Creating a Lasting Future for Our IndustryDate : 11/11/2008
Congratulations Converting Magazine! I became the leader of my company exactly the same year you first went to press, giving me a unique perspective on the past 25 years in our industry, as well as the next 25.
Any good company looks at its industry through the eyes of its customers. Our customers’ needs have changed dramatically, and we have changed with them. But I’m proposing that we re-evaluate our role in the supply chain—that we capture more of the respect and financial return that will keep our industry vital for the long term.
Over the past 25 years, our industry has adjusted to every challenge put before us. We’ve substantially increased our speed to market. We automated to reduce set-up time and improve quality. We’ve adjusted to our customers’ need to create innovative packaging that really sells. We’ve helped customers manage inventory efficiently and improve their processes. And, we’ve competed globally.
Are we too good?
But in a sense, we’ve done too good of a job. Too often, our work is seen as a commodity. We’ve been subjected to a mindset of “get it cheap.” Cost pressures have prodded some customers down a path of getting low-quality packaging instead of looking at the big picture and managing the total cost.
I’ve always believed that a business relationship is more important than a transaction. I cut my teeth in the packaging business. I love it. We are an industry of fine people and talented competitors, but I feel that we sell ourselves short when it comes to our rightful place as a critical element in our customers’ businesses.
So what can we do about it to make this industry viable for the next 25 years?
1. Sell our value as a total solution for our customers. Rather than allow our products to be relegated to the status of commodities, let’s step up our cost-management role. We can offer great value in the context of value creation and waste reduction within the customer’s total supply chain. Let’s use our lean manufacturing experience to drive cost out of our customers’ packaging processes. We must understand customer needs at a deeper level, contributing to their business success.
2. Emphasize the value of business relationships. Selling solutions can’t be done without a relationship of trust between vendor and customer, and that’s where our industry needs to take a step forward. We need to convince packagers that they need us earlier. The sooner we’re in the game, the better we can provide innovations to make their product look better, sell better and generate profitability.
3. Be the answer to sustainability concerns. Our industry can offer solutions to customers wanting and needing to “go green.” For example, we buy 200,000 tons/yr of used corrugated, run it through our own mill and make containerboard with 100-percent recycled content.
If we do this right, the rewards will be there for our industry over the next 25 years. For me, it’s personal. I want to see new generations of young professionals enter this business with pride and enthusiasm. I want them to see a future brilliant with the things I’ve enjoyed most—building lifelong relationships while bringing irreplaceable value to customers