A horror story! (with a happy ending)
Back in June I began the painful process of trying to source custom made packaging for our art prints. Plain packaging wasn't ticking my creative boxes and I always day dreamed about how we would one day send everything in perfectly designed custom parcels!
Originally I sought out UK manufacturers but quickly realised that this was a very expensive and impractical idea. Postage costs are already my biggest expense as a business and I had to be mindful of this. Quickly realising the cost implications of keeping production "local" I moved my search out to the EU where I found a promising company based in Poland. "Perfect!" I thought whilst sitting next to my wonderful Polish partner! This particular company had a fantastic portfolio and were very responsive to my queries but ultimately quoted me too high so I was back to square one.
Torn between continuing my search and giving up we finally decided to jump on Alibaba and try our luck at finding a manufacturer outside of the EU. I did my research and shortlisted a handful of companies who I then reached out to. With quotes in hand I put in a sample order for my tubes via one company and my mailers via another.
After a month of waiting I received the samples for both the tubes and mailers which is where the problems started. The mailers were horrible quality and didn't look good at all. They were really thick, badly printed and fell apart in our hands. I had spent so much money having these samples made up and it was instantly obvious that I had wasted my money. I should say at this point that the tubes were perfection! The quality is out of this world (like an expensive whiskey bottle).
After the initial disappointment we decided that perhaps the mailer situation was salvageable as they included some other samples of mailers that they had made for other customers. I hopped back into conversation with the manufacturers and they agreed to produce a new batch for an additional sample fee. At this point I figured that it would be OK... I had highlighted my problems with the mailers and explained which ones I liked from the samples they sent as well as attaching images of the tube for reference of finish quality. Another month went by after I paid for the new samples and I received a photo of the "new" samples to sign off before they posted them to me. To my horror the new samples looked exactly like the first batch and I pointed this out to my contact. They insisted that they were how I asked and I was left scratching my head. At this point I had sunk a lot of money into the mailer samples and had already given the go ahead on tube production. I didn't want to have half of my packaging custom and half not.
Eventually I explained the situation to my tube supplier and he insisted that they were able to also produce the mailers as well. I was very hesitant at first due to the fact that it wasn't heavily featured on their website as something they specialise in. With great assurance from my contact we took one final risk and agreed to sample 2 mailers. At this point I was so tremendously stressed with the whole ordeal that my expectations were rock bottom! Sure enough a week or two later I received a photo and video of the new mailers and an enormous sense of relief came over me when i saw that they looked perfect.
With samples signed off production started and I could finally breathe easier knowing that we had our solution.
It wouldn't be much of a story without a little twist though...
As the days went on we got to discussing the shipping charges. Being the first time I've ever ordered anything significant from outside of the EU I confess I had no idea of the complexity and sheer expense of such a task. My budget went from OK to catastrophically bad within 5 minutes when I learnt about the import taxes, shipping costs and every other conceivable expense involved in shipping packaging from outside of the EU! We decided that it was still worth the expense (and had little choice at this point anyway).
It's safe to say that I learnt a lot from the experience and we are currently awaiting the bulk delivery in time to celebrate our first year as a business. Drama aside if you had told me one year ago that within one year we would be ordering tens of thousands of custom packages to send our art out in I'd have lost my mind!