Innovative packaging helps whip Elmer’s wood filler products into shape

If it's true that you can't fit a square peg into a round hole, it's also true that you can't fit a square putty knife into a round container.

Maybe you can fit it in, but it isn't easy. Anyone who has undertaken a home-improvement project involving a container of wood filler will attest to how difficult it is to scoop the product from the round vessel because of the putty knife's long, straight edge. The first few scoops are relatively cooperative, but soon thereafter, it turns into an epic struggle of man vs. adhesive.

Elmer's Products Inc. sympathized with everyone who has felt this frustration. Their understanding led them to examine alternatives to the traditional round containers that have dominated the home-improvement market. The result was the employment of a rectangular container from which the mixture could be effortlessly extracted using an ordinary putty knife, but with minimal additional cost. Introduced last year, the containers are being used to package 11 different products in Elmer's wood-filler and fiberglass-repair lines.

Considering how long consumers have needed this type of innovation, it's a wonder that no one thought of this concept earlier. But it's no wonder that Elmer's was the one to do it. The company, headquartered in Columbus, OH, and with manufacturing facilities in Bainbridge, NY, has been producing the most well-known and respected line of consumer adhesives since 1947. Today, Elmer's markets over 200 products, from school glues to home-repair and woodworking products. Now, Elmer's is the first and only company to offer wood-filler and fiberglass-repair products in rectangular tubs.

Elmer's investigated the possibility of a rectangular container more than two years ago and explored various options - both internal and external - to successfully create one. In its search, the company discovered IPL Packaging Inc., a leading North American producer of injected-molded plastic containers. Once Elmer's found IPL, the search was over, said Michelle Manning, a product manager for Elmer's.

"We had discussed an almost endless list of ways to produce a rectangular container," Manning, who oversees Elmer's Do-It-Yourself /Instant Krazy Glue products, said. "We talked about developing our own tooling in the United States, going overseas, outsourcing - there wasn't an option we didn't contemplate. Then we came across IPL. Shortly after talking with them, we elected to partner with IPL and move forward with the product line they were offering.

"The truth is, IPL is one of the few suppliers providing rectangular tub packaging that is heavy enough for industrial use and yet still provides a good value," she said. "It's very unique in our market. IPL also made it clear that they intend to continue innovating this product line for our industry."

Not to be understated as a factor in Elmer's decision-making process was IPL's use of in-mold labeling (IML). One of the fastest growing decorative processes for plastic packaging, IML offers visibility and graphics that far surpass other methods. In fact, for the last 25 years, IML has been a popular labeling solution in Europe and is currently making significant headway in the United States.

With IML, a printed polypropylene label is placed in an open mold and held in the desired position by vacuum ports, electrostatic attraction, and other means. The mold closes and molten plastic resin is injected into the mold, where it envelops the label and makes that label an integral part of the container. Because IPL was the first company to successfully produce IML packaging in North America, Elmer's could not have chosen a more experienced partner.

Manning said that once the decision was made to use IPL's services, the assignment began to unfold at a pace that is unusual for a project of this scope.

"From the first day, this project really took the fast track," she said. "We had multiple points of contact working together from our company and theirs. We had a salesperson talking to our purchasing manager on a daily basis, who was also talking to me about marketing issues. At the same time, other IPL personnel were in contact with members of the graphics and packaging department.

"Because the pace was so quick, it was essential that we communicated often to ensure that the project went smoothly."

This frequent communication was just one indication of IPL's willingness to go above and beyond during the entire process.

"IPL worked hand-in-hand with us to develop the label design and give us ideas on what we could do with the package to give it maximum ‘stopping power' on the shelf," Manning said. "They sent a member of their team to our plant to observe the fill trials and offer suggestions as to how we could optimize the fill process. They even provided a person to oversee the print run with our graphics person."

IPL was also able to provide a stock color that matched the Elmer's trademark orange cap. This contributed appreciably to helping Elmer's maintain its familiar graphic look while introducing a new family of products.

The new line includes the following products.

  • Elmer's Carpenter‘s Wood Filler - in 1⁄2 pint, pint and quart sizes (3 SKUs)
  • Elmer's Fill ‘n Finish Wood Filler Light and Dark in pints (2 SKUs)
  • Elmer's Stainable Premium Wood Filler - in 1⁄2 pint, pint and quart sizes (3 SKUs)
  • Elmer's Epoxy Wood Repair System - 1 size
  • Elmer's Epoxy Fiberglass Repair System - 2 sizes

Beyond these initial 11 items, the coming months may see Elmer's adding three to four more products from its spackle line. Also, as evidenced by the small sizes - quarter-pint, pint and quart - Elmer's foray into the rectangular tub market has been basically limited to the consumer arena. However, in the near future, Elmer's may start producing product in a square-shaped, one-gallon size for the industrial market.

Despite the magnitude of the innovation, the cost, according to Manning, was more than reasonable. "These new containers do not cost significantly more to produce than the old round tubs," she said. "Beyond the initial tool and die, as well as IPL's design services, our financial investment has been more than acceptable. This has allowed us to keep the retail cost of each unit virtually the same."

To ensure maximum protection of contents, these containers feature IPL's Tamper Evident system, which provides maximum protection throughout all the challenges of distribution and retail environments. More importantly, the tamper-proof properties are vital in protecting the retailer's inventory.

Feedback to the new products has been extremely positive, said Manning. "The stores have told us that they have a much easier time stacking the product. Additionally, the rectangular shape maximizes their shelf space, which is always an important consideration to retailers. Plus the ‘billboard effect' - how effectively the label attracts customers to the product - has improved considerably."

Manning also pointed out that, like all of its packaging, the new containers are recyclable, and the company, in conjunction with IPL, is investigating ways to make them even more environmentally friendly.

"Just because we've devised a terrific new shape, that doesn't mean we're through tweaking the container," she said. "Environmental factors, among other concerns, will continue to drive us to improve this already ground-breaking product."

For more information about packaging, visit IPL Packaging Inc. at .