Packaging is critical to protecting goods as they move through the supply chain to the final consumer. The industrial packaging market is currently a $112 billion industry and expected to grow to $139 billion in the next 4 years. For this edition of The Expert Interview, I met up with Richard Clarke Jr, GM of Imperial Dade’s Tampa Division. Richard has over 40 years of experience in packaging distribution.
LC: How did you get started in the industry?
RC: In 1975, I went to work for my family’s 64 year-old distribution company, Peninsular Paper Company, one day after I graduated from Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. During my tenure I have worked in the warehouse, driven a truck route, worked the inside sales desk, worked as an outside sales rep, worked as a specialist sales rep for large accounts, worked as a buyer, worked as a sales manager, and then became President of the company overseeing 100% of our operations along with my dad. Imperial Dade acquired our company in May of 2017 and I am now the General Manager of the Tampa Division.
LC: Sounds like you held every position in the company at some point in your career.
RC: Yes, and it helps as I understand how every role, in some way, touches our customers.
LC: What type of products are considered industrial packaging?
RC: Industrial packaging is usually a form of packaging designed to package products for resale. Some examples include foam trays, molded fiber trays, clear plastic packaging, overwrap and other sealing films, shrink films, etc. It can also be packaging items designed to protect and enhance the appearance of the loads during production and especially during shipping. Examples are tape, stretch wrap, pallet interleavers, kraft wrap, corner boards, specialty bags, and specialty labeling.
LC: What types of businesses use these items?
RC: Any business who produces anything and ships it anywhere needs Industrial packaging to protect their product during the handling and shipping process. They use tape to seal their boxes, stretch wrap and corner board to unitize the load, labels to denote production codes and routing information.
RC: Food processors such as commercial bakeries, produce and meat processors also use industrial packaging products to prepare a product for resale.
LC: Why is the packaging important to those businesses?
RC: They cannot sell their products if not packaged properly. They can often increase sales if the packaging enhances the appearance and better merchandises their products. This has always been true in the supermarket business. Food that is packaged attractively and displayed near check-out will sell faster.
LC: What changes have you seen take place in this product segment over the years?
RC: The competitive landscape has changed quite a bit over the last few decades. In the 1970s and 80s, paper and janitorial distributors were the go-to source. Then, in the 90s, specialty packaging distributors began to develop as packaging items became more varied and complicated. Then the recession hit and many of those specialty distributors closed their doors. Now customers are coming back to broadline paper distributors, such as Imperial Dade, for their needs. This has created opportunities for us, especially with middle-market customers that rely on our expertise to help them source the right products.
LC: What are the current trends and innovations?
RC: There are quite a few. Molded-fiber trays are becoming very popular with food processors. Their customers are looking for more environmentally friendly packaging options to meet consumer preferences. The enhanced merchandizing has helped to increase sales. Special tapes and films are available for the produce industry that help protect and control ripening during transit. This reduces waste which saves money and prevents unsellable product from being thrown away.
RC: Colored sealing tapes are being used more often in warehousing operations. The colors help the operator clearly see that cartons are sealed shut. With clear or kraft-colored tape, it is not as evident and that can lead to damaged goods. Non-skid interleavers are now available that help prevent loads from shifting during transit, another way to prevent damage to inventory.
LC: What do you think the future holds for this segment?
RC: Industrial packaging will increase exponentially in importance for American manufacturers as we compete in the global market. Packaging is primarily designed to protect the product as it is shipped. Many manufacturers do not realize that the same packaging can also be used to very effectively and very inexpensively merchandise their product and thus gain more sales. A simple example of this would be to print cornerboards, or to print the tape that seals the boxes for a fraction of a cent per piece and get real advertising value. Good industrial packaging, versus poor, also shows the end-customer that the manufacturer cares and emphasizes that the manufacturer makes a quality product.
LC: What advice do you have for businesses on improving their packaging program to save time and money?
RC: Businesses that use packaging need to realize that their distributor sales rep can be a real asset to their program as a partner. A good DSR studies what products are on the market and studies his or her customer’s needs, then matches the two. I recommend that they not only show the DSR what they use but tell the DSR how they use it and what they are trying to accomplish by using it. A good DSR, one who is a partner to their customer, will then recommend products that can help their customer achieve increased profits and efficiencies.
Richard and his team are available to consult with businesses about industrial packaging programs. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.