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Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Nitty Gritty of Retail Packaging

Barcodes, boxes and bills.  I'm up to my eyeballs in them.  The following includes some basic tips I've learned from my recent experiences in developing custom packaging and retailing my perfumes in a larger venue.  Please note, I'm not claiming expertise!  These are tips from a beginner venturing into the mass retail market.

In a recent meeting with a large retailer, a bunch of retail and financial terms were bandied about.  I sat in between the buyer and department manager and realized my head was bobbing back and forth as if I were watching a tennis match as they spoke about my product and it's viability.  The terms included things such as price point, ROI, barcodes, package security, scannability, market profile, display units and cost effectiveness.  I made mental notes to google the terms I was hazy on as soon as I got home.  I smiled knowingly, took notes, agreed to everything, shook hands with confidence and walked to my car.  I left the meeting sweating profusely and immediately began working on acquiring the three main elements I would need to secure my product a spot on the shelves of the retailer.

They were:

1. Order custom perfume boxes ASAP
2. Order barcodes for perfume boxes ASAP
3. Order custom display unit ASAP

Did I mention ASAP?  Despite how hard I worked, it all took months.  Months of calling suppliers, carpenters and companies.  Lots of emails that started with, "RE: Order placed 3 weeks ago" and "Please confirm delivery date" which leads me to point #1

1) Despite the claims of printing companies, your boxes, labels, signage etc. will take significantly longer than promised.  Does the website claim your short-run boxes will print in three days?  Add at least six days to the equation.  There will be questions with graphics, custom die manufacture delays, someone will go on vacation and your "artwork approval" email will get mysteriously lost in cyberheaven or hell.

2) The price you are quoted for your boxes will most likely NOT be the price you actually pay.  Did you need a non standard size box?  A non standard size box seems to be any size box other than a bar soap box. Did you want foil? UV Coating? Do you want to order less than 250 qty?  All this costs extra.  While I didn't get all the bells and whistles, I did have to pay for a custom die cut box and foil die cut.  These are one time fees and when I reorder boxes I won't have to pay the die fees again, but trust me they sure add up.

3) Be sure to ask your sales rep about the different materials available for boxes.  Some companies have lots of different paperboards available, some have just a few.  I had my heart set on using 100% recycled material for my boxes, but when the sample arrived it was so thin and fragile I worried about the safety of my product.  Anything heavy seemed it would fall out the bottom of the box and the rep admitted they had some issues with "shelf degradation."  Another term I was unfamiliar with, but understood to mean "These boxes don't last long on retail shelves."  I ended up using 60% recycled material as the box material was much thicker and sturdier.

4) Should you have multiple fragrances or product and not be able to afford to order 100 qty. of each scent, you will have to modify the box with a label.  This is another additional expense.  Pay close attention to the size and color of the sticker you order as you will want to make sure it fits and matches the pantone color of your boxes. Should you order your labels from a separate company you'll want to make sure they arrive around the same time as your boxes or you'll spend a week waiting for them and will have to pay extra to have them overnighted to you so you can make your deadline with your retailer.

5) Keep in mind that white boxes and white labels won't always match.  Apparently there is a wide variety of shades retailers consider "white."  Additionally white boxes tend to look dirty quickly on store shelves.  If you have your heart set on white boxes you may want to pay extra for a coating to help protect them from discoloration.

6) Size matters!  Believe it or not, there is a tipping point in the size of a boxed item in relation to it's ability to be shoplifted.  My retailer pointed out there was concern with the small size of the perfume they had chosen to carry.  Apparently things that are the size of chapsticks or lipsticks are hot items, meaning they are frequently stolen.  I purposely had my smallest size perfume box designed to be larger than the perfume inside.  This decision is not without it's issues as the perfume does jiggle in the box a bit.  This could be resolved with a custom insert from the box company ensuring the perfume does not move in the box for an additional fee.  Needless to say, my perfume will be jiggling a bit as I did not spring for the expensive custom insert.  On a positive note, I have now (hopefully) reached the magic box size where my product appears too large to be easily swiped.  Fingers crossed.

Moving on to barcodes.  I knew absolutely nothing about barcodes and had to learn quickly.  Should a retailer request you provide barcodes, here's what you need to ask.  "Do you want each of my products to have a separate barcode so you can track which scent is selling for ease in reordering?"  In my case, the retailer is ordering one size only of perfume in six different varieties.  They are allowing me to initially only use one barcode on all my products as they are all the same price.  If you have different sizes or prices you would have to purchase separate barcodes for each product, to scan appropriately.  Most retailers would require each scent to have a different barcode, for ease of tracking and reordering.

