Adam Peek is a friend of ours and the host of the People of Packaging podcast. Recently, he invited our CEO, George Dempsey, on to the podcast to talk through the ins and outs of the Raptor Packaging marketplace platform.
Their conversation is practical and packed full of information you don’t want to miss.
Here it is:
Well, I am here on another episode of the People of Packaging podcast with George Dempsey. Now, do you want me to go by your LinkedIn, which is George W. Dempsey Jr.? Cause that’s a lot more things to say than just “George Dempsey.”
Yeah. George Dempsey is fine.
Perfect. See I put my name on LinkedIn as “E. Adam Peek” because my first name’s Edward. I did that to help weed out some of the automations on LinkedIn.
So, I’ve got George Dempsey from Dempsey International Packaging. George, welcome to the People of Packaging Podcast. Thanks for coming on.
Thanks for having me, Adam. Yeah, for sure.
Are you in Denver? Is that correct?
Denver, yes. We’re located in Centennial, Colorado, which is Denver.
Colorado. Are you a Denver nuggets fan? That’s the most important question.
I’m not a huge basketball fan, but you know, Denver is a hometown type of sports arena. So you have to root for the local teams.
Good. Good. Well, I’ve got a, you can’t see it behind me, but I have a Nikola toy, and then also a signed LaPhonso Ellis basketball card. I’m a huge Denver nuggets fan. So go team!
So besides being in Centennial and having the middle initial of “W,” I’m sure there’s a lot of really cool and interesting things about you. So why don’t you just introduce yourself real quickly and maybe a little bit about your history, why somebody tuning in should be like, “I need to stick around and listen to what George has to say.” You have a really impressive background. You’re a giant in the packaging industry.
Well, I spent the last 30 years of my life in packaging. Most notably, I worked for TricorBraun for 25 years. We started as a family owned business, Northwestern Bottle Company at about $16 million and grew it to just under a billion dollars when I left as the Chief Operating Officer. That’s the bulk of my career.
I am an Air Force veteran. And in addition to that, I have a bachelor’s degree in computer science and I have a MBA in business.
My background goes very deep. I spent a large part of my early career with Tricor and building a supply chain around the world, working extensively in Asia with our team there and the different entities we had structured, as well as forming a joint venture partnership with the group which were the partners of TricorBraun in America. How we put that together grew that business nicely. And that was both building in the market, as well as sourcing for Tricor. I also opened the first office in Europe. So I spent a lot of time on the plane traveling the world. When I left, we had 40 locations.
As Chief Operating Officer I had a unique role in that I also had the sales operations reporting to me. So I had design and engineering, sales, as well as operations.
Since that time I am excited to tell you about what I’ve been doing. You know I had to take a couple of years off as many people do. I had a substantial investment in TricorBraun that I sold in 2016 and once my agreements were over, I decided that 47 was too young to retire.
So I’m back at it again with a smaller, more strategic team, being extremely effective in what we’re doing. And that’s what I want to share with you.
You know I’ve heard incredible things about Dempsey International and then also about Raptor Packaging. I’m on the secondary packaging side of the aisle. So, you know, the labels and the shrink sleeves.
You know, we certainly went through it in 2020. And I know that it was a significant challenge for the rigid packaging side to keep up with the demand. So maybe before we dig into Raptor, cause I’m really excited about what you’re doing with Raptor, I would love to find out how did you guys navigate and stay so nimble? And take care of the customer demands through the pandemic? Most people would realize that the pandemic really did stress a lot of supply chains. We’ve felt it as consumers, obviously with grocery stores and things like that. But, you know, aluminum has been hard to find. PET has been tough to find. Polypropylene has been hard to find.
But all I kept hearing was, “Well, yeah, but we got it from Dempsey or we got it from Raptor.”
So without giving away trade secrets, obviously, how were you able to stay so nimble and take care of your customers during that time?
I think I’ll preface this conversation with, the reason I put my name on the door was not about my ego.
It’s about the people that I know, so that they would know that it’s me. I’m out there doing work both internationally and domestically. Once we opened up the firm we spent a fair amount of time marketing heavily on LinkedIn, making ourselves visible out there. And that was in hindsight a genius move.
