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February 11th, 2016

by Total Food Service

Chris Freeman, Imperial Bag & Paper Co. LLC

Can you share some of the history of Imperial Bag and Paper with our readers?

Imperial Bag & Paper Co., LLC has been in business for 81 years. By focusing on being the Distributor with VISION for our valued customers and exceeding expectation and delivering outstandingly creative solutions we have grown to be one of the largest suppliers of paper, packaging, janitorial supplies and equipment on the Eastern Seaboard. 

When did the company open the doors? Who was the entrepreneurial visionary behind the firm?

That’s a three-part question! We opened our doors in 1935.  Our founder was a man named David Katz. He got the ball rolling. Then Michael Nash led the firm for 25 years and grew the business admirably, I really enjoyed working for Mike. The real entrepreneurial visionaries at Imperial are Robert, and Jason Tillis. Bob bought the company in 2007. I joined the firm in 2003 and since then we’ve grown from $79,000,000 annually to close to $400,000,000 last year. The spirit, drive, and visionary leadership manifested by Bob and Jason are at the heart of our current success and remarkable growth trajectory. 

You have been the constant from one ownership group to the next.

Well, I’ve worked for Michael Nash and Bob and Jason Tillis. Let me tell you something, there’s been no end of learning and success under their tutelage. I think Bob and I challenge each other equivalently and that challenge has resulted in unprecedented success. We’ll never stop attacking opportunity and we’ll never become complacent. 

That takes a unique skill set...how have you managed to thrive through many chapters?

I love what I do. I’m extremely passionate and I’ve been fortunate to have great guidance and an environment where I can employ my creativity...daily. 

Imperial Bag made an enormous move a couple of years ago. How has that enabled the firm to do an even better job of servicing the needs of its customer base?

We built a wonderful warehouse and work space. It took four years of planning. During the development while we were still in Bayonne on a campus of four buildings, Hurricane Sandy hit and we learned some hard lessons from that experience and assimilated that learning into our plans. For example, we built our building 14 feet above sea level and have a fully operational diesel plant to power our entire building in the event of disastrous loss of power. It’s a great, jaw-dropping facility and if you haven’t seen it you must come visit. 

Imperial has always been looked to by the market for the newest packaging solutions.  What enables the company to continue to source the very newest solution?

After so much time of delivering results to customers and exceeding expectations the manufacturing community catches on! They now view us as the “conduit” to the marketplace and bring us their innovations to beta test. We deliver new and unique products to key customers to experiment before they are fully commercialized even before pricing has been established. It’s pretty luxurious to have so many innovative resources available to us. 

Interesting year with the implementation and repeal of a Styrofoam ban in NYC.  Imperial received rave reviews from its customers for helping them manage that challenge. How did you do that?

The market changed! They passed a law. Even though the switch away from foam would have devastated many of our customers that need a low cost solution on a daily basis to transport food we supported the legislation. We fought like heck to find alternatives and honestly delivered them to customers. We are all for going green! We have a LEED CERTIFIED facility, and as a matter of fact our Director of Marketing, Grace Best is “LEED Certified.” There is big news on the green front for us coming soon from the GRA... Getting back to foam and our approach, we did the right thing. We worked very hard to support the law (while it lasted) and our customers. 

Your booth at IRFSNY at Javits in March has become a “must visit” for show goers. What goes into the concept and designs that you create every year?

I’ve told you before and it’s true I DREAM the concepts for our booths. It’s a little scary actually because everyone waits for me to announce my vision for the show and sometimes the “dream” comes kind of late! Talk about pressure. How beautiful is that to be able to utilize that level of creativity in a work environment? It’s very fulfilling. I love the shows. I think my love of the experience makes our exhibits exciting, different, and ultimately very successful.

What can show visitors expect to see this year?

Top secret. We’ll see you at Booths 1921, and 2025 and you can tell me if my concept was a dream come true or a nightmare! Ha ha. 

Speaking of green and sustainable.Where are we today?

Ask the GRA!

Do customers see it as an obligation or responsibility?

There’s been a shift in thought driven a lot by the economies of going green. It’s becoming more affordable, and almost everyone knows it’s the correct thing to do. Think of our kids! We have mastered transitioning large and small customers to GREEN and have wonderful abilities to help them report their achievements for both PR, AND LEED or GRA certification. Going green or want to? Come see us!

What’s the attitude of mills and processors?

Lots of manufacturers are catching the fever and doing the right thing. There are more and more options. Come see our booth and get a taste!

As with every industry, the Internet has become a part of our world. How does Imperial keep the customer from commoditizing and shopping the net vs the value of an Imperial sales professional to suggest. 
Well we don’t. We encourage it. It’s a reality. Information is readily available. We have an enormous and terrific in house IT team that scours the net for our customers and delivers those results in the Imperial Bag & Paper Company APP, available at the Apple App Store. Place your orders; research your payment history, search for solutions at the IBP APP. 

What’s the next step for a customer that would like to learn more about Imperial Bag?

SEE US AT BOOTH 1921 or 2025 at the IRFSNY 2016, or call me directly at 800-794-7273 Ext. 3103. My email address is cfreeman@imperialbag.com. If you’re a customer, I love you! If you’re a prospect, come get some love soon!

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