With an origin story fit for Silicon Valley, the then-31-year-old entrepreneur sacrificed his comfortable corporate life to start the prepared food packaging and transportation solutions business in 2005, using his garage as a warehouse and his basement as an office.
Offering a range of biodegradable, pulped paper trays and thermal transport options for prepared meals, Solpak now serves more than 530 organizations in the food sector — a clientele that exploded during the pandemic as demand for prepared takeaway meals accelerated.
“ Clients are ready to invest in packaging that is good for the environment,” explained Salerno. “We had many, many new clients coming to us, so we had to develop more products, increase capacity quickly, and we needed an even bigger team on the ground.”
In 2021, Solpak also acquired Bartrol — a Canadian manufacturer of stoves, food warmers and thermal delivery bags — along with its customer base, which included a variety of food suppliers, large and small, from commercial kitchens to prepared food delivery companies, to caterers and restaurants.
Getting the right help
Benefiting from the National Bank’s small business development services, increased credit, and rate hedging instruments during a massive growth and acquisition, the entrepreneur credits his account manager Isabelle Caron for her excellent advice and support during this unprecedented, year-over-year growth.
“We were growing so fast,” Salerno recalled. “It wasn’t evident, but we really needed [her] help.”
Braced by the bank, Solpak was able to quickly adapt and grow its team, which now counts more than 15 full-time employees on payroll. The company also took advice from foreign exchange specialists to protect profit margins using hedging instruments against exchange rate fluctuations.
“It’s been fun to see how a business can grow, despite a crisis [and] live out its potential,” said Caron.
The account manager is not only impressed with the positive impact that Solpak’s ecological packaging options have had in the market, but said it’s been gratifying to help her client develop, “especially as we’ve seen lots of difficulty with the supply chain during the pandemic.”
A confident expansion
In a few short years, Solpak expanded its offer, inventory, client base, team, and market position and recently acquired a brand new office and warehouse in Rigaud, Quebec.
“[Caron] knew that, in our case, we were in growth mode,” Salerno said of the journey, adding that it was a real challenge to plan the construction of their new space and move while maintaining the pace of production.
The bank’s increased credit facilities, support in business development to accelerate growth and, more recently, counsel on inflation has been invaluable, he added.
“I have a lot more confidence.”
Looking to the future, Salerno plans to put all the lessons learned from Solpak, the pandemic, and fluctuating financial markets to good use. Following in the footsteps of his serial-entrepreneur father, he confessed he has a few other projects in the works.
Working 50 to 100-hour weeks, entrepreneurs need to be incredibly motivated from sun up to lights out. The day-to-day is not just about the company but also finding time to plan, reflect, and make decisions. Nevertheless, entrepreneurs love what they do and are fueled by their passion. And we’re here for it. For more information on how to grow a good business idea, discover our tailored solutions for entrepreneurs.