separate it from standard corrugated boxes. The product is on track to have sales of $1 million this year.
“People have been trying to do this for 30 years, unsuccessfully,” Volk says. “We've done it. It's taken a lot of trial and error. We're doing great with it.”
Volk also reorganized a small division of the company, the Maine Box Factory, offering bubble wrap, mailing labels and related products. It's now doing almost $1 million in business in small orders.
Perhaps most importantly, Volk offers a personal customer experience. That's in line with his grandfather's motto, “Our customers are our bread and butter.” Every January, he goes on a “thank you tour” to visit customers. He also makes sure customers know they can contact him anytime.
“People aren't going to buy from us because we make a good box,” he says. “A lot of people make a good box. They'll buy from us because we care about their business.”