Member Spotlight: Dan Lafond, Sales Manager, Rehrig Pacific Company; Member RPA Board of Directors

RPA Editor: Describe the products and services that your company offers.

Lafond: Rehrig Pacific Company designs and manufactures Zero Waste Reusable Packaging Systems. In addition, Rehrig provides an evolving set of services that include TPM, Asset Tracking & Technology Services, RPC Wash Services and Recycling/Material Services. Rehrig services a variety of industries from seven manufacturing locations and 11 service centers.

RPA Editor: Describe the area of the supply chain where your services/products play a role.

Lafond: The short answer should be everywhere. If reusable packaging and supply chain services are not used now, then part of our mission is to introduce these solutions into the conversation. Rehrig products and services can be used with both manufacturers and retailers alike. Starting with retailers, we provide products and services as described above (pallets, containers, 3rd party TPM, sort, wash, recycle, track etc.). Rehrig also aims to build brand equity for both retailers and fast-moving consumer-goods producers through collaborative design. Some of the industries we serve include food & beverage, fresh produce, pharmaceutical & health/beauty and primary/rigid packaging, to name a few.

RPA Editor: Describe some of the challenges you see that impede companies from implementing reusable packaging.

Lafond: When we have this discussion with our customers, there are two primary challenges involved in implementing returnable packaging and both center around the dilemma of quantifying value. First, customers struggle with the sticker shock involved in the initial capital spend. For this reason, we break the discussion down to a cost-per-trip analysis. In essence, we are selling the cost of asset ownership vs. the cost of asset acquisition. Secondly, and I think most people selling anything into supply chains will agree with this, customers are afraid of the unknown and this creates resistance to change. A comprehensive discussion needs to take place involving other residual benefits of reusable packaging. One of these in the forefront is the impact on sustainability. In the past, this is where we would say, “the industry needs to come together and find creative ways to make reusable packaging work”. The fact is, reusable packaging does work. Now, we need to come together and instead say, “This is where we help our customers quantify value in their supply chains as it relates to reusable packaging.” Once we can effectively do this, the challenges facing reusable packaging become much easier to overcome.

RPA Editor: Describe some of the successes you or your customers have had with implementing reusable packaging.

Lafond: I think one fairly general but very visible example of reusable success has been with RPCs. Rehrig has always been at the forefront of the RPC marketplace. The RPC market is a classic example of validating a business case on “turns” or “cost per trip”. Another good example would be the recent surge in retail usage of plastic distribution pallets. We have been very successful at articulating the value of this supply chain solution.

RPA Editor: What are the key changes you see happening in the reusable marketplace in the near future?

Lafond: From a supplier perspective, I think it is easy to be optimistic and say that increased focus on sustainability initiatives from retailers will open the door to more discussions about reusable packaging. We do in fact share this optimism, but also recognize that retailers are going to focus on things that bring value to their network. Our challenge is to help them define and quantify that value. As part of this discussion, I also think an increased focus on asset awareness and containment will continue. This is where the services aspect of our business can play a critical role in evaluating supply chain and packaging changes.

RPA Editor: Why did you choose to become a member of the RPA leadership team?

Lafond: As a company, we see the RPA as a forum to discuss the very topics listed in this interview. We want to share this discussion not only among our existing customers but with participants in their supply chains as well. In a highly competitive landscape, our customers are looking more and more to utilize the insight and experience of their suppliers. The RPA provides a forum for this collaboration.

RPA Editor: What value have you gained personally by being in a leadership role with the RPA?

Lafond: I think one of the takeaways from being on the Board is the exposure to other leaders in our industry. With this exposure, you can quickly learn different perspectives on issues and challenges facing our industry.

RPA Editor: What has your company gained from its membership in the RPA?

Lafond: Recently we have tried to use RPA resources in two ways, both to share internally with our sales staff and to share with customers, especially retailers. As mentioned, retail needs will continue to drive supply chain trends. As we collaborate with retailers, we certainly want to leverage the value of the RPA.

RPA Editor: Has RPA had a positive impact on your business? If so, how?

Lafond: My answer would be yes because I believe that customers value innovation over short-term solutions. Many retailers are often collaborating when they don’t even know it and some actively collaborate by design (if they do not compete, of course). When selling solutions instead of commodities, insight is critical. Therefore, I think being a part of this process provides a level of value to our customers.

RPA Editor: Why would you recommend membership in the RPA to another company?

Lafond: Some of the best retailers in the country still spend more money than they would like trying to solve efficiency dilemmas in their supply chains. The RPA provides a forum to help retailers collaborate on reducing their packaging footprint and saving supply chain dollars.

RPA Editor: Why would you recommend to someone to become involved in the RPA committees or other leadership roles?

Lafond: With anything, level of involvement certainly makes a difference. When someone is involved at a leadership level, the conversation goes from “This is what we do”, to “How do we make this happen?” In short, I think this is the general challenge to which most effective sales people are strong at responding.

RPA Editor: What changes would you like to see within the RPA?

Lafond: In order for the RPA to expand in both reach/scope and message, we need to continue to provide a forum for industry leaders to discuss topics they value. The RPA and Jerry (Welcome) have done a good job of creating a LinkedIn forum to discuss key topics and current events. We certainly need to expand this type of communication, both internally and externally. We want to take the discussions to the decision makers within supply chains.

RPA Editor: Is there anything else you would like to share with the RPA membership?

Lafond: Let’s keep growing!