My Wausome Story: Ben Reif, President, Wausau Coated
Original publication date: December 13, 2021
When brands like George Clooney’s Casamigos Tequila call saying they need a specific label created for their tequila bottle, Wausau Coated answers.
Same goes for Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson, FedEx, and Coppola Wines.
“Our culture is to be comfortable with the uncomfortable,” commented Ben Reif, President of Wausau Coated. “A lot of people don’t realize that right here in Wausau, we are producing custom, specialty label solutions seen by millions of people around the world.”
From wine and spirit bottle labels, food packaging stickers, tags that tell you the price of an item at the grocery store, and even barcode shipping labels, if a customer has a specialty label or packaging need, Wausau Coated has a solution.
“We’ve never been a commodity manufacturer, and we don’t want to be,” shared Ben. “Back in 1981, my father Bill recognized a need. No one was providing technology to produce high-end, specialty label products. So he built a solution. And from there, a company. 40 years later, we are still here. The advantages the Wausau region provides has had a lot to do with our success.”
But this story isn’t just about an interesting Wausau-based business. It also has a personal side to it. Truth be told, it wasn’t necessarily Ben’s intent to move back to Wausau and take over the company. However, the right set of circumstances and some advantages Ben feels only Wausau can provide, brought him back.
“I grew up here in Wausau and have a lot of fond memories from my childhood. This is a great place to be a kid. Great schools. It’s safe,” commented Ben. “I moved to Boston to attend college, met my wife, and eventually, we moved back to the Midwest and settled in Minneapolis. A Wausau Coated sales job in Dallas opened up and I accepted. We were happy living in Texas, but once we started growing our family, things changed. I remember our yard in Dallas; we had one tree. And it was always so hot there. One summer, my wife, children, and I came back to Wausau to visit family. We spent a few days on the lake. Trees everywhere we looked. Better weather. Great outdoor recreation. My wife and I both looked at each other and knew this is where we needed to be.”
And so they moved. Ben worked his way up in the company, getting more involved through sales, marketing, and business development, eventually taking over as the President of the company upon his Dad’s retirement in 2012. “I joke that the last six or seven years have been the best years of the company’s history,” said Ben. “But the truth of the matter is, we stand on the shoulders of those that have come before us. With respect to the job my Dad did and the employees he had around him, they built something that is awesome.”
“And that’s a testament to this area,” continued Ben. “I have the hardest working, smartest people surrounding me here. Wausau people have a great work ethic and are extremely creative. They get things done. That mentality is the perfect fit for the type of company we are. I can’t say enough good things about the people here.”
It’s important to note though, Wausau is not immune to the labor shortages other regions here in the United States are also facing.
“It’s not all sunshine and rainbows,” commented Ben, “While the people we do have are amazing, we don’t have enough of them. I think Wausau is up against it. We have a lot of manufacturing in Wausau. We are all looking for people to fill our open positions. Baby boomers are retiring. Whether we are able to grow is contingent on whether we can find people. We need more people moving here, living here, wanting to be here. That’s a challenge that we need to come together on and solve. And the sooner the better.”
From his viewpoint though, the advantages Wausau provides far outweigh the challenges.
“I think this area is sometimes overlooked as a good place to do business because people incorrectly assume you need to be in a large, metro city. And that’s just an incorrect assumption. The cost of doing business here is reasonable. And for us, Wisconsin’s storied history of manufacturing is a huge asset. We build our own production equipment which requires motors, drive systems, and rollers. Interestingly, we can secure these critical pieces of machinery all within 200 miles of Wausau. There is just a ton of manufacturer expertise in this upper Midwest area. I’m not sure if there is another area like this. It makes it the perfect place to run our type of business.”
As he looks to the future, Ben is optimistic. The company is in the midst of the single largest capital investment in its history. They are also looking at expanding their export business and growing their footprint in Latin America while also expanding into Europe.
All that to say, when The Rock’s team comes looking for the latest trendy material for their bottle label, Wausau Coated will be ready.
“I think it would have been wicked difficult to have the success we’ve experienced if we were doing this someplace else,” shared Ben. “It’s a weird mix of inputs, but for us, the people, the manufacturer expertise, the accessibility of raw materials, the proximity to our customers in Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and Chicago, Wausau was always the right place to start the business. And now, as we become a global company, Wausau remains the right place to be.”
To learn more about Wausau Coated, and its history in the Wausau community, visit www.wausaucoated.com.