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Zebco reels packaging operations back to U.S.

Many manufacturers and packagers have found success by having products and often their packaging materials made overseas by contract vendors. But recently, many have discovered that in some cases, these things are becoming more cost-competitive if done right here in the U.S. In fact, some state governments are handing out incentives to lure companies back to the U.S., such as free or reduced rent in industrial parks, tax holidays, loans, grants and more.



Although labor is still cheaper in China, shipping costs are going up, primarily because of spiraling fossil fuel costs. Proximity to market plays a big role. Having to ship materials back and forth from Asia doesn't do much for energy efficiency.

Such was the case with Zebco, the leading name in fishing tackle. Tulsa, OK-based Zebco, a W.C. Bradley company, has been supplying the U.S. market since 1949. In 2001, it cast a line into deep water by moving production of its rod-and-reel sets and most of their packaging—what Zebco calls flatboards (carded blister-packs that merchandise the rod-and-reel combinations) to China. An estimated 90 percent of the packaging components were obtained overseas at that time. Recently, however, Zebco brought the flatboard blister-pack production back to the U.S., with the help of Tegrant Corp.'s Alloyd Brands (www.alloyd.com), and updated the packages both graphically and structurally to provide more marketing impact, functionality and modernize their image.

Now, the rod and reel sets are packed in Zebco's Tulsa facility and merchandised in Alloyd's “mock” clamshell blisters, which wrap around a backing card and are heat-sealed to it. The blister-packs can measure as much as 36 in. long in order to accommodate 5-ft, 6-in.-long fishing rods displayed in two pieces (the rods are re-assembled after purchase).

“We have been developing this project since 2006,” recalls M. Scott Smith, Zebco's director of marketing. “Zebco introduced flatboard-type packaging to the [fishing] industry in the 1970s. In 2001, we employed factories in China to make a lot of our fishing equipment, and had to move some of the packaging component production there.”

At that point, manufacturing in China was popular for being less expensive, he says. “But as we evaluated energy costs and shipping cost increases, and saw freight costs and raw-material costs increase, it made sense to return some of the production to the U.S. and assemble them here. The costs associated with shipping completed goods in the long package configurations we required ultimately became less expensive here in the U.S.”

Exercise in communication

It was also somewhat challenging to source products from China, Smith admits. The communication gaps made conveying specifics and subtleties about package component orders troublesome. Some orders would take much longer to execute, often due to the language barrier.

Designs would go back and forth several times between Zebco and its vendors. “These gaps have certainly narrowed since we brought these things back to a domestic supplier,” Smith explains. “It's becoming competitive domestically right now. As long as domestic vendors can stay competitive, we'd like to keep our production and packaging supplies here [in the U.S.].”

The combo rod-and-reel sets include various pre-spooled reels and incorporate foldable, 20-compartment plastic tackle “wallets” that hold assorted light-action fishing lures. The models comprise the Model 202 rod, reel and tackle, the popular Model 404 combo, the 33 combo and the 33 “Her's” combo. Tegrant assisted Zebco with a full package design update that is sure to lure consumers hook, line and sinker, especially for the top-selling Model 404 package, which includes a 5-ft, 6-in. rod and a foldable tackle wallet.

“Zebco needed to boost its selling time in peak seasons for that product, and be able to react more quickly to market changes,” recalls Tegrant's Rob van Gilse. “Having to do that with overseas vendors took much more time. “This way, they can now ship more product at a time.”

Design versatility

Zebco also wanted to build in design versatility for the blister-packs so that they can accommodate multiple SKUS of reels, rods and tackle styles. “This is difficult with different shaped items and different sized components,” Smith says. “Tegrant's talented design team has been extremely creative in providing blisters that house the different tackle box sizes and reels, along with maintaining the graphic space so important for our brand awareness at retail. There were some key structural changes made to accommodate the multiple components and versatility.”

Tegrant thermo forms the rugged blisters of transparent PVC using pressure-form tooling with a plug assist. Maintaining excellent package security, the PVC effectively shows off the features of each product. There is one long 20-ga PVC blister and two small 15-ga PVC inserts located at the top and bottom of the package that secure the graphic card in place. Measuring 36- to 40 in. long and 6 in. wide, the blister-packs are produced in two versions to accommodate the different models in the line.

Produced and printed by Rohrer Corp. (www.rohrer.com), the .020 SBS graphic backing cards present more vibrant colors and elements created by Zebco's in-house designers. The revitalized designs explain product features clearly and in bold type and create a unified look to provide visual consistency, and add value and quality. The Zebco logo appears in a large red oval just below the hanger die-cut on the face panel of each card. They're printed with bold, eye-catching elements in royal blue and orange, red and black. Background colors vary with the product model.

Protecting the fishing tackle in-transit is always a priority, says Smith, and the products, which retail at prices from $12.99 to $24.99, have to look good in stores. Streamlined and a bit narrower than the Chinese iterations, the new blisters feature die-cut hanger holes at the top for pegboarding and allow most of the contents to show through the package.

“We still manufacture certain products overseas, but in some cases, we're going to bring the packaging for those back here to the States, too” Smith tells PD. “The updated packaging really enhances shelf presence and the products are easier to access,” observes Smith. “When we have unexpected demand beyond our forecasts, we're able to react more quickly now to customer needs versus waiting 120 days for something overseas.”

Plenty of nibbles

In any case, the products assembled in Zebco's production facility outside of Tulsa also include the majority of open-stock goods. The fishing tackle and accesories are loaded into the blisters by hand before being heat-sealed to the cards on existing packaging equipment (Zebco declines to identify the maker) left idle at the plant for a time but is now back in service.

While the company still receives some of its flatboard packaging components from China, Smith says it will evaluate the potential savings to package other items in the U.S. in the future. “Decisions for the source of finished packaged goods are based on the logistical and financial benefits,” he says.

Since the launch of the new Zebco flatboard packaging, both fish and consumers have been biting, affirms Smith. “The packages have done very well for us. Retailers and consumers like the new packaging, and distribution is more efficient.”





More information is available:
Tegrant Corp./Alloyd Brands, 800/756-7639. www.alloyd.com.
Rohrer Corp., 330/335-1541. www.rohrer.com.



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