An interview with Wayne Towle – Senior Sales Manager at Planet Paper Box
What were the biggest challenges facing Planet Paper during the pandemic?
Initially, our biggest challenge was safety and especially the safety of our employees. When the pandemic started we had to apply different measures like other companies out there, and we continue to follow those procedures today as we go through the various strains of Covid; from the original Covid to Omicron to Delta. We continue to follow the measures in terms of procedures in place, masking in our office, socially distancing, and temperature checks. While we can’t mandate it, everybody in our facility is pretty much – I would say 100% – vaccinated.
We also put things in place as far as PPE, and that is something we’ve had to deal with and enforce stricter measures. On the operations and plant side of the business, there has been a number of protocols and procedures set up to try to maintain social distancing within the plant – putting in barriers that kind of stuff. These are the biggest challenges we faced because of the pandemic.
What were the challenges facing Planet Paper with respect to the supply chain?
Like everyone else in the industry, we were dealing with supply chain issues. Our supply chain – everything we use around our plant, from our raw material for paper, strapping materials, starch, glue, all the other elements we use for running our plant – was affected. Our lead times increased from 2 days pre-Covid to 4 – 6 weeks lead-time in some cases depending on the product. It has been a culture change for us in terms of our ability to plan differently. We’ve gone back to some of our key customers and implemented business reviews every month with them. Reviews for our raw materials coming in and what their demand looks like so we can better tailor what we’re bringing in to meet that.
The other big challenge faced around supply is that it’s not just the supply; in our business we are typically the last part of the equation meaning a customer wants to package the product at the end of their production line or whatever they are doing. It’s the last thing they do. We’ve had supply issues concerning getting equipment, transportation, and labor. Maintaining labor was hard, especially during the early days of the pandemic when the World Health Organization (WHO) had set out guidelines for 14-day isolation. Fortunately, that’s now down to 5 days.
We didn’t have a full shutdown during the whole period, which is very good for Planet Paper. I think that’s testament to the success of the measures we’ve implemented. However, we’ve had some of our suppliers shut down 100% because of Covid outbreaks, which has made it that much more difficult and a challenge to maintain supplies.
Supply is still a little bit of a mess but the situation is improving. I think it’s getting better because companies are better equipped today to handle outbreaks. Previously, we would have certain suppliers completely shut down; those suppliers today are equipped to maintain and often keep their businesses running and people affected are now isolating for only five days as opposed to a two week period. Supply is getting better but it’s definitely one of the big challenges we had.
What are the unique qualities that allow Planet Paper to service its clients’ requirements?
What we have done throughout this whole process is maintain our operations. We’ve not had any plant shutdowns during the pandemic, which has been very fortunate for us. A big shift in our company has been looking at how we do business with our customers, specifically having to work with longer lead times. We’ve set up inventory programs with our customers to help ensure that we have the product on the floor for them. Our company has invested in additional warehousing to accommodate that.
We’ve done a lot of pre-planning with our customers despite the inability to have face to face meetings since the Covid outbreak. Personally, I still spend at least two hours a day on Team calls or on Google Meet calls with customers discussing their demands for the next couple of months, and what our incoming raw material is to support that. We’re trying to stay close to our customers all the time, so online communication has been something we’ve adopted. Previously we were more of a face-to-face business, but the fact is with everybody being remote we’ve had to employ communication technology including Teams, Google, and Zoom. We’ve also used tools such as Google Docs to enable different people to access the same information and work collaboratively. Such technological solutions have made us successful in managing this business.
We’ve taken it upon ourselves to roll up our sleeve and do what’s required to get the job done. The best way I can put it – is that we identified the pertinent issues and looked for effective solutions. We put our head down and continued to drive throughout this and do what is necessary to support the business. We continue to be a customer-focused business.
What is your opinion of how the packaging industry will modify its service offering in 2022 and beyond?
During the pandemic, many companies have had to shift how they do business and the way they go to market. For example, companies that had brick and mortar stores have pivoted to more of an online presence. Customers who had no online business whatsoever have also moved online. I think business will continue evolving in this direction and this will lead to a rise in the demand for packaging.
Another change I see is companies will start looking at alternatives; for example looking at buying locally versus outside Canadian channels. It is difficult for companies whose supply line is tied to say Asia, and working on that kind of timeline to get their product. And today, with the geopolitical climate we are experiencing, I think that as packaging companies go and the packaging industry, customers are going to look more domestically for supply even though it might be more expensive in some cases. They’ll do this out of a need to have that reliability; to have somebody in their backyard. I think that’s going to be a continual shift in pretty much every industry out there and that’s where I see packaging going down the road.