Difficult Decisions Lead to Focus and Growth for NPTA
In 2011, the National Paper Trade Association (NPTA) board of directors was at a crossroads. At its annual strategic planning session, it knew it had to make a radical shift from the association’s historic roots that had developed since 1903, when NPTA was founded.

Until that meeting, NPTA was a leading trade association for distributors in three distinct industries: paper, packaging and janitorial supplies. Over the decades, it offered an increasingly expansive range of programs, events and initiatives that were tailored to meet the diverse needs of all of its membership segments. Then came the economic downturn of 2008 and its residual wake in subsequent years. Like many organizations, NPTA was forced to do more with less. Increasingly, dollars were spread more thinly across multiple programs. Members began to perceive a limited return on their investment.

“We had to step back and evaluate who we could best serve and then completely refocus and rebuild our strategy around them,” said Don Clampitt, NPTA immediate past chairman and current treasurer. “We decided it was better to be excellent at a few things as opposed to be average at several things. With limited dollars across multiple programs, you end up serving many masters. When that happens, you lose focus on what you do best. When you can focus on what you do best – and do it better than anyone else – that’s good business.”

After a comprehensive strategic analysis, the NPTA board made the difficult decision to focus on a single membership segment – paper (more specifically, paper distributors). The board decided to reallocate resources and serve those members more effectively with a deeper portfolio of programs, training and advocacy.

“It was hard at first,” Clampitt said. “We lost members in the other segments who had been loyal to NPTA. But now, as an association with a singular focus, our board can govern and set a strategic agenda that is centered on getting people to understand that our industry is great and that our association is a catalyst in making things better for our members.”

Today, NPTA serves approximately 55 distributor and merchant firms and 35 manufacturing and mill firms in the $50-plus billion paper distribution industry. Its revised mission statement and three-year strategic plan reflect a laser-like focus on paper merchants and mill partners, and the organization now delivers networking, education, advocacy and industry trends data focused on the health of the paper industry.

“There is a renewed focus, energy and rigor around what we do and what we offer,” Clampitt added. “We have core themes and strategic objectives that we address at every board meeting. And we are committed to continuity on the board where we’ll focus on one or two things and run hard to achieve them before we take on anything new.”

For NPTA, those strategic objectives currently include:
  • Offering stimulating networking events that unite current members and attract new members;
  • Providing year-round, cost-effective educational and training opportunities for member firms and their customers;
  • Supporting advocacy efforts on behalf of the paper and print industries; and
  • Serving as a unique and relevant resource for industry data and trends that member firms can use to make future business decisions.
“The paper industry has been facing many challenges, and we’ve been better equipping our members to face those challenges. Our primary focus is on facilitating the flow of information and education between paper merchants, printers and print and paper buyers so that efficiencies and learning opportunities naturally result,” said Clampitt, who has been in the paper industry for 34 years.

NPTA works closely with the printer community to address supply chain issues and opportunities between paper mills, merchants and printers. These opportunities include reducing costs, waste and redundancies in the channel, as well as advocacy initiatives to address end-user perceptions about paper. Last month at a leading industry tradeshow, NPTA offered a half-day Paper School where its members could send employees and customers to learn from industry experts, experience advanced printing techniques and access the industry’s best practices.

Additionally, NPTA is increasing its understanding of and building relationships with new market segments of paper and print buyers across various industries. For example, more than 30,000 chief marketing officers at the country’s largest companies and ad agencies received NPTA’s vibrant, high-quality magazine that showcases the positive impacts of print and promotes new ideas for innovation in multi-media marketing campaigns.

To date, the sharpened strategy is paying dividends. Existing members are reporting increased value in their membership and paper merchants who previously left are returning. Operationally, NPTA has realized a budget surplus and a 30 percent increase in event revenue that it now leverages to strengthen pre-existing and new membership initiatives.

“Our members are responding well,” Clampitt said. “When we set out to do something now, they want to be part of it. When you can establish that kind of momentum, it is more likely that your members will come back and say ‘What else do you have for us?’ As a board, the most important thing that we can do going forward is focus on our strategy, focus on our members and be enthusiastic ambassadors for NPTA.”

Clampitt practices what he preaches. He is widely recognized as one of the paper industry’s staunchest advocates. And his passion for paper is a family affair that started in 1941 when Don’s father, Max, founded Clampitt Paper. When Max passed away in 2001, Don stepped into the president and CEO role. Both Clampitts have served on NPTA’s board and, in 2014, they were jointly honored with NPTA’s highest award for industry excellence. Don accepted the award on behalf of his late father. Not only was it the first time the award was given posthumously, it also was the first time it was presented to two industry leaders.

“My father would be delighted to see that we’ve focused on the paper distribution industry,” Clampitt said, reflecting on how his father would feel about NPTA’s sharpened strategic focus. “One of his cornerstones was education. And because of our singular focus, he would be especially pleased at the proactive educational approach the board has taken at multiple levels to build and strengthen our industry for a more sustainable future.”


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