Ahead of the Pack

TIRED OF GIVING your loved one yet another sweater for Christmas? Dread the rack upon rack of look-alike items that await you at the mall? UncommonGoods offers a creative way out of shopping hell. A dot-com founded in 1999, UncommonGoods still holds its own as a source of unusual items often brought in from the far corners of the earth. It stocks such products as bowls made of newspaper, dried Mexican papaya, or cured and pressed vegetable slices; copper boxes inlaid with turquoise and glass beads; and a handmade license-plate map of the United States.

The consumer may delight in such unique finds, but what if you’re the operations person charged with packing these fragile items for shipment? Jen Grim, warehouse manager for UncommonGoods, tells O+F that the company emphasizes training packers to do the job properly.

“We invest more in training than we do in specialized equipment,” she says. “During our busy holiday season — when we do 70% of our annual revenue during a seven-week period — we route fragile and hard-to-pack items to our year-round employees, and use those same employees to train a select group of packers to handle those orders. The quality assurance team knows to stage these difficult shipments for the best packers.”

Items that are truly hard to pack, she says, are pre-packed during slow seasons, using the company’s best packers. This avoids the fulfillment facility having to rely on less experienced packers during the holiday rush.

Grim says that in keeping with its goal of working in harmony with the environment, UncommonGoods uses recycled packaging materials from Geämi Ltd. and Ranpak Corp. Occasionally, delicate merchandise gets a double box.

“While our overall return rate is very good, in the low single digits, fragile merchandise presents several operational challenges,” says Grim. “We are still working on lowering our return rate for this type of merchandise. We ship primarily with UPS, and have had representatives from their security management department review our packing materials and methods and train our employees.”