Bubble Wrap: Sealed Air’s Still Popping After All These Years; Who doesn’t love popping Bubble Wrap? “It doesn’t matter if you’re 103 or 3 years old. Dogs and cats love it, even parakeets.”

Bubble Wrap: Sealed Air’s Still Popping After All These Years

By Caroline Winter  January 23, 2014


Rohn Shellenberger, the business manager of Sealed Air (SEE), knows his company’s trademark product has wide appeal. Who doesn’t love popping Bubble Wrap? “It doesn’t matter if you’re 103 or 3 years old,” Shellenberger says. “Dogs and cats love it, even parakeets.”

On Jan. 27 the world will celebrate the 14th Annual Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day. In advance of the festivities, fans submitted more than 2,000 Bubble Wrap-inspired videos, featuring everything from rhythmic pop-inducing dance routines to a bike designed to unspool and run over a carpet of the bulbous plastic. On the big day, the company will nominate one of three finalists for induction into the Bubble Wrap Hall of Fame. The winner will take home a bale of the stuff.

Engineers Marc Chavannes and Alfred Fielding came up with the precursor to Bubble Wrap in 1957 when they sealed together two shower curtains. The pair (now deceased) initially pitched their product as wallpaper. Then Chavannes had an epiphany: “He was on an airplane coming back from a business trip, and the rolling clouds resembled a Bubble Wrap sheet,” Shellenberger says. “As the plane was descending down to Newark Airport, he felt like it was bouncing on the clouds, which gave him an idea.”

In 1960, Chavannes and Fielding launched Sealed Air out of a tiny building in Hawthorne, N.J.—not far from the company’s present-day headquarters in Elmwood Park. IBM (IBM) was one of the first major clients. Other customersincludeAmazon.com (AMZN), Wal-Mart Stores (WMT), and Staples (SPLS). Publicly traded Sealed Air logged sales of $7.8 billion in 2013.

The company has been able to hang on to its first-mover advantage by preempting rivals. Early on it produced lower-grade, uncoated bubble packaging to win over those “who had previously used cardboard, paper, peanut shells, and pieces of foam,” writes Adrian Ryans, a professor emeritus at IMD Business School in Lausanne, Switzerland, and the author of Beating Low Cost Competition. More recent innovations include inflatable packaging and a wrap that’s 50 percent recycled plastic.

An Indiana radio station inspired Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day in 2001 after some on-air shenanigans. Now Sealed Air promotes BWAD as an occasion for people around the world to celebrate what Shellenberger calls a “pop culture phenomenon.” Businesses that distribute packaging materials mark the day with special deals. “We’ll ship out over a thousand packages for orders” on BWAD, compared with 25 on a normal day, says Jason Archambault, president and chief executive officer of Fastpack Packaging in Lee, Fla. Archambault says he was hoping to spur sales of some of his other merchandise in 2011 when he unilaterally declared the first Monday in October Packing Peanut Appreciation Day. “It never really took off.”

The bottom line: Although it’s getting on in years, Bubble Wrap continues to undercut lower-priced competitors.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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