“Why should I purchase packaging supplies from a packaging company vs paying a lab to package my prints for me?” This is a common question that I am asked when speaking with photographers. The question implies that they already understand the value of packaging, so HOORAY! Anyway, I always tell them that the answer to that question is different for everyone. Each option is made up of a series of trade-offs. For most photographers a clear case can be made as to why it’s better to self-package and just as many can make a case for having a lab do it. To help you decide which option is best for you let’s take a look at a few key factors in your decision: cost, time, space, and branding.
Most photo labs offer a boutique packaging option. These packages usually consist of a single portrait box lined with tissue and tied with a ribbon. Prints are usually placed into a single box and you do not have a choice in the box, tissue, or ribbon color. “You can have all this and no more for… $6.00–$10.00.” To me, for the price with no options this seems like a bad deal. Unfortunately for me, I’m not a photographer and therefore I do not get a vote. However, I can at least price out the options and let you decide for yourself:
If you buy the supplies from a packaging company to create boutique packaging, you can normally create the same look as the lab option for around $2.00 (any color 8×10 box, any color tissue, and any color ribbon). If you self-package 50 packages a year you cost is approximately $100.00. If you have your lab do it for you, you will pay between $300–$500 dollars. A $400.00 savings is significant, but before we refuse to order from our labs ever again, let’s look at some other factors.
If you order a boutique package from a lab, you simply click a button or request the service over the phone and presto… your packaging is complete! Your package arrives in a few days with your prints and it’s ready to deliver to your customers. If you self-package, it is a little more involved. Once you receive your prints, you need to assemble the packaging, load the prints, and deliver the package to your clients. Normally this process is not time intensive either, but it does take time and you have to ask yourself how much is your time worth? Maybe you are completely booked and do not have time, or maybe you are just incredibly lazy.
How much storage space do you have? Are you in a commercial space or a basement? A kiosk or the back of your car? The amount of space you have should also be considered when making this decision. Packaging materials will take up space. If you have a closet or corner, then this is not a huge concern, but if you do not have room to store the packaging materials, then this can be a huge factor.
The American Marketing Association defines a brand as “a name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.”
“A brand is the essence of one’s own unique story. This is as true for personal branding as it is for business branding. The key, though, is reaching down and pulling out the authentic, unique ‘you.’ Otherwise, your brand will just be a facade.” – Paul Biedermann
“A brand is a name, term, sign, symbol, or design or a combination of them, intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of their competitors.” – Phillip Kotler
Your packaging is part of your branding. If you self-package you have more options to personalize your delivery to align with your brand. If you have a lab do it, you may end up with a brown box with a tan ribbon just like all of the other photographers who used the lab’s packaging services. Does it matter? That’s for you to decide. At the end of the day, everyone’s situation is different and you have to consider which trade-offs are most important to you.