Ingenuity powers growth of Reynolds Packaging

Posted on Apr 29, 2021 :: Cover Story
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Dress by Shalene Enz & Rhonda Johnson / Hair and makeup by Shalene Enz


The words creativity and innovation encapsulate what drives Reynolds Packaging forward.

Starting the business with two packaging machines in their garage, Kelly and Lisa Reynolds have continuously grown the Ashwaubenon company to where it is today: an award-winning business using the latest technology to produce a variety of packaging, including fully compostable products.

“Kelly is a tinkerer and can build or rebuild machines. He built one machine that speeds up dramatically the time it takes to package stuff. He’s our secret sauce,” says CEO Lisa Reynolds of her husband and business partner.

Reynolds Packaging produces flexible packaging with a focus on packaging specifically for food products — making everything from traditional stand-up pouches to complicated resins for press-to-close zipper bags and sustainable packaging for customers across the country. Printers hire Reynolds Packaging to make a package, which they then sell to food manufacturers.

The company was seeing steady growth when the pandemic hit and orders declined. That’s when Reynolds switched focus and answered the call sent out to manufacturers around the state to make personal protective equipment. Those orders quickly filled in the gaps and continued once regular customers returned and new ones signed on.

“A year ago, we had four employees; now we have 15,” Lisa Reynolds says. “After seeing business decline so suddenly at the end of the first quarter and at the beginning of the second (in 2020), we have seen dramatic growth.”

That growth has the company planning to add two more production lines as well as a physical expansion, says President and COO Kelly Reynolds.

“We saw so much growth in the past year and we know more growth is ahead,” he says.

From the ground up

 The Reynoldses never intended to own a packaging company. Kelly Reynolds built or rebuilt packaging machines while Lisa Reynolds worked on developing and building projects in downtown Green Bay. 

That changed in 1999 when Valley Packaging sold its machines. Kelly Reynolds purchased two that he had worked on and set them up in his garage, hiring his mom and aunt to help run them. “I knew a lot of the customers — namely confectionaries like Seroogy’s Chocolates and Beerntsen’s Confectionary — who used the packaging from those machines,” he says. “I was able to win that business.”

From that small start, business quickly grew. It finally got to a stage where trucks delivering supplies blocked traffic on their street and the garage was filled with materials, leaving “barely any room to move around,” Lisa Reynolds says.

The company moved to a 2,000-square-foot building in 2004 and then in 2019 purchased and renovated a building in Ashwaubenon to handle its additional growth. Now two years later, Reynolds Packaging needs to expand again. “We have four shipping containers outside that are full besides our shop,” Lisa Reynolds says.   

Speed is a factor that differentiates Reynolds Packaging, Kelly Reynolds says. “Our niche is speed to market. We have one machine that replaces what five machines could do. It’s more efficient,” he says. “We can do a two-week turnaround.”

After Kelly Reynolds built the larger packaging machine, Lisa Reynolds traveled to Chicago and called on six potential customers to discuss how the company could make more packaging in less time. She won over every customer.

“Others can’t compete with us on speed,” Kelly Reynolds says.

Or with his ingenuity. For example, earlier this year, a newly added production line needed a chiller to cool material during the manufacturing process. Kelly Reynolds obtained two recycled beer coolers previously used at Lambeau Field and converted them to meet the machine’s needs.

That kind of thinking — replicated throughout the company’s manufacturing area — allows Reynolds Packaging to meet customers’ diverse needs. 

Compostable packaging is Reynolds Packaging’s largest growth category and one that customers are seeking, Lisa Reynolds says. The company developed a bag that’s not only 100 percent compostable but offers a compostable closing mechanism as well.

“Sustainable packaging is one of the industry’s biggest trends and it’s one we’re ahead on,” she says.

Reynolds Packaging developed a technology combining complex blends of compostable polymers converted into flexible, fully compostable packaging. Kelly Reynolds says the technology also keeps products fresh for an extended shelf life.

“We developed a technology that gives the flexible packaging industry an opportunity to use sustainable, compostable films and higher-performance thinner films while keeping the pouch integrity and brand equity intact,” Kelly Reynolds says.