1) Do not pay more than $10.00 per barcode!  When I searched the web I found many barcode retailers selling barcodes for $25-$100.00 each.  One site with the most expensive barcodes touts the fact they are "recommended" by The Wall Street Journal and uses this to entice customers.  Many of these sites use scare tactics to push small business owners into purchasing expensive barcodes.  I ordered my barcodes from bar codes talk for $10.00 and instantly received my barcode files in three formats (jpeg, eps, and tiff) and US and EUR formats.  So far so good.  No issues.

2) Once you've received your barcode(s) you then forward them on to the retailer for entry into their system.  This will seem to take forever.  The retailer attaches the price to the barcode so when the item is scanned it rings up as the correct price.  Then forward onto your graphic designer to incorporate into your box design.

3) Do not reduce the size of your barcode beyond 1.17" x .81"  Barcodes come sized as 1.5"x 1" If you have a small box you will be tempted to shrink the ugly barcode to fit an inconspicuous spot on your box.  Just don't shrink it too much or it won't scan.  Don't ask me how I know this as I will become bitter and cry :)

Moving onto the final challenge: your display unit.  (insert long drawn out sigh)  Your retailer may have some very specific ideas of how they would like your display to function.  In my case, they desired the tester bottles be glued into the display so they could not be stolen.  They also wanted the testers to NOT SPRAY, as this tends to permeate the aisles with scent.  This is an interesting conundrum as I spent a good deal of time contemplating how the customer would apply my perfume that was glued down and had no atomizer.  After wasting a few days researching metal leashes and collars--you know the ones they wrap around cameras and cell phones that retract? -- I realized this was beyond the scope and limited financial means of my small business.  I ended up using caps with dauber sticks attached.  I'm still not satisfied this application method is ideal, but it was the only solution I could come up with that fit my means.

1) Finding someone who will create a custom display for you can be a pain, especially if you have a variety of specific mediums, measurements and details you must comply with.

Most large companies have display units mass produced.  In my case, I had no display unit.  Most boutiques that carry my products prefer to display them as they please without a cumbersome display that may clash with their aesthetic.  Not having a display when meeting with the mass retailer was both a pro and con.  The manager told me that they often turn down vendors because they do not like their display.  Sometimes it was plastic, or tacky, or too large and carried too much back stock, or wouldn't fit on the shelving.  So, by not having a display unit already created, I was able to customize my unit to the retailer's specifications.  The downside to this is that you must customize the unit to the retailer's specifications. :)

2) Purchasing a very small number of custom displays can be very expensive.

When ordering a prototype display, you will pay . . .  a lot.  If you know a carpenter, woodworker, craftsperson, metalsmith etc. I recommend meeting with them and trying to negotiate a price.  Bring measurements and drawings.  Don't forget what sort of environment your display will be in.  My display was created with a closing hinged plexiglass cover to showcase backstock yet keep it from being easily stolen.  By working with a local craftsperson, you may be able to negotiate a better price for your displays later on should you like your prototype.  It's important to ask if they will be able to produce this display in small quantities for you and at what cost.  Also important to ask how long it will take to create your display.  Add 1-2 weeks to the time given.

If all else fails and you don't know anyone who might be able to create a small number of displays for you, etsy is a good place to visit.  There are a few carpenters who create and sell wooden displays on etsy who are willing to customize.  Don't forget to inquire about shipping costs for your finished display unit as they can be quite high.

3) Don't forget your signage!  Every display needs a sign.  Think of the relevant information you want to convey to the shopper.  Keep it short and sweet.  Who are you?  What are you selling?  How much does it cost?  You won't have much room to convey this information.

4) Think about the shape of your sign.  My graphic designer created a fantastic sign for my prototype display that had a semi-circle shape.  It was eye catching and I liked it.  When I went to have the sign printed I discovered that this shape was problematic.  I'm a tiny business and irregular shaped signs require--you guessed it--a custom die cut.  This is expensive and typical print runs for this type of sign run in the thousands.

I had my signage printed on foamboard at Staples for $12.00.  They were unable to cut the sign to the custom shape designed, so I had to cut the sign myself with an exact-o knife.  It came out . . . o.k.  It looks a little like an art project, which basically it was.  Lesson learned.  Next time, have a plain rectangular sign created eliminating the need for me to wield a razor blade and excessive cursing.

So, finally my display unit is finished.  I'm ridiculously proud of it.  I know how much time, effort and frankly money went into it's creation.  I try and show my new display unit off to friends and relatives any chance I get and receive a blank stare, not so subtle eye rolls and forced lukewarm enthusiasm.  That's o.k. with me.  I get it.  It's hard to get excited over a display and boxes.  They have no idea what a small micro business like mine goes through to make this happen.  It can be hard to compete with the sharks when you are just a little fish in a big ocean, but I'll keep swimming as fast as I can.

Eureka! The finished display unit

Wish me luck in my mass retail endeavor.  I may fail.  I may succeed.  At least I know I'm giving it my all.