Saving Grace

John Marrelli isn't one to complain about our throwaway society. After all, his Tustin, California-based company, Ironclad Inc., manufactures trash bags. But when the time came to find an innovative way to set his product apart from its competition, Marrelli ended up championing a package that actually reduces waste.

Beginning in March 1996, Ironclad began packaging its Ironclad Strap Bags inside plastic kitchen storage containers. So instead of ending up with a cardboard box to toss out when the trash bags are gone, consumers get a product they can use. The containers are freezer- and microwave-safe and come in two sizes.

"The trash bag business is a mature one, and the attitude in the industry is `Well, what can you do with a trash bag?' ' says Marrelli, who sees his competitors' complacency as an opportunity for breakthrough marketing. "With that kind of attitude, the market is ripe for innovation.'

Consumers and retailers seem to agree. According to Ironclad marketing manager Linda Desko, revenues and distribution are up since the packaging change--without the major marketing budgets of the big guys. "Instead of spending our marketing dollars on advertising, we wanted to give the consumer better value,' says Desko. Best of all, since Ironclad manufactures the containers itself, the cost of the value-added packaging is comparable to plain old paperboard.

Even if your operations don't allow you to make your own reusable packaging, bundling your product with another useful product can be an excellent way to grab consumer attention and win the sale. Reasons Desko, "Consumers always want to get something for free."

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This article was originally published in the August 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Saving Grace.

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