Three Decades of Custom Packaging

Humble Beginnings, Big Shifts: Three Decades of Custom Packaging

From living between packaging materials to helping clients worldwide. Willems Packaging owner Robert Willems shares early memories, his views on packaging trends, and hopes for the industry’s future.

Family-owned Willems Packaging started in 1987, in a semi-detached house in a residential area of the eastern Dutch town of Rijssen. Current owner Robert Willems (44), son of Willems Senior, recalls the first two years in its humble beginnings. “We practically lived in between packaging materials for two years, until my father rented a small storage facility for them.”

“We practically lived in between packaging materials for two years”

The company soon outgrew it. So, after about seven years, Senior built a house and a privately owned warehouse at the Handelsweg. Until that, too, eventually proved too small and the company needed to look for new opportunities. Willems Packaging currently still owns a warehouse in its Dutch homebase Rijssen.

European Partner with a Worldwide Network
Robert: “That last bit is important to us. Part of our philosophy is to serve as a Europe-based partner with a worldwide network. Some of our home workers still produce our custom-designed bags at home, like they did thirty years ago.”
Custom print designs have been outsourced to a local design company as well, while materials are produced abroad. Zips and fabrics are now imported from Asia and Eastern Europe. This local touch allows Willems to stay agile and flexible, while production facilities abroad guarantee competitive pricing and delivery options.

Industry Trends
An important recurring moment for Willems Packaging is the annual Heimtex trade show in Frankfurt, Germany, where Willems meets clients and finds potential new business partners. “It is also a major opportunity to spot new trends and developments within the industry, and to showcase our expertise,” says Robert. One of those trends he has noticed is that many clients are looking to reduce their CO2 emissions and ‘green’ their packaging processes. “While that is a noble endeavour in and of itself, we believe it goes beyond just using a natural-looking fibre instead of plastics. As stated in a previous blog on sustainable packaging, it requires changes at the meta level. The whole chain of production, transport, and recycling must be reviewed.”

Sustainable Custom Solutions
One of many instances where Willems Packaging made a difference was in packaging carpets for a carpet wholesaler. Because they used tight-fit plastic foils to ship their carpets, returning carpets was a problem. Once torn, the thin plastics couldn’t be reused to rewrap the carpet, if a customer was unhappy with the product. Both a waste of the plastics as well as the carpets.
Willems proposed a cotton carry bag, which could be reused to rewrap returns. Then the client could resend them to new buyers. This helped them save costs and reduce waste considerably.

Circularity, a Joint Effort
Another circular example is a project in India, where Willems recollects used cotton packaging and repurposes it for reuse. Robert: “Circularity is the future, yet it takes an effort of all parties involved. Covering current recycling costs requires a significant investment. Sometimes it costs more than three times the amount for traditional packaging solutions. It’s a price not all parties are willing or even able to pay,” explained Robert.

This is where Willems’ added value comes to light. “Customised packaging is our strong suit.” Robert and his sales team love to play with parameters such as thickness, sorts of materials, and pallet quantities. About 95% of all Willems’ solutions are custom-made. “Sometimes, removing redundant bits and pieces of packaging materials is enough to have a significant impact. By proposing these minor adjustments, we can still offer competitive overall pricing, helping clients to reduce their footprint within acceptable cost margins.”

Online Shift
Another trend within the industry that Robert has noticed is the rise in the importance of online business.

Whereas the German Heimtextil Trade Show still is the major summit for the textiles and packaging industry, Willems Packaging is increasingly more active online as well. “We want to stay relevant for the younger generations. They do not necessarily feel the need to wait until the one physical get-together for business opportunities.” The Corona pandemic and its social distancing requirements has nudged ahead this shift even further.

Future Expansion
Robert is confident about the future. “We’re currently most active in packaging for bedding accessories, such as mattresses, pillows and duvets. Yet there’s many other industries in which Willems’ packaging expertise can make a major difference. For instance in rehabilitation and automotive. We are exploring those options more actively this year.”

Despite the pandemic, Willems still closed 2020 with a decent growth figure. This year has started out as planned, and the shift towards online business has opened up a world of new possibilities for Willems Packaging. The coming years look promising, but Robert isn’t one to rush things. Perhaps another local characteristic. “We just keep moving forward, one step at a time. Slowly, steadily, and hopefully sustainably. On to the next three decades.”

Are you looking for custom packaging solutions for your specific product, as well as advice on the best sustainable options within your industry? Contact Willems Packaging today.