In 1970, a Lawrence, Kan., businessman got an idea to print a custom message on reusable plastic cups. He presented the idea to the director of the University of Kansas student union, who promptly ordered 50,000 of the injection molded cups with KU's logo for the school cafeteria. Jim Schwartzburg initially thought souvenir cups would be a fleeting fad. But from those local beginnings, Schwartzburg has built a business that has grown to $125 million in sales annually.
Today, Packer Plastics Inc. is a world leader with its promotional cups line, and manufactures not only the souvenir cups but dinnerware, kitchenware and lawn and garden products and custom food and dairy containers.
In mid-August, the privately held, employee-owned company officially changed its name to PackerWare Corp., to reflect its expanding product design and production capabilities.
PackerWare has been the brand name for the company's housewares and lawn and garden products for the past 10 years, according to Sue Schwartzburg, marketing director. So, it was a logical evolution to have the company's name reflect its product line.
The company operates two injection molding plants. A 500,000-square-foot facility in Lawrence has about 40 presses with 250-1,200 tons of clamping force, and employs 300.
PackerWare's Reno, Nev., plant has 140,000 square feet with 70 employees and an unspecified number of presses. Reno also serves as a West Coast warehouse and distribution center.
The souvenir cup continues to be big business for the company despite the addition of new product lines. PackerWare takes orders for 5,000 to 50 million cups at a time for clients such as McDonald's Corp., Coca-Cola Co., universities, convenience stores and sports organizations. Some of its cups, such as the ones produced for the Super Bowl games, have become collector's items.
Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd.'s Jordan Robertson, strategic planner for the thin-wall packaging group, said growth in the promotional cup market continues to be strong. That's reflected in the ``movement toward higher productivity molding systems and higher cavitation molds, which implies there are larger orders being placed,'' he said.
PackerWare makes cups in 12-to 64-ounce sizes, in both smooth and fluted designs. It does all its own decorating using the dry offset process.
Its most recent addition to the cup line is the patented Packer Stacker, a hollow-handled, stackable mug that allows for easy handling of as many as five mugs at once.
``That makes for simple transportation from the concession stand to the stadium seat,'' said Schwartzburg.
With the expanding product lines, Schwartzburg said the company plans to add other types of decorating processes and an unspecified number of presses to beef up its molding capabilities.