Thursday, November 19, 2009

Founder's daughter owns this outlet for paperboard

Ann Piper says being a woman business owner is an advantage in the paper industry.

"A woman in this business is a rare thing," says the owner and president of Joe Piper Inc. in Birmingham. "Because I am different, people remember me."

Piper says her business is somewhat unusual in and of itself, though. Joe Piper Inc. is an outlet for paperboard used to make such items as folding fast-food and bakery cartons.

Piper says she has never had a chip on her shoulder about not having the same advantages as men in the industry because she has not experienced discrimination.

"I've felt like I always got the same consideration as anyone else," she says.

For Piper, being a woman in business isn't any different than merely "being in business."

Her late father, Joe Piper, founded the company in 1968 when he discovered a need for paperboard distributors while working for a manufacturing company as a representative, she says.

"A customer he was selling to asked if he could get inexpensive paperboard for trouser guards for wire hangers," Piper recalls. "He made some calls and found that product from a converter who made milk and juice cartons.

"Dad realized the need to offer this kind of product. So he started his own warehouse distribution ­ and the rest is history."

When the founder's daughter joined the team years later as a school teacher looking to make some extra money, she says she started doing filing and paper work in the afternoons.

However, she soon became interested in her father's business and was offered the opportunity to develop an export market.

"I think Dad took me on to `take care of his daughter,' not knowing if I could really accomplish the task or if I really wanted it," Piper says.

"Somehow, I just got supercharged about doing it. I got the export business going ­ and today we sell to Israel, South America, Europe, Central America and the Far East, although we still remain primarily a domestic company."

Mims Cooper, a sales representative who has been with the company since 1984, says the paper industry is a competitive business.

"We have a lot of reputable competition, but there are a few out there that are not so ethical," he says.

Cooper says that a typical order in their business is $20,000, and it is shipped primarily based on a trust relationship between Piper and the client.

"We talk to the client and describe what we are going to ship to them, and they have to trust that we will ship what we say," Cooper says.

"Some companies will stretch the truth. The business is built on repeat customers, so establishing a trusting relationship is very important. Ann is very fair, honest and ethical."

In addition, within the company there was little if any problem when Piper took the reins from her father a few years ago because people were already comfortable with her.

"We also have a tight family feeling here," she says.

- Birmingham Business Journal, 3/30/2001