Because once the pandemic hit and people couldn’t get products, I felt like we were the third or fourth call. They call Tricor, they called Berlin, or their existing supplier and they couldn’t get product. We were getting overrun with phone calls and opportunities to source product. And the one thing that I feel my group brings to the table, and a lot of it with my background and reputation on a global basis, we were able to go out and source product that just wasn’t available in the US market.
We brought millions and millions of dollars of products from Mexico, where I have two other entities through my network. Then, we brought products from China, from Columbia, Peru, Turkey, a lot of Canadian suppliers stepped up and helped us. So we were able to move very, very quickly.
Outside of that, I would say in the traditional distribution supply chain between myself and my team with our backgrounds, the amount of time we spent in packaging combined is over a hundred years. We have a lot of connections and we just worked those connections for the customer. We didn’t take “No” for an answer.
We got creative where we needed to. And you know, it resulted in us increasing our sales over five times in 2020. What we do different at Dempsey International is we’re not trying to go compete with the Berlins and Tricors on the stock inventory type of business. We’re connecting with large customers from major multinational companies down to smaller companies, and we’re going out there and making things happen in the supply chain. That could be building custom tooling, that can be looking at different technologies. Getting off the beaten path has worked fantastic for our company.
I think I’ve always felt this is not a supply chain business. You have to have a supply chain, but it’s really a service business that’s all about meeting the customer needs and expectations. Then the international really took off like a rocket. We think we will double our business again this year with the pipeline we have. And it’s really because where product gets short, we’ve been able to use our connections, either international or domestic, to make that happen.
Yeah. And those relationships are so critical. I think you said something that I would venture to guess is just a part of the ethos of your company, which is, you’re not really a supply chain company, you’re a service company. Is it that ideology that led to the creation of Raptor Packaging? And then maybe just talk about what is Raptor Packaging and how is it connected to Dempsey International and all that? Cause I’ve seen the website. I think it’s awesome. You know what you’re doing in servicing customers; it’s unlike anything I’ve seen so far within the industry space.
So, I guess first question is, “Is that really a part of your general business ethic or your ethos?” Uh, I would suspect it is. And is that sort of what drove you into Raptor Packaging?
I think from that perspective, we have the common link. We view everything as, “We’re here to help.” Whether you’re a vendor or you’re a customer, that’s just the philosophy of the company. We’re here to help.
Raptor Packaging came to be about four years ago when I started thinking about the architecture of our industry and wanting to try to make a game-changing move. There is no question that the internet is exploding. B2B e-commerce is a little more difficult. When Magento came out with their latest marketplace platform, it really gave us an avenue to say, “Hey, how can we change this industry?” And having spent 30 years in the business, the one thing that I believe I understand most is the needs of a distribution customer, which are very different and have different attributes.
Quite often over time, manufacturers will say, “Well, you know, I don’t want to go through distribution. I want to go direct,” or, you know, various things like that. And along the way at TricorBraun as we acquired companies, it was very, very important for us to understand the metrics behind why a distribution customer was a distribution customer.
At the root of that is that those customers want to buy multiple SKUs from multiple factories. And they’re not going to do it in the traditional e-commerce world of going to 10 different websites and trying to navigate that. So they go through a brick and mortar distribution company today.
The fact of the matter is almost 50% of the $5 billion market of distribution out there ships direct from the manufacturer. I felt there was a compelling need to try to change the game and create that platform where the manufacturers can reach this approximately 30,000 distribution customers and service that business on a direct basis.
Most customers that buy through distribution, at least with the items where they don’t feel there’s value added, they would prefer to buy direct. But it really comes down to the organizational type of challenge for them in that if they have limited staff and resources, they need one person to call. They can’t talk to ten different manufacturers.
So what Raptor does is it puts the manufacturer on a platform where they can transact business in a brand forward sense and they can do it garnishing higher margins while at the same time still saving the customer money. The customer gets a portal that they can come into and they can buy through one interface from 10 different manufacturers. They have open order reports, they can have complete visibility and transparency, really kind of model after the internal workings of how a distributor works. Really, what we’ve done is digitize that and put that in the hands of the customer. So as we continue to build the platform and more and more brands come on with the powerful tools that we build in there, we think we have a game changing product.
