On Creating A Sustainable Packaging Business [40% Growth YoY]

Published: February 22nd, 2022
Dennis Salazar
Salazar Packaging
from Plainfield, IL, USA
started February 2007
market size
starting costs
gross margin
time to build
270 days
growth channels
business model
time investment
Full time
pros & cons
40 Pros & Cons
1 Tips
Discover what tools Dennis recommends to grow your business!
Discover what books Dennis recommends to grow your business!
Want more updates on Salazar Packaging? Check out these stories:

Hello. My name is Dennis Salazar. In February 2007 my wife, Lenora, and I decided to start our own business (Salazar Packaging) utilizing the four decades of combined packaging experience we had. By late spring, it became obvious we were trying to create a new business in a depressed economy. We realized the only way we would survive is to do something different from the hundreds of local competitors.

After reviewing the packaging market to determine where our best opportunities might be, we opted to focus on e-commerce packaging both sustainable and branded (custom printed). You can understand how this positioned us perfectly for the great demand for eco-friendly packaging as well as custom branded products. Plain boxes and unprinted mailer envelopes were out, and we were in. After years of solid 10 to 20% growth, the recent pandemic suddenly helped our business grow over 40% in 2020 compared to 2019.


What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?

Lenora and I met and became friends at a previous employer we both worked for. It was a good company but as we approached “middle age” we realized we had reached a “now or never” place in life. We also knew that the only way we would have a program we agreed with was if it was our program, a company, and the direction we designed rather than chosen for us. We left our employer on good terms and began our journey on uncharted waters, at least uncharted for us. We realized we knew everything about packaging applications and products, but very little about operating all facets of business beyond sales and marketing.

We did not have the financial/bookkeeping, IT, or HR support we were accustomed to having while working for a much larger company. More importantly, we no longer had a salesforce. It was Lenora and me against the world. Keeping in mind this was in 2007, we received some very good advice from a friend who told us we had to establish a presence on the internet. We had decades of experience and knowledge but we needed to leverage that background into sales opportunities and inquiries. We started writing for blogs that were focused on sustainability and soon we were published in GreenBiz, Tree Hugger, Sustainability is Good, and republished by Rueter’s, and other news agencies. We were also written about in publications like Crain's Chicago Business, and even The Washington Post. We started getting invited to shows and gatherings as guest speakers. All of this exposure was incredibly encouraging but more importantly, it helped us in terms of SEO and links when we decided to create our blog.

Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?

I have to admit the first few years were very difficult. The economy was awful and we quickly went through all of our resources including those we did not have. We borrowed against our insurance policies and credit cards to the max. That may sound irresponsible but we were convinced that if we could stay alive long enough, we would eventually succeed.

By 2010, we were able to finally start drawing a salary and the financial bleeding had stopped. We were blessed and two years later, we had managed to repay every dollar we owed anyone and everyone.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Today we are a multi-million dollar company, quite profitable, and we discount our bills with prompt payment. That attracts bigger and better suppliers to work with. We have a national presence and ship our products from coast to coast with the help of ten manufacturing partners scattered around the country.

Do your homework and study the competition. Talk to trusted people and see what they think about your million-dollar idea.

The key has been gaining and maintaining a strong web presence and today we typically receive over 200 phone and internet inquiries every month. We have received rave reviews and recognition from both the packaging industry as well as the green sustainable community.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

The most important thing we learned was to not be afraid to take a chance and stay flexible. Certainly quitting two lucrative jobs and starting our business was a leap in faith but once we made that decision, as we reminded ourselves almost daily, there was no “plan B”. Understand and study your market and if you think there is an opportunity for you, try it. As long as there is not a major, additional resource investment required, what do you have to lose?

We were competing with larger companies every day and the biggest advantage we had was our smaller size because it allowed us to move quickly when we saw a potential market for us. I recalled my days at a billion-dollar company and how long it took to get anything new to the market. We could do it within a week or two and if it turned out to be a bad decision, we could withdraw from that market even quicker.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We are a B2B company and with the exception of Instagram, are not active in social media. We tried it and it was simply not a good fit for us. Yet social media is very important to our customers who are primarily B2C, so we must understand social media to be able to help our customers.

For example, last weekend my granddaughter asked us to take her to a new retail girl’s apparel “thrift” store that was all over TikTok. I tagged along mostly out of curiosity and sat in the car waiting for the girls to do their shopping. When they came out with their finds, I could not help but notice the expensive price tags and like new condition. I suspect most of what they purchased was not thrift or reused at all. However, there was a non-stop, steady flow of girls and mothers going in and coming out carrying shopping bags. That is ALL about social media and the power it has over all of our businesses.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

We have been very fortunate to have a handful of close friends and business associates who helped us understand the details and intricacies of owning and operating our own business. One friend specialized in web design, internet blogging, and SEO. Another friend is an expert on the financial side of the business and gave us great advice in terms of taxes and expenses. As well as other friends who gladly shared their experience and knowledge, or gave us great contacts we could utilize. That is how we found our accountant and our banker.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

When we started, everyone told us it would take twice as long and cost us twice as much money as we thought. Of course, we did not believe them, but now looking back, they were correct.

It is important to note that as a packaging designer we have worked with hundreds of people introducing new product lines for an existing company or starting a new company from scratch. So we have a LOT of experience beyond what we went through. I can tell you that many fail for lack of financing as well as lack of market knowledge.

Do your homework and study the competition. Talk to trusted people and see what they think about your million-dollar idea. Is there a market? What is that market size? How are you going to get to it?

Our MBA’s came from watching TV and learning from programs like Shark Tank and The Profit because we were able to learn from others’ successes as well as their failures. We often hear an owner state that “this is the way we have done it for fourteen years”. In many cases, they are the problem because they are so close to the situation that they do not realize losing money or squeezing out a living for fourteen years is not sustainable forever.

Where can we go to learn more?

We currently have three active websites that include:

Want to start a packing business? Learn more ➜