This Canadian Manufacturer Made Its Biggest Acquisition Right As COVID Hit

Great Little Box Company forged ahead in uncertain times, and that risk is paying off already

In partnership with CIBC

On February 28, 2020, Great Little Box Company signed a letter of intent to acquire Ideon Packaging. It was the biggest investment commitment in the history of the packaging manufacturer and distributor, based in Richmond, B.C.

“And then, on March 15, everything essentially got shut down,” says Brad Tindall, the company’s president. “We were sitting there wondering if we were going to get shut down, and how many of our customers would be negatively impacted by this.”

The company started in 1982 making basic brown corrugated cardboard boxes, but has since expanded into packaging for “pretty much every industry imaginable,” says Tindall. Retail and the food and beverage sectors, two areas dramatically changed by lockdowns, are a major part of their business—they make everything from wine labels to chocolate boxes—so they had reason to worry.

They took a week to regroup, and then decided to go ahead with the deal despite the unknowns ahead. “We were really worried about the next six months, but we knew coming out of that, even if it was really bad, the two companies together would be so much stronger to capitalize on any recovery, and support our people.” Within weeks of the acquisition closing, Tindall and his team’s instincts proved correct: “We used a tagline, ‘better together,’ and almost instantly we were able to overcome challenges that came up due to the pandemic, because the two groups were together. We started seeing these emails flying back and forth, saying ‘Better together.’”

Photo: Courtesy of Great Little Box Company

What impressed Salvatore Mobilio most about the family-owned business is the way they navigated such a major acquisition during the pandemic. Mobilio, director and team lead in CIBC’s Vancouver Commercial Banking office, served as the company’s CIBC Best Managed coach, and notes that “they seamlessly integrated their biggest competitor during the worst pandemic we’ve ever seen. To face those challenges and do what they’ve done is nothing short of miraculous. They’ve grown exponentially, and it’s quite impressive.”

Photo: Courtesy of Great Little Box Company

Beyond their business acumen, however, it’s the focus on their people that’s always struck Mobilio, who’s worked with Tindall and team for around four years. “For such a big organization, they really run it as a family business. When you walk in, you just feel it,” he says, recalling his first visit to one of their plants, where there was a band playing outside for employees’ enjoyment, and amenities like on-site gyms and yoga classes or physical therapists that allow people to step away from the line or their desk. “They just treat their staff really well,” says Mobilio. “I know they have a lot of long-tenured employees, which is a testament to that.”

That culture was first built by the company’s founder, Robert Meggy, who started the business with three employees and a 5,000 square-foot plant in Burnaby, B.C. “Our philosophy from day one has been to grow our business, grow our people and care for our community,” says Tindall. “We try to foster a culture where everyone is connected and feels like they have a valuable role to play.”

Photo: Courtesy of Great Little Box Company

One of the ways they do this, in addition to open communication and plenty of outside-of-work socializing (pre-pandemic, of course), is through an employee profit-sharing program. “My wife and I joke that it takes profit away from being a dirty word in the business,” explains Tindall, whose spouse, Christine, is the company’s vice president of human resources. Instead of, “Oh, the owners are making so much money while we’re working so hard,” says Tindall, “everybody gets to share in the win.” And, in harder times, the teams rallies behind the company with the gusto of someone with a real stake in its success beyond an hourly wage. “It puts everybody in that owner-employee mindset,” says Tindall.

Looking ahead to the rest of the year, and into 2022, Tindall is confident that the “very stressful” first half of 2020 is going to pay dividends. Thanks to a change in consumer behaviour where we’re all ordering things to our homes instead of going to restaurants and stores, they’ve seen their direct-to-consumer packaging business boom, and they’re ready to make the most of the new opportunities afforded by their merger. Tindall is also looking forward to, restrictions permitting, getting the company’s employees together outside of work again. “Let’s relax, and just be people together again,” he says.