Just to give you a little bit more about the way that translates in with Dempsey International, I viewed this platform as multi-dimensional. And it someday probably will absorb them. Today, there’s Raptor Distribution as part of the Raptor Packaging platform, which are items that Dempsey International has and some other smaller distributors out there have that we make available.
We have the direct to consumer type of approach with the manufacturers on the platform. And I think Dempsey International may very well become Raptor Development. I think the world is changing and I think Raptor is the platform to lead that transition.
So let me ask you about that. Before the call, we said, “Well, how deep are we going to go?” So maybe this is digging in beyond the full scope. But when you’re talking about innovation, you’re connecting consumers with manufacturers, or brands with manufacturers and creating kind of a digitized version of a standard distribution model. Is that going through like a database? Is that how the connection is made, and if so, what role do you see as the internet is shifting things?
We see a huge disruption right now with blockchain technology. Do you see that causing even more disruption to the marketplace, which blockchain is really just a way for online agreements to occur. Is that something that you guys are looking into yet? Is it that type of technology or is it primarily the kind of the database driven connections?
I’m not sure that database is the right word. I mean, my computer degree is from 1990. So, I will apologize.
I’m a pastor by trade, so I just make things up, I suppose. I don’t know. No, that’s not fair to pastor. Sorry, pastors. I actually still get to get to preach a little bit.
I guess I’m less concerned with the terminology and it’s just more about the principle of innovation, right? So continuing to look at the latest and newest disruptive technologies.
Yeah, I think the Raptor platform is absolutely disruptive. The Magento platform itself from a search standpoint, from a functionality standpoint, is some of the best technology in the world. You can fact check me on this, but I believe about 50% of the world’s B2B business goes across the Magento platform in some form. So, a very solid foundation. We did spend about a year and a half of programming to modify that, so that we could handle multiple products for multiple manufacturers. We’ve got a very robust engine behind it. And we wanted to do that upfront.
As time goes on, our suppliers are able to continue to grow their business. Magento very easily adapts into their ERP system so that they can update inventories. They can update items and as their business builds, we have the ability with them to continue to automate.
Our role in as Raptor Packaging is simply to provide the platform. The marketing aspect of it, the brand forward aspect of it, allows the manufacturer to get credit for what they’re doing. The system does tally up, there a rating for them so that users can come and see who’s best performing those kinds of attributes. And we continue as a team to invest.
Raptor handles all of the front side transaction, so we take on all the risks, not the manufacturer. We collect the money from the customer, either credit cards or they can apply for terms and receive terms. And then the system transmits the payment to the manufacturer.
So very much in the way that distribution is handled today, the digital interface that we’ve created really mimics that in so many different ways. My whole goal from the very beginning was to solve this problem of how can the end customer, the distribution customer that I know what their needs are, how can they interface with multiple manufacturers, multiple SKUs, how can we help them do that as seamlessly as possible, both from a communication standpoint and from an order management standpoint. That’s where we spent the bulk of our work.
I think we’ve really created a game changer. I am certainly not fooled that adaptation and those kinds of things take time, especially as people learn to use it. I’m hopeful I’m here to see it at its total potential, whatever it can become in the future. It’s going to take some time, but I’m really excited about the tools we’re putting in the hands of the manufacturers, quite frankly to go out there and get their brand out and access these 30,000 distribution customers.
I heard a presentation today and the person presenting said in the next 15 years of human existence, we’ll see more change then everything leading up to this point, combined, which seemed like, “How do we measure that?” But the point was there’s a rapid rate at which we are innovating. You know, like Uber, for example, just didn’t even exist, and now it’s just this common idea. I was talking to someone today about, will we even own cars in the next 10 years? Or will companies own their car and rent it out? And you’re just using it as a service to get you from point A to point B with a driverless vehicle.
