Is It Time to Go Pro with Your Packaging?

DIY-ing packaging is often how makers start out in their business. But as you start expanding into wholesale and doing larger orders or even creating products that don't have "off-the-shelf" packaging needs, sourcing packaging becomes huge. Today, we're excited to have two of our OC Chapter leaders share about their recent experience walking a packaging trade show.

How have you upped your packaging game? Let us know in the comments!

For many makers, product packaging is often the last and most frustrating part of the creation process. But it’s extremely important. Packaging represents your brand, it’s your product’s first impression, it’s a key part of your customer’s experience, and it’s often necessary for wholesale.

AHAS OC Chapter co-leader Shana Tables (of Sucre Au Lait hot chocolates and teas) and I (Rachel Potucek of The People's Soap Company) recently attended West Pack. West Pack is one of the largest packaging conventions in the country, at the Anaheim Convention Center in Orange County. We met with dozens of industry professionals and walked away with great advice, important impressions and lessons.

Here’s some advice I’d give to any maker who plans on browsing a huge convention like West Pack, or just talking with a packaging vendor or printer.

Rachel Potucek, The People's Soap Company

1. Arrive Prepared
Many packaging and printing vendors carry thousands of options in colors, materials, and sizes. If you can’t convey what you’re selling, they can’t guide you to your best fit. Come with a concept or specs. Bring your product, brand concept, and current labels. If they can review your products or concept, they can quickly direct you.

Side note: When thinking of your packaging, combine your brand and product’s needs with the customer experience. Not only should your packaging showcase your work, it should be easy to assemble/fill, it should ship well, hold up to festivals, survive shelf life at a retailer, provide added joy to the customer, etc. Personally I also think about environmental impact. Since I’m choosing hundreds or thousands of packaging units at a time, I can make a big impact on consumer waste. If you need help with your packaging, the AHAS Product & Design Roundtables are very helpful. I’ll be the first to admit packaging is often a work in progress, so allow yourself space to evolve and experiment.

2. Ask Lots of Questions
Vendor services and options vary wildly. It’s up to you to find your best fit. Ask about minimums, price breaks, turnaround times, price per product, printing options — whatever you need. Feel free to explain your business workflow and scale. At West Pack, some vendors quoted a minimum order of 5,000 units, but some could do small orders. Nearly all could do custom prints, and some label vendors were selling high quality at-home label printers. We often walked away from booths happily surprised.

3. Keep an Open Mind
Feel free to ask your vendor for advice on packaging options that best fit your brand, because they may have products or features you didn’t know existed. There are so many options for packaging: bags, hang tags, sticky labels, boxes, bottles, etc. And there are so many materials: plastic, glass, kraft paper, sticker coatings and embossings — the list is practically endless.

Shana Tables, Sucre au Lait

4. Check Insecurities at the Door
Imagine us: two female, indie-looking, small business owners talking about 5,000-unit minimums with multi-million dollar businesses in booths that probably cost tens of thousands of dollars to vend, all in a male-dominated industry. In a space like this, it’s easy to feel small and overwhelmed, or to feel impostor syndrome creep into mind. Just remember that vendors are looking for customers, and that’s you! Explain who you are and what you need, they’ll try to help you if they can. Brene Brown says it so well: “Do not shrink. Do not puff up. Stand your sacred ground.” Trying to keep that attitude, we were able to ask great questions and move efficiently with a ton of business cards.

5. Bring a Friend
It helped tremendously to attend with my fellow AHAS member and friend Shana. She pointed out vendors she had worked with, she raised great questions, had insightful feedback, and I had a lot of fun looking for packaging and labeling resources with her. We downloaded our impressions and lessons afterward over lunch, and we both got a lot of useful leads and ideas.

All in all, I hope this helps you in your business growth. Packaging is not for the faint-hearted but it gets easier with experience, so jump in and keep swimming! If you have any questions feel free to email me at

p.s. You might also like these posts about packaging from AHAS :)

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