The ultimate packaging guide for small businesses

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To complete our Packaging 101 series of packaging guides, we are creating our version of a packaging Spotify Wrapped! The complete of highlights from each Packaging 101 blog, covering everything you need in one place.

All Packaging 101 content is still available if you’d like a more in-depth look at a specific topic, but you can treat this as your packaging bible! Although the Packaging 101 guides are coming to an end, we are still here to provide your business with packaging support when you need us. We have over 70 years of expertise and love helping businesses on their journey.

So, lets cover everything your small business needs to know about packaging…

Blog contents

ecommerce packaging for your small business

Tips for choosing the right ecommerce packaging

The kind of ecommerce packaging you need to choose will largely depend on your product or industry. If you’re shipping something fragile, you’ll need packing materials that cushion it to prevent damage. However, if you’re retailing items less prone to damage, like soft furnishing or clothes, you can use packaging that’s less-heavy duty.

We recommend that your ecommerce packaging should aim to be:

  • Durable enough to protect your products
  • Easy to open
  • Light and space efficient
  • The right size – with no excessive material
  • Easy to return
  • Sustainable and recyclable
  • An extension of your brand
cardboard boxes guide small business

A quick guide to cardboard boxes

Getting the size of your cardboard boxes right is important as it can have a knock-on effect across your supply chain from minimum order quantities, through to storage and customer experience. For a more in depth look into cardboard boxes, don’t forget to check out our full blog here!

How to measure a cardboard box

Cardboard box dimensions are usually expressed as: Length (L) x Width (W) x Height (H).

  • Length = the longest opening dimension
  • Width = the shorted opening dimension
  • Height = the dimension from the top of the opening to the base of the box (sometimes referred to as depth).

We always recommend measuring cardboard boxes in millimetres. For example: 600mm x 300mm x 250mm. The cardboard boxes you choose should accommodate the range of product you stock – from the smallest item to the largest – as well as any protective packaging (e.g. bubble wrap or paper cushioning) you’ll need for shipping.

What are cardboard boxes made from?

Most cardboard boxes used for shipping products are made from corrugated cardboard. This type of cardboard is made from a fluted or waved piece of paper sandwiched between two flat pieces of paper.

There are three main types of corrugated cardboard you’ll come across when it comes to boxes:

  • Single wall – one layer of fluted board is sandwiched between two sheets of liner board. This would make a single wall cardboard box.
  • Double wall – two layers of fluting that are glued to three layers of liner board. This would make a double wall cardboard box, which is stronger than using single wall alone.
  • Triple wall – three layers of fluting are laminated with four liner boards. This would make a triple or tri-wall box – the most heavy-weight and durable of all boxes.
a guide to packaging tape

A quick guide to packing tape

Whether you want to speed up your packing times, use less materials or become more sustainable, the packing tape you use can be the catalyst for lots of these improvements. And as a business owner, the types of packaging materials you choose, will have an impact on customer perception. If you would like to learn more about packing tape, check out our full guide here!

What is packing tape made from?

Generally, packing tape is composed of 2 to 3 main parts. Here’s a short explanation of each:

  • The backing or carrier – this the material it’s made from. In the case of packing tape, the backing is often made from polypropylene, vinyl or kraft paper.  Other more technical tapes might have a backing or carrier made from other materials such as crepe paper or even cloth.
  • The adhesive – this is the stuff that makes packaging tape stick.  There are several different adhesives including acrylic and solvents!

The liner – when it comes to packing tape, a liner is sometimes used on some pressure sensitive tapes or double-sided tapes. It stops layers of the backing material from sticking together.

What types of material are used to make packing tape?

Packing tape can be made from lots of different materials. Here are some of the most common types of materials used to make the carrier in your packing tape:

  • Polypropylene tape – polypropylene tape (also referred to as polyprop tape) is the most common type of packing tape you’ll come across. It’s made from polypropylene plastic, which is a cost-effective base material.  It’s strong and reasonably robust and is widely available in clear and buff colours. This kind of tape is a good, basic all-rounder for domestic, office and general transit packaging requirements.
  • PVC tape – if you want a premium packing tape PVC is the material you need. Made from polyvinyl chloride film this kind of tape is stronger and resistant to a wider range of temperatures. This kind of tape is often referred to as vinyl tape or even premium packing tape.
  • Paper tape – a great alternative to plastic tape, paper tape is recyclable and biodegradable. You’ll find paper tape available as self-adhesive tape or gummed paper tape. Self-adhesive paper tape operates like regular plastic packing tape, it comes on a roll and can operated the same way on a tape gun or taping machine. In contrast, gummed paper tape, is lined with a water activated adhesive. It requires moistening before being applied to a cardboard box for sealing, the adhesive forms a tamper evident bond. Both types of paper tape are strong. For many businesses, swapping to paper tape is an easy way to remove plastic from supply chains and control the amount of packaging material used, as you can often use less paper tape vs. plastic tape. Click here for more information about the benefits of choosing gummed paper tape.
a guide to protective packaging

