The conveyor belt is installed at more than 1,600 stores nationwide and carries personalized messaging for each customer. Courtesy Handstand Innovations
Retailers around the world are advertising their services and items in an unconventional way, courtesy of one Grand Rapids company.
Grand Rapids native Susan Vanderploeg is the founder and chairwoman of Handstand Innovations, which created MessageWrap, a printed, antimicrobial conveyor belt cover that rides on top of the rotating black belt.
It has made its way to retailers around the country and world, including Walmart, Target, Costco Wholesale, Giant Eagle, Coborn’s, Kroger, Ahold Delhaize and Albertsons. Retailers have used the MessageWrap to advertise its in-store pharmacies, discounts and brand, among other things, as their consumers are in the checkout line.
“We have a patent on it in the United States and Canada,” Vanderploeg said. “We are working on our patent for the European nations, as well as Brazil. We have done some projects in Switzerland, Israel, the Dominican Republic and Australia, but we are focusing on the United States.”
CEO Nathan Vanderploeg, Susan Vanderploeg’s son, said the company is working with 200 Giant Eagle stores, 150 Albertson stores, 200 Kroger stores, 100 Costco stores and has installed MessageWraps in over 1,000 Target stores.
The invention of MessageWrap was manifested through the collaboration of Susan Vanderploeg and Mol Belting Systems, which is a Grand Rapids-based manufacturer, fabricator and wholesaler of process conveyor belting, motorized pulleys and conveyor accessories.
Susan Vanderploeg worked at Mol Belting, which crafted the idea. Before she joined Mol Belting, Susan Vanderploeg worked in the retail industry.
She served as senior executive for properties and real estate at Meijer for 11 years, helping to build and renovate Meijer stores. Through her work at Meijer, she became familiar with Mol Belting. She eventually left Meijer in 2007 to join the manufacturing company.
Susan Vanderploeg said once they had a functioning prototype of a conveyor belt cover, she formed Handstand Innovations as a sales and marketing company to sell MessageWrap in 2009.
“When I left Meijer, I went to Mol Belting with the agreement that if we had invented something, we would start a separate company and that would be mine,” she said.
Nathan Vanderploeg later joined his mother at Handstand, after he left Washington, D.C., where he worked with various small businesses to help them grow through management consulting, venture capital, commercializing and branding advertising medium.
Once Susan and Nathan Vanderploeg were convinced MessageWrap was marketable, they began reaching out to different retailers.
“Retail isn’t the fastest-moving and -changing industry,” Nathan Vanderploeg said. “They are not known for being particularly innovative. So, it was trying to convince them to try something new. We reached out and shared this with enough people that we found some people that really got it — that were the innovators, the forwarding-thinking people, and got them to give us a chance and try it. Once they were comfortable enough that it wouldn’t (damage) their check stands and it wouldn’t cause all types of problems at this key area of the store, then we got into some piloting with some other retailers.
“We started piloting with Giant Eagle, SpartanNash, Ahold Delhaize, Target, Walmart, Redner’s, Coborn’s, Albertsons and Costco. We were in all those pilots and we had our fingers crossed saying, ‘Oh, how is this going? We think it is going to be awesome.’ These retailers, as well as some third parties, were measuring the results by talking to shoppers and store associates and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive and started pouring in in waves, and it seemed like every week we would come back and get more data and news about how much the shoppers loved it. That gave the retailers the justification to expand those programs.”
Susan Vanderploeg recently opened an office in downtown Grand Rapids, but she said the production of MessageWrap still occurs at Mol Belting.