Owner of three area businesses, and a partner in others says ‘its a lot of fun’
By Amanda Lauer
They say if you want to get something done, give it to someone who’s busy. If that’s the case, then Bernie Dahlin is your man. Dahlin owns three businesses in Northeastern Wisconsin and is a partner in a half-dozen other businesses as well.
The majority of the time, you’ll find Dahlin at Nichols Paper Products Company in Nichols. He talked about his background and how his portfolio expanded through the years. “I was born and raised in Green Bay. At 16, I started working for a contractor. Then I was in the Army for a couple of years. When I came out I started working for a construction contractor, I worked for him about eight years doing residential building. Then, I went into the roof truss business. I was in that about eight years. That’s when interest rates hit 21 percent and housing construction stopped.”
Dahlin closed up show there and found a job at Nichols Paper. “I was hired to be the general manager,” he said. “My intention when I started working here was to purchase the business. It was the chance of a lifetime to work in the business, especially when you’re not familiar with that, and then to be able to purchase it.
After 15 months, in December of 1982, Dahlin took over ownership.
The scope of the business has changed dramatically since Dahlin has been at the helm. “The products that were here when I started, we probably do less than five percent of what we did 35 years ago.”
The company has the capacity to do paper printing, paper laminating, paper rewinding, paper sheeting, paper fabricating, paper waxing, paper creping, paper slitting, paper diecutting, manufacturing of floral sleeves, garment covers and hanger capes.
Currently printing makes up 60 to 70 percent of their business. “We got into a lot more printing – flexographic printing, that’s become a very large part of our business today,” Dahlin said.
Nichols Paper can do projects that very few other companies can do. “The biggest thing is our variation on printing,” he said. “We print on paper but we also print on a lot of film, we do specialty things like non-woven, it’s used as a dishcloth. It could be polyester, polypropylene or things of that nature.”
The interesting thing about Nichols Paper is that there products touch almost every industry imaginable from healthcare to retail, automobile, home improvement, computer, to something as unexpected as the mortuary business.
Most of what they sell is not sold to the end user, rather it’s part of a package or product that someone else makes. Their customers convert the final product after the printing is done. The company has customers in all 50 states, Canada, Mexico, Europe and the Middle East.
The crew of 40 working at Nichols Paper Products, including Dahlin’s sons Chip Dahlin, who is the corporate vice president and chief financial officer, and Brian Dahlin, who is the vice president of sales, have a can-do attitude when it comes to tackling new projects.
“So many times people would come to us and say, ‘Can you do this?’ We may have never done it in the past but we’re willing to try,” Dahlin said. “We don’t have this wall block us – we’ll try anything once. We have an extremely open mind. If you don’t know you can’t do it, then you’ll try. That’s how we’ve achieved many things that we have today.”
The business has seen considerable growth through the years. When Dahlin came on board there were 19 people working there in a facility of about 25,000 square feet. Several building additions have bought the space to where is it today at more than 100,000 square feet.
He said that they treat their employees fairly which creates a culture of loyalty. A number of folks have been working there for decades – including someone who has been there 41 years.
Between Nichols Paper Products, Shapes Unlimited in Little Chute, which Dahlin purchased in 1995, and Hi-Tech Plastics in Kaukauna which Dahlin added to the fold in 1999, he has his hands full, but the chances of him ever retiring are slim.
“I just enjoy interacting with the people. I really enjoy it, it’s fun,” he said. “I’m 75. I play golf a couple times a year, that’s enough. I’m not a big fisherman – I don’t have the interest in those things. The money aspect, that’s fine. A fellow told me many years ago that how much money you make is just a way of keeping score. We make money, that’s our goal and our intention, but we’re also willing to share.” In 2016 alone, Nichols Paper Products donated a considerable amount of money to the Paper Discover Center – a science and technology museum in downtown Appleton.
Regardless of how successful he has become, Dahlin said it hasn’t change him. “I have the same lifestyle today as I had 10 years ago, as I had 20 years ago,” he said. “That’s not a factor. I really have fun just talking to people. I like nothing better than to walk out onto the floor and talk to the guys and gals here. I learn so much about society by talking to them. Things are different now than when I was 20 years old or 30 or 40. It’s a lot of fun to me.”