A guide to protective packaging

Protective packaging is all about balance. Of course, you need to use sufficient packaging material to protect your product during shipping. On the other hand, too much can be seen as wasteful. How much protective packaging you use will depends on your products and how you’re shipping them.  You need to consider weight, size, and fragility. You should also consider if you’re shipping it as a single item or as in a muti-pick pack. Could items go together during transit?

Protective packaging examples

As we mentioned, being mindful of the protective packaging you choose is important, so we’ve included some examples of protective packaging to get you started…

  • Air Pillows – there are lots of great options if air cushions are your protective packaging of choice! A great system is the Pacplan® airwave pillow system machine, it retails for less than £650 and creates efficient, on-demand air pillow void fill from compact roll film – it is money well spent. In fact, 1 roll of Pacplan® air pillow film is equivalent to 6 x 15m3 bags of loosefill – perfect for larger or growing operations!
  • Paper Cushioning – if paper is your protective packaging of choice, there are lots of options available. Geami WrapPak® is an innovative eco-friendly paper cushioning system designed for shipping fragile items with peace of mind. It combines expandable die-cut honeycomb paper with a tissue liner. Kerbside recyclable, it provides great protection and an attractive pack appearance. One example is the WrapPak Ex Mini, it’s a retail ready solution that doesn’t require electricity or outlay for machinery, so it’s a good starter choice for small businesses.
  • Bio loosefill packing chips – this eco-friendly, pourable loosefill is 100% compostable and perfect for filling voids, especially awkward spaces around packed items. This makes it ideal for putting multiple picks into one box or packing products that vary in sizes. We recommend this product for less fragile items, as sometimes movement in pack can occur during transit.
  • Flexi-Hex® Bottle Packaging – Flexi-Hex® is a plastic-free, recyclable concertina style protective packaging It’s ideal for bottle protection and an excellent alternative to polystyrene bottle packaging! It offers a high level of protection, equal to plastic alternatives.
branding your packaging small business

Easy ways of branding your packaging

If you sell your product online, via your own website, Etsy or even Not on the High Street, your packaging is the first physical touchpoint in your customer journey. As more consumers continue to shop online, it could be a great time to consider branding your small business packaging to enhance your unboxing experience.

Custom Printed Packing Tape

With a minimum order quantity of only 72 rolls, custom printed tape is a great way to start branding your small business packaging. It adds a touch of personalisation without having to invest in a large quantity of packaging. Packaging you may. not need or have space for.

You can print both traditional packing tape and self-adhesive paper tape – so you don’t have to compromise on sustainability if you prefer paper packaging materials.

  • Low MOQ (Minimum order quantity)
  • Easy to adapt for different seasonal messages e.g., Christmas
  • Great for advertising
  • Cost-effective and easy to store

Custom Printed Labels

Labels are another simple yet effective method to brand your small business packaging. The possibilities are endless – you can print with your logo, your web address or even a promotional message.

  • Easy to use
  • Printed with your own design
  • Small Minimum Order Quantity
  • Easy to apply during the packing process
  • Minimal storage space needed
efficient packing process

How to create an efficient packing process

Productivity is the backbone of any efficient operation and making each minute count is critical. This is especially true when you have a smaller team. If your packing operations are optimised, it will allow you to:

  • Cut the time it takes you to pack your products
  • Improve your through put (the volume of products you pick, pack and dispatch)
  • Save time for other tasks
  • Prepare for growth in the future

When you have fewer staff, multiple orders and an expectant customer base can seem overwhelming. However, there are steps you can take to create an efficient packing process that improves productivity and provides long term scalability…

