As manufactured goods go, you can’t get more basic than a corrugated cardboard box. It’s not sexy, especially not compared to an iPhone or a laptop. But no matter how far technology advances, you have to ship that trinket in something. So think of it this way. No box? No computer. No smartphone. No mail-order gifts. No shipments. No flow of commerce.
There’s no alternative as economical or ecological. “You can’t think of a more green business,” says Ron Lemar, president of Rex Carton Co. “We’ve been recycling for 50 years. And the paper industry grows more trees than just about any industry. It’s renewable. We can grow trees forever.”
Lemar took the reins of the company in 1998 from his grandfather Gildo Mazzolin, an immigrant from Cittadella, just outside of Venice, who came to America with nothing. He opened Rex Carton in 1948 after working at other box plants for more than 15 years, and he moved it to its present location, a 140,000-square-foot facility near Midway Airport, in 1968. The company bears the name of the ship that carried Mazzolin to America, as well as the horse that served the family back in Italy. (There’s a horse on the Rex logo to this day in tribute.)
According to Lemar, every day brings with it the chance to carry on the traditions his grandfather established.
“He taught me, ‘Treat people right and they will treat you right,’” Lemar says. “He taught me to work hard, because he worked hard. Yet to him, he never had to work a day in his life: Whether it was the banking business or the box business, he enjoyed it all.”
How does Lemar carry that torch today? “Our employees are like family, our customers are like family. We have long-term relationships with many of our customers. Our philosophy is to do things right, treat people right, and be honest. At the same time, we want to continue to grow the company.”
If longevity on the job is any indication, Rex has succeeded and then some. “People love working here,” Lemar points out. “My cousin just retired after 52 years, another guy just retired after 38 years, and the plant manager has been here 33 years. I’ve been here 32 years, and I have a guy who’s 78 years old. He’s out there on the floor mounting dies.”
That track record is remarkable because Rex Carton has weathered the same changes that have rocked the rest of the manufacturing sector. Somehow Rex has avoided consolidation with larger competitors, and has adapted by constantly updating its equipment. The Rex plant today makes use of computer-aided design and new technologies that streamline the way boxes are made and orders filled.
In Lemar’s capable hands, Rex has emerged as one of the largest corrugated sheet plant converters in the Metropolitan area. The company works primarily with private business, and its products are used to package and ship everything from cheese to steel.
Their dizzying array of goods and services includes shipping containers; inner packaging; point-of-purchase displays; direct print; laminating; die cutting; fold, glue and assembly; design consulting; computer design; warehousing; and just-in-time programs. Even if someone needed boxes to ship their boxes, Rex could make it work.
“Anything that needs a corrugated product, we can produce it,” Lemar says.
Rex Carton Co.
4528 W. 51st St.
Chicago, IL 60632