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Photo of Caramel Caravan Co box of caramels

Photo of Caramel Caravan Co box of caramels

Never Underestimate the Power of Packaging: 6 Tips for Entrepreneurs

Caramel Caravan Co. co-founder and Santa Clara University MBA grad Courtney Robinson ’15 shares six tips to help entrepreneurs harness the power of packaging.

Packaging has power. In fact, the way your product or service is packaged can directly impact sales, for good...or for bad. As a new entrepreneur preparing to bring your product to market, how do you make the best choices regarding packaging? This is the question MOBI posed to Courtney Robinson MBA ’15, co-founder of Caramel Caravan Co. , a successful Silicon Valley women-owned confectionery business specializing in small batch caramels, handmade with natural ingredients locally sourced, elegantly packaged, and created with love.

Caramel Caravan Co. co-founders Courtney and Celia Glowka MBA ’16, both Santa Clara University MBA graduates, recognized the power of packaging early on. It was important to them to showcase their beautiful caramels—the handmade quality and variety of flavors offered—and to promote the candies as both a tasty treat and a special gift. When they brought their caramels to market, their clear wrap and pretty gift boxes and bags accomplished both objectives. Here are Courtney’s six packaging tips:

Image of owner of Caramel Caravan, Courtney

Tip #1: DIY is a great place to start
Don’t be afraid to start off with do-it-yourself packaging. In fact, DIY packaging has two key benefits for new business owners. First, it’s hard to know what packaging will work best. By creating your own packaging, you can try new things, make minor adjustments, and fine tune until you find what works for your product and your customer. This will help you avoid making a mistake and getting stuck with inventory that doesn’t work for your product. Second, supplier pricing is optimized for large orders, so it can be difficult to find suppliers willing to sell at lower quantities, and prices tend to go up as quantities go down. (Bonus tip: local suppliers may be more willing to take a chance on small businesses in their areas.)

Not sure how to get started with DIY packaging? Courtney recommends, “Look for packaging you like on other products, then figure out how to do it on your own.” To keep costs down, Courtney also suggests combining wholesale supplies (a plain paper bag, gift box, etc.) with custom elements (like a sticker, special paper, or stamp) to achieve your desired branded look.

Tip #2: Compare pricing, understand variables, and explore options
When you are ready to engage packaging suppliers, identify a few and ask for quotes based upon your needs. Suppliers often have minimums, or minimum quantity orders, and price breaks, or quantities when a new discount is applied. For example the price-per-unit for 5,000 may be lower than the price for 4,900 because of a price break. Be sure to ask about any additional fees or set-up costs and understand lead times, shipping costs, freight costs, access to raw materials, and any other variables that could impact your supplier and your production.

Suppliers may have other options as well. For example, because sustainability is important to Courtney and Celia, they include a request to “optimize for minimum waste” when seeking quotes from suppliers. “We can actually get a lower cost-per-unit by ordering slightly more to optimize for the size of the paper, for example, and it allows us to be more sustainable. It can be more efficient for the supplier as well,” says Courtney.

Tip #3: Relationships can make all the difference
Think of the long-term when you begin to build relationships with your suppliers. You never know when you might need to ask for a rush order or other favor from your suppliers. Fostering long-term relationships based on trust, respect, and communication will help ensure your supplier will provide you the best products and service possible.

Caramel Caravan Co. is committed to providing real food made with local natural ingredients, while also incorporating a consciousness of sourcing. So it’s important to Courtney and Celia to choose suppliers with similar values and business practices. “One thing we think about is who we are buying from: what their manufacturing processes are, what they support, what their values are, do they align with our values, etc.,” Courtney shared. “If this is applicable to your business or your audience, it’s another helpful way to compare suppliers.”

Tip #4: Understand your costs and payment schedules
As you transition from DIY packaging to working with suppliers, it will be very important to understand what budget you have to work with. Courtney suggests starting with your MSRP (manufacturer's suggested retail price) and working backwards. If you are planning to sell wholesale/business-to-business (B2B), typically 30-50% of MSRP will be your wholesale price. Then you identify your margin, perhaps 30-50%. If you can get to your target margin with your product costs including a particular packaging quote, then it may be a viable option for you to consider. Courtney recommends researching and understanding required/average margins based on sales channel (retail/brick & mortar, business-to-consumer [B2C]/ecommerce, B2B, wholesale, etc.) to get a good idea of what your product costs and margins should be.

With regard to payment schedules, Courtney shares that most suppliers will require cash on delivery (COD), at least for the first order. You may be able to negotiate payment terms on your second or third order, or if you have great credit, but COD is most common.

Tip #5: Finding resources and asking around
There are many resources where entrepreneurs and small business owners can identify potential suppliers. Trade shows are a very helpful forum to meet suppliers and to get design and packaging ideas to recreate on your own. Internet searches and local business research are other great ways to find suppliers, and references from other business owners or even suppliers can provide a direct path to what you’re looking for. If you find packaging that you really like, feel free to ask where it came from!

“Reaching out to a company will get you pretty far,” Courtney says. “The food industry is particularly friendly, and people are happy to share great resources. If one supplier doesn’t have what you are looking for, ask if they know someone who might. The industry tends to be pretty small, and you can often get a great lead by asking.”

Tip #6: Try new things
Caramel Caravan Co. has changed its packaging periodically for a variety of reasons. Whether out of inspiration (trying something new) or necessity (one of your supplies is no longer available), trying new packaging designs can keep your brand fresh and possibly lead you to something that resonates with your customers even better. You never know what you might find!

In conclusion
As you prepare to take your product to the market, be sure you carefully consider your packaging. Ask key questions such as: How can you showcase your product in the best light? How will customers experience your product? What factors will lead them to buy? Then, begin to research packaging you like and collect samples. Figure out how you can create these on your own and test them in your market to see how customers respond. Continue to modify your packaging until you have a winning combination for your product and your customers. When you are ready, approach suppliers to pursue packaging in quantities that make sense for your business and your budget. Focus on building long-term relationships and making connections in your industry. Follow these tips to get started and you may create a special connection between your customers and your product, just like Caramel Caravan Co!


MOBI thanks Courtney Robinson for sharing her thoughts with our readers! To learn more about Caramel Caravan Co. and to view their beautiful caramel gifts and packaging, visit their website: For more information on this topic, read an additional post about Caramel Caravan Co.’s specific supplier selections and packaging journey entitled, “Packaging Suppliers for Small Business” on their website.