Kite Packaging has been delivering packaging solutions to the furniture and wider retail industry since 2001, and in that time it has developed a reputation for its high-quality service level. Furniture News spoke to Bruce McInnes, chairman of Kite Packaging Group, to find out more ...

Tell us about the history of the company.
Kite Packaging was founded in 2001 by a group of people who were passionate about packaging and service, and wished to be masters of their own destiny. With a high level of entrepreneurial flair, they saw a demand in the market for a high-level of service as well as unique packaging solutions. With a clear vision for the business, each member took a personal risk and invested their own money into the business and to this day the business remains entirely employee-owned. Every employee that joins Kite Packaging is obligated to join the shareholder scheme after six months of employment, and Kite has a commitment to re-invest back in to the business to encourage further growth.

With the philosophy that 'customer service matters so much more when you own the business', we took the view that for the company to grow there needed to be a sense of partnership – with customers, employees and suppliers. This has been a philosophy that has remained as a corner-stone of Kite’s ethos throughout its growth. Kite has grown from zero to over £30m sales over the 12 years and now consists of six branch locations in the Midlands, North, South-east, South coast, South-west and Thames Valley, an online business and a packaging regulations compliance division (Kite Environmental Solutions and Paperpak).

Customers too have remained in partnership with Kite and continue to stay with us thanks to our dedicated team. As the business has grown, we have made sure that no customer is left behind, supplying stock product and basic packaging equipment through our website, and offering a bespoke service to large packaging users, and those who need specialist solutions.

What services does Kite Packaging offer to its customers?
The Kite Group is split into three separate businesses giving all customers a universal packaging service that offers a number of solutions to ensure that product, delivery, service, stock-holding and legal compliance are all covered within one company.

Our group business services large accounts that require bespoke product and offers special services like direct-line-feed, VMI, consignment stock etc. For these customers nearly every product is unique to them and we work with them closely to develop the highest quality printing, specialist solutions for individual products, full testing and consultancy work on key issues that need fixing such as cost per pack, delivery of products and damage control. These accounts are serviced by their nearest Kite branch, which allows for a local bespoke service and regular contact from Kite account managers.

We also have our online business which offers over 2500 standard products for next day delivery, at extremely competitively prices for headline items such as mailing bags, pallet wrap and corrugated goods. The business aims to offer the lowest cost and simplest route for customers to buy standard packaging with lots of great features like online credit account opening, a nifty product size finder, full order history, instant reporting for the Packaging Waste Regulations and many other great features.

We regularly introduce new products to the website, and develop ideas based on customer feedback and trends in the marketplace – this year there will be a huge drive for regular product updates, starting with a range of BDC cartons and coloured mailing sacks that will be launched very soon.

As well as this Kite provides a bespoke service to help customers calculate their obligation under the Producer Responsibility Obligation (Packaging Waste) Regulations. In addition we also run two Compliance Schemes - Kite Environmental Solutions and Paperpak - which help customers understand how the Regulations work and assist in achieving compliance.

What different products are available?
We sell 2500 stock products on our website – these include boxes, pallet wrap, bubble wrap, mailing bags, labels and much, much more. As well as these standard products which our purchasing team works hard to get at the best possible prices so we can stay competitive, we also have a number of products that are unique to Kite.

This includes our Enviro range which has been developed to offer a number of benefits to customers, with the key positives being the incredible reduction in packaging waste and carbon fooprint. For example our Envirotape has a smaller core and holds much more tape on the roll reducing cardboard waste by 63%. Our Enviroboxes offer similar savings – they are made from single wall cardboard yet boast the same amount of strength as a double wall box using an eco-manufacturing process which means a 30% reduction in CO₂ emissions.

As well as this we have expanded our range of packaging equipment, starting with the Mini Air machine which was launched towards the end of last year and has been a great success story for us. The machine is designed to produce air cushions, and as well as being able to interchange film to produce several types of cushioning – a popular alternative to void fill - we have managed to drive costs down for our customers. The Mini Air is by far the cheapest air cushion unit on the market.

For branch customers that have bespoke needs we have several options for them. This includes bespoke cartons, various printing methods and foam-in-place solutions. Kite is lucky enough to have a superb team of packaging technologists in-house and they can develop a range of solutions depending on a particular problem or product. This could be introducing a certain machine to improve efficiency, developing die-cut foam fittings for delicate products, rationalising the pack range to save space and costs, developing eye-catching packaging designs to improve shelf velocity and developing transit packaging that is rigorously tested to ensure products aren’t damaged during delivery.

Who makes up the organisation's main customer base?
Our customer base is incredibly broad as of course most businesses use transit packaging of some kind. Our branch customers tend to be large businesses with multi-site and bespoke requirements and include food manufacturers, engineering companies, large retail businesses, electronics manufacturers and customers who have delicate products to send out such as businesses operating in the arts and antiques sector.

The furniture industry is also a key client for us, and we stock a wide range of suitable packaging materials such as protective wrapping, foam and corner/edge protection.

Our internet businesses serves the greatest variey of customers from schools who need stationary supplies, to TV studios, internet businesses, removal companies and a small proportion of purely consumers who need packaging materials for redecoration projects or charity fundraisers.

