Quality Packaging Inc. (QPI) was at a crossroads a few years ago when a key customer faced the loss of a critical consumer products account because QPI didn’t offer an environmentally friendly retail package.
QPI’s president Ken Wills drew upon his extensive knowledge of processes and materials for retail packaging to invent a new product, known as RePaq, which meets the stringent packaging sustainability initiatives used by many global retailers.
When the company later set out to learn whether having the capability to design packages and manufacture package prototypes in-house would reduce the cycle time and expedite RePaq production and sales, it turned to the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership for some crucial assistance through the Profitable Sustainability Initiative.
In 2010, the State of Wisconsin invested $1.75 million through the WMEP to help small and mid-sized manufacturers use sustainable practices to save money and gain a competitive edge. QPI immediately applied for the program and was one of the 50 Wisconsin manufacturers selected for participation in the Profitable Sustainability Initiative.
During the past three years, QPI developed the unique, “green” RePaq product that has a wide variety of applications in today’s environmentally sensitive markets. The product replaces the PVC clamshell packaging that is common on many consumer products. The product combines either chipboard or corrugated cardboard (60% recycled material) and PET plastic (90% recycled material). The new materials are also recyclable.
The chipboard/corrugated is coated with a proprietary material that provides secure adhesion when pressed upon itself, eliminating the need for expensive packaging equipment. Thechipboard/ corrugated is folded over, capturing the plastic packaging material, which encloses the product to be sold.
The corrugated cardboard and/or chipboard accommodates full graphics both front and back that can be die-cut to nearly any shape. The finished assembly is both tamper resistant and tamper evident, but easy to open and separate for recycling purposes after purchase. QPI has a patent pending on this packaging product and process.
QPI previously had the manufacturing of prototypes for the packaging and the majority of the components produced by other parties.
“We were basically a middle man even though it was our own product,” Wills said.
The WMEP was able to tailor what was available through the Profitable Sustainability Initiative to what QPI wanted to accomplish, Wills said.
“Ken and I worked together in being able to put together the research so that he could understand where he was going to sell the RePaq product in the market and from there it was really about getting rid of the obstacles,” said Marie Mansheim, senior growth specialist at the WMEP. “This project from the beginning was about business planning.”
The research was designed to determine where the product was headed and how it fits into the organization.
“Part of that was figuring out the financial projections,” Mansheim said.
The WMEP hired accounting and advisory firm Baker Tilly to provide financial projections pertaining to possible financing if QPI determined it was going to purchase new equipment to manufacture RePaq in-house.
QPI’s roots date back to1985 when, with permission from his existing employer, Ken’s father Larry Wills started QPI in a 5,000-square-foot building in Fond du Lac. Over the next five years, Larry Wills was able to not only grow his own company but also maintain his primary occupation at a packaging distributor in Milwaukee. In 1990, Wills began to shift his full-time focus to Quality Packaging.
Today, QPI, which offers combined experience in package design, materials and equipment for various types of packaging, has 78 employees at its 125,000-square-foot facility in Fond du Lac. The company specializes in custom designed blister and clamshell packaging, shrink wrapping, automatic bagging, collating and assembly of promotional materials, automatic gluing, rework or inspection of product, scale counting and automatic labeling.
QPI’s RePaq product can be found in most major chain stores, including Sam’s Club, Costco and BJ’s Wholesale Club. It uses 40 percent less plastic than comparable clamshell packages and because the RePaq blister is made from recycled water bottles, it keeps that material from ending up in landfills, too.
The Profitable Sustainability Initiative team followed a three-phase process: diagnostic, assessment and implementation. Mansheim worked with Wills and his team to create a business plan to understand the market potential for the RePaq product. To get a grasp of the competitive landscape, the WMEP along with Baker Tilly provided and an analysis that benchmarked the company’s financial performance and produced five-year financial projections.
As a result of the project, QPI started a design center and put in a complete CNC center. The introduction of a thermoformer allowed the company to begin making key components that go into the company’s packaging.
“We were able to accomplish in 8 to 10 weeks what probably would have taken two years without the help of WMEP,” Wills said.
QPI is on track to sustain 20 percent growth year over year for at least the first three years of the project, he added.
- Changed strategic focus of company from middle-man to direct producer.
- Developed a proprietary packaging product that uses 40 percent less plastic than comparable clamshell packages and the plastic used is made from recycled materials.
- Used PSI funding to start a design center and later put in a complete CNC center.
- Company is on track to sustain 20 percent growth year over year for at least the first three years of the PSI project.