Lisa Reynolds says the certified biodegradable and compostable flexible films used in the packaging allow companies to “showcase and talk about the sustainability journey of their own packaging” when discussing their products. As consumers become more interested in a product’s sustainability features, having a fully compostable package can make a big difference in what someone may choose to purchase.

Meeting a customer’s individual needs is vital, whether it’s a client that may need different sizes of the same packaging or working with the growing number of digital and narrow web printers, Lisa Reynolds says. The company provides a lot of flexibility to digital printers who are looking to run small orders or products with multiple SKU numbers.

“Our customers are looking for a pouch their label will work with and that’s something we deliver on,” she says.

Giving customers what they want is essential to being successful, Lisa Reynolds says. For example, the company is working on a 3-D ordering system where customers can order a product online and see in 3-D what the finished product looks like.

“In our business, we’ve had a lot of hurdles to get through. It’s gratifying to see how far we’ve come,”   she says.

Through their Small Business Administration contact, the Reynoldses learned about the Packers Mentor-Protégé Program and saw it as a way to help the business grow more. The company signed up and was matched with mentor Dean Stewart, executive director of the Center for Exceptional Leadership in the Schneider School of Business & Economics at St. Norbert College. He began working with the company in January 2020 and focused on how to grow business as well as control growth.

“Running a business is not just making it through the week. It’s about how can we thrive and not just survive? It’s taking time to work on the business and looking to the next year or 18 months,” Stewart says.

Lisa Reynolds called Stewart’s direction invaluable. “He really had us look at what we need to start doing and take time to focus on the business,” she says, adding Stewart also helped the company realize other business opportunities.

Stewart says the Reynoldses make a great team. “They both have their strengths. Lisa is detail driven, while Kelly is a bit of a mad scientist, always trying new things. He’s one of the most innovative people around. They can’t do everything and I helped them fill in the pieces in areas where they needed help.”

Switching focus

Work was humming along at Reynolds Packaging until the pandemic hit. In the spring of 2020, the company had many of its regular customers cancel or delay orders due to a decline in demand or because their business was closed due to stay-at-home orders. Fortunately, a new opportunity came the company’s way.

“We were contacted by a local innovation group about making PPE and then also the state put out a message to manufacturers to encourage them to make PPE,” Lisa Reynolds says. “We felt like it was a good way to give back to our community.”

Reynolds Packaging quickly developed a plan to make masks and filters as well as packaging for alcohol and hand sanitizer wipes. The company worked with another business on the filtration material.

The PPE work came at just the right time and provided much-needed supplies locally. The PPE went to local hospitals and the Green Bay Area Public School District. “People were lined up waiting to get our products,” Lisa Reynolds says. “It felt great to make a product that was so beneficial.

“Everything had to happen very quickly,” she says. 

Last summer, when the manufacturer had a large order of packaging for wipes, the company created three shifts so the machines could run 24 hours a day to complete the order on time. “Our employees are great and always ready to do what needs to be done,” Kelly Reynolds says.

The company’s ability to switch focus quickly garnered a lot of attention. Last summer, Small Business Administration Administrator Jovita Carranza visited as part of a tour recognizing businesses that successfully used a Paycheck Protection Program loan to keep their workers employed as well as to shine a spotlight on Reynolds’ PPE line. Lisa Reynolds called the visit an honor. 

“We were in the middle of a big order and things were a bit busy, but it was wonderful to have her here and be in the spotlight,” she says, adding the couple turned to the SBA as well as the Small Business Development Center for help with purchasing its new building and equipment. 

Another honor was soon to come: In December, the company won the Wisconsin Marketplace Award in the woman-owned small business category for demonstrating excellence in sales growth, product innovation, employment and management.

“It was amazing to receive that award. We worked so hard and it was nice to be recognized,” Lisa Reynolds says.

While winning awards is gratifying, Kelly Reynolds says seeing the packaging the company makes is something special. “It’s great to walk in the grocery store and see our products right there on the shelf,” he says. “It’s an amazing feeling.”