How does Kite Packaging aim to put its customers first and cater to their needs?
Our group customers are provided with a service that is completely tailored to them. Often this is helping to deliver goods to multi-sites at specific delivery times or direct to the production line. We offer a complete design service as well as delivery solutions, and every customer has their own dedicated account manager – we make ourselves stand out from the crowd with a premium service offering combined with clever design solutions.

This service philosophy has traversed across on to the website business as well, which we have tweaked to suit our smaller customers who simply want a speedy purchasing process, competitive pricing and delivery. We have designed the Kite website completely with the customer in mind, and to ensure they can make a fully informed decision about our products have provided full information and specs, demonstration videos and high quality images on each and every product page. As well as this we have online credit accounts so customers don’t need to pay by card each time, free delivery, interactive account features so orders can be re-ordered at the click of a button, intelligent search features to find product fast and the ability to download packaging waste reports to help with the regulations.

Are there any special/unique services offered?
We like to think that all our services are special but more specifically we offer every kind of delivery service available and a full consultancy service that helps customer with their key aims in terms of improving the packaging side of their business. Whether customers want to reduce damages, rationalise their range, improve the packing operation or reduce costs we will work hard to come up with the best solution.

What differentiates Kite Packaging from its competitors?
As an employee-owned company, Kite Packaging works very much on the principle that everyone who is involved in our business is a partner. This partnership philosophy has meant that we have strong relationships with our customers, suppliers, employees and media partners to ensure that the best service is provided. Without these relationships we would just be like everyone else, and be unable to deliver our promises.

We feel that we offer the best service in the industry, as well as the most competitive prices. These have been achieved through the dedication of our staff, and loyalty of our suppliers allowing Kite’s offering to be the most competitive in the market.

How important is it for the trade to have access to organisations such as Kite Packaging?
For the furniture trade it is incredibly important for them to have access to us. Our experience in working with this industry has highlighted some key issues, and in particular, that reducing damage is of the highest importance – as returns of furniture are insanely expensive, taking up lots of valuable warehouse space, transport and time, protection is  a priority particularly for glass and fabric surfaces, delicate  edges and corners as well as protecting more breakable fittings such as sinks and baths.

Because we offer a complete re-design service where bespoke solutions are often developed to ensure that our customers’ packaging needs are fully catered for.

What, if any, challenges are Kite Packaging currently facing, and how does the company deal with them?
It sounds crazy but currently the biggest challenge is managing our extraordinary growth. We’ve been lucky enough to be able to make some really big investments this year and therefore take on a great number of new employee partners. However growing so quickly has been a challenge, and as we are currently in the ‘limbo’ period of our expansion things are often being juggled around to accommodate various changes.

That being said, we’re really excited about the year ahead and hope it will make a real difference to our customers too.

Have there been any new developments recently?
Our most recent investments have been within the property infrastructure and transport areas of the business. In the last quarter we invested heavily into our Coventry site due to a dramatic increase in our inbound and outbound volumes as well as a huge recruitment drive which we are still in the process of implementing.

The new building is right next door to our existing building, and Kite is now the proud owner of the Alliance Trading Estate – increasing our commercial property footprint in the Midlands alone from 69,000 sq ft to 181,000 sq ft. The £3.5m investment is great news for our business, and gives us more warehouse space to expand product ranges and more office space to continue to welcome new employee partners (Kite is an employee-owned business) into our business. As well as this, our Northern branch recently moved from its site in Sheffield to a brand new, environmentally-friendly building in Rotherham. This was a £1.5m investment for the business and has allowed the Northern team to acquire 10,000 extra sq ft of space and take on more staff.

Our Swindon branch, Northern branch and Coventry branch have also had significant investment put into transport with the acquisition of a new fleet of Wagon and Drag trucks. This trucking profile is as a result of significant research by our National Distribution Centre and Warehouse teams, and offers a number of benefits including a reduction in CO₂ emissions, more capacity than even a super cube articulated truck, and double the capacity of an 18ft fixed body vehicle.

In terms of product we have just launched our Wrap & Hold system for major accounts, the system is highly efficient and designed to produce fully wrapped packs at an impressive speed. The new system is Kite’s own patent, and offers a universal packing solution that is secure, saves costs and completely eliminates the need for void fill and other in-box solutions. We have recruited some highly-experienced engineers who know the product inside out to demonstrate it and support Kite’s further machinery-related projects from now on. Innovations such as this are at the heart of our group accounts, and we work closely with our customers to deliver the best-in-class solutions.

What are the company's future plans?
We want to see some really exceptional growth over the next few years and that is all about the people and partners we work with. We are very lucky and privileged that our employ-owned philosophy has brought truly amazing talent into the business. We have always run our own in-house graduate and apprentice program annually and with some of the most experienced people in the industry opting to join Kite we have great intellectual foundations to support this growth.

This year our focus will be on several areas of the business, in particular our new Specialist Service and Solutions division that will be leading the Wrap & Hold launch. The team have various projects in the pipeline however they are top secret so you’ll have to stay tuned as well. There is also the major expansion of our internal teams starting with Telesales which will double in size.

Any last comments?
The greatest danger for many companies is to simply focus on driving down the unit cost of their packaging. A focus on total cost which recognises efficiencies including packing time, reduced damage, reduced administration, lower stocking costs – especially warehouse space – and 100% on-time-and-in-full inbound supply will pay bigger dividends.