Your Packaging Problems: Solved!

In our private entrepreneurial discussion community, IBN members discuss and resolve entrepreneurial problems all day long. Recently, I sat down with a few of them to talk shop and learn how they resolved some of their toughest packaging challenges.

After your customer's order is placed into the hands of your shipper, it is completely outside your control. As it travels to its final destination, it can be adversely affected by everything from harsh weather conditions to negligent handling. The end result can be an unhappy customer, if the product arrives damaged.

You can avoid shipping surprises by testing different packaging materials in advance of using them. Skipping this important step will almost always result in some kind of inconvenience for both you and your customers.

But thanks to a myriad of options, there's almost no packaging and shipping challenge that cannot be addressed with a little creative ingenuity, a bit of patience, and the willingness to endure a little phase of trial and error to get it right.

And what could be better than a bit of advice from other Makers and Handmade Entrepreneurs who have been inside the packaging trenches!? We've got some for you here, with valuable shipping and packaging fixes. One of them may just be the solution for you!

1. Tube Packaging for Hand Cream

Maker: Deb Jasien
Company: Fields of Ambrosia, N. Conway, New Hampshire
Product: hand cream in 2- and 4-ounce tubes

Most women carry hand cream in their purse, so if you make a purse-sized hand lotion, you need to package it in a container that is sturdy and can withstand a lot of abuse.

Deb originally packaged her hand cream in tubes made of strong HDPE plastic. The tubes were rugged, but their toughness made it hard to dispense the last ounce of the product. Customer complaints about wasting good hand cream led Deb to a softer plastic tube that was sturdy, yet made it easy for women to enjoy her hand cream down to the last drop.

The Solution

Deb's solution was a Mono-Layer / Multi-Layer tube that is strong yet flexible enough to allow women to be able to easily squeeze out all of the product.

The tubes Deb chose require heat sealing after filling, so Deb invested in a $1,900 sealing system, a relatively significant investment for a small business. She says it was worth it though.

The Numbers

Deb gave a free sample to every customer who complained that she could not get the last ounce of cream out of the original tubes. She estimates this cost her about $2,000 over the course of 6 years.

The sealing system allows Deb to seal 300 tubes of hand cream per hour. In order to recoup the costs, she raised the hand cream price by $1.00. Customers did not bat an eye, and Deb's hard work and investment has been rewarded with satisfied customers who purchase even more hand cream today.

She has more than made up for the equipment investment, since people are more than willing to accept the higher price in exchange for the convenience of being able to more easily use all of the hand cream they love.

The Resources

Tubes and airless bottles: APC Packaging

Sealing equipment: Sorbent Systems

Deb's entrepreneurial advice

I believe a balanced life is what makes a truly successful entrepreneur. Before beginning my business, I was determined to combine the things I desired in my leisure time into the work I would be doing. The way we use our time is most often an expression of our innermost values, so my passion for gardening and growing food, creating with my own hands and traveling to find new experiences, people and traditions are all woven into my work as a Maker of artisan bath and body products.

If you can channel play into your work and work into your play, it will make a huge difference in what your life as an entrepreneur can be.

Hear Deb's Maker Story

Donna Maria interviews Deb about her Maker Story on this episode of the Indie Business Podcast!

2. Containers for Glass Candles

Maker: D'Shawn Russell
Company: Southern Elegance Candle Co., Raeford, North Carolina
Product: scented candles in glass containers

When D'Shawn started shipping candles in 2016, she knew nothing about business, including how to package and ship candles … in glass containers. By the time D'Shawn's first two large candle orders arrived at the retail stores where they were to be sold, they were nothing but shards of glass mixed with fragrant wax.

The Solution

D'Shawn found a local company that specialized in custom shipping options. They were willing to work out payment terms to help her grow. They even came to her place of business to physically walk her through the entire packaging and shipping process, cutting down her learning curve to almost nothing.

They designed brand new retail packaging and shipping boxes specifically for her candles.

The Numbers

Each of the original two retail orders D'Shawn lost was worth well over $1,000. One retailer allowed D'Shawn to physically deliver a replacement order, and as a condition of reordering, required that all future orders be hand delivered until D'Shawn resolved the packaging issues.

The Happy Customers

D'Shawn's process losses from packaging and shipping are currently next to zero, and her customers are happy not to have to clean up pieces of glass when her candles arrive. D'Shawn's custom packaging protects the candles during the shipping and handling process, and helps maintain a consistent temperature candle during shipping.

D'Shawn offers a tip for everyone who ships products to consumers, especially if they are contained in glass. “I recommend lots and lots of void fill in the form of peanuts, paper, bubble wrap, etc., and really pack it in so there is absolutely no movement at all in your shipping box.”

The second retailer was not so forgiving. She requested an immediate refund, and has never ordered again.

D'Shawn's entrepreneurial advice

Mistakes will happen. Running a small business is tough work. Never give up and always focus on the solution to the problem rather than just focusing on the problem.

