Written by Cathy Baines
The Hungry Years
Much too often, a person’s dreams are shelved because of duty, obligations or the need to get by. You get through the daily grind to pay bills, you work to put food on the table and you say, “Someday, maybe I’ll be lucky enough to make my dream come true.” A few of us are lucky enough, smart enough or have people who believe in us enough to help us follow our passion.
Prairie State Packaging was one such lucky dream. Jim Baines wasn’t the lead dog for a long time, and knew that if he didn’t become the lead dog, “the view would always be the same.” So, on a “wing, lots of prayers, and a strong support group of one,” Jim moved to the head of the pack.
With limited funds, but lots of product knowledge and guts, Jim started his company. There was no fancy office, no secretary, no coffee machine in the beginning; those luxuries came much later. In lieu of bells and whistles was a strong determination and will to make it work, no matter what. When no one else thinks that you can, then say, “I know I can.”
Thirty-one years later, that “I know I can” business venture thrives and provides an income for 15 employees who support and work each day at Prairie State Packaging (PSP).
Not that the spirit isn’t willing, but the body often likes to enjoy the fruits of its labor.
Enter the second generation for Prairie State.
Mike Baines officially joined the business in 1997. Technically, Mike started “hanging” around the office at age 12. By this time, PSP had purchased a building with official offices and warehouse in Batavia. Mike would sweep floors in the warehouse, organize product and snack on the free candy bars and Cokes. When he could drive, he became the delivery guy for the company (a rite of passage for both kids was to make a nighttime delivery in the worst part of Chicago on the day they got a driver’s license; Jim believed it made them stronger). Upon graduation from Purdue University, Mike joined the company as a full time sales person.
In 2003, Sara Baines Stockdale came into the business. Sara’s degree in education allows her to understand her dad and brother’s differing “learning styles,” apply “conflict resolution” between the two and maintain order in the office. Sometimes in the business world, you just need to wipe noses and offer a listening ear.
Truthfully, running your own business requires a sense of humor. All of you who have a family business know that it’s serious and hard work. Every day is tough; every night is sleepless; every month a challenge. Keeping employees happy and on task takes an enormous amount of energy. The toll on your family is high—yet, the rewards are huge.
From the beginning to the present, the success of Prairie State Packaging was, is and for the rest of its being, will continue to rely on hard work and perseverance from each family member. Mike is working to fulfill his own dream of growing and developing his spinoff company, Aerocell. His workday is not 8:00 to 5:00 or Monday through Friday. It’s usually 24/7, just like his dad in the beginning. Sara works to promote her special interest of Pelican products. She travels from Indiana on Monday, works all week in the business, and travels back home on Friday night. Jim continues to keep tabs on the company on a daily basis. It’s hard to give up “your baby.”
Prairie State Packaging has been very blessed with support from family members, mentors, employees and business associates throughout the years. Thanks to everyone involved, the dream did come true.