Polytarp has it all wrapped up. The Toronto based company has been manufacturing a wide range of polyethylene film products for over fifty years and supplies countless businesses across a variety of industries, from construction and food packaging to automotive, furniture, and agriculture.
Many people know Polytarp as the name in plastic film for the construction industry. “We truly believe that, if you go into retail establishments, or you ask contractors across Canada, we are the preferred choice,” Polytarp President Steve Ghantous says. The company’s Super Six brand vapour barrier is particularly recognizable. “The brand name Super Six is like Tylenol,” Mr. Ghantous reports. “It became a generic name. In one case we even had a retail establishment selling a competitor’s product and advertising it as Super Six because Super Six has become a name that everybody knows.”
Polytarp remains the largest supplier of vapour barrier in Canada. However, over the last five years, the team has made a conscious effort to shift its focus to the food packaging industry. “The construction industry has been down over the recent years,” Mr. Ghantous explains. “The pie seems to be shrinking and there seem to be more suppliers supplying that shrinking pie with construction products. That is why we have expanded into the food industry.” The decision came after careful market research and customer communication. “We saw where the market was going through our partnership with our customers and the feedback from them,” Mr. Ghantous explains. “We decided to move with them.”
Polytarp has invested over ten million dollars into new equipment to better supply the food packaging industry. This sector is looking for plastic film that will both significantly extend shelf life and be compatible with the newest high tech equipment. “So we had to upgrade our equipment to produce films that have higher barrier and that can run on automated packaging equipment,” says Mr. Ghantous. First, the company purchased a seven layer extrusion machine. Within four years it was already running at capacity. The team decided to upgrade yet again, this time to an even bigger extruder with a nine layer capacity. More layers create higher barrier film, Mr. Ghantous explains, and higher barrier film is what keeps food fresh during transport and on supermarket shelves. The team also invested in new winders, “because the way we roll up our plastic film is very important to our customers’ automated packing equipment.”
The upgrade wasn’t an easy undertaking. “First of all, it is a huge investment,” Mr. Ghantous points out. “Second of all, it takes a lot of technical know-how. There is a large learning curve when you are going from three layers to seven layers.” It also took an entire year to build and install the complex equipment.
The payoff has been well worth it, however. “Other plastic companies are still doing a similar material to what they were doing 30 years ago,” Mr. Ghantous points out. “Whereas with us, if you just go back 15 years, you wouldn’t recognize this company. We still have some of the old, traditional products, but we have a lot of new products with the new investments that we have made. So we are very, very dynamic. I don’t think that there is anyone in Canada in the plastic film business that has diversified their product base in the last ten years as much as we have.” The team has even developed its own proprietary process for creating a thin, high barrier plastic film that is easily compatible with automated packaging equipment; the resulting product is an ideal fit for the current needs of the meat packaging industry.
Polytarp has certainly moved in a new direction over the past few years; some things, however, won’t be changing. The team is committed to maintaining the company culture and ideals that have kept the business a customer favourite since 1957. “Number one is the customer focus,” Mr. Ghantous says of the company’s long-held values. “Polytarp has always prided itself on service. Our customer service reps, our product managers – anybody involved in sales – they all know that this company was built on service and reliability to the customer.”
Not surprisingly, Polytarp’s longevity and dedication has earned the company a loyal customer base. “We’ve been around a long time and we have very, very strong relationships with our customers,” Mr. Ghantous reports. In fact, many staff members have worked one on one with the same customer for decades. “I started at Polytarp in October of 1984,” Mr. Ghantous shares, “and I have 25 employees that have more seniority than I do. We have four employees that have been here over 40 years.” He credits Polytarp founder Paul Shatel’s family focused company culture for the team’s lasting commitment. “Paul Shatel always believed in that family type of relationship. You could always go to him if you had a problem. He always felt that [the employees] were like his family. Over the years, this corporate culture has stayed, probably because a lot of the people here today were around 20 or 30 years ago when Paul was still here.”
Focusing on customer relationships has helped Polytarp stay in touch with its customer base and keep them satisfied. “We cater to what the customer’s needs are,” Mr. Ghantous explains. “We try to get a lot of feedback. Part of our success comes from feedback from our customers and finding out what their actual use is, what their actual application is for our products. We look at how we can we make this better so our customer is more efficient in their manufacturing process or their contracting process.”
Creating these tailor-made solutions takes a lot of time and ingenuity. “First we get to know our customers,” Mr. Ghantous reports. “We visit them and we actually talk to their employees that are on the line. We see how the current product is running and what improvements they want.” Next, “we have a round table meeting, we brainstorm the product and we come up with our own design.” The team carefully considers all of the customer’s requirements and how best to apply the newest, most cutting edge developments in plastic machinery and material. “We think outside the box to design the best value product for [the customer’s] particular application.”
During the design process, “we look at the simplest things to the most technical things,” Mr. Ghantous adds. Polytarp’s popular vapour barrier is a prime example of the team’s commitment to producing the most user-friendly product possible. In this case, the company was looking for a way to make it easier for a builder to put up drywall. The Polytarp designers carefully considered the positives and negatives of the standard vapour barrier product, then developed a plastic sheet that was stiffer and more foldable than what was currently on the market. “I like for a drywall applicator to go in and specifically ask for our product because he used it and he used our competitors’, and he found our product easier to work with.”
After the design process is complete, PolyTarp keeps a careful eye on quality throughout the production process. “We have a very extensive quality control here,” Mr. Ghantous reports. “We test all raw materials coming in. We keep a sample for a year to allow traceability of all raw materials, just in case something goes wrong. And when we produce our products, we do extensive tests for every lot that we produce.”
Polytarp’s ongoing commitment to customer service and quality production has earned it a leading place in the market. These strategies have also freed the company from the price war. “We are not just selling based on price,” Mr. Ghantous explains. “You will never win the price war; no one wins a price war. But if you can go in and show an added value, price is not the main issue anymore.”
Indeed, adding value has always been Polytarp’s mission, and the team is excited to apply its expertise to new sectors. In fact, even though Polytarp’s nine layer extruder has only been up and running a few months, the team is already considering its next move forward. “We are not finished with our expansion and our investment into the food industry,” Mr. Ghantous insists. “We are not done yet.”
Published by Business In Focus | By Claire Suttles