Paper Plant takes Big Step
STOCKTON — Fleenor Paper Co. Inc., a producer of packing products for the moving and storage industries, packed up its Oakland and Ontario manufacturing plants in January and moved them to Stockton.
With each machine taking weeks to set up, the production facility is now nearly fully operational.
“Moving to Stockton was a leap of faith,” said Chief Executive Officer Rebecca Fleenor, who compared the experience of relocating the plant with giving birth.
“If I’d known how hard the labor was going to be, I wouldn’t have begun,” she said.
The pain, she said, has been justified by the progeny — a larger facility, lower business costs and more affordable housing for the plant’s 50-plus permanent employees.
“I have a lot of production workers who now have a fighting chance of buying a home,” she said.
The 130,000-square-foot, rail-served Fleenor Paper plant at 4201 E. Fremont St. is nearly four times the size of the former Oakland facility, which the company had leased for 20 years.
The Ontario plant, which came along with the recent purchase of another paper-converting business, was also leased.
This time, Fleenor will be exercising an option to buy the building, she said.
That building holds stacks of partial and full rolls of new and damaged newsprint, wax-coated paper and nonwoven material that massive machines will recut and sometimes layer or glue to make into products ranging from wrapping blankets and packing paper to Easter grass and table covers.
Fleenor has to scrapefor scrap.
“There’s a finite amount of scrap paper in the world. We’re all vying for a limited pool,” Fleenor said.
While paper converting is an unromantic industry, the business has value as a producer of needed products, a recycler of off-quality paper and an employer of year-round and seasonal workers.
“It’s been a good way to support all these families over decades,” Fleenor said.
The plant runs 24 hours a day, six days a week during the peak summer moving season, when its work force will swell to more than 100.
Fleenor has made a significant and appreciated investment in San Joaquin County, said Douglass Wilhoit, chief executive officer of the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce.
That contribution will be honored at the chamber’s Industrial & Technology Barbecue in September, he said.
The overall effect of the paper-converting industry — a subset of the paper or packaging industries that is difficult to classify — is unknown, according Ken Waghome of Pulp & Paper publisher Paperloop.
The Fleenor family entered the niche paper industry more than 40 years ago when Fleenor’s father, the late LeRoy Fleenor, a journeyman printer, railed against the wasteful practice of throwing roll ends away.
So he tinkered in his garage, developing a machine that unwound the paper from the rolls and cut it into squares for packing material.
By the early 1980s, when he left the company, Fleenor Paper was still small, grossing about $1.5 million annually.
“My father ran the company out of his hip pocket,” Fleenor said.
Fleenor returned from Mexico, where she was completing a degree in bilingual education and working as a waitress, to serve in various capacities at Fleenor Paper for the next decade.
Her brother, who had a degree in animal physiology, took over the company reins, which he relinquished to Fleenor in 1996.
Today, Fleenor shares ownership and management responsibilities with former sister-in-law Janine Rochex and Rochex’s brother, John Rochex.
She is proud of the company’s women-owned status, and is prouder that it has flourished under her unapologetically feminine management style that relies on personal, collaborative relationships with managers.
“If this is a girly way of doing business and it doesn’t work, then we’ll go out of business,” she said. “So far, we’ve done better because we’ve run it this way.”
Fleenor Paper has an East Coast manufacturing plant in Macon, Ga., which sells truckload quantities of packaging supplies to distributors.
In the West, the company has distribution facilities in Washington, Alaska and Hawaii that batch-up its own products and those of other moving supply vendors to sell directly to movers.
This year, Fleenor Paper anticipates gross sales of about $24 million, Fleenor said.
In a labor-intensive business with low margins, such a profit represents high volume.
“We’re a big company, but we don’t have a lot of money. At the end of the day, our profits are small,” Fleenor said.
Contact reporter Michelle Machado at 209 943-8547 or firstname.lastname@example.org