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Vicki Strull

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    Packaging for the Boutique Brand


    Not all brands are alike. That might seem like a “no brainer,” but the reality is, smaller, boutique brands tend to have very different needs when it comes to their packaging than the larger players. But what are they really looking for when they choose a package printer? What are they wishing a package printer will come along and offer them? To successfully cater to boutique brands, there are a few things to keep in mind.

    The Limited Edition

    Boutique brands, by their very nature, will produce shorter runs than brands in need of tens of thousands of the same product. And many of these brands are taking it further, with versioned, customized or even limited edition packaging that caters to very specific subsets of their customer base, notes brand packaging and design expert Vicki Strull.

    “For small brands, the hottest trend right now is versioning,” she notes. These brands, she points out, are taking the time to really cultivate relationships with specific segments of customers, and they need packaging that reflects that. Some examples of this can include limited runs of products geared toward a particular group, product subscription services with packaging that provides a new way to interact with the brand or seasonal products with packaging that evolves throughout the year.

    Lisa Gregor co-owner, Church Street Brewing in the Chicago suburb of Itasca, Ill., notes that her brewery offers a variety of seasonal flavors that are only available for a short time period each year. Each of these beers has its own unique branding and packaging, and one of the biggest pain points in producing these small runs of packaging is coordinating the many moving parts.

    “If you’re packaging in bottles, for example, you have to have the bottle cap, the crown, the label, maybe multiple labels — plus the carrier you’re putting it in — then what the carriers go in to make a case,” Gregor says. “And you have to coordinate all those pieces of material, and almost all of it involves printing.”

    Getting all of these pieces printed, assembled and shipped, while remaining cost-effective, is a difficult balancing act that Gregor says can be hard to manage.

    A High End Approach

    Ben Levitz, principal at St. Paul, Minn.-based specialty printer Studio On Fire, has built a business on providing high-end packaging for smaller brands. One of the trends he is seeing more boutique brands gravitate toward is tactile packaging.

    “People are willing to pay an upcharge for things that are adding embellishment — not just visually, but things with a sense of touch as well,” he says.

    Levitz says that he is seeing an increase in smaller brands wanting embellishments, such as foil stamping and embossing as part of their packaging, and adds that his clients report that they view the extra cost as additional dollars spent on marketing, rather than more expensive packaging. In particular, he says, he is doing a lot of work in the cannabis, playing cards and premium chocolate categories, all of which are looking for ways to stand out from their competitors.

    That trend is something Mike Atkins, national sales manager for Afinia Label, a supplier of digital label equipment, is also experiencing. He notes that he is seeing embellishments of labels and packaging becoming increasingly important to boutique brands. “That can be foil, it can be metallics, it can be a matte finish versus a glossy finish, but the overall look of the package allows them to have their product stand out and look more professionally finished,” he says.

    Crafting Memorable Experiences

    Among the buzz words for brands of all sizes is “experience” and for boutique brands, that often means tying their packaging into unique retail environments that will help them connect with their customer base.

    Strull notes that smaller brands, in particular, have a better chance of crafting those memorable experiences because they are, in many cases, more in tune with their target market. She notes that she is seeing brands craft displays for retail that are designed to encourage selfies with the product, for example. And, she points out, in many cases that experience starts with the packaging itself, making it a critical part of drawing those consumers in.

    Another part of the experience, Strull notes, is how the products and brands interact with consumers in the mobile and ecommerce spaces. “A lot of products are being experienced for the first time in the home, and not in retail on the shelf,” she points out. “If that occurs, you want the experience to be good.”

    One way to address both of those needs is with “smart packaging,” Strull says, with branding that allows consumers to connect to the company via their phone, or perhaps an augmented reality feature that ties the packaging into the virtual world. She notes that it doesn’t have to be flashy, citing examples such as health care product usage directions that can be accessed by scanning a code on the bottle, or more detailed product descriptions.

    “[Brands] want to connect with their customers and tell them more about the product, and they can do that through smart packaging,” she says.

    Addressing the Pain Points

    Each of these trends boutique brands are chasing come with their own unique set of challenges that package printers can help to alleviate.

    Gregor, for example, notes that one of the biggest requests she has for package printers is to find ways to gang work together, bringing the costs down for smaller brands while not forcing them to sacrifice quality or features. She notes that if a package printer in her area, for example, were to go to several local craft breweries and try to create a collective where everyone, brand and printer alike, can benefit, she would be strongly interested in participating. Package printers looking to serve boutique brands in a particular segment would likely find success putting together a package and pitching these brands as a group, rather than trying to win their business individually.

    packaging for small brands

    Through the use of package versioning, brands can test market various products and respond to demand accordingly in the supply chain. Photo courtesy of Vicki Strull.

    Atkins notes that for brands that stock a large number of SKUs, but with each one only needing limited numbers of labels or packaging, one approach package printers might consider is working with brands to print longer runs of shells with the material that remains static across the line. Then the brand itself could print the variable information on-demand, on a smaller in-house machine. It is one way, he notes, that brands can get around the higher costs for such micro runs, while still enjoying the benefits of professionally printed labels and packaging.

    Levitz notes that his company has seen success helping brands navigate many of these pain points by getting involved much earlier in the process, helping them to design labels and packaging that will convey what they are trying to achieve, while ensuring the packaging can be produced cost-effectively on the equipment Studio on Fire has available.

    “We work with a lot of designers to create the custom structure and have the knowledge as a printer of what materials will work,” Levitz says. “We can provide clients with a solution not necessarily from a graphic design, but from a production design standpoint.”

    He notes that boutique brands that go through their own packaging design process without the printer involved have to go through a translation process, where they learn what types of artwork will and won’t work in the production environment. But, he notes, if the package printer is involved from the outset, the end result is a package the brand loves, that the printer can easily produce.

    Educating smaller brands and working with them earlier in the process is something that Strull also stresses as something more package printers need to prioritize. “It’s a lot of education,” she says, and a lot of hand holding and changing the conversation from price to value.”

    Working with boutique brands can be a lucrative and creative space for package printers looking to expand their portfolio. But they can’t be approached the same way as their larger siblings, and printers who want to be successful with this segment need to be prepared to get more involved, and find new and innovative ways to produce high-end looks for low-end costs.

    But for those package and label printers who find the right mix of services, equipment and relationship building, it is a vast and potentially limitless space, with new brands, new categories and new boutique industries popping up every day, each a new opportunity for package printers to show off just how valuable of a partner they can be.