How to Pack a Box – a Customer Relationship Story
My first printing industry employer produced just as many customer relationship lessons for me as they did printed pieces for clients. One of the owners was a crafty practitioner of the “management by walking around” technique, long before it ever had that name. In what appeared to be random, cigarette-smoking wanderings, he’d always stop to greet us warmly and ask how we were doing. But he’d never bother anyone at their jobs unless he saw something terribly amiss.
This particular day I knew I was in trouble when after the usual greeting, he calmly put his cigarette down and pounded the stop button on my folding machine. “That box looks like %#*@! The customer’s paying $100,000 for this job and I wouldn’t give you 2 cents for this box. What good is the weeks of work we put into this if it goes out the door looking like a mistake. If corporate sees this they’ll send it back and you could cost us a multi-million dollar account. Here’s how you should pack this box. Now you do it. Make this job look like the $100,000 job it is.”
By now his face was red. It was a stern point well made, taken to heart, and never forgotten. Once he saw I could handle the task, his skin tone returned to normal. Yes, the brochure I was packing was difficult to pack normally because it was an uneven, asymmetric fold. But it wasn’t impossible to pack. It just required I step back and think for just a minute or two before rushing it sloppily out the door.
Inspired by that first lesson, here are some basic tips and rules of thumb I learned through the years about how to pack a box.
Use quality boxes for shipping. Don’t be cheap, especially when shipping individual boxes via any popular ground or express air services.
Pick the right size box for the job. Typically you’ll want the box to be ¼” larger than the size of the contents. For instance an 8.5 x 11 sheet would go into a box 8.75 x 11 ¼˝ or 11 ¼ x 17 ¼˝ by whatever height is needed.
If you don’t have the right size box, cut it down.
- Score the box with a knife just above the edge of the packed material.
- Cut the 4 corners of the box from the score line up as shown.
Fill any voids with packing material to avoid crushing and to keep the contents from shifting. This applies to any box you pack, whether it’s original size or cut down to size.
Tape all 3 seams when shipping individual boxes, especially if they weigh more than a few pounds.
Keep the box weight relatively low, no matter what the shipping companies consider acceptable. What’s too heavy? For printed material you’ll probably want to limit boxes to about 50 lbs. For heavier boxes it’s wise to consider extra heavy corrugated or doubled up boxes. (I just received a print job in one box weighing about 65 lbs. The box was barely a box anymore and the several short-run jobs inside were scuffed with lots of bent corners.) Of course if you’re palletizing the boxes, weight isn’t as critical as when shipping individual boxes.
When palletizing, stack boxes on each layer so you can interlock the layers. If you must stack without alternating, as when using square boxes, use sheets of chipboard or paper between every layer to stabilize the pallet. Stretch wrap combined with strapping is a good idea too if the pallet weighs more than a couple hundred pounds.
A little lesson in palletizing humility came my way one morning through some Polaroid photos (remember them?) that had just arrived via FedEx. Called in to the plant manager’s office, he displayed a few photos of our recent shipment to the same customer that earned me the box packing lesson above. I truly thought I had done a good job on that shipment, but the photos showed pallets that had spilled their boxes liberally around the tail end of the trailer. We put our heads together and agreed that a stretch wrap machine was necessary and I don’t think we ever spilled a box again.
When you consider the lifetime value of a customer, the losses from a single sloppy or damaged box can be immense. If for instance, that first order of business cards you’re printing for a new client arrives on his desk broken and dinged, do you think you’ll ever get that subsequent order for 10,000 color brochures? You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
Whatever it is you’re printing and shipping from your in-plant, the lowly box, and the care given it, can make or break your relationship with that customer. It pays to educate anyone who touches a box in your department. Don’t wait to find out the hard way.
When he’s not busy helping printers become more profitable with unique bindery equipment accessories, Andre Palko writes on the subject of print finishing at the Bindery Success™ Blog. A print industry veteran of 30+ years as well as founder and President of Technifold USA, Inc., his articles are regularly featured in many print and online trade publications. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.