A Conversation with John Gregor of Packaging Horizons

John Gregor of Packaging Horizons – a Conversation

Packaging Horizons is a Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania-based manufacturer of tamper-evident security bags.  Since 1984, the company has been at the forefront of product development, innovative materials development, and novel applications for plastics-based security bags that find end use in the financial, security, medical, and similar industries.

Packaging Horizons has long been an innovator and early adopter of flexible packaging technology, and the company was one of the first to assist the financial sector in its transition from bulky, canvas lock-and-key bags to puncture-resistant plastic security bags.

Part of the natural product evolution cycle took the company into chain-of-custody bags for evidence, medication, personal property, etc.  Believing that it had exhausted many of the materials-related improvements available to them, Packaging Horizons looked for a technology-based solution to the problem of human error when logging important bag information.

John Gregor is the Vice President and General Manager of Packaging Horizons, and he spoke to us about the recent Technology-Driven Market Intelligence (TDMI) project the company completed with the help of Manufacturers Resource Center (MRC) and Research Triangle Institute (RTI).

MRC: Can you tell us a bit about Packaging Horizons’ products?

John Gregor: We manufacture tamper-evident security bags. We actually make a number of different types with different features for different end uses.  We moved to a 100% Internet marketing strategy in 2000.  We’ve learned that when people search for an item, typically the first thing they try is the name they call the product, so today we own approximately 350 URLs for these products; our Internet strategy was to create a large footprint so competitors can’t.

What are your primary markets?

We’ve focused on a number of niche markets.  We sell into not only the financial space, but also hospitals (we have patient medication control bag products), security and police (for chain of custody bags), and the personal property market.  These products find applications in everything from museums to hospitals to prisons—any time people take control of someone else’s property and hold it for a period of time.

There is also an antistatic security bag market.  We have multiple customers who archive hard drives: banks, accounting firms, police offices that impound drives as evidence…so these bags need to be both tamper-evident and antistatic.

Can you describe the new product you are working on?

Over the course of many years developing security bags, we’ve more or less wrung out the chemistry available to us. We’ve developed numerous adhesives and films that work better (they are more puncture-resistant, for instance).  We had done all of the iterative stuff, and we needed to look for something that would be a truly breakthrough technology.

We settled on chain of custody for this particular application, because that information is always recorded by a human being.  The bags typically have blocks where people sign the bag as it moves from individual to individual.  Some people don’t write complete information, though, and some write incorrect—or even willfully wrong—details.

We found a company in Germany (Ginstr) that had developed different phone applications working with Near-Field Communication, or NFC.  After approaching them, we found they had already developed some software for chain of custody.

The challenge was how to develop a process to affix NFC tags on the bags in a way that would either be permanent or would leave an obvious indication if they had been tampered with.

How did MRC assist with the development of that new product?

We contacted Tony Maslowski in November of 2014; that was the point at which we were ready to go to market.  Tony put together a proposal with MRC and RTI, and that’s what drove us forward.

Can you describe the process that MRC & RTI used to provide you with market information?

I’ve been involved with other companies over the years—companies that delivered lots of marketing and consulting studies.  What impressed me in this case was the team MRC and RTI managed to pull together.  They were all very experienced and knowledgeable about the technology.  RTI even had access to additional professionals if they needed to further expand their capabilities.

They brought a proven methodology, too.  It was highly structured and refined through numerous previous cases they’d worked on.  We knew this wasn’t going to be a random walk through the market—it was a structured process delivered by professionals who had done it many, many times before.

Finally, it was all executed on an interactive basis with us, the client.  In the real world, you learn as you go, and you just can’t know everything up front. You need to make adjustments to avail yourself of opportunities that come up and shift tactics when doors close.  When you work with a big consulting firm, you don’t typically see their study until it’s done.  With MRC and RTI, though, we had waypoints throughout the study where we would all get on the phone and see what had been uncovered.

We were part of the decision-making process about whether to proceed as we were or change direction.  There were a number of changes made midway, too. So it was an effective approach.  The MRC and RTI team was comprised of seasoned, knowledgeable individuals who knew what they were doing and executed well.

What were the results?

One of the great benefits was that they were testing our value proposition against other, similar technologies in the market.  We found areas where there were existing, entrenched technologies, and others where there was nothing like our product being used.

MRC gave us a list of market areas that were prime drivers and areas where we were likely to find the early adopters we sought.

They really fulfilled all of our expectations.  Sometimes the answers weren’t the ones we hoped for, but we still needed to know that information.  Then there were areas where we thought we would find opportunities, but the study said no.  That was actually great news.  Do you know how much we would have spent trying to roll out in those markets?

One aspect of this study—and it went far beyond what I’ve seen with other surveys—was the way MRC and RTI arranged and participated in calls with people they talked to in order to make sure there was a smooth transition from the study phase to rollout.

What were your savings in terms of time or cost by using MRC & RTI?

Regardless of the size of the company, no one has an in-house staff capable of executing a study like this.

From a time-saving standpoint, it would have taken years to do this work ourselves.  The amount of expertise RTI can call on is phenomenal.  We would have been wandering around for years trying to find a team, hire the right players, etc.

Did you identify any surprise markets? Were there any areas you might not have considered on your own?

There weren’t any surprise markets, but that may have been because we have so much experience with security packaging.  It may also have been a factor of the iterative meetings we held; there were no surprises.

One of the best things about the project, in fact, was the lack of surprises.  There were areas MRC and RTI highlighted and showed us technologies we didn’t expect to be as entrenched or established (in terms competition), and that was good.

Any final comments?

If nothing else, I’d say I would do it again.  This is one of the best services I’ve ever seen MRC offer.  It’s related to the fact that you have an incredibly talented group of people who are involved and can draw on their expertise. It delivers phenomenal value, both in terms of time and expense.  The work they did in two months would have taken us years to replicate.

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