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An Exemplary Model of Niche Business Capabilities

James Alexander has devoted itself to providing the best service in glass and plastic ampoules and a positive work environment.

JAC modifies equipment to fit its niche needs.
JAC modifies equipment to fit its niche needs.

James Alexander Corporation (JAC) exemplifies just how effective a business model can be when specializing in—and becoming king of—a few key capabilities.

Headquartered in Blairstown, N.J., JAC was founded by Francesca Fazzolari and Alex Davidson in 1976. It remains a privately held company dedicated to manufacturing, custom filling, and contract packaging (co-packing) of single-use crushable glass and plastic ampoules.

James Alexander is a manufacturer, custom filler, and contract packager of single-use crushable glass and plastic ampoules.James Alexander is a manufacturer, custom filler, and contract packager of single-use crushable glass and plastic ampoules.James Alexander’s ampoules are primarily utilized in the pharmaceutical and medical industries, housing products that may present compatibility issues or sensitivity to air or light. Notably, when the company started out, several first aid companies were seeking a better way to package ammonia that was safe and patient friendly, and they found their way to JAC’s door.

Faced with this challenge, Francesca and Alex had a vision: manufacturing crushable glass ampoules with a strong seal. Alex modified JAC’s equipment so it could properly handle the glass ampoules in a manner that also minimized product waste. After finalizing their process, Francesca returned to the first aid companies with this solution.

“Little by little, [the first aid companies] realized that we were doing a better job, and at a very attractive price point,” Francesca says. “They all stopped doing their own filling, and many even sold us their equipment, which we modified to the specifications that Alex had developed.”

From that moment forward, Francesca determined the company should focus solely on ampoules. She believed that rather than diverting attention to other services, JAC should concentrate its talents to become the premium co-packing partner for companies that required this niche packaging platform. The two co-founders realized their package was well suited for a myriad of products, and since then, their entire team has been finding new applications for the crushable glass ampoules across a range of industries.

“In some cases, we went to the customer, put their product in our ampoule, and presented it. I can't tell you how many times they said it was a great idea. And as our solutions became more well known, people started coming to us,” says Francesca.

Success leads to expansions and innovations

As business expanded, so did the JAC facility. In 2006, the company’s assets expanded to encompass 50% more room, for a total of 30,000 sq. ft. This year, the company expanded again to meet increased customer demand, adding a new warehouse and more manufacturing space. JAC’s total facility footprint now comprises 48,000 sq. ft.

While there has been no shortage of innovations en route to JAC’s longstanding success, chief among them is the single-use plastic ampoule, patented in 1999.

JAC’s innovative spirit has led to the creation of the plastic ampoule and its many tips.JAC’s innovative spirit has led to the creation of the plastic ampoule and its many tips.

By the mid-1990s, Francesca was noticing a trend: not all clients wanted or needed glass ampoules. This realization was underscored when the president of a major potential customer expressed concern for the safety of both products—and patients—should one particular formulation be housed in glass. Soon, Francesca went back to the company with an idea that could open doors where glass couldn’t.

Francesca explains, “I went back to the factory, sat down with the group, and said, ‘When they don't need glass, I still want them to need us. We need a plastic ampoule.’ One of our engineers went back to the drawing board, and he came up with a plastic ampoule. It took a few years, but the result was a compelling, versatile product that performs exceedingly well across a variety of product categories.”

The plastic ampoule consists of a proprietary makeup of different plastics. During the manufacturing process, its tube is initially open on one end for filling and subsequent sealing. Consumers then squeeze the neck of the ampoule, to rupture a disc inside and dispense the product accordingly.

The plastic ampoule is also agnostic to different dispensing tips, including swabs, droppers, and customizable configurations. In 2007, JAC expanded the line to include a foam applicator tip, available in a range of shapes and sizes.

But JAC was by no means done innovating in the glass ampoule segment. In 2011, the company introduced its DuoDispersion System™, which comprises two glass ampoules in a single dropper or swab tube. This allows two necessary-yet-sensitive ingredients in a multi-ingredient medication to be segregated while inhabiting a single space, preventing them from mixing until the point of use.

