Acme Paper & Supply Co.

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NEW PROCESSES WITH A FOCUS ON CUSTOMER SERVICE    

Founded in Baltimore in 1946 by Edward and Mildred Attman, Acme Paper & Supply Co. — now headquartered in Savage, MD, with a distribution center in Richmond, VA — has grown a lot in 70 years. The company, as the second- and third-generation Attmans who now head the business like to say, is about more than just paper.

Today, Acme has divisions that handle food service packaging; restaurant equipment and smallwares; janitorial equipment and supplies; industrial packaging; retail packaging; and healthcare cleaning supplies and products. The growth, from a paper company run out of a downtown garage to a multifaceted organization with a footprint that spans the Mid-Atlantic, happened both organically and through acquisitions. And as growth continues, says co-CEO Ron Attman, he and his brothers (Steve Attman is also a co-CEO and David Attman is president) have to find ways to manage that growth — primarily to keep up a high level of service even when they’ve added many new customers.

To illustrate, Ron Attman tells a story about delivering to restaurants. “They’re pretty particular about when we can deliver to them,” he says. “Nobody wants a delivery during lunchtime or during dinnertime. So, it’s pretty hard, when you send a truck out, whether he leaves at six o’clock in the morning or seven o’clock in the morning, it’s really hard to get to all those places before nine or ten o’clock [a.m.]. So we went to some large customers that had multiple locations and we said to them, look, how about if we deliver to you at night — if you give us a key, we’ll just drop it in your store room, and then when your people come in and open the next morning, it’ll all be there. And that’s really worked well. Not only does it get it to the customer so it doesn’t distract their business, but it’s a lot easier for the trucks to maneuver on the street at three o’clock in the morning than it is at eight o’clock in the morning.”

These sorts of process improvements, which are driven first by customer needs, but also make things work better for the company itself, are the most effective, says Attman. To that end, Acme, which has made a big foray into green and sustainable products over the last decade, is currently redoing its entire warehouse to make the operation run more efficiently, but also to be able to get products to customers faster.

“I think our business has become very competitive, and in order to be competitive on the street,” Attman says, “you have to have really good processes within your operation.”

As a family in business, the Attmans don’t stovepipe their work — the brothers don’t each manage separate divisions, for example. Instead, they work together. Until Edward Attman passed away earlier this year at the age of 95, the three brothers were all VPs (a fourth brother, Gary Attman, is president and CEO of FutureCare Health and Management).

“We listen to each other and nobody has an ego,” says Ron Attman, “and nobody’s concerned about being a boss or taking advice from the other. As a matter of fact, our father always had the title of CEO. … We were all vice presidents, and we really didn’t care that much about it. We were happy to have him as the figurehead that people recognized as the person that started it.”

This spirit of cooperation, Attman says, has always set the tone for the company culture at Acme.

“We’ve had many people advance through our ranks at Acme Paper, and I think the fact that we are a family-owned business, and we have a very congenial and collegial culture, makes it easy for people to have access to top management, to be mentored by management and to grow their capabilities. We offer them seminars, we have coaches that come in and work with various people, and as a result we’ve seen people really grow within our organization and we’re often able to promote from within.”

Every year at the holiday party, Acme recognizes employees who have served a long time with the company — 20, 25 or 30 years, for example. At this year’s party, one employee who has been with Acme for 40 years will be recognized.

“I think the culture encourages people to stick around,” Attman says. “Being a family-owned company, there’s just an atmosphere there that we try to treat everyone like they’re a member of the family.”

Photo (L to R): Scott Attman, VP of Sales; Marc Thomas, Operations Manager; Phil Jacobs, CFO; David Attman, President; Ronald Attman, Co-CEO; Steve Attman, Co-CEO; Michael Attman, Treasurer; Jim Haire, VP of Sales and Marketing; Maggie Duerr, Manager, Customer Satisfaction; Keith Attman, VP of Supply Chain; Andrew Attman, VP of Sales