Kelly Reynolds has learned many lessons during a long career in manufacturing.
Talk to him long enough and you’ll learn there are two that really stand out to him: Almost everything produced gets packaged in a plastic bag, and the best way to control your career is to work for yourself.
Those two pillars buttress the foundation of Reynolds Packaging, the Green Bay-based flexible packaging company launched in his garage as an effort to build a machine that would produce plastic pouches faster than the competition. Twenty years later, the company has clients across the United States and enjoyed sales growth of more than 55 percent in 2016 — a number he expects to beat in 2017.
“I got tired of being laid off for things that I had nothing to do with. This way it’s on me,” says Reynolds, who admits starting up his own company was a tough sell with a young family. “But think about it — almost everything you buy comes in a bag.”
Reynolds has spent most of his working career in the flexible packaging industry, starting as a line operator and working his way up the ranks, absorbing knowledge and developing a keen mechanical aptitude. Eventually, he became a machine designer and builder, first for established companies, then striking out on his own in 1999.
After several years working out of his garage, Reynolds graduated to a production bay in the I-43 Business Park in Green Bay. Along the way, he refined his designs and has created new, single machines that can not only do the work of multiple predecessors, but do it faster with an array of materials.
“A lot of the standard industry machines can do about 65 to 70 bags per minute,” Reynolds says. “With the machines I have built, I can get more than 200 per minute.”
The capability of producing pouches faster provides better margins and allows Reynolds Packaging to offer more competitive pricing. The company has particularly enjoyed success in the packaged foods sector, providing bags for everything from mushroom caps to noodles to ethnic spice blends.
In addition to himself and his wife Lisa, the company has two other employees who operate the machines. Reynolds says the company will soon need to add staff to meet increased demand. That will free up the couple to concentrate even more of their time on sales opportunities and growth.
The company’s innovation process for improving the speed and materials handling of its production machines earned it a nomination for an Insight Innovation award in the process category.
Ever the tinkerer, Reynolds not only designs and builds his own machines, but fabricates many of the parts and integrates the automations and controls. He has a small machine shop behind the production facility and is always looking at how he can combine existing technologies or improve them to operate faster and more efficiently.
One of Reynolds’ latest projects involved a double-bag that enabled a client to sell a single package containing food ingredients that could not be combined until the product was cooking. The bulk ingredients were sealed in an inner bag that was surrounded by a second bag where the spice mixes were packaged. Both bags were sealed airtight.
Not content just to be faster, Reynolds also has dedicated nearly 10 years of research and development to making the bags better, from dual folds and airtight seals to thinner raw materials and biodegradable plastics such as cellophane.
“Our technology gives Reynolds Packaging a way to use compostable films that are environmentally friendly and utilize renewable resources rather than fossil fuels, better than anyone else,” says Lisa Reynolds. “We’ve been able to make it less costly for our customers and have less impact on the environment.”
With the improvements to the machines, Reynolds Packaging estimates 58,000 pounds of biodegradable and compostable film will replace non-compostable films made with fossil fuels each year in landfills. The company also has plantations that provide fully biodegradable and compostable packaging film, Lisa Reynolds says.
“We can do our part in making the environment more sustainable,” she says.