The more time I spend in this industry, the more I realize that “living to serve” is not just a saying: it’s a mission. The Founder of Volm Companies, Gerald Volm, made it his life’s work to serve the customer and the community, a business style that has translated all the way down to third-generation family member and current President and CEO, Daniel Mueller.
“My grandfather, Gerald, had a servant’s heart. He always focused on the customer, regardless of size, and our corporate mission evolved from that,” Daniel begins. “Our vision statement is to be our customer’s most valued partner—the phone call they make first when questions arise around the packing-side of their operations. We do our best to be servants to those around us; we truly believe that by doing that we’ll add value to their business and to this special industry.”
Through this description of Volm’s values, Daniel walks me back in time to the inception of Volm Companies. It started in 1954 as a small, family-run operation—Volm Farm Supply Company of Bryant, Wisconsin—which served the needs of local dairy and potato farmers. Gerald realized that his clientele needed a reliable supplier of used and new burlap to transport their potatoes to market. He would drive over six hours to Chicago to get burlap for his community’s local farmers.
As the years passed, Volm formed distributor relationships with other bag companies and moved its growing business to Antigo, Wisconsin, where it began manufacturing its own packaging to meet changing market needs.
“We were one of the first to bring computerized packing line automation to the North American market for fresh produce,” Daniel says. “Volm then grew into a leading source for packaging and equipment solutions, all while continuing to follow Gerald’s example of serving customers and giving them the high-value solutions they needed with the personalized customer service they deserved.”
Daniel grew up in the packaging solutions industry, where he watched his father bring computerized weighers and baggers to market. You would think his leadership in the company would come with the territory, but he tells me this isn’t so.
“We were one of the first to bring computerized packing line automation to the North American market for fresh produce.”
— Daniel Mueller, President & CEO, Volm Companies
“We have a rule in our family about the third generation: You can’t come back into leadership until you’ve gone away. We have to work our way up into leadership somewhere else first. Our employees and our customers are too valuable to have a family member put them at risk,” he shares with me.
After graduating from Concordia University in St. Paul, Minnesota, with dual degrees in Finance and Marketing, Daniel pursued a career in international finance, working his way up to Interim Finance Director at Cardinal Health—a Fortune 20 company—before deciding that he wanted to come back to the family business. He has now been with Volm for seven years and CEO for three.
Maintining a family-business feel while growing that business to a national scale has been a full-time job, and all the while Daniel has continued the work of his grandfather and father in terms of innovative solutions for Volm’s customers.
“Working in fresh produce facilities can be difficult work—from grading through to palletizing the product,” Daniel says, explaining how the need for automation has propelled Volm to answer innovation’s call. “We do all we can to bring opportunities along the full-line where labor can be reduced and up-time and throughput can be increased. Quite often, our customers come with packaging that they feel will set their product apart, and we want to continue to help develop that. However, the interaction that the package has within the packing line, if not planned properly, can create a huge bottleneck. We want to ensure that the packaging we bring to market doesn’t take a valued customer backward from an automation and throughput perspective.”
Volm also continues to move into specialty packaging and a higher amount of SKUs. With these additions, smaller runs and faster turnaround are made possible by the company’s manufacturing facilities and warehouses in Wisconsin, Idaho, Washington, Colorado, California, and Ontario, Canada. These facilities, Daniel says, allow for Volm to be as flexible as possible in meeting the demands of its customers.
“Quite often, our customers come with packaging that they feel will set their product apart, and we want to continue to help develop that.”
As we continue talking, it’s obvious that Daniel shares his grandfather’s desire to serve the industry, especially as that industry evolves at a rapid-fire pace.
“We want to continue to bring the entire packing-side supply chain into such a cohesive place where what we offer allows our customers to focus on what they do best: growing, buying, and selling product to the North American market,” he says. “With our automated inventory solutions, we aim to provide value by minimizing packing emergencies and shrink while making purchasing operations more efficient.”
Offering value and supply chain innovations are always on the brain for Daniel and the Volm team. In the engineering department, the team strives to bring the best layout and throughput solution to a facility—at a budget that works for them. With its twenty field-service technicians across the United States, Volm ensures that the customer’s up-time is higher. And with its ability to manufacture or source all packaging, supplies, and inventory for those products, the company minimizes the need to juggle suppliers while reducing customers’ working capital.
“When we pull all those pieces together, our goal is to be a service that a customer barely even notices. Their packaging side of operations should not be what keeps them up at night,” Daniel explains.
It’s this line of thinking—Volm’s servant heart, if you will—that allows for the packaging company to keep up with the ever-evolving produce industry, and Daniel wouldn’t have it any other way.