Jeff Balck named his company after the Black Forest, a beautiful, vast, and dense woodland in Germany.
RPA Editor: Tell us about your business, Black Forest.
Balck: We provide very specialized stainless steel containers for closed loop applications. Companies use our containers if they have flammable, corrosive, poisonous, or very sensitive products that require special handling. Our containers are cylindrical or square, and range in size from very small bottles to intermediate bulk containers. Many customers not only use our tanks and containers for transportation but also use them store their product for some time on site, and then move the containers directly on to the production line as needed. We also have a rental fleet; that is the Black Forest Resources part of the business and it is our fastest area of growth.
RPA Editor: You’re a big fan of stainless steel. Tell us why.
Balck: Stainless steel has unique properties that make it very durable, strong, and cost effective for moving sensitive product. It can also be sterilized, an important quality for certain industries. For example, some food manufacturers don’t want to add preservatives to their product – like fruit fillings in yogurt – because they can alter the taste. They can pour the hot unpreserved filling into an aseptic sterilized stainless vessel with an inert atmosphere, and it won’t spoil. Our filling and dispensing systems are also 99% stainless.
Safety is another key benefit of stainless. The pharmaceutical industry often works with small quantities of very pure or hazardous solvents. A glass container might keep the solvent pure, but when the bottle drops and breaks, it creates a serious hazard. Our vessels not only keep high value liquids ultra pure, they also are designed to allow for pressure dispense and minimize operator exposure. That was a big driver for the whole industry to switch from glass bottles to our stainless steel UN approved containers.
RPA Editor: What are your biggest markets?
Chemical is the biggest, followed by the food industry. And our rental business is going strong. We rent and repair the entire fleet of aseptic totes used to ship fruit for yogurt and food preparations in the US. They love our containers. And some companies opt to rent when they have a need for only a limited time. Our chemical customers might have a short-term special project that involves hazardous materials.
RPA Editor: What gets in the way of talking about reusables with a new customer?
Misunderstanding the cost of reusables is the biggest obstacle. It’s hard to get businesses that use one-way packaging to look at their entire cost of handling and shipping materials. Some only look at the upfront costs of our product. They don’t always understand the long-term cost-saving benefits of reusable packaging, and often fail to consider safety consequences of using an inferior product for hazardous materials until after they’ve had a problem. It’s a big education effort.
Stainless steel is unique because it can be used to ship, store, and process hazardous and sensitive materials safely and economically. Our vessels will last 20 years or longer. At the end of their life, customers will have the residual value of scrap and zero landfill. At the end of the day, it’s all about saving our customers money.
RPA Editor: You exhibited in the Reusable Packaging Pavilion at Las Vegas. How was the experience for you?
It was a positive experience for us for generating business, and for the networking. We talked to several other members there and made some good connections for our business. Also, we have some good contacts now to refer customers to when we don’t have a solution for them.
RPA Editor: Tell us about the origin of Black Forest.
I worked for Thielmann Container Systems in Germany for three years in the 90’s. They make a similar product. When I came back to the US, I partnered with Tom Leftwich to form Black Forest. We picked that name because one of the companies I worked with in Germany was in the Black Forest.
Thielmann is a supplier for us today, and we also have a partner company in Europe. This has worked out really well. Sometimes a customer might be US-based and have subsidiary in Europe. But the two places are not communicating well about the supply chain. We facilitate that communication. We do a tremendous amount of business internationally so I travel a lot.
RPA Editor: And what do you do with your free time when you’re in the US?
Balck: I am married and have 3 kids. We live in upstate South Carolina which is a great place to live. I like sports of all kinds, and hunting and fishing. And I coach youth sports.
RPA Editor: You know that everyone will think I spelled your name wrong; that it should be B-l-a-c-k, like the company.
Balck: I get that a lot. It’s just a coincidence and it always confuses people.
To reach Jeff, call (864) 282-2301 or email email@example.com