A conversation With David
Dave Ferris is the Vice President Sales Operations at Planet Protective Packaging, a company dedicated to providing cost effective and sustainable protective packaging.
What were the biggest challenges facing planet protective packaging during the pandemic?
We had a number of significant challenges. The first was the supply of raw materials, and this is a challenge we’re still facing as packaging suppliers. Getting raw materials and lead times have gone from days to months, which has had a significant impact on our business.
The second challenge is labor; we’ve faced difficulties getting people to fill positions within our company and especially in our warehouses. Demand has gone through the roof and it’s been difficult getting our employees to fulfill back orders. Essentially, the two biggest challenges faced by Planet Protective Packaging were supply of raw material and employee retention.
How did planet protective packaging manage these challenges?
The raw material situation is still ongoing, but we’ve taken measures to mitigate the situation. We’ve worked with our raw material suppliers to guarantee delivery and procured more than we need. We’ve increased the minimums and maximums on our stocking programs to make sure we have more inventory than usual. As far as the employee situation, we’ve gone on a hiring frenzy bringing in more personnel. We’re also using multiple agencies to backfill busy days and trying to stay ahead. If we can stay ahead of our customer’s requirements then the labor challenges will disappear.
What were your client’s biggest obstacles to deal with over the last two years?
Our clients have been dealing with the same challenges we as a packaging supplier have faced over the past two years.
How are things shaping up for the protective packaging industry overall, and how are things shaping up for Planet Protective Packaging in particular?
The industry overall is extremely busy. Demand for packaging boxes has sharply increased and supply has plummeted, which has created a vacuum where we can’t get enough material to get the products out of the door to where the customers’ requirements are. The industry has experienced a huge surge in demand for packaging as most people moved to online purchasing during the pandemic.
As an example, the days are gone when you’d walk into a Home Depo or a Lowe’s and find a packaging box with 40 batteries in it, buy one battery and take it out of the store. When you order one battery online, you now need an entire box for every battery. This is what has created a huge demand cycle for protective packaging. And the internet itself – people are now shipping products all over the world so they need protective packaging to get wherever they are manufacturing. If there are widgets being moved from here to Germany or somewhere in Europe, wherever they’re going. That has created a huge demand for us.
Concerning pricing, we’re experiencing another cost increase – we seem to have one every three months over the past two years. Pricing has risen substantially from where it used to be and that’s all driven by supply and demand.
So how are things shaping up for Planet Protective Packaging specifically? We’re having a record year in sales and demand. If we get enough raw material to ship out our back order we will blow the doors off our record sales and we’re therefore working hard to try fulfill that. We’re very busy and things are looking promising; we’ve signed long-term contracts for our facilities and with our suppliers. Things look favorable for us this year and for the coming years.
What are the unique qualities that allow Planet Protective Packaging to service its clients’ requirements?
The biggest quality we have at Planet Protecting Packaging is we’ve always been a customer first company – we get you what you need when you need it. In times like this – what we’ve experienced over the past two years with supply disruptions and longer lead-times than normal – our standard stock and release programs and our customer fulfillment programs allow us to have products ready to provide customers with what they need when they need it.
We’re meeting delivery dates and what’s allowing us to do this is we’ve established this practice ahead of time. We didn’t just adapt to it like our competitors are doing apparently right now as they try change their game plan in the middle of the pandemic. We’ve always had the game plan from day one so we’re prepared for it and we’re moving into this situation with our well-established program.
It’s kind of interesting that your business has, by virtue of the GIT programs, a little bit of pandemic preparedness built into it, is that correct?
We’re actually lucky to be restocked for three months out. So we hold product for people for 90 days, as long as customers give us a forecast or idea of what they are going to need for the next 90 days, we can have it delivered. The problem is when our customers’ requirements spike and they take all we have quickly and we have these long lead times to replenish stock. If there’s good communication between customer and ourselves, and we have good foresight as to what their requirements are going to be, we can plan for it and we can solve the problems with the supply issue.
What is your opinion of how the protective packaging industry will modify its service offering in 2022 and beyond?
I’ve been in the packaging industry for over 30 years and I’ve never seen it under as much stress as the industry has experienced over the past year and a half to two years. The pressure is first with supply, then with pricing, and lastly with the overall demand. It’s the three pillars to make a perfect storm. How I see the industry changing is that companies will have to pay greater attention to packaging design. This will be the number one area of concern and companies will have to redesign packaging to reduce cost because raw material prices continue to escalate and the only way to get around that is to redesign and reduce the amount of raw material in the packaging boxes.
The second modification in our industry will be in how we view ourselves. We’ll have to start thinking of ourselves as service providers as opposed to product providers in that we need to solve problems and provide solutions for customers packaging issues, which will help us get around the raw material shortage we’re going through right now. So the protective packaging industry needs to focus on design, we need to focus on solving problems and become service oriented as opposed to product oriented.