Family and faith work together at GTG packaging
April 10, 2017
Operating a family business isn't for everyone. But Shawna and Kevin Smith agree that for them, it's been worth it.
The Smiths own and operate GTG Packaging and The Box Store at Innovation Way and Double R Boulevard in Reno.
Shawna Smith, who has a background in retail management, is the CEO. Kevin Smith is the sales manager. Their son, William Smith, works in the company as a sales representative. Another son, Matthew Smith, went another direction and works in construction as a welder.
Kevin Smith grew up in Yerington and worked for many years for his brother in Grant Smith Construction. When the construction business hit a slow season in the early 1990s, he happened to mention it in conversation with his friend, Gary Garms.
Garms offered to take him on at the company he and his wife Toni founded in 1988, GTG Packaging.
Kevin Smith worked for the Garms for a couple years before the owners decided to sell. In 1994, the Smiths purchased the business.
In a neighborly deal seen mostly in small towns and family businesses, the Garms carried the note.
While the Smiths were confident about taking on the business together, others were not very encouraging.
"Eighty percent of the people we talked to said it would never work out," Kevin Smith explained during an interview in the GTG offices.
A neighbor who operated a family business told them, "Getting together as husband and wife and running a business will be the worst time of your life," he quoted.
"I can truthfully say it's not been like that."
Another Yerington neighbor, a farmer, said they'd be done in five years.
"We see him now and he'll say, 'you're still doing it aren't you?'" Kevin Smith said with a satisfied smile.
Although the business partnership has 22 years of success, the Smiths admit it hasn't always been easy.
They've dealt with outside frictions and family issues being carried into work and work issues carrying into family life.
They credit their faith, as well as mutual respect, for getting through the difficult times.
"When you agree on who's who in the company, you need to honor each other in that. Family is important and God has to be the center," Kevin Smith said. "Really and truly, our entire business, if God wasn't the center, we wouldn't want it."
It's not just lip service. The Smiths actively volunteer at their church, Life Church Reno.
Business is smoother these days. Kevin Smith also gives credit to his wife for her management skills.
"Shawna does not get the recognition she deserves because she's back here (in the office)," he said. "Generally, sales people are the face of GTG Packaging."
On the other hand, Shawna Smith appreciates her role and the support she has.
"Family, my team, has my back," she said, referring to the entire GTG staff of 14. "Believe me (if I ask to have something done), it gets done. …
"Everybody has my back here. I really appreciate that. It took a lot of years to get to that."
William Smith also appreciates the dynamics of the family business, but from his unique perspective.
"For the most part, we're doing a pretty good job separating where we work (from home life)," he said. "I'm treated like the other employees."
There is one aspect where that's not true. He has a lot more to learn about the business than other employees because the goal is for William Smith to buy out his parents at some point in the not-too-distant future.
And that's one of the things he likes about being part of a family business.
"There's a sense of security in that; a sense of legacy," William Smith said.
And the business is doing well.
GTG occupies a 32,000- square-foot building of which about 7,000 square feet is office and retail space.
The Box Store is the retail arm of the company, supplying a variety of packaging materials primarily to individuals who walk in the door.
GTG merged with Nevada Shipping and Supply, which included The Box Store, in 2010. Only two of the original five Box Stores remain open, the Reno store at GTG and an independently owned and operated store in Carson City. GTG owns the trademark for The Box Store logo.
GTG, itself, is a wholesale business that distributes packaging materials to industrial, manufacturing, agricultural companies and individuals.
They do not manufacture packaging products. Part of the sales team's job is to find manufacturers that can make specific packaging to meet the needs of GTG's clients.
"Some things are custom made, some things are not," Shawna Smith said. "We fit the packaging to the customer."
Kevin Smith calls it a "relationship business."
"Probably 50 percent of our customers we've been selling to for 22 years," he said. "Typically, when we get new business and build that relationship, it sticks."
Among GTG's customers are such large companies as Amazon, HQ Organics, NOW natural products, and EP Minerals, as well as many smaller companies.
"We're the local distributors of the area," Kevin said.
About 15 years ago, there were four locally owned packaging companies," he said.
"GTG is the only truly locally owned packaging company in town. Our competition is with big (national) companies."
"I truly believe being in Nevada is one of the reasons we do as well as we do," Shawna Smith added.
Whether in Yerington or Reno, business often builds friendships and a handshake is respected.
"Honestly, I absolutely have no regrets," Kevin Smith said. "Has it all been roses? No. But I'd do it again in a heartbeat."