In a time of turmoil and uncertainty, reliability helps Americans establish their new normal.
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges across several industries in the US. Many are starting to show their hands under the pressure of changing demands and upturned norms, and as businesses struggle, employees and consumers are faced with uncertainty.
However, some businesses have weathered the impacts of the pandemic well, maintaining the safety and health of their employees while still keeping up with demand and providing to their customer bases. AJM Packaging, a US-based, family-run paper product manufacturer, has operated for over 60 years, and the company’s strong foundation and quick response to the obstacles the pandemic has presented has allowed AJM to emerge as an example, both within and beyond their own industry.
How AJM Packaging’s Foundation Informs the Company’s Present
AJM Packaging Corporation was established in 1957 by brothers Abram, Jack, and Morris Epstein. It was not the first business venture the brothers took on. They had worked for their family grocery store until 1929, when the store was closed due to the economic depression. The family continued working in the food industry and began distributing produce and other consumable products. After World War II, the resourceful brothers shifted their focus to paper product distribution. In 1946, they started selling paper products sourced from other companies, and just over a decade later, the brothers purchased machinery to create their own paper bags, marking the start of AJM Packaging.
In 1993, Robert Epstein, Abram’s son, took on the role of president of the company. Robert continued to expand AJM, growing its market share and increasing its physical size to handle increasing production loads. They purchased SOLO’s white paper plate division and Tidy Home. These major moves pushed AJM Packaging toward the forefront of paper product manufacturing. What’s more, the company expanded the products they provided, sending their products to retailers, wholesalers, and distributors.
Since 2000, sales have grown over 200% for AJM Packaging. The manufacturer employs over 3,000 Americans, and keeps all operations within the United States, including their original location on Dix Avenue in Detroit.
As a global leader in manufacturing, AJM has a sense of responsibility to their employees, customers, and communities. Their choices have a major impact not only on those they serve and employ, but on other manufacturers as well. Prior to the pandemic, the company was already clear in how seriously they took this responsibility: AJM is committed to its employees and proud to recognize they have never laid off employees due to economic conditions in their 63 years of operation. Additionally, they have received certifications from both the Sustainable Forestry Initiative and the Forest Stewardship Council for their sustainability efforts, as well as the 2018 Employer of the Year award from SER Detroit.
How AJM Has Responded to COVID-19
Increasing Community Impact and Keeping Up with Demand
AJM saw increased demand as consumers turned to eating more meals at home and using convenient and disposable products. In response to the increased demand for essential paper products, AJM chose to open up more opportunities in their plants to provide for their customers.
The company announced their decision to add hundreds of permanent, full-time positions in a time when so many companies have been forced into layoffs. These positions included mechanics, management, shift leaders, machine operators and more. These full-time positions offer full benefits and will last after the pandemic has subsided, providing a safe and stable workplace to more American workers.
Increasing Pandemic Safety Measures in the Workplace
As the COVID-19 crisis has developed, the company has adapted new practices that keep employees safe. AJM has been committed to a workplace that protects employees from infection or transmission. These changes cause expense to the company, but it is a price they are more than willing to pay in order to do their part to reduce the spread and improve their employees’ lives.
AJM feels that a safe workplace is vital during a time where health and livelihoods are threatened. They want to provide stability to the American families that rely on their jobs. “The health and safety of our employees has always been our top priority, but it’s been particularly challenging to safeguard since the arrival of COVID-19,” remarked Epstein.
Valuing Front-Line Employees
The company has been working to provide critical products for their customers and organizations. During the initial COVID-19 shutdowns, the manufacturing plant was deemed a “critical infrastructure business” that allowed them to stay active in order to supply the essential products the company manufactures. While many employees were glad to keep their jobs, there were also concerns about the health and wellbeing of their families. In order to help compensate their efforts, show gratitude, and keep their employees safe, AJM increased their safety measures and created a bonus plan in the Detroit area which was hit hard by Covid-19.
The safety measures taken included regularly sanitizing communal spaces, temperature checks upon entry into the company’s facilities, and providing all employees with masks and gloves. The bonus plan aimed to help employees from the three metro-Detroit manufacturing sites, which were some of the most affected communities by Coronavirus. In a statement about the bonus plan, Robert Epstein said, “We want to show our team that we appreciate the effort they’re putting forth, being present, on time and available for work every day.”
Maintaining Safety and Health Standards During Hiring
Committed to hiring for over 200 positions, AJM also maintained strict safety standards during the interview process. The health-safety methods implemented were in accordance with recommendations from U.S. health officials. Interviews were held outdoors in open-air tents, and candidates were advised to fill out application forms outside or in their own vehicles. Additionally, applicants were temperature-checked prior to their interviews, where AJM recruiters wore eye protection, gloves, and masks, and maintained the suggested six feet distance from candidates. AJM also provided applicants with gloves and masks, and made sure that interview stations were thoroughly sanitized following each interview.
About the interview process, Robert Epstein said, “The health and safety of our employees is always our top priority, and that responsibility extends to our applicants, too.”
Supporting Frontline Healthcare Workers
AJM Packaging donated over a million paper bags to Detroit area hospitals for a convenient and way to store their PPE. With PPE shortages, accommodations needed to be made for storing PPE in a way that was safe and cost-effective. The company donated even more bags to Houston Methodist Willowbrook Hospital in July of 2020 after an employee of the hospital expressed her gratitude for AJM’s bags. The Employee wrote on the AJM website:
“On behalf of the nighttime pandemic crew, I wanted to say thank you for being a part of our nighttime operations in which we bag masks for the following day…Because of [FG W] and your AJM company, we have a storage place for our masks!”
This sparked AJM leadership to send another 267,000 bags directly to the hospital. “The fact that our products can help healthcare workers do their jobs more effectively makes us proud,” remarked AJM President Robert Epstein.
Setting the Tone for Company Leaders
COVID-19 has certainly brought unexpected challenges, causing closures and economic struggles throughout the world. There have been many selfless responses from companies that are leaders in the industry. This community-first, country-first attitude will help separate the leaders from the company-centric players.
Companies, like AJM Packaging, that are rooted in consistent hard work understand these times better than others. With a history based on overcoming obstacles and downturned markets, the Epstein family knows too well what hard times can mean. They have worked hard to bring AJM to a place where it can be a leader in the manufacturing industry—not just for excellence in paper product manufacturing, but in how the company responds in a crisis, as well as how they treat the environment, their community, and individual employees and customers. With a strong history behind it, AJM Packaging is committed to looking forward and implementing effective solutions to improve the lives of their employees and consumers.