Is Luxury Packaging the Next Frontier for Finishing?
Printers and trade finishers are always looking for new opportunities and business. One of the most interesting might be the luxury packaging segment. This is a segment that was basically created by Apple with the introduction of the iPhone in 2007. If you have one, you know about Apple’s fastidiousness in look, feel, and neat compartments in the box where all of the accessories are tucked away.
The Smartphone market exploded after 2007 and luxury packaging took off for a whole variety of products, including watches, jewelry, gift boxes, other electronics, and much more. The box types included folded cartons, rigid cardboard boxes with magnetic closures, book-style boxes with sharply defined edges, rigid cardboard boxes with a paper covering, presentation boxes with flap covers and embossing and more.
The main beneficiary of this huge jump in demand was China, where a large and willing labor force was capable of hand-assembling the high volumes of these boxes that were needed. But while China (and other countries) could fill those high-volume orders, there were significant problems associated with production in low-labor cost countries.
The first was lead time. You could place an order, but your order would certainly not show up in two weeks. Between manufacturing lead time and shipping from a rather distant source, it would be many months before your customer received the goods. The second was order quantity. This is the same issue that faced book printers before the digital revolution. An order of 500 boxes was simply not possible with this supply chain. The third was quality. Hand manufacturing left some product quality expectations wanting. Corners may not have been tucked properly, and there might be other defects.
After a number of years, machine manufacturers recognized an opportunity. A new type of luxury box machine would have to be designed. But it would solve several problems with the existing manufacturing chain. First would be order quantity. The printer or finisher would have the machine on their premises and could accept small orders for prototypes and small quantities with short turn times. Quality issues would be solved with the repeatability of machine operation over hand assembly.
Well, the new machines arrived, and began to offer a market opportunity to printers and print finishers. These new systems combine many separate operations such as board grooving, corner punching, gluing, magnet inserting, turning, lining, placing, and more into an integrated system that can produce up to 40 finished boxes per minute.
During PRINT 17 when I was stationed in the BEST Graphics booth, our neighbor was a Chinese luxury box-making manufacturer displaying a complete system. Chinese manufacturers have jumped in with both feet into this market. And Italian firms such as Emmeci and Zechini are there also. But the top-of-the-line machine that I have had the pleasure to see up close is the Kolbus BOXline system which is an absolute mechanical marvel. It’s also one of the most expensive solutions, but its engineering quality and innovation cannot be contested.
The market is developing and sales of these new machines are going well. Still, this is a very different market from traditional bindery, and successful entry means a concerted sales effort along with significant capital investment. But if you’re looking for new business, it’s certainly worth investigating, as this market segment will show strong growth.