Having the right packaging for fragile ceramics to make it through the shipping system is critical to successful sales, and repeat customers. The folks at Pottery Park took their packaging to a whole new level.
Finding Packing Inspiration
The Pottery Park boxes used for shipping teabowls started with the idea that bowls are mostly round, so square boxes are not perfectly suited. While thinking about round boxes (like the ones used for cakes or hats) I gazed at the table and noticed a container of honey. That’s when I decided to go with a hexagonal shape. It was much later when I realized that honeycombs are hexagonal from above and round on the inside. Then I found Cartonator, a company of extremely creative, professional, and funny guys in Dnipro, Ukraine, who make different things from cardboard that are normally made from other materials (for example furniture, shelves, stools). When I came to them with my idea for the box, they were excited to help me.
The first variation of the box turned out to be too complicated because of its opening. Then, I was at home and looked at a matchbox on the table and it came to me—the box should open the same way as a box of matches. Cartonator worked out the exact construction methods and measurements and the design turned out to be beautiful and iconic. We are so grateful to the staff at Cartonator for suggesting that we laser-cut some of the logo text into the top of the box (where information about Pottery Park is located).
At first, the box was only produced in one size based on measuring and calculating the average size of my teabowls. As time went by, I realized that I needed boxes of various sizes for the different bowls as well as one that would fit two or three bowls together. Scaling the hexagonal shape to different measurements allows packing pieces with as little empty space surrounding the object as possible. Currently, there are now 6 sizes and we have in mind the 7th and the 8th.
When asked to comment on the project, Oleg Ivanov from Cartonator said this: “Several years ago we were already actively engaged in making corrugated-board products, but we did not understand for whom and what kind of packaging was needed. It all started with Pottery Park’s packaging project, thanks to which we understood the target audience and defined the basic requirements of the boxes for ourselves. The packaging should be durable and should complement the aesthetic image of the customer’s product. So the production of small runs of packaging with original structures and designs appeared as an area of work and became an important part of the Cartonator project.”
Each box costs $1–2 to produce (about 3 times the price of standard boxes), depending on its size, and we order in batches of 50–100 at a time. Shipping the custom boxes costs the same as shipping traditional packaging, and the boxes hold up well, even through international shipping.
It took us some time to master the packaging process. We have adapted and optimized it over the years so that packing teabowls into the boxes now takes us a small amount of time. Packing several bowls in one box complicates everything and increases the chance of breakage. It is essential to keep the cups packed in the same box from touching one another. Bowls have been damaged several times because of our mistakes, so now our knowledge benefits from the experience of those mistakes and we pay careful attention to making sure pieces are isolated when packed together.
We have found that the best packaging material to secure pieces within the hexagonal box is insulating foam. Bubble wrap, which is usually recommended for packaging, is not so good. The sharp edges of ceramics can get between the bubbles and there is the risk of a piece potentially breaking. Boxes with the insulation foam inside have performed flawlessly during the five years of our Etsy shop sales.
Prior to shipping, the boxes are wrapped in brown paper for further protection and to provide a place to affix the shipping label. The packing tape used to secure the paper wrapping strengthens the package and also creates a design around the outer perimeter of the box; we use duct tape with a Ukrainian national pattern called Vyshyvanka, and get our share of smiles when we go to the post office to send the parcels out.
- Boxes are collaboratively designed by Paul Fryman and produced by Cartonator in Dnipro, Ukraine.
- Boxes are made of corrugated cardboard, 7mm thick.
- From above, the box looks like a regular hexagon, but the inner part of the box can be pushed in and out like a matchbox.
- The boxes arrive disassembled in four parts, and are constructed with silicone glue and tape. Corrugated cardboard is shock resistant, and the sliding mechanism of the interior component provides double protection for almost all sides.
Reviews from customers have been the most pleasant part. Once a customer wrote to us that when she got the parcel at her local post office, everyone was curious where it was from and what was in the box. People have written, “I love your ceramics, but the unboxing took the experience to a whole new level.” Feedback like this has made us smile so wide it hurt. One wonderful regular client of ours reuses those boxes as the houses for her chinchillas. That was a bonus for us, giving the boxes additional life and new meaning.
the author Paul Fryman is a Ukrainian ceramic artist who has built a wood-firing kiln and makes ceramics with his friend Mikhail Tovstous. He finds inspiration in nature, natural clay behavior, and cats.