Good things come…

Posted on 10 Mar 2009 by The Manufacturer small packages. Packrobat has grown from a spare bedroom business idea into a global trading company expanding into the US and Eastern Europe. Louise Hoffman hears the story from MD Phill Parfitt

The Packrobat story begins in a spare bedroom in Norfolk in the summer of 1999. Here the business idea of developing and supplying packaging equipment for book and multimedia products was conceived and, within two months, the first multi machine order dropped from the fax machine onto the carpet. Nine years later and the company has sold over 40 new and used packaging machine systems worldwide.

“Still every day I disbelieve what’s happening, until I realise I’ve been doing it for nine years and it actually IS happening!” smiled founder and managing director Phill Parfitt.

Packrobat’s core machine has undergone several design enhancements over the years, with the current model being marketed as Q-12plus, and offers book and multimedia distributors a packaging solution capable of handling a single item of up to approximately six kilogrammes of mixed media totally at random.

“If we take a look at today’s vibrant marketplaces, other than the high street, internet, newspaper ads and book club sales, this brings in our key clients as being the likes of Pearson Education, Penguin, HMV and Amazon, whose customers’ average order is something like 2.7 items per order. So that tells us that every order is going to be pretty unique.”

The machine provides an answer to this problem by running three sizes of carton of varying heights to accommodate the items, which are shrink wrapped within the carton to keep them secure, eliminating the need for void fill.

“The beauty of this machine is the fact that operators can take the orders as they actually arrive – they don’t have to batch them and say ‘we’re going to run this size carton now and then in two hours we’re going to run that size’,” Parfitt added.

Throughput stands at 500 to 600 packs per hour, and Packrobat works closely with its customers in choosing packaging material suppliers that understand the concept and the quality requirements of the materials being used, to ensure that downtime is minimised and pack quality is maximised. “Obviously our interest is in selling a system and supporting a system, but we have to ensure that what goes through it is good quality, otherwise it’s not going to work properly.”

Third party partnerships allow the company to make recommendations of approved packaging suppliers and to offer machine add-ons. CLF Packaging and Stretch Band Packaging have been key associates on the packaging side for five or six years, providing the corrugated board blanks and bespoke shrink film respectively.

“The other things we integrate are to make the system more automated,” said Parfitt. A collaboration with Advanced Labelling Systems means a barcode scanner and a print and apply labeller can be added to the machine. “We can scan a bar code contained within a dispatch note or invoice that is with the products as it enters the machine, and then immediately print and apply an address label or courier label onto what becomes the lid. So not only have you got the items secured inside, but you’ve also got it labelled and ready to go out of the door,” he explained.

The packaging is also easy to recycle, as the use of shrink wrap means there is no need for the plastic to be adhered to the cardboard, “so when the person receiving the items opens the package, they end up with polythene in one hand and cardboard in the other. A lot of competitors glue the film to the corrugated so they have to be physically separated.”

The firm also ensures that there is local technical support for its customers, investing in training and service agreements with nearby contractors and engineering companies. “We need to ensure that every client, however near or far, has sufficient technical support on hand. Good support is key to their business, our business and for the reputation of our systems,” said Parfitt.

Packrobat’s target is to integrate three systems per year. “We find, being a small business, that to cover the world you don’t need that many clients, just a few of the right ones,” Parfitt commented. “In this industry, a lot of potential clients talk to each other, and even though in some cases they are competitors, they are generally all seeking a similar solution. So it actually makes our marketing task easier – we get people calling us saying they have seen our system working in the field and asking us to come and see them about it. You feel on the right track when that happens.”

The company is currently dealing with new enquiries from South Korea, Poland, the USA and the UK and Parfitt plans to embark on some globetrotting in the near future in the hope of expanding the client base yet further. “Even as the system becomes more widespread, we need continue being proactive in trying to find end users who would be interested rather than them finding us.”

“For the future, we plan to take what we’ve got to all suitable corners of the globe, and will strive to come up with another gem and take that to the customers we already have, and preferably both. That is really the main focus and business plan we have. And that will be more than enough for us,” he concluded.