  1. Organise your warehouse space – The first step in creating an efficient packing process is organising your warehouse or packing space. If your product, packaging materials and packing bench are all far away from each other, it will be harder for you to pick, pack and dispatch efficiently. Adding corrugated pick bins and investing in packing benches are a great start!
  2. Optimise your packaging materials – Identifying packaging that is quick and easy to assemble will help your team pack more product, more efficiently.
  3. Assign clear roles to your team and provide training – Assigning clear roles and providing appropriate training will make sure your staff get things done quickly and efficiently. Your warehouse layout and the number of staff you have might influence how you decide to assign roles. If you’re experiencing growth, it might be more efficient to assign roles based on each process; research has shown that ‘shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone’s productive time’.
  4. Review your packing process periodically and make changes – It is important to regularly take stock of how efficient your packing process is. You should time how long it takes your team to complete each stage of order fulfilment, so you can keep on top of productivity – and don’t forget to watch out for increased damages!
plan for peak

Peak demand check list

‘Peak’ is the all-encompassing term for the busiest time of the year for ecommerce = Black Friday and Christmas. Although it will depend on the source, normally the time frame will between October to January. We suggest starting planning around the summer months, to give you enough time to prepare. So where to start?

Train your staff – Covering topics from time management to best practices, which will not only help prepare for peak; but help with daily life also.

  • Create posters
  • Plan training sessions
  • Are you taking on new staff? If so, what does that entail for your business?

Check your inventory – Make sure you have enough equipment to see you through the season (it could be anything from boxes to bags, to scissors and tape – whatever you are using on a regular basis!)

  • Products
  • Packaging
  • Other materials

Review your space – Double check your space, and make sure it’s suited to the season. So, your packers can keep up productivity, and can optimise their time better.

  • Can you optimise it?
  • Is the equipment too spread out?
  • How much time is it taking to pack?

Review your packaging – Think about the packaging your currently using – will it see you through the season? How could you improve it to make it more efficient?

  • Does it protect enough?
  • How quick is a pack to assemble?

Think about automation – Does your business have the capacity for automation? We discover more about this for small business here!

  • Is it feasible for your business?
  • What equipment would be best for you?
scaling up your packaging automation

Our top tips for how to scale up your packaging operation

To try and make business growth manageable, it’s worth focusing on areas where your business might be stretched and seeing what solutions you need to put in place to help support your growth.

If your packing operations are optimised, it will allow you to:

  • Save time (time is money)
  • Future proof for further growth
  • Helps control costs
  • Help business reduce packaging waste
  • 3 unboxing facts that small businesses need to know

So, what be done to kick start your packaging to another level?

  1. Optimise your storage with space saving equipment and packaging materials – Creating more space for storage could mean relocating to a bigger office space or optimising your current space – it all depends on your business.
  2. Enhance your packing processes and team comfort to increase productivity – Consider where you usually loose time – are your packaging materials hard to assemble? Is product difficult to find? Are your team unsure of the best way to pack a parcel?
  3. Consider packaging automation for long-term success – You can automate the whole packing process, but there are small-scale solutions that you can install quickly, easily and without excess expenditure!
packaging automation for small businesses

Packaging automation for small businesses

Packaging automation is when you use packaging machinery (large or small) to help with your packing process. Often this can mean reducing human touch-points in your packing line. For example, this could include anything from automatically cutting tape when at the desired length; to automatically placing the products into a mailing bag ready for shipment.

4 signs that show your small business is ready for automation

  1. You’re struggling to fulfil orders and customer complaints are rising.
  2. Your business is creating increasing levels of packaging waste.
  3. You continually need to hire new staff for your production and/or packing line.
  4. You experience an uplift in customer complaints about damaged goods (if demand is too high, packing quality could be less reliable).

If your operation meets one or more of these issues, incorporating some form of packaging machinery could be a great solution for your business.

packaging glossary

Glossary (useful packaging terms)

  • 0201 – A standard regular style cardboard box with outer flaps meeting at both top and bottom for sealing (this code is a FEFCO reference)
  • Board – Papers of 220 gsm and above are often referred to as board
  • Corrugated board – Consists of one or more sheets of flued paper between outer and inner liners
  • Burst resistance – Used as a general guide to understand the strength of that tape
  • Low noise – Refers to tape that had been designed to limit the noise pollution produced by using tape.
  • Tack – How quickly the tape bond with the surface, so stickiness. It is important to note that this can change due to the environment for example, the temperature.
  • Peel resistance – How easy it is to remove the tape from a surface
  • Pressure sensitive – Also called PSA tape, will stick to a surface due with the application of pressure without the need for a solvent.
  • Tamper evident – Allows you to see if the tape has been tampered with, this could include opening the opening the package, whether the intended recipient or not.
  • Machine tape – Is specifically designed to work with taping machines

Thank you for joining in with the Packaging 101 journey, and we hope you have found it useful! Don’t forget the Macfarlane Packaging team can provide expert advice and support for your business, so contact us today!