MEMBER PROFILE: RockTenn Merchandising Displays & Craig Gunckel

MEMBER PROFILE: RockTenn Merchandising Displays & Craig Gunckel

RockTenn Merchandising Displays has a rich history including many acquisitions, success, and being one of the largest P-O-P producers.

The RockTenn Company  was originally formed in 1973 when Paper Mills Inc. and Rock City Packaging, Inc merged, but Rock City was originally founded in 1898. Today, RockTenn is based in Norcross, GA and operates throughout the US, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Argentina and China. With more than 26,000 employees, RockTenn has operating facilities, sales offices, satellite offices, engineering offices, research and development offices, and the corporate office. They are known for corrugated and consumer packaging, being sustainable, and having a great relationship with Wal-Mart.

As you can tell, we are proud to have RockTenn Merchandising Displays as a member. They are a prime example of a company who is excelling in our industry. They make excellent marketing solutions, they challenge the competition, and have their own education program. 

To learn a little bit more about their success, we talked to Craig Gunckel, Executive Vice President of RockTenn Display and Folding. He's worked for the company for more than 18 years, so he is able to tell just us how RockTenn works.

POPAI: Since RockTenn is one of North America’s leading manufacturers of corrugated and consumer packaging, I thought we might talk about packaging for a little bit. What are the top trends you are seeing? What do you think are the most effective? And Why?

Gunckel: Lets talk about the three industry “mega” trends that are redefining everything we do. They fall into three categories of impact: 1) shopper 2) retailer and 3) store format.

First, is that purchase decisions are increasingly being made at the point of purchase, by increasingly informed and demanding shoppers.

This underscores the critical importance of designing packaging and display materials that can not only attract shopper attention from a distance, but also provide informative reasons why to buy from up close. Some of the innovations that we are pursuing in response to the trend include:

• Upright-Forward packaging solutions, like pusher systems and gravity-fed designs that present packages in their best light. This is becoming increasingly important with the growth of products packaged in pouches and bags.

• Shapes and Curves, new approaches to demanding shopper attention through sheer design appeal.

• Aisle Configuration, going beyond individual package thinking, to develop total presentations that stop shoppers and facilitate product selection.

• Light Harvesting, where we can tap the store’s own florescent lighting to provide power to illuminate packaging on the shelf.

• Illuminated Packaging, using printed conductive power to enable packages to actually light up as shoppers approach.

• Smart Packaging. We are also developing packaging solutions using T-Ink’s Touchcode, a new communication standard that makes packages smart by embedding a piece of the Internet inside every package - using a highly-secure printed conductive ink signature.

Second, retailers are demanding p-o-p solutions that uniquely enhance their own shopper’s experience, increase their store and category sales, differentiate their brand, and fit their style of merchandising.

The critical takeaway is that we have to help our manufacturer clients understand and collaborate better with retailers, developing customized solutions on a retailer-by-retailer basis. Our secret weapon is the RockTenn “On-site Insight” database of retailer information. It includes style guides, merchandising practices, promotional calendars and even a searchable virtual photographic store tour that is continuously updated. Some examples of solutions in this area include:

• Display-Ready Packaging, where package and shipper are integrated into single unit that can be easily popped open to slide into a shelf or end cap, reducing the retailer’s labor cost. We call this our Pop-n-Shop® solution.

• Shopper-solution Merchandising which, by the way, is best driven by retailer solutions – a fact that is all-to-often overlooked by brand marketers. These are the programs that help brands demonstrate retailer understanding, which results in retailer acceptance and support.

• Secure Merchandising. Theft was a 40-billion dollar issue for retailers last year. Yet effective solutions are few and far between. RockTenn, in collaboration with the Loss Prevention Research Council, is committed to addressing that opportunity.

• Environmentally-responsible packaging and merchandising materials. Smart marketers are learning that this is not only the right thing to do, but that is an effective opportunity to create positive brand imagery with shoppers.

Third, the trend toward smaller store formats. For example, Walmart and Target are opening “express” units that are about 20% of the size of their big-box counterparts.

The upshot is that brands will have to rationalize their very existence in these stores. Which in turn means that we have to work with our brand partners to develop more efficient programs, like modularity for example, and cost-effective materials, as well as streamlined speed-to-market processes.

To address the opportunities surrounding these trends, RockTenn has formed a dedicated Innovation Team that is tasked with identifying packaging and merchandising solutions and technologies - and sharing them with our internal sales teams and retailer and manufacturer clients.

We have also created for our clients a RockTenn Merchandising University program that offers three curricula: Merchandising Essentials; Retailer Experience and Innovation Workshops. Brand and retailer executives come to our Winston-Salem facility for 2-day immersion sessions that have received praise from our clients.

