In September, Regions holds its annual associate recognition event – Evergreen. It’s a week the company sets aside to celebrate the contributions of Regions associates, the impact they make in the community, and much more.
The event – more than 15 years the making now – includes service anniversary recognitions, team celebrations, a day off with pay, and a token of appreciation presented to all associates.
In 2023, Regions Evergreen celebration also included a role for a Birmingham-owned, woman-led company with a long history of serving businesses like Regions. City Paper Company’s story is one of business evolution – while staying true to a mission more than 125 years in the making.
Remembering Where You Came From
“It was always important to Brad’s (Friedman) grandfather that we never forgot where we came from,” said Stephanie Friedman, CEO of City Paper.
If you walk the halls of City Paper’s offices in Birmingham, you’ll find pictures, documents, newspaper clippings and much more lining the walls. It’s the archives of a family-owned business that goes back four generations.
“City Paper started in 1897,” said Friedman. “We are a fourth-generation, family-owned and operated business here in Birmingham, Alabama.”
And she says that with immense pride.
City Paper was started by Manny Band and Jacob Friedman. The ownership and management of the company has passed down through the Friedman family, eventually leading to Friedman’s husband, Brad (who serves as president of the company). It now rests in Stephanie’s hands.
Over 100 years ago, Paul Friedman, Sr. – affectionately referred to as “Pop Pop” – was taking over the company and made a decision that would forever shape the fortunes of City Paper and create a company that today serves hundreds of businesses across the US.
City Paper started in 1897. We are a fourth-generation, family-owned and operated business here in Birmingham, Alabama.Stephanie Friedman, CEO of City Paper
“The company was about $300,000 in debt, and his lawyer and his accountant told him you have to file bankruptcy,” Friedman said. “He probably used some colorful language then but basically told them there was no way he was starting his career filing bankruptcy. He fired both of them and hired a new accountant and a new lawyer.”
The elder Friedman then went to the court, provided a plan to pay back the debt, and the rest is written on innumerable pieces of retail packaging and company-branded items – things that help businesses continually brand and promote themselves.
City Paper has evolved into a branded marketing agency, with a solid foundation from its past. Half of its business remains in industrial packaging.
Regions and City Paper – A COVID Partnership
Regions and City Paper share a common history in Birmingham. But the recent history of the two companies started simply.
Non-woven tote bags.
“Once upon a time, we produced non-woven totes for Regions,” Friedman said. “One of our employees had gone to China and actually oversaw the production. So, ironically, the relationship started in the packaging space. But then the world hit a very unique turn in 2020.”
The pandemic – in addition to causing shortages of toilet paper and lumber – affected every aspect of the business supply chain, Regions included. Just opening a branch meant, first, having adequate staff. That was quickly followed by the need for necessities to remain open, like masks and sanitizer.
“At the time of the COVID outbreak, we were looking very hard to find a vendor who had PPE (personal protective equipment) for our branches and critical operations facilities,” said Steve Killough, Regions Procurement. “We were drawing blanks.”
With the strain on the supply chain, many of the big box suppliers were unable to meet the demand. So, Regions began to tap a network of smaller suppliers.
Said Rachael Crider, Account Executive at City Paper, “Our leaders had the idea to pivot and really see how we could help our customers. If we can’t provide packaging or promos at that time, what else can we do? We have great relationships with our vendors, many of them also pivoted to providing PPE. We were able to get those resources quickly and keep employees working and everybody safe.”
“City Paper came to our rescue,” Killough added. “They provided tons of PPE – masks, sanitizers, and wipes. I’m very happy to say that none of our 1,400 branches ever were down because of a lack of PPE.”
City Paper and Evergreen: “You don’t look at the engine first; you look at the car.”
A few months after helping Regions with its PPE need, Regions called on City Paper, again. This time, to help with Evergreen. But like everything during the pandemic, it would not be a typical Evergreen.
Presentation matters because it’s the first impression. Stephanie Friedman
“It was a stressful time,” Crider said. “Regions wanted every employee to feel appreciated and to know that we’re all going through something together. Where we really showcase our efforts is in how you package it and make it feel like a true gift, especially during a week that’s so important to Regions.”
Fast forward to 2023, City Paper has now helped in several Evergreens and all associate distributions. This year, all 20,000 Regions associate were sent an Evergreen gift – a Bluetooth speaker – something that was boxed and mailed from City Paper. And like everything around Evergreen, nothing happens in the packaging and presentation without intention.
“Presentation matters because it’s the first impression,” Friedman said. “Everybody can put a logo on a pen. But what really sets it apart is the messaging and the way it’s presented, how it’s packaged. Everything you bring can elevate it from just being a pen or just a speaker to being a moment that really defines how much thought, how much effort and how much passion you’ve put into creating that relationship.”
Said Solomon Moss, City Paper Warehouse Manager and Manager of Shipping and Receiving, “If something looks pretty, customers are happy. It’s like buying a car. You don’t go and look at the motor first. You look at the car first.”
And Regions is hardly the only company that uses City Paper as a way of amplifying their company. With a crew of just four people, the City Paper warehouse team works every inch of the 29,000 square feet in the company’s warehouse – shipping hundreds of packages a day to retailers, jewelers, restaurants and apparel companies.
Anything you can think of that has a name on it, we do.Solomon Moss, City Paper Warehouse Manager and Manager of Shipping and Receiving
“If I started opening boxes, what would I find? Jewelry boxes. Ring boxes. Tote bags. Just any type of paper bag that you can think of,” Moss said. “And on this side, on the promo side, everything from pens to hats to shirts. Anything you can think of that has a name on it, we do.”
The Next 125 Years
From its beginnings in industrial packaging, to shifting during COVID, to its expertise now in branded marketing, City Paper has evolved, changed with the needs of the time.
“The landscape of our industry is much younger, it’s more youthful,” said Friedman. “And it’s just much more diverse than it ever has been before. Women are such a huge part of business and are the ones helping drive changes and opportunities. As a mom of two girls, there’s nothing more that I want for them than to be able to achieve whatever it is that they desire.”
Today, as Freidman takes the reins of the company, she also becomes the first woman to lead it. And as of July 2023, the company is a certified Women Owned Business through the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, and continues a legacy built on much more than paper and ribbons – but on a commitment to building relationships for the long-term.
“Paul, Sr. put an emphasis on running the business lean and smooth and understanding how we operate. He carried that until the very day he passed away,” she said. “He stressed not misrepresenting who we are, whether it be to a bank or our clients. To operate in a genuine, honest, very transparent relationship in which we’re doing everything we can to ensure that a customer lasts forever.
“That came from our founders, and it’s still our motto today: a customer should last forever.”