If nothing else, the last few months has shown us how impossible it is to predict what’s around the corner. It’s all too easy to be caught unawares, and we have seen many companies struggle to survive. But there have also been businesses who have found demand for their products soar, which, although good news, does come with its own pressures, particularly for previously bricks-and-mortar retailers who are not only having to cope with the rise in demand but are also having to get to grips with packing their products for delivery.

 Among those enjoying a surge in sales are retailers of gym equipment, children’s outdoor play equipment and, most notably, bicycles. With gyms, sports centres, swimming pools and other sports and recreational venues temporarily closed, we have had to look closer to home to find ways to keep ourselves and our families amused and fit.

Sales of bicycles grow by 60% (source: The Guardian)

With roads quiet and more time on our hands, UK sales of bicycles were up a staggering 60% in April. Although roads are starting to fill with cars again, a £2 billion government investment plan is aiming to create a new era for cycling (and walking) with the provision of more, and safer, cycling lanes to ease pressure on public transport and the environment. E-scooter trials have also been brought forward, which may mean new laws that allow e-scooters on roads.

With online shopping fast becoming the norm – out of current necessity on top of the already changing consumer buying habits – it’s likely that many purchases will continue to be made online even when life returns to normal’. It’s vital, therefore, for businesses to ensure that their packing operations in good order to cope with demand now and for whatever may lie around the corner because, as we now know, it’s important to expect the unexpected. And an agile packing operation, that can flex and scale to meet demand is the key to long-term success.

So, whether you’re already in the home leisure and sports equipment retail market or you’re looking to diversify your business to capitalise on the opportunity it presents, below, our packaging experts offer their suggestions for creating an adaptable packaging operation that will help see you through the good times – and the lean.

1. Choosing the right packaging materials for your business

Your choice of packaging materials can have a big impact on the efficiency of your packaging operation in terms of storage, packing speed, effectiveness, aesthetics, cost to deliver, and customer experience. Bear in mind the following points when selecting packaging materials:

  • Although off-the-shelf packaging and one-size-fits-all packaging might work well for some, for others it can result in unexpected costs through breakages, higher transport costs or slower throughput on the packing line
  • Consider bespoke packaging. Although it might be more expensive up front than off-the-shelf materials, it can be designed to address any number of criteria, from ease of assembly and packing speeds to sustainability and customer experience. This is especially important when packaging large and awkward shaped items such as bicycles.
  • If using a third party company to deliver products, consider both the security of packaging while in transit and the presentation on arrival with the consumer. Research has shown that consumers are prepared to pay more for security and convenience (Source: Charter Institute of Logistics and Transport), so be sure not to cut corners or you could lose consumer trust
  • Pay attention to the environmental impact of your packaging and deliveries. Aim to use packaging which, as well as being effective, is easy for the consumer to recycle, re-use or dispose of. Using lighter weight packaging and cushioning materials can also help to keep delivery costs under control

To be sure you’re using the best packaging for your business, seek advice from a reputable packaging company. In addition to recommending packaging materials, they should also be able to advise you on how to optimise your operation for greatest efficiency, whether through the organisation of your warehouse and packing line, use of machinery, or in the provision of stock holding services.

2. The importance of managing packaging stock

 For businesses already trying to manage inventory of large, bulky products, storage space is likely to be at a premium. Adding storage of packaging materials into the mix could make things very tricky indeed. Fortunately, there are ways to manage this that can really help to optimise space and efficiency:

  • Stockholding

Find out if packaging supplier offers stockholding and next-day delivery services. If they do, you may be able to buy your packaging upfront to secure a good price and then call it off as you need it. There will be a minimum order and delivery threshold, and it may not be available for all products, but it’s likely to work out cheaper than finding your own storage.

  • On-demand void fill and cushioning

When space in both warehouse and packing area is tight, and at a time when workers need to be able to socially distance, the compact footprint and flexibility of on-demand packaging can be worth its weight in gold.

The market has seen an influx of paper and air options, both of which are environmentally friendly and take up very little storage room. The air option involves the inflation of recyclable plastic air sacs that are inflated as required using easy-to-use mobile kit – the sacs can also be supplied printed with branding and messaging as desired. On-demand paper options offer the ability to convert single or double-ply Kraft paper into a range of firm or flexible protective cushioning pads.

3. Order fulfilment: keeping up with demand without losing quality

 One of the biggest challenges for packing operations under pressure is quality consistency. When packers are up against the clock, it’s easy for errors to begin to creep in, whether using too much or too little packaging or packages not being sealed properly.

The introduction of some form of packing automation can make a significant difference, especially in areas of the operation that might usually involve two or more people working quite closely together when wrapping pallets, for example.

Consider whether your operation might benefit from case sealers, carton erectors, pallet wrappers, strappers, or kit that produces void fill and cushioning on demand, as touched on above. Antalis offers a range of flexible options to facilitate the purchase/supply of a machine and a payment plan can be built to suit your needs. Machinery could help you to add some serious momentum to your operation and allow you to create an agile packaging process that can deal with unexpected demand, as well as the usual seasonal peaks.

4. Managing the environmental impact of your packaging

We saw a big push on sustainability on both an individual and commercial level prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the cleaner air that much of the world has experienced over the last few months as a result of lockdown isn’t something that people want to lose. In fact, only 9% of Britons (Source: Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport) want to return to pre-lockdown ‘normality’.  It’s important, therefore, not to ignore the rise in packaging waste that will inevitably accompany the growth in demand for products.

To scale up your operations without scaling up your environmental impact, consider these suggestions:

  • Choose packaging that is recyclable and or has recycled content
  • Minimise pack sizes to use less material – it will also help to keep transport costs low
  • Bespoke packaging. We already touched on this in point 1, above, but it’s worth reiterating the point that bespoke packaging can result in all sorts of savings. When it comes to sustainability, it’s not just about the materials used but about the quality of protection. If goods arrive at their destination damaged, the knock-on effect of returns in terms of additional road miles and packaging will have a negative impact on both your carbon footprint and your reputation. Antalis’s Smart Packaging Centre offers a complete packaging design service. If you’re not able to meet in person right now, the Virtual SPC means our team of packaging technologists are still available to discuss ideas, develop solutions to your challenges and run live demos of pack designs.

For more information and advice on how to flex and grow your packaging operations to match consumer buying habits now and beyond, contact our Packaging Experts today.


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