Written by The Business Journal Staff
Creating a notched edge on a corner packaging board used to stabilize pallet loads will likely turn out to be a million-dollar idea for Clyde Ulrich.
Ulrich, a Kingsburg-based packaging distributor and owner of Sierra Packaging Products, was recently awarded a series of patents on his design of the new packaging board application — and the custom-made machine that he also designed to manufacture them.
The Top Notch Board — U.S. Patent No. 9,169,063 — took more than three years to develop and offers a simpler way for companies to protect their products during transport and storage. Ulrich reports customers in the ag, industrial and food grade industries are lining up to get their hands on the new product.
The idea is strikingly simple: a notched edge on one end of a corner packaging board allows it to be placed firmly and securely on the pallet edge while the materials are being wrapped up for shipment.
“We took a traditional corner board and after looking at it and looking at, put a special niche to it,” said Ulrich, who came up with the idea about 4 years ago and said he’s spent “at least a couple hundred thousand dollars” bringing the Top Notch Board to market.
He said he’s still not sure how much his innovation is worth but expects to get a pretty healthy return on his investment.
“We made a million boards in 2015 during our first full year of production,” Ulrich said. “We’ll double that this year.”
Ulrich said his new board design offers “great protection” while also creating “more pallet stability and a cleaner presentation.”
The Top Notch Board also has a quick and user-friendly application. “You just place them on all four corners before the pallets are strapped,” Ulrich said. “When you use the Top Notch Board, you don’t have to keep going around the pallet making adjustments to the corner boards as you tighten them down.”
Ulrich estimates the time savings to his customers using the new application at “25 to 30 percent. That’s how efficient it is. And having the corners secured like that makes a much better appearance for the buyers when they’re coming in too,” he added.
Ulrich didn’t just create the Top Notch Board. He also designed a new machine that produces the product. The machine’s technology is patented as well.
“PPS Packaging in Fowler produces the Top Notch Board for us under an exclusive licensing agreement,” Ulrich said, adding that he is currently looking for other reliable board manufacturers in the U.S. Canada and Mexico to partner with.
“Once I can show people that I have four or five manufacturers in the U.S., then I’ll start working down through Mexico, South America and Canada,” he said.
Ulrich runs the company, along with his Sierra Packaging Products business, out of a cavernous 50,000-square-foot facility just east of Kingsburg.
The business is a family affair — Ulrich’s wife Tiffany and grown children Austin and Haley all work there. And behind their storage facility, the family also farms 40 acres of almonds.
“Our primary bread and butter is ag packaging,” Ulrich said. “Table grapes, peaches, plums and nectarines — that’s probably about 80 percent of our business.”
Ulrich began his career at Fresno-based Unisource and has decades of experience in the packaging industry. He started Sierra Packaging in 2003 out of a rented commercial warehouse and built the new facility in 2014 just before launching the Top Notch Board.
Over the years, Sierra Packaging has seen steady growth and Ulrich has broadened the scope of his business and now provides packaging and shipping products not only locally but also to the national and international marketplace, with a client list that includes customers in Mexico, Canada, Chile and Australia.
Top Notch Technologies’ motto is “We Make Our Corners Count” and Ulrich is bullish on the prospects for the Top Notch Board.
He is currently licensing the product in nine different countries.
“It all started with me looking for a better mousetrap,” Ulrich said, “just trying to figure out a way to be a better packaging distributor.”