Touring the 80,000 square foot production facility of Farnell Packaging Limited, it’s hard to believe that at one time the business had just a single simple machine for making freezer bags.
Today, the Dartmouth company is a versatile manufacturer of flexible packaging (primarily plastic film), realizing tens of millions in annual sales. Their handiwork is everywhere – from seafood packaging to apple bags, from bread bags to diaper bags.
Dedication to customer service, resourcefulness and innovation are all in evidence at Farnell Packaging, which, in 2007, received three environmental awards for its work in developing a iodegradable/compostable bag for a Canadian Plastics Sector Council conference directed to young people.
“I think it tells us we’re really on the right track and we’re dedicated to being better at what we do and for the environment,” says Farnell Packaging president Don Farnell about the awards.
Farnell Packaging believes it was the first company in Canada to receive the US Composting Council certification for its biodegradable/compostable bags. In 2002 the Biodegradable Products Institute granted its compostable logo use to the company.
Farnell Packaging has sold quite a few of the bags for green bins in Prince Edward Island and has also been in conversation with the 2010 Olympic Games in connection with using the bags.
Farnell has many hopes for the compostable/biodegradable products but recognizes it will take time. “Until the world gets a better hang on composting and we can get the prices down – and that will only come with volume – it’s going to be a bit of a hard sell.”
The roots of Farnell Packaging date back more than 45 years. Farnell had been transferred from Nova Scotia to Toronto to work in the marketing department of a national company and became involved in packaging through product development. While he enjoyed his work, he missed the ocean.
“One day in late August, when the humidity was very high in Toronto, I got stuck under an underpass on St. Clair Avenue, sucking up gas fumes, and I couldn’t move and I said ‘Why am I doing this when I can be down breathing all that fresh air in Nova Scotia?’” Farnell, who hails from Amherst, recalls. “So, having had wonderful experience here in marketing or sales I knew a lot of people and a lot of things so I decided to start my own business.”
Farnell and his wife, Amy, set up shop in a small office in their basement and worked as a sales agency representing different companies before entering themselves into manufacturing.
Farnell Packaging remains a family business today. Amy Farnell is executive vice-president and the Farnells’ two daughters and a son-in-law also work in the company. A sense of connectedness extends to the company’s approximately 150 employees.
“I think we have a wonderful staff who, a good portion of them, have never worked anyplace else,” Farnell says. “We even have people who married after they met here and have started families.”
Supervisor Nancy Lowe has worked at Farnell Packaging for 20 years. “When I first worked here I was a single mom and whenever I had problems at home with babysitting or whatever they always arranged around my schedule….” she says. “And now my son plays hockey and so we still work around my schedule. So it’s very nice and we have a lot of nice people working here, too.”
Farnell Packaging is a 24/7 operation. The company serves customers from coast to coast in Canada, and also has a market in the New England states and as far west as North Dakota. The company also does a small amount of business in Europe.
A longstanding client is Scotia Investments Limited, a Nova Scotia holding company for a group of about 10 core companies – including CKF Inc. which produces the Royal Chinet line – and other subsidiary companies.
Wayne Folker, retired group purchasing coordinator for Scotia Investments Limited, first met Don Farnell more than 35 years ago. Folker recalls a memory from the early days.
“When you were working on inventories and might run a little short, you would call them and they would be there the next morning with poly bags in their trunk, a couple of cases to keep you going….” he says. “With that sort of sales service and the backup that they provided it certainly built up a good relationship over the years.”
He adds, “They were not only really expert in what they were doing but they had top quality products. When you have a job like I had it’s nice to have people behind you and they were certainly there whenever we needed them.”
Farnell Packaging can tailor its products to meet clients’ needs. Among its other offerings, the company provides sophisticated printing services, labelling and a variety of bag options, including wicketed style, bottom seal and side seal.
In 2004, Don Farnell received the Leader of the Year Award from the Canadian Plastics Industry Association. “For us, for a relatively small company compared to the big world, a family business, it meant a lot because it recognized not me but our company really for its leadership within our particular industry,” Farnell says.
It is leadership that the company has provided from its home base in Nova Scotia. “We came here just to make a living and enjoy living in Nova Scotia and it’s sort of grown a little bit, a little bit,” Farnell says.
One aspect of Nova Scotia that Farnell appreciates is the natural beauty of the province. “We have so much in Nova Scotia, it’s so varied, the geographical part of Nova Scotia – from Bear River to Cape Breton to Amherst…the South shore – all of those places. It’s a wonderful place to live.”
Farnell keeps a Confucian saying on his office door which conveys the sentiment, “Choose a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” They are words he has taken to heart.