“People who think they need a big company because of the breadth of products available can find that at Berk Wiper but at the same time receive all of the benefits of a smaller company—like a direct relationship with the owners and better flexibility,” says Larry Berk, CEO.
The Berk family has been in the wiper business for 35 years, ever since Berk’s father Jack, a career salesman, became interested in the disposables business. He got his start in the family garage when, enlisting the help of his four sons, he bought a 1000-pound bale of clothes to turn into rags. Two brothers cut up the rags, one sold them and one delivered them in an old pickup truck. It wasn’t long before the operation moved out of the garage and the business was diversified into other materials including nonwovens, until it was sold in 1998.
In 2000, Larry and his brother Jeff Berk, who is the president and head of sales, started up again and Berk Wiper International as we know it was born.
The company’s most recent transformation was a name change from Berk Wiper Converting to Berk Wiper International which Berk says better reflects the company’s international presence along with a move to the new Boyertown location which gives the company more space and better process flow.
The new site contains 16 converting lines and one lamination line as well as ample—and incredibly organized—warehouse space for raw materials and finished goods. The space even includes a sample room containing every single one of Berk’s many wipes products. These samples are regularly sent out to new and existing customers to showcase all that the company has to offer. Multiple freight bays make supply and distribution easy to manage. Berk sells and distributes products to all 50 states and 20 countries and sources products from all over the world.
Currently nonwovens represent about 55% of Berk’s business. A big piece of Berk’s business is in the medical wash cloth field but the company has a wipe for every market including jan-san, food service, healthcare, automotive and industrial. Its capabilities include flat sheeting, interfolding, 1/2, 1/4, 1/6 and 1/8 folding, perforating, laminating and slitting.
Because Berk offers no minimum runs, this has allowed the company to work with some entrepreneurs on many interesting products. The latest of these is a product called Food Fresh liners, a patent-pending absorbent wipe that is placed in takeout containers to absorb moisture, keeping food fresh—lettuce greens and French fries crispy.
Berk says working with entrepreneurs on new ideas for wipes that solve his customers’ problems is one of the best parts of being in business. He works closely with his research and development team on ways to improve his offerings. He says that the innovation of the nonwovens manufacturers has helped him immensely. “Almost every day we are seeing a new substrate, technology or a new way to package materials. I really have to hand it to these nonwoven producers.”
In fact, Berk says the biggest challenge he faces in the wipes industry is dealing with all of the new and exciting ideas in the marketplace. “With wipes, every time you think there’s nothing left to come up with someone has a new idea. There is always a new product or a new take on an old idea,” he says.
Consumer needs combined with the innovation throughout the supply chain will continue to drive Berk’s business as well as growth for the industry as a whole.
“Anyone who can’t drive growth or find new customers in the wipes market is not trying very hard,” he adds.