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Pioneers of Plastic: A Conversation With Flex-O-Glass

On a recent episode of the “Taking Care of Business” podcast, NHPA’s Melanie Moul talked to Chris Warp, president of Warp Bros./Flex-O-Glass, about the company’s milestone of reaching 100 years in business in 2024. Click here to listen to the full episode.


 

Melanie Moul (MM): Some people may be familiar with the Warp Brothers name, but can you give people a brief history of the company?

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Flex-O-Glass President Chris Warp

Chris Warp (CW): It’s hard to keep it brief when it’s been around for 100 years, but I’ll do my best. My grandfather started a company back in 1924. His parents immigrated over from northern Europe and they were out on the Great Plains and times were tight, but due to the need and pinching pennies and making do with what they had, my grandpa came up with what is known today as Flex-O-Glass. It’s a simple invention: It’s a glass substitute for a chicken coop house that involved basically impregnating canvas with a paraffin wax. In November 1924, he came to Chicago to start the company. So from that point, it has just been a lot of development, innovation, spanning different products, different markets, serving different customers.

What was one product is today thousands of products across three sales divisions. Warp Bros. is the one that I think most people are familiar with, hopefully. But we also serve the agricultural market with our Warps Greenhouse products. And we do also get into industrial applications like packaging under our Flex-O-Film sales division.

I am third-generation. My grandfather started the company and my father also owned it. He was with the company for about 45 years, and I’ve had the opportunity and the blessing to sit in as a president for about the last four years here.

MM: Yeah, it sounds like there’s just been a lot going on over the last 100 years. Can you tell us about how the company has evolved over that time, whether it’s in product evolution or business philosophy? What’s been the key driver of evolution for the company?

CW: It’s a tough question to answer, especially as we prepare for this 100th anniversary. We’ve been going through a lot of our historical documents and reminiscing and looking at our timeline. So it’s hard to pick a favorite story, whether that be related to a product, man, machine, material, method or market.

There are a few that really stand out for me. We do a consumer sheeting product called Carry-Home® under the Warp division. That’s a retail consumer plastic sheeting.

It makes sense for the DIYers. But that product came into existence back in 1954, and that was a pretty significant point because it’s a product we still sell today and it’s very successful. It’s very well recognized among young consumers and dealers.

It was also the same time that we developed our Flex-O-Bag product, which today we sell in multiple SKUs. And there’s great popularity among our contractor bags specifically. That was a significant era because it got us into blown-film extrusion. It was so early back during that period that a lot of the equipment that those products were manufactured on, we made.

We had an entire footprint dedicated to tooling and creating the blown-film extrusion equipment that you can buy, and see on the shelf from equipment suppliers. It was that ingenuity and pioneering spirit that manifested and helped propel the company into who we are today.

And what we continue to hope to be, is leaders, innovators and always looking at things a little bit differently.




MM:
One thing that we’ve talked about as we were preparing for this conversation is this idea of gratitude. There’s been so much that your company has done over the last 100 years, but it’s really about the people who have made it possible. So tell me a little bit about who and what you are grateful for.

CW: It’s hard to give thanks to so many people. Like I said, my grandpa was a pretty prominent figure throughout his tenure here at the company, but he didn’t do it by himself. And it’s been interesting. I grew up in the company. I worked in the mail room when I was probably too young to be working, but I’ve known some of these people for a significant portion of my life.

That includes employees or vendors and even customers. Everybody’s been so helpful in all their commitment to not only our brand, but so many of our suppliers we have had relationships with for upwards of 70 years. And it’s those relationships on the supply side that have been paramount to who and where we are today. Furthermore, it’s the customer base too. We’ve had the same customers and have had the long-standing relationships that we value so much.

It’s not that we’re constantly churning and burning or looking for new customers, but we really value the dealers and our wholesalers, because they’ve helped us endure and be resilient through the good and bad times. It’s been mutual. We’ve been able to help out our customers and vendors as well. It’s nice when we as a collective unit run into hard times, whatever that may be, so that we have each other’s backs. Another quick shout of gratitude to those who are listening or familiar with our product, we appreciate your support. We appreciate hearing about how long you have been using it.

It’s great to have a positive impact in not only their business but even, you know, in whatever project they’re working on.

MM: I think you touched on this a little bit earlier, but are there any specific innovations or product developments that have been integral to the company’s success over the last century?

CW: One thing that’s specific to us that has helped us in our continued success and pursuit of excellence is our top-quality plastics. We try to provide a product based on nominal—if it’s a 4 mil by 10 ft. by 100 ft., it is what it is. You’re not going to get any less than that when you buy a Warp product. Is it innovative? I think it is, especially in today’s age, there can be modifications, or there’s tolerance and things that go into the product, but we really like to stick to that level of integrity in what we provide the customer. Also, we are made in USA. We take pride in providing jobs to locals in our community and even local vendors for that matter. We take pride in our products having been and continuing to be made in the U.S.