Hear Sierra's Maker Story

Donna Maria interviews D'Shawn about her Maker Story on this episode of the Indie Business Podcast!

3. Green Packaging Options

Maker: Sierra Valentina
Company: Lovewild Design, Bronx, New York
Product: eco-friendly packaging brand requirement

Sierra makes handcrafted, sustainable gifts. As she started working with larger retailers, she realized that her use of recycled and post consumer waste components for shipping would be short-lived because they never had enough shipping boxes, padding, bags to re-use. Not only that, larger retailers they wanted to do business with have very specific shipping rules that require that each individual product be wrapped in polyethylene, which is not an option that is consistent with Sierra's brand.

The Solution

Sierra has solved her packaging dilemma by turning to a  combination of recycled plant-based bags, and a biodegradable green bubble wrap replacement. The safe and cushion-y shipping environment is great for her handmade products and her brand.

Another example of how Sierra's has met a potentially tricky packaging challenge came when she noticed through social media that her buyers were shipping her Blooming Tea product direct to consumers outside of the hand-screen-printed box in which they had been shipped by Sierra. Since the boxes are screen printed and folded by hand, Sierra noticed an opportunity to eliminate unnecessary packaging labor costs.

She agreed that all tea orders to be shipped to retail stores for purchase off a retail store shelf would be shipped inside the biodegradable green bubble wrap replacement without the box, while tea products destined to be shipped directly to consumers would be contained inside the handcrafted boxes. This arrangement has saved countless human resource hours, and more than offset any increased packaging costs. Says Sierra, “Even when working with major companies, it's worth taking a moment to explore options that suit both you and the retailer, as opposed to accepting retailer requirements across the board.”

The Numbers

Using the higher priced eco-friendly shipping materials added a little to Sierra's costs in the beginning, but it evened out over time. Since her packaging was compliant with requirements, more retailers purchased more products, resulting in Lovewild branded products being seen and purchased by more people. When a retailer sells out of one of her product, the consumer looking for that product comes to Sierra's website to to buy it. It's a win/win for everyone.

At the end of the day, Sierra acknowledges that the green option is not usually the least expensive option. However, sustainability is one of the hallmarks of her brand, so cost is not the only issue. The more important issue is Sierra's commitment is to take on all entrepreneurial opportunities in as eco friendly a manner as possible.

The Resource

Eco-friendly packaging: Eco Enclose Eco-Friendly Shipping Supplies

Sierra's entrepreneurial advice

Quoting a friend and super successful business woman, Sierra's advice is: “‘Work on the business, not in the business.' I'm often guilty of just focussing on what's right in front of me. By referencing that phrase it might inspire me to delegate simple tasks in order to focus on aspects of the business that will help with our growth!”

Hear Sierra's Maker Story

Donna Maria interviews Sierra about her Maker Story on this episode of the Indie Business Podcast!

4. Cold Shipping Containers

Maker: Leann Calvi
Company: Bee Bomber, Oregon
Product: meltable body butter

Leann's balms contain organic plant butters like unrefined shea, cocoa and mango. Each butter is solid at room temperature, but melts very quickly in warmer temperatures. As orders started pouring in from across the nation, Leann had to quickly figure out how to package and ship her balms so they would not melt in transport.  While she only had to replace one order after melting (shipped to Texas during the summertime), Leann became concerned there may be other ruined orders she did not know about.

Leann looked far and wide in the cosmetic community to find a shipping solution that would insulate her products. Including cold packs in boxes was an obvious possible solution, but not for Leann. Not only were they cost prohibitive, but her products do not behave well in extreme cold. Most importantly, cold packs were not an eco-friendly solution. It wasn't until she started researching how chocolate makers maintain quality when shipping chocolate products that she found the winning answer.

The Solution

Leann discovered that chocolate bars are shipping in Cool Blue insulated, FDA-approved recycled plastic and reusable foiled mailers. They act as a shield against three different types of heat transfer: conduction, convection, and radiant.

The interior insulation bubbles prevent heat transfer and the exterior foil reflects 97% of the radiant heat. The mailers keep Leann's products at a steady temperature, regardless of temperature, and acts as an additional cushion to protect products from breakage.

The Numbers

The extra packaging raised Leann's costs, but she tucked the price increase inside an across-the board price increase that was necessary for other reasons. It turned out not to be a problem at all, and sales have only increased.

The Resource

Cool Blue or Cool Shield bubble mailers: Uline and Nortech Labs Online

Leann's entrepreneurial advice

Show your enthusiasm for your business or product. Your positive attitude will get you attention, it will draw people in. Be authentic and you will be an entrepreneur that your customers can trust.

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About Donna Maria Coles Johnson

Donna Maria is an author, podcaster, attorney, and the founder and CEO of the Indie Business Network, providing affordable product liability insurance and mentoring. Donna Maria teaches Makers and Creative Entrepreneurs how to use technology and community to build a profitable, sustainable business.