Web sites that work

Call it revenge of the brick-and-mortars. As the valuations of business-to-business “dot com” companies deflate over unrealistic expectations, traditional firms—in this case packaging suppliers—continue to roll out useful Web sites that help packaging buyers.

All without depending on the as-yet unfulfilled promise of packaging e-commerce.

One example is TricorBraun’s (St. Louis, MO) new RapidFind™ searchable container catalog. This supplier’s always-current container catalog is visible at http://rapidfind.tricorbraun.com. As an added plus, you can search the company’s catalog anonymously, without even having to fill out a cumbersome registration form. Such registration information is requested where it should be, at the end of the search process, if and when you’re ready to contact a sales rep for more information.

The searchable catalog, which contains more than 28ꯠ items, is divided into glass containers, plastic containers and closures. You supply a variety of criteria for as broad or narrow a search as you like. Examples include min/max capacity (in a variety of measures from ounces to gallons), height, width, finish, shape, material, style and features. The “style” and “features” drop-down menus alone are worth the price of admission. These contain application-specific selections such as baby food, beer, honey, decanter, handled container and more. Picking any one of these will target the desired group of containers. Clicking on one brings up detailed specs on that container.

If that doesn’t help, then the “Search Misc.” option off the main menu permits users to zero in on a multitude of keywords that encompass categories, containers and applications, from “Animal Healthcare Products” to “Vials, Plastic.” A glossary is also part of the site.

Although you can’t actually order directly online, the site does allow you to save any specific container in your RapidFind folder, TricorBraun’s version of an electronic shopping cart. Instead of “checking out,” you “submit your RapidFind folder.” Clicking the RapidFind folder button shows you all the products you’ve chosen. After you supply the rough quantities desired and your contact information, the information is dispatched as a comprehensive inquiry to the sales department for follow-up.

Calculators galore

Iconotech (Wheeling, IL) is another company whose site includes interactive capabilities at www.iconotech.com. The company manufactures what it calls a digital case printer, which is a different breed entirely from ink-jet coding or labeling. To highlight what the supplier believes are the cost advantages of its technology, it has included comparison calculators to let visitors compare digital case printing with ink-jet coding, preprinted labels, hand-applied labels or machine-applied labels.

The site lets you key in data such as your average batch size, hourly labor rate, the cost of your current marking materials (labels and ribbons, ink-jet ink, etc.), preprinted label or case obsolescence due to graphics or copy changes, etc. The site then calculates not only the difference in initial capital costs between Iconotech’s product and what you’re currently using (or evaluating), but also the annual operating costs. The calculators are thorough and sophisticated, and they let you save specific calculations by name in a workspace right on the site. Assuming you have the proper data, it’s an excellent way to speed up the buying decision before you even contact the company.

The only downside is the site requires you to register your name, phone number, e-mail address, physical address and other data before accessing the calculators, which will undoubtedly turn away many users. Better to allow unfettered access to the calculators up front, while offering the site’s ability to save any calculations in a named workspace once you agree to register.

Video clips

If a picture tells a thousand words, can you imagine what a 15-second video clip can tell? As an editor trying to describe a complicated machine in writing, I’ve often wished I could show readers a video clip of how the darn thing works. On some suppliers’ sites, now you can see for yourself.

The site of Universal Labeling (St. Petersburg, FL), at www.universaL1.com, features a “Virtual Labeling Library” of short, 10- to 15-second video clips on six different machines in action. The clips are disarmingly simple, shot specifically for Web viewing. There’s just enough action to give you an idea of how it works, but not so much that you’re waiting hours and hours for a download. There’s not even voice-over—just the cozy hum and click of packaging machinery in action, which somehow inexplicably aids in comprehension.

Over a high-speed cable, DSL or corporate network connection, these clips, which are in the MPEG format, don’t take more than a minute to download, though modem users should be prepared to wait much longer than that.

Prices online

The site of George Gordon Associates (Merrimack, NH) is unique not for any specific bells and whistles, but for what most machinery builder sites have lacked thus far: machinery prices. Yes, you read that right. At www.ggapack.com, I was actually able to see honest-to-goodness prices (price ranges, actually, but that’s good enough) for every machine I clicked on, whether palletizers, placing/dispensing equipment, wrappers or case packers. For example, a Layer Pac/Gaylord Pallet Loader Large Size had a price range of $77ꯠ to $87ꯠ. A price range is acceptable because buyers know that the price will change depending on how they want a machine configured. But at least it gives a general idea as to the cost.

Why is this so important? Because price is among the top three items packaging buyers look for in a packaging supplier’s Web site (see Packaging World, May ’00, p. 79, or packworld.com/go/websurvey). Yet, startlingly few suppliers list prices on their Web sites for fear of revealing information to competitors.

I’ve said it before in this space, but it bears repeating: Suppliers, do your customers a favor and list your prices right on the site. Your competitors already know not only your list prices but also what you’re actually selling your products for. The only party from which you’re hiding the information is the very one you’re courting: the customer.

See sidebar to this article: Capsule reviews

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