MM: NHPA has been around for 124 years this year, and one thing that we’ve always talked about is this idea of how to help independent retailers differentiate their operations. Especially over the last 30 years as big boxes have blown up, and over the last five years when consumers pivoted into wanting a local business, independent retailers must have something that sets their operation apart. How do you think Flex-O-Glass products would help the independent retailers who are listening to this lean into that differentiation?

CW: We’re made in the USA, and we’re a small business as well. And we were created and built on a dealer market. When my grandpa used to sell Flex-O-Glass, he would get in his car and go from dealer to dealer. There were no warehouses, and that’s something that we understand is very critical to our core business and the folks that we want to serve. So I take that to heart, not just in what we do today as a company, but what I do when I walk out the door. Small businesses are very important to me and to us. We don’t always work with the biggest vendors either. We look upstream in the vendor realm and we go downstream too. It’s great when we go to a trade show, it’s always great to hear the dealers say, “We look for the yellow, we look for the Warp’s logo.” These are what help identify and differentiate our products from some of the others because they know when they get that yellow Carry-Home box that it’s going to be the best quality, made in the USA and it’s from a company that does very much support that independent dealer channel.

MM: So with these first 100 years under your belt, what are some of your future goals, some of the near-term goals and maybe some of the longer-term goals that the company has?

CW: We’ve been very traditional in how we conduct business, and you don’t want to forget those core philosophies, top-quality plastics. That’s not going away. But how do we do that differently? Our Jiffy Cover drop cloths have been very successful over the years. That was another innovation from back in the early 60s. As an example, the packaging has been freshened up. It worked and it communicated the story we wanted to communicate, but things are a little bit different now. So we’re trying to mold to those core philosophies and take a strategic approach to how we’re conducting our business. How do we help support the dealers and enhance our customer engagement? We listen to our dealers on what’s working and what’s not. The business hasn’t gone too crazy since the fallback of COVID-19, but getting back into developing new products again. We have the bandwidth and a little bit more to start doing some brand development, brand projection and product development. Looking out a little bit further, you know, it’s one that maybe is a little bit softer of a goal to create and continuously nurture a dynamic work environment. Again, we’ve had our processes for 100 years, and the ones that work are good, but it doesn’t mean we can’t do it better. And so that if we as individuals, employees of the company can grow and find new processes, it helps to develop our people too, all while trying to preserve our core business philosophy. We love to hear back from dealers at the shows to hear what your thoughts are and what you’re seeing.

I definitely want to be more of a listening organization and see what we can do to help out our customers.

MM: What do you think are some of the secrets to longevity, to making it to 100 years?

CW: Integrity in what we do. I can say this is not just multi-generational in ownership, but even among our employees too. We often say as we go around the office, we don’t even finish the sentence, we just say “Treat others.” Treat others as you’d want to be treated. That helps procure good relationships, too. So the relationships I spoke to earlier are key to us and critical to our long-term success. Also being a bit smaller of a company, we’re able to be flexible and nimble. The customer calls and says they need a favor. It’s very nice to be able to be flexible enough to work with the customers and have an open, vulnerable dialogue with them when things are good or help others. I think it all boils down to having a customer-centric viewpoint, and that’s how we conduct our day-to-day business.

MM: Looking ahead, what excites you about the independent channel?

CW: Like I said, we’re coming up on show season, and we were just talking this morning about who’s going where, and unfortunately it’s hard to be everywhere at the same time, but I do like to get out. It’s nice to engage with our dealers and our customers and hear about what’s going on in the communities as well. It’s interesting what you learn, whether some areas of the U.S. have heavy poultry influence. This company was started, basically, with a chicken coop. We’re in conversations with some folks right now about some poultry products, and it’s very reminiscent of how this company came to be what it was. So yeah, getting out, hearing the stories, meeting the people, continuing to grow and strengthen our relationships. We also like seeing what kind of innovations, perspectives and methods we find to allow us to better facilitate business on a day-to-day basis.


About Flex-O-Glass

Flex-O-Glass Inc. is a pioneer in the plastic manufacturing industry established in 1924. From its humble beginnings, Flex-O-Glass has evolved into an industry leader, setting standards for excellence in plastics proudly made in the USA. With three distinct divisions—Warp Brothers Inc., Flex-O-Films Inc. and Warp’s Greenhouse Films Inc.

Flex-O-Glass Inc. offers innovative solutions ranging from top-quality extruded polyethylene plastic sheeting, acrylic safety glazing, and storm window materials to premium plastic films and long-lasting greenhouse coverings. With over a century of expertise, Flex-O-Glass stands on core values that have defined its legacy for a century: resilience, innovation, and ingenuity.

About Melanie Moul

Melanie is the communications and content manager for the North American Hardware and Paint Association. She joined the NHPA team in 2016 as an editor for Hardware Retailing and now helps lead the communications team to deliver relevant, timely content to the industry.

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