POPAI: According to your 2013 report, RockTenn will continue to identify and invest through acquisitions. It seems as if you already have almost everything; a recycling mill, containerboard mills, forest resources, global packaging, etc. What other services and/or procedures are you looking to acquire?

Gunckel: It would be inappropriate for me to let that cat out of the bag! But I can confirm that we plan to maintain our industry leadership position, and one of the ways is through acquisition of appropriate organizations and technologies.

POPAI: You are quoted on the RockTenn website saying “Our designers are continuously discovering ways to engineer costs out of production without sacrificing quality”. How do they do this?

Gunckel: When it comes to creative, our designers and engineers take a “Zero-based” approach to each client project, asking first and foremost: “How can we do this better?” Of course, “better” can have different meanings to different clients or depending upon different situations. For example:

• “better” can be defined as holding the same amount of product but with a smaller shipping cube, to reduce production and distribution costs, or

• “better” can mean holding the same amount of weight, but requiring less material and less assembly because of the strategic use of new and innovative materials, or

• “better” can mean creating packaging and displays that are 100% recyclable.

This zero-based approach is facilitated by the combined years of experience of over 200 RockTenn merchandising display designers and engineers, supported by our investment in the best equipment and technology, along with our continuous exploration of new and eco-friendly materials. All of these things help us deliver against our industry promise: “More in Store. Less Out-of-Pocket.”TM

POPAI: What do you take the most pride in at RockTenn?

Gunckel: I am incredibly proud of how our sales and design teams work together to address the needs of our brand and retailer clients.

Our primary goal is to exceed customer expectations every day, a task that requires immense coordination address both issues and opportunities. We have built a corporate structure of teamwork and partnership, and we live it every day.

POPAI: What do you think will be the next be thing for in-store marketing?

Gunckel: The retail marketplace is going through the most dramatic evolution ever seen. It is being driven by major changes in the demographic, socio-economic and ethnographic makeup of American society. Coming to grips with this evolution is so critical that we recently delivered a webinar on just this topic, and your readers can access it on YouTube.

But to answer your question more directly, the next big thing impacting in-store marketing is merchandising customization – multiple versions of materials by retailer, by region and by store format. This will affect all categories and brands sold through brick & mortar retailers. The direct impact on RockTenn is that, while we are producing more and more material every year, the size of an average individual run is down 35% over the past 10 years.

Problem is, smaller runs mean larger costs. So we have addressed this issue with the next big thing in packaging and display: digital production. Not just digital printing, but digital cutting and assembly, too. Our three Digital Solution centers offer cutting-edge technology, up to 900 dpi apparent resolution, print sizes over 10-feet wide and 100s of feet long, and fast cutting speeds.

This capability enables our clients to quickly respond to retail opportunities, test alternative program design to gain better understanding of merchandising impact, all at manageable costs.

POPAI: What is the number of product/service that RockTenn provides?

Gunckel: Well, our service offering is end-to-end merchandising solutions. It starts with retailer insight, and goes through design, engineering, prototyping and model-making, all done in house. Our product output includes:

• Promotional Displays
• Permanent Displays
• Corrugated Containers
• Folding Cartons
• Assembly, Co-packing, Warehousing and Distribution
• Recycling Solutions and Services

POPAI: Can you tell us a little more about the Bentonville Innovation Center that was announced earlier this month? How is it running so far? What’s the most exciting thing about it? What are you hearing others say about it?

Gunckel: Sure. As I mentioned, retailer collaboration is a critical component of today’s merchandising design. Walmart and its suppliers have to deal, on a daily basis, with the difficult process of developing shared-equity display and merchandising programs that achieve both of their objectives. So RockTenn has created a state-of-art collaboration center in Bentonville where, buy the way, most of our clients have satellite offices.

The center is literally a high-tech think tank where local and headquarters brand marketers and Walmart visual merchandisers meet to develop merchandising solutions that help both of them win in the marketplace.

It features the most up-to-date technology, including a virtual store simulator into which concepts can be inserted for visualization in advance of production. Brand and retailer executives can meet with RockTenn designers to create innovations on the fly, visualize displays in virtual reality and expedite the approval process.

We have been getting great response from both our clients, as well as from Walmart people and, importantly, breakthrough creative concepts have emerged from the collaborative process. By the way, there will be six of these innovation centers nationally, three of which are up-and-running now.

POPAI: How do you think the shopper has changed over the years and how has it changed your company?

Gunckel: Ah, that is a key question. The most important change we have witnessed is that shoppers can now demand what they want, in the way they want it, and, oh by the way, right now! Because technology is enabling them to get just that.

The impact for the marketing industry is that we have to deal with continuous change. As Peter Drucker once famously said, “if you are doing business today the same way as you did business yesterday, chances are that you won’t be doing business tomorrow.”

At RockTenn we plan to be doing business for a few more tomorrows, so we live and breathe change.

For more information about RockTenn, visit their website


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