Given that 2020 marked the beginning of the global pandemic and the end of "business as usual," it seems a most unlikely year to embark on a new corporate venture. Yet, that’s exactly what Benoit Laferrière, Jean Jobin, and Mathieu Laferrière did.
The three entrepreneurs banded together to form Sunset Converting Corp, an away-from-home (AfH) private label tissue converting source for underserved redistributors in Canada and the United States. The visionaries had no way of knowing their decision was made just months before the world was forced to contend with COVID-19.
Despite the unanticipated challenges, the group moved ahead under what Sunset Converting Vice President and Partner Mathieu Laferrière describes as the "unwavering leadership of Sunset Converting President and Partner Benoit Laferrière. He is a very inspirational and determined man. Failure simply wasn’t an option with him at the helm."
Likewise, Laferrière points to the insightful guidance of fellow Sunset Converting Partner Jean Jobin and a team of "absolutely exceptional people" as essential in the success of the company. "Without them there would be no Sunset," he explained. "To build a business that is the magnitude of Sunset within the space of two years is not something one individual can do."
Every aspect of Sunset Converting revolves around collaboration, and that includes building trusted relationships with key suppliers. "From the precarious beginnings during a global pandemic to automated operations with two Perini MyLine lines and two Perini Proxima lines, Körber has always been there for us," Laferrière commented. "Körber is central to our success and very much a part of the future of Sunset Converting."
Rising to the challenge
Of the various tissue markets, AfH was the one most heavily impacted by COVID-19. Mandatory lockdowns and other ramifications of the pandemic drove AfH tissue consumption to a decade-low 2.6 million tons in 2020. ¹
In North America, leading tissue producers reported 2020-2021 sales in the AfH segment decreasing anywhere from 10-20 percent.¹ Smaller players saw sales drop by as much as 40 percent over the same time period.¹
The dire condition of the AfH market arguably put Sunset Converting at a deficit from the outset, but the pandemic created even more obstacles for the company.
As part of its commitment to best serving AfH redistributors in Canada and the United States, Sunset Converting constructed a new facility in Quebec. Naturally, tissue converting equipment needed to be purchased for the facility. The Sunset Converting founders knew Körber machinery was their first choice for quality and reliability, all backed by the support of a knowledgeable and accessible Körber team. Where the machinery would come from wasn’t the question. Rather, it was how the equipment could be trialed, shipped, set up, and readied for production when face-to-face interactions were prohibited.
"We pursued equipment purchases when the pandemic made it tricky. Perini MyLine was readily available, which was key. Also, Körber could demonstrate it for us in their facility in Italy," said Laferrière. "Seeing MyLine in action and experiencing the excellent product quality and features like Aquabond water lamination firsthand confirmed what we needed to know. Plus, Perini lines’ legendary reputation for reliability gave us confidence in our purchase."
Setup of the Perini MyLine lines and related technologies such as Aquabond water lamination during a time when travel to the mill by skilled technicians was not possible presented even greater challenges. Solving them required unconventional thinking, exceptional collaboration, and a great amount of trust between Sunset Converting and Körber Business Area Tissue.
The experience and tenacity of the Sunset Converting partners provided the impetus behind the physical setup of the machines. "I’ve never seen a customer take ownership like Sunset did," commented Matt Kowalski, account manager at Körber Business Area Tissue. "Absolutely nothing happened by chance as Mathieu, Benoit, and Jean installed the MyLines, and that made a world of difference."
In turn, Kowalski and Ivo Cataldi (Project Manager at Körber Business Area Tissue) were the point people on remote technical support. "Not having technicians on-site was difficult. Remote support was our only option and the Körber team worked hard to make it as seamless as possible," explained Laferrière. "If I needed help, I knew it was only a video chat away. I’d show the Körber technicians the problem, and the simple, detailed schematics and instructions I’d promptly receive in return were accurate and saved a lot of time on fixes."
"Equally as important and impressive was the work of Matt Kowalski. He was the one guy I knew I could call at seven in the morning on a Sunday and he’d pick up to help. That’s dedication to customers—a value Körber and Sunset share. Matt made a lot of things possible in impossible times."
Körber balances advanced automation with simple operation
Since startup, Sunset Converting has quickly added a broader portfolio of commercial products to meet AfH redistributors. The addition of two Perini Proxima lines gave it the advanced technology and automation capabilities required to meet demand.
Like the Perini MyLine, the Perini Proxima offers flexibility and speed. Sunset Converting deems this a decided competitive advantage in getting diverse rolled tissue products to the AfH market. "The world-class levels of OEE Proxima and Myline achieved at full speed and spec when running quality substrate is imperative for us," said Laferrière. "It demonstrates Körber machine reliability, which also speaks to the Siemens electronics used to power the converting lines. In three years, we’ve had zero failures."
Sunset empowers employees with Perini MyLine and Perini Proxima
While the Perini Proxima is a more advanced technology than the Perini MyLine, it is still very easy for operators of all skill levels to master. This aligns with the Sunset Converting philosophy of empowering all employees and the commitment to clean, functional automation in the company’s core DNA.
"Whether experienced or a new hire, our employees have the right automation, production versatility, and streamlined processes to achieve their goals," said Laferriere. "They can be proud of their contributions to efficiently providing high-quality private label AfH productions to Sunset customers."
Because of the ease of operation, Perini MyLine and Perini Proxima equipment also address the ongoing skilled labor shortage as less experienced operators can be immediately productive. In addition to providing simple but powerful equipment, Körber Business Area Tissue saw and acted on another way to support tissue converters. Focused efforts in hiring technicians and employees from the Quebec area are underway to provide faster service to the area’s major tissue manufacturers.
Current results and future growth goals
The value of the relationship between Sunset Converting and Körber Business Area Tissue is based on many intangible factors as well as concrete results.
At the time of writing, Sunset Converting is completing the installation of the second Perini Proxima line—for a total of four Körber Tissue production lines. Once operational, Sunset Converting anticipates achieving a 60,000 tpy short-term production capacity of AfH bath tissue and paper towels, with a growth goal of approximately 100,000 tpy. The upcoming capacity increases will be allocated to both rolled and folded products.
The Sunset Converting team continues to keep its eyes on the horizon in terms of aggressive growth. Plans for expansion beyond AfH and into private label retail products are underway and include additional acquisition of state-of-the-art equipment in 2023-24.
"The strategic addition of product lines and technologies is critical to helping us reach the next milestone," said Laferriere. "The capabilities we’ll have in place positions Sunset Converting to become a leading supplier of private label retail products for the Canadian tissue market in the very near future."
Success is often more meaningful when adversity is overcome to achieve it. Sunset Converting faced many challenges on their path to becoming a premier AfH private label tissue converting source for redistributors in Canada and the United States. This drive and determination to succeed was fully supported by Körber Business Area Tissue, forging a bond of mutual respect and commitment to the future.
Anticipating what lies ahead is exciting for Mathieu Laferrière, but it also gives him pause.
"What Sunset Converting overcame to get to where we’re headed simply wasn’t possible without the contributions of everyone in our company and the relationship we have with Körber Tissue. Even though the timing wasn’t always perfect, the team always was—and that’s the magic."
¹Tissue World Magazine, As At-Home tissue reached a decade high, AfH plummeted, June 23, 2021.
This article was written for Tissue 360. Please find the article published on Tissue 360 at this link.