PLASTICS TODAY / HEATHER CALIENDO
Most would assume the packaging industry and baseball business are two different ballgames. Andrew Berlin, CEO of Berlin Packaging and owner of a minor league baseball team, sees it quite differently.
“I have to say the similarities between the two businesses is pretty striking,” he told PlasticsToday. “It’s about everything being done right. You have to have the right people doing the right job, the right job training and making sure you do that right, and also meeting the needs of customers and understanding their needs and how to build loyalty with them, plus focusing on sales and marketing. Yes, there are a lot of similarities between the two.”
With nearly $800 million in annual revenue and locations in more than 30 states, Berlin Packaging supplies more than 3.5 billion containers and closures annually as well as labeling, filling, and sourcing services to sectors including food and beverage, personal care, pharmaceutical and nutraceutical, automotive, household care and industrial chemical. For years, the company experienced years of organic growth, however, in recent years the company has also turned to acquisitions.
A lifelong baseball fan, which let’s face it, most Americans seem to be, Berlin grew up cheering for the Chicago White Sox and years later became a limited partner in the team.
“The great thing about the White Sox is being involved in major league baseball, which for someone who always been a fan and loved the White Sox, it’s a great thing,” he said. “While you do get to enjoy perks of ownership, what you don’t get to do as a limited partner is have an impact on the operations, promotions and communications.”
While Berlin has his sights set on eventual ownership of a major league team, it has to be the right time and the right place.
“I’m looking to purchase a major league team in the central division, and the White Sox are not for sale,” he said with a laugh. “So my interests quickly turned to minor league baseball teams and there are only a couple near Chicago that I could drive to easily and be sole owner of team.”
The team for sale? South Bend Silver Hawks, a class A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Stepping up to the ownership plate
Berlin officially purchased the team on 11/11/11 at 11:11 a.m.
“Reason we did that is because anyone that’s been around baseball players and owners, are superstitious,” he said. “11 is a good luck number. WWI ended on 11/11/1918, Apollo 11 was the spaceflight that landed the first humans on the moon. So 11 seemed like a good luck number, especially because the team did require quite a turnaround.”
Right off the bat, Berlin invested about $2.25 million in the stadium and also negotiated a 20-year lease with the city.
It wasn’t just about investment, Berlin said the organization required a complete overhaul including hiring new staff such as Joe Hart, who had previously been involved in the launch of a new franchise in Florida, as president of Silver Hawks.
“He handles the day-to-day and I provide a lot of money and, hopefully, some good ideas along the way,” Berlin said.
After investments were made and the hiring was finalized, Berlin focused on what he calls “touch points.”
“If you take a look at all the touch points, how many times you touch a customer in the baseball game, from the parking lot and walking to the stadium, what are they seeing and hearing, how they are being greeted at the ballpark,” he said. “Once they are inside, what they are smelling and was the food good, was it hot? Also the experience with music and fireworks. We want the best of everything.”
After the first year, the club experienced a 68% increase in attendance.
“It’s kind of interesting, all of a sudden when you mention baseball, everyone takes notice,” he said. “Baseball is that unifying experience – everyone has an opinion of baseball, people have some kind of memory of baseball and an opinion, whether plus or minus, of the baseball and sports industry. People are curious, whether it be our own employees, customers, suppliers, prospects, on how the two businesses work well together.”
Berlin said that in a way, the minor league team kind of serves as a “laboratory” or experiment for him to try out ideas for Berlin Packaging, such as new ways to build customer loyalty.
“I do get to just enjoy the games,” he said. “But I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to fix something that just wasn’t so. It’s been my enjoyment to be in a position where I can impact change; it’s delightful. Culture is the secret sauce for any customer, whether it’s baseball or packaging.”