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Buying printed carrier bags to market your business

Know the difference between a duffle and a flexiloop? If not click here

It’s entirely possible you’ll never give carrier bags a second thought - until you start up a business. Until that point, you would use them to carry home precious purchases from your latest shopping trip. You might even have stashed a few of the better ones away for future use. 

But carrier bags are an essential part of any business with products to sell - both in terms of practicality and, if you buy printed carrier bags, as an advertising tool for your company. As a result you will need to think about the most cost-effective means of acquiring them. So where do you start?

What to consider when buying printed carrier bags for your business   

Ask yourself the following questions to help prepare your brief for a manufacturer or promotions company:

  • What size and weight of products will be going into the bag? This is important, as you may need different sizes or thicknes or particularly strong handles. It may also affect whether you can have paper or polythene carrier bags.

  • Do I want my logo on the carrier bags? This will be more expensive but branding a carrier bag will promote your name and image outside the business. A striking bag is an effective advertisement for the company, particularly in high footfall areas, such as shopping malls or high streets.

  • How many bags will I need? You may be restricted by a minimum order or it may be that you will have a high turnover of stock. Will all your products need separate bags?

  • How much of my budget can go to carriers? This is where you weigh up the other questions. For example, you may need stronger bags so you might not be able to have so many colours on them. What is most important to your business and how much value will it add?

Once you’ve armed yourself with some answers it’s time to hone in on the detail.

Types of carrier bags and pricing 

There’s a variety of different types of carrier bags available. As a business owner you’re going to need know the jargon in order to make an informed choice and, potentially, to negotiate the best price.

  • Punched or patched handle carriers - the handle punched into the top of the bag make these bags better suited to lightweight goods. For extra strength a patch of polythene is added to reinforce it

  • Flexiloop handle carrier - stronger than a punched handle but still a cost-effective option, the handle is attached separately

  • Vest carrier bags – the cheapest and lowest quality bag, typically used by local bakers, DIY shops, or greengrocers 

  • Clip close handle carrier – typically a premium plastic bag, with rigid plastic, clippable handles running along the top of the bag to fasten the bag and protect purchases from the elements or light-fingered passers-by

  • Twisted string or rope handle - separate string or rope handle gives this carrier bag a slightly more upmarket look and raises the price too. These can be made from paper or plastic

  • Duffle bag - a more modern shape bag with a big capacity, popular for making a younger, more stylish impression

  • Counter bag - used for ‘first contact’ with food for sandwich shops, butchers, delicatessens etc, made in paper or polythene

Coloured polythene is more expensive than white. And a heavier duty carrier bag is obviously going to cost you more than a flimsy mass-produced one. What you have to consider is the kind of image you want - and can afford to - project.

This will almost certainly be dictated by the products you sell, so a premium-priced delicatessen may opt for a printed paper carrier bag, while a cash and carry may make do with an un-branded punched handle carrier.

All of the aforementioned carrier bags are available in three gauges: light, medium and heavy. Medium is recommended for general use.

  • Plain white bags Prices will vary but one manufacturer quoted from around £4 for a box of 100 bags.

  • Custom printed carrier bags If you have specific requirements for logo and colours, a manufacturer or promotional bags supplier will give you a customised quote. This will be based on the number of colours (usually up to five or six) and type of bag used (eg: duffel bag, clip closed or patch handle).

Bear in mind that the first order will be the most expensive, since the manufacturer will have to make the printing plates. After this the plates will be ready to use whenever you place a new order. There will probably be a minimum order but in the interests of economy, and in the long term this makes sense for both you and the manufacturer.

  • Functional carrier bagsIf you anticipate a high turnover of bags, you don’t have to just settle for plain white. As they are ordered in bulk (in 1,000s rather than 100s) and are generally of a simpler shape they can work out to be good value. Simple vest carriers (such as are used in DIY shops, local bakers etc) might cost a few pence each if you’re buying 100 or less than 1p for 1,000 or more. Looped handle carriers will cost slightly more.

  • Mid range to luxury bags Paper bags might not be as practical in the rain, but they look and feel more luxurious - this is an image that suits an up-market food stall or gift shop. Inevitably, this is where the price starts to go up along with the customer’s expectations.

The design and colours may be more limited but a more elegant finish should probably be a less ‘busy’ design. You will also be guided by a minimum order - probably around 500. For example prices for a paper twisted handle bag might range between 10p and 20p each depending on size and colour(s).

Where to go for un-branded and printed carrier bags 

Deciding where to purchase from will inevitably lead you online where search engines will throw up thousands of relevant results for ‘carrier bag manufacturers’, ‘paper and plastic bag manufacturers’, ‘promotional carrier bags’, or ‘branded packaging’. You might also have to decide whether to go with something made in Britain.

It’s good to support British industry but manufacturers here may charge more. Carriers made in Europe and even more so in the Far East are often cheaper when mass-produced, but for a start-up making a first order staying more local may actually prove more cost-effective and easier to negotiate.

A quick search of a global trade marketplace will most likely provide a variety of worthy options, including a surprising number that will almost certainly be within a 50-mile radius of you.

Taking into account all these decisions, costs and negotiations, you might well come to the conclusion that it isn’t worth the hassle. You can buy 500 plastic bags from the cash and carry for very little money.

But it is worth emphasising what a good advert a bag can be – particularly if you have a shop on a high street. An eye-catching printed carrier bag will remind people who have been to you before that you exist and intrigue other people as to your range of products.

Although the types of bags and ranges of colours available will not vary greatly from one manufacturer to another, it is important to shop around for quotes. A sales representative should spend some time on the phone asking about your requirements - such as what will go in the bags, size and so on.

You may not have an absolutely clear idea of what you are looking for at that time but they should talk you through your best options. Make sure you know what the minimum order is and therefore how to choose a cost-effective option that will properly represent your business.

The manufacturer should then send you a sample of the bags you have talked about. This will give you an idea of the actual feel, quality, colours and sizes of the bags you could be buying. It will also allow you to compare different manufacturers’ products.

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