The DuoDispersion System™ crushable glass ampoule comprises two glass ampoules in a single dropper or swab tube.The DuoDispersion System™ crushable glass ampoule comprises two glass ampoules in a single dropper or swab tube.

“Truthfully, we're in business because instead of diversifying, we focused. We locked in on glass and plastic ampoules and committed to perpetually improving them. We invest countless hours and effort into both packages and the results showcase that dedication and diligence,” says Francesca.

Glass or plastic?

While the determination between glass and plastic ampoules may be influenced by customer preference, oftentimes the decision comes down to product stability and durability. In the example of ammonia, this unstable product needed the glass ampoule, which increased shelf life thanks to its tight seal. Francesca reports that even though JAC was required to put a five-year expiration date on the ammonia ampoules, the company has tested ampoules that were 18 to 20 years old that were still within spec and viable.

The ampoule sizes for both glass and plastic generally range from 0.1 to 1 ml; for specialty projects, JAC can accommodate larger fills. Francesca says 5 ml molds for plastic ampoules are in the works.

JAC makes it a point to collaborate with customers to devise tailored solutions for difficult-to-fill packages, or those with atypical size demands. This flexibility extends to the various needs a customer may have, such as mixing immediately before filling, assembly, and packaging—whether it be in packs of 10, 100, or bulk packs of up to 5,000.

As Francesca puts it, “Whatever the customer prefers is what we do. We're capable of doing whatever is needed to be done.”

A core strength: equipment customization

From the time Alex modified his first piece of equipment for filling hard-to-handle chemicals in the crushable glass ampoules, JAC has been adapting and building machinery to fit its niche needs. Francesca likens the process to a house with a sturdy foundation and structure, but that requires significant renovations before it can become a home.

Of course, JAC won’t reinvent the wheel if it needs, for example, a conventional blister pack machine. However, over the years, the co-packer has developed its own equipment designs for projects ranging from automated swab production to inhalant packaging lines. Currently, JAC is utilizing its equipment modification prowess to develop a fully automated line.

“We're looking at an inline machine that would fill and seal. And whatever package it goes into—whether it's a swab, the inhalant package, or dropper tips—at that point, it would go right into the package it will be sold in,” says Francesca.

JAC envisions this automated line will be able to pack the products in cartons of varying sizes, ranging from 10 units to bulk batches. JAC’s development of this new line mirrors its goals with facility expansion to meet increased demand with an uptick in capacity. This means the co-packer will need every employee even with the added automation.

Through the decades, JAC’s equipment customization and modification efforts have grown from one man to a dedicated engineering team. Francesca and Alex highly value their employees and the talents each individual offers. 

“I have an amazing team,” says Francesca. “Most of the people have been here for years. And I don’t mean 10—I'm talking up to 25 years.”

Taking care of its own

Personnel retention and longevity is a strong indicator of JAC’s attractiveness as an employer. The company enjoys an exceedingly low turnover rate and has seen instances where employees leave and come back shortly thereafter, realizing the grass was far less green on the other side.

Francesca shares that the multi-product, pivot-centric nature at JAC means no one gets bored. As one project wraps up, another entirely different and often customized project rolls in, keeping the work environment energetic and engaging.

Francesca is passionate about treating employees correctly and providing them with every opportunity for success in their careers and lives. In 2011, she wanted to show her appreciation to her employees through a gesture greater than a bonus and announced that James Alexander would become an ESOP (employee stock ownership plan) company.

Now, JAC employees own 20% of the company, which essentially provides them an additional retirement fund. As the company grows, so does their stock value.

JAC values its employees and their talents. In 2011, the company became an ESOP.JAC values its employees and their talents. In 2011, the company became an ESOP.

“I feel so blessed to have grown and prospered in a company where I’ve been able to do it my way and treat people the way I think they should be treated,” says Francesca. “I'm proud of us—proud of the committed pros that have become far more than colleagues. It’s a family—and a multi-talented one at that.”

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