CHICAGO — For the past five years or so, the Reusable Packaging Association has been concentrating on getting its feet underneath itself.
It's been part of RPA President Jerry Welcome's job to help organize the Linden, Va.-based group and help put the association on the map.
As trade groups go, RPA is not huge. But Welcome sees the potential of just about doubling the membership ranks.
One way to do just that is to engage end-users of the reusable packaging products that member companies create. It's all part of a larger RPA strategy to include people and companies from all along the reusable packaging supply chain.
From resin makers to end-users of reusable packaging, RPA says there's room at the table in the organization.
“Because we touch every part of the supply chain, we are the group that can bring everybody together,” said Katie Kilfoyle, director of communications for RPA.
“It's critical. It is absolutely one of the most important things this industry has to do,” Welcome said about engaging end-users. “If you don't understand what your customers' needs are, you can't move this industry forward. You can't get growth, I don't think, without having that involvement.
“Our focus as an organization is to grow the marketplace. But at the same time educate people about the benefits of reusable packaging,” Welcome said while sitting at the RPA booth at Pack Expo in Chicago this week.
Part of that education involved an end-users focus group that got together earlier this year to help share ideas and thoughts with each other as well as the association. That group was such a success that the RPA has formalized its involvement as an advisory committee to the association, Welcome said.
And then there are plans to host RPA's first-ever reusable packaging forum for end-users next April in Chicago.
RPA currently has 68 members, and Welcome sees the potential for that number to grow to about 125.
RPA describes itself as material agnostic. If it's reusable and it's a package, then it's OK by RPA. But the fact of the matter is that about 60 to 70 percent of the reusable packaging out there is made of plastic. RPA considers a package reusable if it can be used multiple times and recycled at the end of its life.
Engaging end-users is a sign of maturation at the RPA, Welcome said.
“Now that we've been around for a little while, we really need to do a better job of working with the end-users and find out what's important to them,” he said.
The association actually traces its roots to 1999 and was formerly known at the Reusable Pallet and Container Coalition. The association grew out of a group of companies that formerly were in the Material Handling Institute.
“Our role is to promote reusable packaging to people who are going to use it and try to expand the marketplace,” Welcome said. “Well, in order to do that, you really have to do a better job of educating the users about why. Why they should be looking at us. What they really need to know,” Welcome said.