When some people encounter a problem, they complain about it to friends. Rich Daniels, on the other hand, has spent hours at the U.S. Patent Office and dreams of revolutionizing the world one package at a time.
After a Styrofoam packing peanut impacted his dog’s intestines while Daniels was on his honeymoon, the resident of Sister Lakes threw himself into researching an environmentally friendly packing solution that was safe for animals — and kids, too.
In 2012 he founded RNS Packaging Corp., a company that produces non-static, biodegradable loose-fill packing shaped like dog bones. Originally located in Stevensville, RNS has leased a new warehouse in Paw Paw and has four employees, including Daniels, its CEO. The company produces the FunPak brand of non-toxic, cornstarch-based packing peanuts that disintegrate within hours of touching water. In addition to RNS’ signature dog bone shape, the company is producing packing peanuts in the shapes of hearts and shamrocks.
“I can’t tell you how many hours I spent researching packing peanuts,” Daniels says. “It turns out no one had ever designed a packing peanut for its appearance.”
Shortly after discovering this gaping hole in the packaging industry’s patents, he filed for several patents and received every one he requested. For Daniels, who worked as a manager for Lowe’s home improvement stores while creating his company, making a new product out of something sustainable was a no-brainer. “Why would you want your last interaction with your customer to be them experiencing a box full of garbage?” he asks.
Daniels is referring not only to those irksome Styrofoam peanuts but also to the inflated plastic pockets that companies use to ship their products and the daintier, but equally wasteful tissue paper for personal gifts.
“People don’t recycle tissue paper,” he says. “They might reuse it, but how many kids’ birthdays have you been at where there are just wads and wads of tissue paper that go in a big plastic bag and right out to the garbage can?”
Daniels didn’t get serious about starting his own business until his father died in 2011. Daniels says he felt that he and his brother were the only legacy left after his father was gone. “At that point,” he says, “I had shelved everything. I spoke to my wife and said, ‘I’m going to do this.’”
Daniels admits that running a business isn’t for everyone. “Who in their right mind is starting a manufacturing company right now in America? I remember people telling me, ‘You’re crazy. What are you doing?’ I just said, ‘I know this is a great idea.’”
Daniels says companies can make a lasting impression with customers by choosing a packaging solution that doesn’t pollute homes or pose risks to children or pets and can be buried in the garden without any ill effects — all qualities of FunPak Packing Bones.
Plus, the shapes of FunPak Packing Bones are like a gift in themselves, Daniels says. “You wouldn’t believe the emails I get. People don’t know that a product like this exists.”
Daniels says the manufacturing process for the biodegradable Packing Bones involves a “trick” to ensure their durability which he declined to reveal. The product has been tested internationally and passed environmental stand-ards for compostability and biodegradability, he says. Daniels claims these smarter, safer and more fun packing peanuts are more economical too.
“I don’t know why no one else hasn’t done it yet,” he says. “It seems like a very simple thing.”
In August RNS Packaging announced plans to grow the business in both wholesale and retail directions through a new distribution center in Paw Paw, made possible by financing from the Van Buren County Revolving Loan Fund. Currently, pet supply distributors ship products with FunPak Packing Bones, and individual FunPak products are sold at Meijer stores and through Amazon.
Daniels lived in Chicago when he first came up with the idea of biodegradable packing peanuts, and he implemented it after moving to Sister Lakes, southwest of Kalamazoo. He says Michigan’s support for RNS has been overwhelming. Citing mentors and advocates, partners and the loan officers instrumental in getting his business into Paw Paw, Daniels says that people aren’t just doing a job but care about his business and want to see him succeed.
As for his own legacy, Daniels has two young children — a boy and a girl — and has just enrolled in the Executive Master of Business Administration program at Notre Dame. “They see me doing homework,” Daniels says. “I’m an old-school kind of guy so I use note cards to memorize things. We were shopping yesterday for school supplies, and my daughter beelined for the note cards. That was really cool.”