Packaging Problems at the Pole

Nov. 1, 2001
The elves update Santa on current packaging issues brought to light at Pack Expo Las Vegas.

Packaging Problems at the Pole

I don’t want to be an alarmist; however, I received an e-mail from our subscriber at the North Pole in which he expressed some concerns about the upcoming holiday season. It seems there is some dissension in the packaging department as the Big Day rapidly approaches. The rotund guy opted to contact me to see if I would arbitrate the dispute.

I tried to explain that I was a righter, not a referee. He said, “Close enough.” The problem is (or was) that two of his elves from the transport packaging department had been assigned to attend Pack Expo Las Vegas. Their mission was to seek system solutions for some challenges that was having. The little guys returned to the Pole more sunburned than enlightened.

“And, hey, butterball,” said Fred the elf, wearing muttonchop sideburns and heavy dark glasses, “if we’re going to ship into Europe, we’ve got a whole new set of issues besides dodging all those cathedral steeples. Ever hear of pine wood nematodes?”

When they dumped their bag of show literature onto Santa’s polar-bearskin rug, he was astounded at the array of choices for something as simple (Santa’s words, not mine) as dunnage, for example.

I called Santa’s director of distribution, Rudolph, and said, “Rudy, your boss is too process-focused. You’re a hooves-on kind of guy. You’ll have to handle this packaging thing.”

From experience, Rudy knew that how a product looked when it arrived was the key to a successful packaging program. His first report to the boss was a detailed list of the environments the products would move through and rates of throughput required to keep within the promised 24-hour-delivery time. All the demands of truck, rail and airfreight small-parcel delivery were explained.

Next, Rudy looked around the shop and realized all the packaging engineers had either retired or gone to work for the Easter Bunny. Looking for a quick-fix that would save big bucks, Rudy called in a third-party packaging consulting firm to work up a reusable container program. Bad idea, said the consultants. There is no facility for back-hauling the empties. Best to go with expendables was their recommendation. That way if the kid didn’t like the gift, she at least had the container to play with.

In the past, Rudy had achieved success relying on the theory that if you can’t join ’em, beat ’em. He read through conference proceedings the elves had picked up at the packaging show, explaining how transport packaging was becoming an important link to branding and customer service management — buzz-words familiar to Santa.

But Rudy also knew that just knowing the buzz-words is not enough. He had to educate the Big Guy about the function of packaging and its role (read impact on the bottom line) in the company’s mission.

As Rudy explained to Fred, “Santa just doesn’t understand systemic packaging interactions.”

“Neither do I,” exclaimed Fred. “Why not just tell him the packaging department has a unique position within the corporation because we perform many roles from messenger boy to spy to service provider.”

It finally dawned on Rudy that to succeed, the packaging department of would have to establish its program of new packaging techniques around new technologies. And to understand the new technologies, the management team at would require some outside perspective. Which brought him back to the beginning — sending some of the department managers to the packaging show! But the next packaging show was a full year away.

After reading through Rudy’s proposal, Santa opted for Plan B. He wisely signed up all his key managers for their own subscriptions to Material Handling Management since virtually all the problems the company had this year will be covered on the editorial pages in 2002.

Clyde E. Witt

executive editor

[email protected]

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