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A Reflection on KM Packaging

Former KM Packaging employee Sara Athey retired back in December having worked for the company for almost 30 years. Throughout her career as part of KM Packaging’s Customer Service Team, Sara was pivotal in laying the very foundations of the business. She formed an essential part of the company's success, contributing to its ethos, handling global logistics and acting as customers’ key point of contact. Here, Sara reflects on her time with the company and describes the changes over the years. 

“When I was hired in 1989, I was KM Packaging’s first full-time employee, forming the start of our dedicated customer service team. It was as true then as it is now that the company always looks to hire those with similar values. Particularly in those early days, I’m certain that company founders Mark and Keith were looking for someone they knew would be as passionate as they were. 

“The company was already growing at a significant rate by the time I joined, so one of my very first tasks was to find our next recruit. I found the perfect right hand woman in Gail Starrs, who we brought on to work on the technical side of the business and I’m thrilled to say, is still with the company today working in our Technical team and and is responsible for managing trial orders into our customers around the globe. It really is testament to the wonderful team atmosphere at KM that there are a number of those that joined early on in the company’s history that still work there. One of the things I miss most about my job is the people; it truly is such a vibrant group where we support each other across teams and celebrate successes together. 

“From the off, my role was busy and varied given KM’s inherently international nature, from its origins supplying packaging solutions to the confectionery market in North America and the Middle East. No matter where our customers are in the world, the heart of our customer service ethos has always been to be there at the end of the phone so there’s always a real person to talk to. No complicated voicemail systems or email, which of course came later. We believe there’s nothing that can rival real human contact and the security that you know someone will be there to sort out any issues as and when they may arise. This meant I had fantastic opportunities to go overseas and see first-hand the day-to-day work our customers did, helping me to gain real insight into their operations and build a genuine relationship they knew they could trust. 

“KM’s aim, then and today, is to make packaging forgettable for its customers, safe in the knowledge that we can provide the right solution, in full and on time, wherever in the world they may be. This of course presents its own challenges, not least in the importing and exporting logistics of moving things seamlessly around the world. I remember times when pallets would end up in the wrong places or there might be issues with customs, but we always found a way to work it out and make sure our customers got what they needed, though it certainly made my work varied!”

KM is now active in eighteen countries, with an impressive overall export sales growth increase of £1m in the past two years alone. The company has also recently recruited Stephen Upton as its new Business Unit Director in support of a targeted push to drive new business in the European and Middle Eastern markets. 

Sara continued: “Of course there have been many changes over the years, particularly the shift from manually writing, processing and faxing physical paperwork to today’s almost total digital communications. As a result, we now have new, tailored systems in place for managing our day to day operations, though we have held tightly onto our core values throughout the transition and endeavoured to keep doing business in ways the customer wanted, rather than trying to make our customers fit into some system or other. 

“It truly has been a privilege to be part of the company’s evolution, seeing it grow from just the three of us at the start to today’s bustling team of well over twenty, as well as moving into new and exciting markets and responding to ever-changing trends. I have no doubt that the company will continue to go from strength to strength over the coming years and that our dearly-held values of innovation, passion, trust and ownership will forever remain at the heart of KM.”

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