The folks at Fallas Automation in Waco are bound for Las Vegas, where they will show their robotic packaging equipment to thousands attending the 2019 Pack Expo sprawling across nearly 1 million square feet of display space.
They do not want what happens in Vegas to stay in Vegas.
With 10 patents in their back pockets, and with customers such as Starbucks, Pepperidge Farm, Kellogg’s, ConAgra Foods, Gorton’s and The Hershey Company, founders David and Valerie Fallas would prefer the world of packaging know they are thriving and filling orders back in Texas.
Just last week, Fallas hosted a party to celebrate 40 years in business, four decades of making machines with names like the CE400 Case Erector, the Robotic Pick and Place Case Packer and the R7000 Adabot-LV, in the nomenclature of the industry. From a shiny plant at 7000 Imperial Drive, the company ships hardware to sites in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
These fully automated marvels, one with a patent pending and being trucked to Vegas for an unveiling, pluck, sort and package items at high speeds.
The Fallases prefer not to quote prices for individual pieces of equipment, but said packaging systems easily could run half-a-million dollars. They have 300 clients and typically provide goods or services to at least 50 annually.
David and Valerie Fallas each turned 80 years old this year, and both speak with a hint of a British accent. They hail from England, where David received a master’s degree in engineering from the University of London before joining Rose Forgrove, a renowned international packaging company. A “headhunter” from Mars, prowling to fill executive positions with a Mars candymaking unit in England, hired Fallas away before shipping him and Valerie across the pond to Mars headquarters in Hackettstown, New Jersey. A stint managing a Mars-branded plant in Pennsylvania served as a prelude to his move to Texas, where Mars wanted to place its first facility west of the Mississippi River.
Waco received the nod and welcomed Mars to its industrial district. Now under the banner of Mars Wrigley Confectionery LLC, the plant produces more Snickers candies than any other in the company, employs about 600 and with a recently announced expansion, covers 750,000 square feet.
David Fallas no longer works for Mars, having left its employ to launch his own venture. He and Valerie said in a recent interview they enjoyed living in New Jersey.
“But I always said that if I started my own business, I was moving back to Waco,” said David Fallas, and he and his family did just that.
“We flew up first-class and drove back third-class, with our kids, dogs and a couple of guinea pigs,” he said with a laugh.
With financial backing arranged by longtime Waco banker Herman Coleman, Fallas Automation began making its mark on the industry. It served as a consultant to snack maker Frito-Lay early on, then built its customer base and reputation from coast to coast, becoming a regular at vendor conventions in Las Vegas and in the massive McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago.
Fallas calls himself “the world’s worst machinist,” but he has a knack for designing ways to efficiently wrap products for shipment or display, including candy bars, graded cheese, chunks of chicken, ground coffee, salad dressing and barbecue sauce, to name a few. Clients include “two of the three biggest candy companies,” he said, declining to name them for confidentiality reasons, though Hershey’s appears on promotional material.
His 56 employees include a high percentage with double-digit years of experience. Turnover is next to nothing, though the Fallases said they try to hire younger people with fresh ideas at every opportunity.
A four-person service team flies out of Waco regularly to repair the occasional glitch or replace parts in machines sold in North America.
“We’ve added 24 people the past five years, including a couple of really bright guys from Baylor University, one who started here as an intern,” David Fallas said. “TSTC also has been a good resource for us.”
He said the Waco plant hosts weekly visits from company representatives who want to take a closer look at the machinery. They venture to Waco from manufacturing sites around the country to conduct their “factory acceptance tests,” Fallas said. He added these visitors tell him they love Waco and look forward to after-hours visits to Tex-Mex and barbecue restaurants.
Valerie Fallas said the company continues to grow, having evolved from a 12,500-square-foot facility to the 75,000-square-footer it now occupies.
“We’ve never had layoffs, and we’ve never missed a paycheck,” Valerie Fallas said. “And our mantra is to promote from within.”
“That’s not to say I haven’t fired a couple of people,” David Fallas said.
The Fallases visit their property in Rockport on the Texas coast to relax and recharge their batteries. They recently returned to Yorkshire, England, to visit old acquaintances and take in the gorgeous scenery, the sheep in the vibrant meadows. It was fun touching base with old-timers, the cockneys who would not tolerate whining even in dire circumstances, David Fallas said.
“They would always say, ‘Mustn’t grumble,’” he said with a smile.
After 40 years, the Fallases say they have little to grumble about.