By: David Roberge on September 6th, 2018
What to Consider in a Packaging Material Supplier
Packaging Materials | Environment | The Business of Packaging | Plant Performance | Investment | Packaging Design | Food Packaging
For many companies, selecting a packaging materials supplier can be a daunting experience, mainly because most manufacturers are unaware of the complexity involved in modern packaging. Whether you are a small to mid-sized company venturing into new product packaging or a large, established organization looking to change suppliers, the research process of finding the right supplier is pretty similar.
This post will help provide insight on what to consider when trying to find a packaging materials supplier as well as the right questions to ask when speaking with sales representatives.
Be sure to download our Ultimate Guide to Protective Packaging to have resources and information at hand to prepare you for that conversation with various vendors.
Let’s dig in!
Things to Consider When Choosing a Packaging Material Supplier
Before talking with a packaging material supplier, it’s important to have a checklist of items to consider.
First, think about the vendor’s selection of packaging materials. Do they always have what you need in stock? If not, are they open with the lead times for sourcing these materials on an as-requested basis?
This is a crucial question, because it’s important to choose a vendor who not only has a large selection of packaging options, but also keeps these items in stock and ready for use when you need them. Discuss the potential for a repeat order program if you know you will call in to order these items at regular intervals, removing the potential for lengthy lead-times hindering your production.
In the same vein as selection of materials, it may be important to consider where the materials are going to be sourced. In some cases, the supplier you work with is the manufacturer of the materials, locking you down to wherever they manufacture from.
On the other hand, a vendor/distributor that sources different materials from multiple packaging manufacturers may have the ability to drop-ship from the manufacturer's facility closest to your location. Keep this in mind when evaluating your supplier options, however, it's always worth a direct conversation with them to get a better understanding of their operation. In situations like this, their website may not get into the specifics of their shipping location options because they vary from product to product.
Pricing can be tricky in with the packaging industry as they tend to change somewhat often depending on the packaging material you are working with. Of course it’s important to know that the quotes you are provided are competitive, but be sure to consider the level of service you are receiving from that supplier compared to the other, less expensive options. Is a higher cost (within reason) worth consideration for a better, more reliable relationship?
Packaging solutions must be as affordable tomorrow as they are today. If you are looking at high volume orders, you have potential to look for a guarantee to keep prices low for the foreseeable future or even a set period of time to ensure cost-effectiveness.
Does the vendor have the ability to service your company now and also when your business starts to grow? It’s beneficial to choose vendors that have a demonstrated ability to grow with you and make an honest effort to understand your needs and the needs of your business.
One way to determine this is to ask if the supplier works with larger organizations, also. This way, you can rest assured that they already have the capability to provide support for larger scale operations and that they will be ready to work with you over the long term.
Timeliness is everything in business. Even a slight delay in productivity can cause a significant financial loss. When packaging products are ordered, it’s usually because they are needed in the very near future. Don’t sit on your hands waiting for items to arrive. Instead, choose a supplier with a stellar delivery track record so you have confidence that you will have what you need when you need it. A good supplier will provide lead times without trouble so you are aware early in the process.
Product quality should be a no-brainer with fulfilling any business need. Quality from all vendors should be consistent and meet necessary specifications. Good products should meet established quality standards as well. Be sure to check that the vendor meets all regulatory or compliance requirements.
If your vendor works with multiple packaging manufacturers to provide you the products you need, check to see how often they are qualifying their current vendors. A quality supplier will be confident that their manufacturers will be able to provide the products you need, when you need them, without any issue.
Where will products be stored? What is the warehouse situation and how is inventory actively managed? A vendor who can answer these questions really knows their business and how to support you in a moment’s notice.
Consider the technical expertise of the sales team. A great salesperson knows so much about the product that he or she can help you make the best decision to suit your needs in a pinch. After all, packaging is not your area of expertise, it’s theirs.
Likewise, the sales team should be responsive and dedicated to your growth. A good business/vendor relationship is a seamless partnership, with both parties working together to find solutions to help move your business forward.
The paperwork should be clear and easy to read. Reports, shipping documents, and invoices should be understandable, accurate, and most of all, transparent, at all times.
Preparing to Talk to Packaging Material Suppliers
Once you have considered the important elements of the business/vendor relationship and identified the areas that are most important to you, it’s time to make that sales call.
Any sales call with a packaging materials supplier should be one that you approach with confidence. After all, you are the person doing the research, and you will want to be the one leading the conversation. The supplier will be looking to understand your business and your needs fully before providing a quote to you.
Here is a list of questions and topics we suggest you review prior to your call with a new sales representative. Keep in mind that any packaging company should have a list of questions to ask you as well to ensure that they are a good fit for your company.
How Do You Want to Differentiate Your Product From the Competition?
These key differentiators will likely need to be expressed with your packaging so having an idea ahead of time will help the conversation go quickly. Examples include:
- Standing out in the crowd with colorful graphics printed directly on your packaging
- Using shape to draw attention (molded bottles, etc.)
- Die-cut or dimensional packaging shapes
- Sustainability (using recycled materials, etc.)
- Interactive packaging
The Seasonality of Your Product
Not all products are available year round, or at least not with the same demand. A good supplier will be able to help you plan for any predictable shifts in your packaging needs.
Your Long-Term Goals as They Relate to Your Packaging Objectives
Are you looking to expand or alter your product line in the near future (1-2 years) in a way that could affect your packaging needs? Be prepared to talk about this, and discuss how the vendor might be able to adapt to support your ever-evolving business.
A supplier that works with multiple vendors is a big plus for product manufacturers that adapt their packaging to the interests of their target markets.
How important is it to you and your team use sustainable materials and create less waste? How can the supplier work together with you to achieve these goals?
Packaging Considerations to Work through with Your Packaging Materials Supplier
Once you have reviewed your needs and discussed them with your prospective new vendor, it’s time to work through the specifics. Compatibility of the materials with the product being packaged is key.
Here are some examples of great packaging ideas:
- Environment: What will the product be exposed to throughout its journey to the end-user? Choosing a packaging material that can withstand exposure to various temperatures, handling and chemicals it may encounter is vital.
- Capping Options: Includes cap materials, cap liners, attached or detached caps and tamper-evidence. Think about the user-experience and how to optimize this to enhance the product appeal.
- Bulk Packaging or Convenience Packs: Are you considering bulk packaging now or will you be in the near future? If you have multiple flavors or similar products, would it be profitable to offer them in combination packs?
- Labels: Does your packaging/product need labels? Make sure your vendor can supply them if needed. Consider how you can optimize the labeling to either be printed on the packaging itself, or better yet how you can utilize augmented reality to expand your brand story through labeling.
Communication is Key
The key to any business/vendor relationship is open communication, and never more-so than when seeking the best fit with a packaging material supplier. The more transparent you are with your needs, the better the vendor will be able to provide you with the best support. Likewise, be sure to pay attention to the sales representative’s answers to your questions, and consider whether they are a good fit for your operation.
The importance of asking the right questions is key in order to find the ideal supplier. Determining the vendor that is versatile enough to scale up as you grow, securing competitive pricing, and a developing a trustworthy and reliable relationship with your sales representative are arguably the most important elements of this business partnership.
And don’t forget, we offer an Ultimate Guide To Protective Packaging to help you best determine your needs and figure out the answers to these questions and more.
About David Roberge
I am grateful for my 9 years as part of the outstanding Industrial Packaging team. I was able to hang out with some of the most knowledgeable folks in the packaging industry. I feel even luckier that I was able to share that knowledge with you. I love learning, hiking, and growing people and teams both personally and professionally, and helping companies grow better.