The point is that as a consumer, as we are adapting to changes and kind of the Amazon suffocation of our buyers in the packaging industry, that’s become a big passion of mine is those same people.
We bring ourselves to our jobs. And so as a brand, if you have someone who’s used to buying and transacting in their personal life and whatever that might be, but they can hop onto a website and order something and have it show up in a day or two, those expectations are now being driven into the B2B world.
I can’t imagine it’s ever going to go the other way. Right? Like, why would all of a sudden people decide that they want it to be more complicated to buy rigid packaging?
It was not an easy concept for me originally to get my mind around. I was really challenging myself. Having four millennial children and watching their behaviors and specifically with my son, many conversations, I can see that this is just where the world is going to go. And I really wanted to be on the forefront. I wanted to be a visionary on this, and I think we’ll see this with many things, whether it’s Uber or otherwise.
One of my favorite sayings is, “I’m an overnight success and only took me 10 years.” I think that’s what Raptor is. It’s the change that is being formulated and built every day in my organization that quite frankly can overtake an industry. So if you’re going to go out there as a business leader it’s all about competing, right? It’s about competing and winning and taking care of your people, your vendors and your customers.
That’s what Raptor is for me. It’s the challenge of my career to lay something in an industry that can just totally transform the way it does business. And there’ll be others.
We put this in front of dozens and dozens of manufacturers—detailed presentations. They absolutely get it. They love it. It is a bit of a dis-intermediator, so there’s always some consternation around the message that really brings with the level of change. The feedback from the customers has been phenomenal. We have a number of capital partners that have looked at this; I’ll call them big box ex-executives of major, major internet companies out there.
I have proof of concept everywhere and confirmation. So, as a leader, you know people will sometimes tell you what you want to hear, but, the people we put this in front of, I don’t think they would do that. We’re really excited to build that every day.
Because of COVID, we took a pause with Raptor. When all the factories are full and there’s not a lot of excess capacity, what’s the first thing that wanes? The sales effort.
But now what we’ve seen in the last few months is kind of a whipsaw effect on it. They’re back at the table wanting to talk about, “How do I get my items in there?” A lot of people have added capacity. They’re adding more capacity. They’ve seen some slowdown in certain categories. And now all their sales people are sitting in their house.
So how are you going to reach those customers and how are you going to acquire new customers for that capacity? And the answer is, you can do it on Raptor today. Not just with the exposure we’re getting organically, but also with some of the advanced technologies that we’re utilizing, like geo-fencing and other things we’re able to target those 30,000 customers very quickly.
In my day in this industry, when I was starting in sales, you had to go out and flip the rocks. We didn’t even have cell phones. Today, you can employ platforms like LinkedIn and technology like geofencing, and you can flip those rocks and access those customers and make yourself visible. What used to take you years, you can do in months today.
Yeah. There’s, there’s no doubt about it. The amount of information that’s available is really quite incredible. It’s a great point too, about having an outlet for flex production for some of these manufacturers. That’s a great point. I hadn’t actually thought about that.
My last question is a question I asked pretty frequently here on the podcast and I find it kind of fascinating, I think, because we’ve been talking so much about your disruptive technology with Raptor. I think I have a good idea of this answer, but I’m going to ask it anyways, because I think it’s going to be compelling either way.
So somebody hands you the broad sword of packaging justice, and they say, “George, you now possess the ability to swing this sword and you will instantly solve whatever problem is existing in the packaging industry. So tell us what it is and swipe the sword in the air. And now that problem is gone.”
What would that thing be for you? You can either talk about it from your company’s perspective or just from your perspective personally, but what is that thing that you would want to fix about the packaging industry?
I’m not sure I’d say “fix,” but I think I use the word “opportunity.”
I do believe, and I have believed for some time that if Raptor is successful in allowing manufacturers to reach deeper with more visibility, more brand forwardness into the traditional distribution customer, I believe that on the flip side, the distributors that are warehousing products and those services that are out there will become even more valuable. So I think it does fix things. Without giving away any trade secrets or going too deep, there’s a disparity between direct-ship product, and product coming out of the warehouse. It’s very easy for one to subsidize the other.
