Counselor Power 50: Maribeth Sandford

Meet The CEO Of Bag Makers Inc.

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Maribeth Sandford"The roar of the crowd and the singing of My Old Kentucky Home." Those will be the lasting memories of the 2012 Kentucky Derby for Maribeth Sandford, CEO of Bag Makers Inc. (asi/37940). Unlike the majority of people who notice those early May staples from the comfort of their own couches, though, Sandford had a decidedly different view. She was in the grandstands watching the race not as a mere spectator, but as the owner of an up-and-coming colt named Take Charge Indy.

With a favorable pedigree, accomplished trainer in Patrick Bryne and three-time Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Calvin Borel on board for the ride, the day started out promising. "We had an animal that was exceptional," says Chuck Sandford. But, it didn't end so well. The horse finished last after succumbing to an injury to its leg – a bone chip that would need surgery and put the horse's career in jeopardy.

The Sandfords' business, though, with Maribeth at the helm, has been running quite well over the past five years. Buoyed by an increase in the popularity of reusable bags, Top 40 supplier Bag Makers grew its sales by nearly 50% between 2007 and 2011. And, while its sales leveled off a bit last year (growing by 2% from 2010 to 2011), the company is having a bounce-back year in 2012.

"We're up. We're strong," says Chuck Sandford. "We're presently up around 9%."

Of course, Bag Makers, like many in the industry, has been forced to face increasing numbers of plastic bag bans in the United States. While this has certainly presented new opportunities for sales of reusable bags that many supermarkets and retailers are beginning to sell or give away, it has also put a dent in the traditional plastic bag business.

That's where Bag Makers has found itself in an advantageous position. One reason the company's sales of plastic bags has not been in decline is that it manufactures a thicker bag that does not fall under the many restrictions. "We haven't closed on any press because of the bans," Maribeth Sandford says.

And, the Sandfords believe their company will continue to grow, as it expands its bag offerings even further. "We've never had a down cycle," Chuck Sandford says. Steady sales growth can also be attributed to a product category that sees about 40% in reorders.

Maribeth believes that the bag market will find even more opportunities for expansion, as more customers who used plastic bags are now moving to nonwoven, she says. And while plastic bags remain Bag Makers' top seller, nonwoven bags are coming on strong. "People have also gone back to the use of paper bags," Maribeth says.

With her business career thriving, Maribeth still looks forward to more success on the horse race track. Originally from Louisville, she had been to the Kentucky Derby many times before arriving as an owner this year. But the differences are stark: This race, she was afforded a concierge to guide them through the day's events. And as for the tradition of the hats, well, Sandford designed a hat that was over the top. "I went a little bit beyond the style of the hat that's traditional," she says.

The story ends well for Take Charge Indy, too. After successful surgery, he has returned to the track and even ran in the Fayette Stakes in late October.