Every great product is greater with the right packaging. Jerry and George Filippidis are the creative masterminds behind ARES Printing & Packaging, a very forward-thinking manufacturing enterprise that produces printed cartons, pop displays, and corrugated supplies. They regularly work with large-name brands like Starbucks, Pfizer, and Estee Lauder as well as emerging and small businesses. The two brothers are supremely warm-spirited and well-respected. One of their grandmothers used to sew zippers onto apparel, so manufacturing is in their roots. We had a great time touring the factory!
At a glance:
- Speciality: Paper-based printing and packaging for products in any industry
- Minimum order quantity: None
- Location: Brooklyn Navy Yard, New York
- Ideal client: Big brands and startups alike
- Factory profile: https://makersrow.com/ares-ny
- Fun fact: The factory space has been used to shoot Law & Order!
“Typical immigrant spirit”
Jerry and George’s parents opened shop in Long Island City in the 1970s. Their mom hails from Cyprus and dad from Greece and Russia. Their dad was orphaned at a young age and worked at a print shop. He became an aerial photographer in the military, after which he attended the New York School of Printing.
Their parents had the “typical immigrant spirit.” They opened up many types of businesses, such as a diner and a car service, before settling on a print shop. Their mom is “super smart and super cool” – she took over backend finance and accounting. The Filippidis family were the first to run a six-color press in the United States.
Up until a few years ago, Jerry and George’s parents were extremely active in running the business. Now the two are past their late 70s and exercise a lighter touch in daily activities. The brothers have taken over.
“We specialize in high end, high quality packaging at any volume”
The company started off with a specialty in high end cosmetic packaging – for perfumes, makeup, you name it. They met with Bobbi Brown before she got big. Cosmetics is challenging because “you have to get the right shade and the right skin tone – once we could service cosmetics, we could do anything.”
From there, the company expanded to pharmaceuticals and liquor. They now have a large food and beverage contingency. This works well because all of their inks are soy-based, and therefore edible in theory (or at least not harmful). There products have no traces of lead or other poisonous chemicals.
Everything is strictly paper-based. In industry language, ARES makes paperboard, E-flute, B-flute, folding cartons, and POP displays. In colloquial terms, they’ll “package anything they can get [their] hands on.” They even though ARES constructs packaging for large corporate clients selling at warehouse stores like Costco and Walmart, they are also very receptive to working with startups, and in fact, enjoy it.
They’ll inquire about each product’s properties such as weight, dimension, cost, and intended distribution channels, and collaborate with the client to come up with the right packaging accordingly. “If it’s a five-dollar product, we won’t make two-dollar packaging.” The brothers come from a structural design background and love the challenge of conceptualizing interesting forms.
“Our business has exploded”
The business experienced ups and downs in the past, when they were solely on the cosmetics industry. Sales centered around major holidays like Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Mother’s Day, and simmer down in other periods. They’d compensate by planning for this volatility in advance.
Now that they’ve diversified, ARES has a constant flow of customers and demand is off the charts.They differentiate themselves through quick turnaround time and emphasis on high quality. Some clients come with an existing design in search of more competitive pricing, others for product improvement, and a large faction for brand new packaging altogether. Shaky economic times have sometimes been good for the company because potential customers approach them in search of more affordable options.
Business spreads through word of mouth, and the company is also assertive about bidding on new projects. They don’t turn away low minimums, but instead “grow people who will remember them when they’re big.” Standout packaging beyond a square box can be costly to produce, but it’s also fun to work on. George showed us some boxes he designed for a local candlemaker looking for “super slick packaging” – the team came up with a unique hexagonal shape and different interior shades to match the color of each candle flavor.
“We were always green, but now it’s marketable”
The company has always been green and sustainable, before those were popular buzzwords. George and Jerry were raised as environmentalists – they were Boy Scouts, collecting cans and newspapers at a young age. Their factory is kerosene-free and acetone-free with zero liquid waste and minimum emissions. They’re Rainforest Alliance certified and FSC certified. The brothers hold themselves to an environmental standard beyond that of the certifications and might even develop their own certification system some day.
Once someone asked them if they make green packaging and they retorted, “yeah, we do every color!” It didn’t occur to us them that they were onto something novel. They were always “green,” but now it’s marketable.
The company is extremely progressive in other ways as well. It provides free lunch to office staff, and has been doing it before Google ever did! The tradition started back in the day when there were no good food options in the vicinity of the factory. The brothers work hard to build a collegial the culture. Their office is strategically located in Brooklyn Navy Yard, a nonprofit industrial park in the heart of the city’s crossroads, so that it’s easy for over 80 employees as well as clients to get here. The company is built on the principle of sustaining relationships over decades while acquiring new clients.
“One of the largest laser-cutting machines on the East Coast”
Everything is done in-house. We could only get a limited tour because of non-disclosure agreements before the holidays, but we still witnessed booths with color-correct lighting, one of the largest laser cutting machines on the East Coast, and a hand cut template for a puzzle. We also toured a makeshift office space for visitors featuring a pool table, arcade games, and a popcorn machine with “ARES” branded paper holders that the company uses to differentiate itself at trade shows.
In non-working hours, the factory has been used for photography and film shoots for TV and movies – such as Law & Order and The Following. Students and Boy Scouts come by to collect paper that the brothers donate to local schools. The factory also contracts with artists and art galleries, subleasing the space to them for rent or special events.
“We were going to become doctors”
George and Jerry both attended the Rochester Institute of Technology. Most of their classmates developed specialties in imaging – the ones in magazine and newspaper production aren’t faring so well anymore. George was an engineer for Mitsubishi Paper Mills, the largest Asian paper manufacturer, specializing in image transfer of materials made out of paper – during that time, his family would hardly see him because he was always traveling. Jerry was working for for Jefferson Smurfit in statistical processing control.
Jerry came on board first, when the company was growing too quickly for their parents to handle. George set up camp during a non-compete period from a previous job. Within six months, sales had doubled, quality had improved, and he stayed on. Their parents had been working for brokers, but the brothers brought strength in sales and structural design to the table.
“We are very different in personality and taste. But we both have a lot of friends, are interested in networking and involved in a lot of charities.” When asked how they work together, George smiled, “I wouldn’t work with my friends, but I don’t know anyone who works as hard as my brother Jerry. He’s super smart at running the factory.”
Since the company is growing, the two spend a lot more time together. “Twenty years ago, our mom used to referee us. We’re still on separate floors, but now we’re talking all day long by intercom and phone.”