I believe the manufacturers, who also are our real core customer in all of this, the one we’re focused on, I believe as they really look at this product and see what it can do for them, they’re going to see that they can make more money. They can save their customers more money.
So I believe there’s a win-win here for this industry. I don’t know that I’m fixing anything. I think I’m helping everybody involved. Certainly some of the other distributors can look at me and say, I don’t think that’s the case, but I know I’m helping the distribution customer. I know I’m helping the manufacturer and I do believe where there’s value added, which is where we started the podcast with that I believe it’s a service business. I think there’s a winning combination for the entire industry. The technology is disruptive, but it’s disruptive to the benefit of the majority of the people. And I think that’s what we see today in the internet world.
It’s not me that’s going to decide. It’s going to be the customers and the manufacturers. In a sentence, it’s really going to decide whether this is a winner or not. I’ve just become the conduit. I’ve laid the groundwork, made the investments, and I hope they see the vision that I see. I can’t wait for this rocket to take off.
That’s awesome. Yeah. It sounds to me like Raptor is kind of like swiping out inefficiencies from the process. Because whenever we can remove inefficiencies from a process, the process becomes smoother for everybody involved.
You know, like to your point, it’s not as though there’s not going to continue to be a need for distribution. That is still a part. It’s just that when a customer can go talk directly to the manufacturer when they don’t need the actual distribution, then why not create that efficient relationship?
I do think the fix is the fact that the e-commerce strategies have not been effective. If you look at the manufacturing side, I’ve talked with them all, the largest in the country to some of the smallest ones, and they put their items up online and they hope people come and buy them. But again back to what I did fix with Raptor, is that customer that they’re trying to target for those sales does not want to go to 10 different websites and log in and try to navigate that and keep that organized. You know?
So when I talk with the manufacturer about the e-commerce strategy, and maybe it hasn’t taken off like they thought, or isn’t as explosive as they want, it’s because they haven’t yet embraced what the distribution customer really wants. And I think once they mentally get past understanding what that customer’s really dealing with on a functional basis, day to day, dealing with multiple people, they understand why they buy from a distributor and why they don’t just call them up and buy direct.
In the middle of all that is the e-commerce strategy. And this platform fixes that. We continue to get more and more acceleration on the platform and I think we’re moving into a new era of post COVID that we’re going to build a platform for the future.
We can video conference packaging engineers, just like we’re doing on a project. We don’t have to get on a plane, run out there, and see them. We don’t have to drive all around and pollute the air just to facilitate packaging. There’s a time and place for that, but I think that’s changed and I think we’ve all learned a lot through this pandemic.
I couldn’t agree more. What you guys are doing—the platform is exciting. The solutions that you’re providing are just exciting stuff, you know, because I think within the packaging world, it can become so easy to just sort of do what you’ve been doing, because quite frankly, it’s a necessary part of a supply chain. It seems like a lot of companies just sort of hang out and don’t really push the envelope. So it’s been really cool to watch what you’re doing. It’s been great to get to know your team, at least Nate and Todd, the people that I’ve met and I’m sure that you have others.
What is the best way for somebody, either as a manufacturer who wants to get on the platform or as a consumer, what’s the best way for them to get in touch and get signed up on the platform?
Adam, you know, we’re pretty visible today especially on LinkedIn. We’ve got our website up: www.dempseyinternational.com, and you can interact with us there. Or look any of us up on LinkedIn and reach out to us.
You know we really are embracing this process. I love myself to get with the manufacturers and with Nate and walk them through the capabilities of this system, because when you understand the logic behind it from the distributor customer point of view it’s super powerful.
I invite anyone that wants to look at the platform and be a part of what we’re trying to accomplish here, reach out, contact us. Let’s work together, there’s room in this for everybody to win.
I’ve taken that approach with my distributor competitors, my customers, my own team, we have to be leaders and we have to innovate.
Find me and call me.
We’ll get everyone going in that direction. George, really appreciate you joining the podcast. Thanks for sharing about what you’re doing with Raptor and with Dempsey International.
Thanks to you and keep up the great work.