Five Questions With: Robert Randall

Chances are, you’ve used a hand-soap pump today and didn’t think much about it. Robert Randall is vice president of sales for Silgan Dispensing, which has a manufacturing plant in North Smithfield. The company designs, makes and distributes pumps and sprayers for home and garden, health care, fragrance, and beauty and personal care markets.

Earlier this year, Silgan Dispensing introduced products that feature post-consumer recycled plastic for brands looking to increase their sustainable practices. Randall told PBN about some of the other things that attract customers to packaging, and what goes into designing containers and dispensing methods for products we use every day.

PBN: What is the first thing consumers are known to notice about a product?

RANDALL: At the risk of sounding biased, I really do believe that packaging is the first thing consumers notice when shopping for a new product, and specifically, its design. Think about it: When you’re at a store browsing among the rows of shelves, your eyes naturally are going to be drawn to the product that stands out.

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Beyond the packaging’s aesthetic, consumers also are curious to [see] how it’ll perform, specifically its ability to dispense the right amount of product in the right way, which is where we come in.

Consumers’ needs and expectations vary across verticals. In health care, precision is critical, whereas in the personal care and beauty space, we find that luxury often is more important to relay. With home and garden products, consumers are used to hand and finger fatigue, and subsequently, ease of use needs be clearly relayed in the design.

PBN: Your company blog has stated “product design cannot be limited to prompting a first-time purchase.” Can you explain?

RANDALL: While design plays a big role in what initially draws a consumer to a product and can prompt an initial purchase, whether or not the customer is going to make a repeat purchase rests in their experience once they bring it home and use it. This is a fundamental part to our process – ensuring that their experience aligns with their expectations upon first seeing the product.

It has to be aesthetically pleasing and optimally functional. Before a product hits the shelves, we do extensive research on what consumers want and pair that with ergonomic studies and thoughtful design. What is the most comfortable position for the consumer to hold the product while using it, how concentrated or wide does the spray need to be to get the job done, what is the optimal position for the finger(s) on the sprayer or pump, and how can we provide better grip or tactile cues to create a better dispensing experience? These are all considerations that go into our product design.

PBN: Does the advent of technology in any way change the basic psychology of product design in the eyes of consumers?

RANDALL: Marketing tactics [such as search engine optimization] or pop-up ads certainly help drive product awareness, particularly among consumers who do most of their shopping online. However, those alone rarely lead to a purchase. More and more, people “verify” a product’s value and effectiveness via online reviews on sites [such as] Amazon. Same as always, functionality has to match style and form.

PBN: Do dispenser design principles differ depending on what kind of product they will hold, such as hairsprays, garden-pest aerosols, cleaning solutions?

RANDALL: Absolutely … each product is different and needs its own insights discovery process to inform its design. Let’s take a fine-mist sprayer, for example. There are applications for this in both home-cleaning solutions and personal-care solutions. For a home-cleaning solution, you’d likely go with a trigger sprayer that is pumped by squeezing with two fingers, whereas something like a facial mist would have a pump that is used by depressing your index finger on the head of the pump.

Even within personal care, there are nuances; while fragrance and spray-on sunscreen both use a fine-mist pump to dispense the product, the engine of the pump would be built to handle the different viscosities of the formulas as well as differing outputs of the spray patterns.

PBN: What is a challenge in your industry right now?

RANDALL: The rise of e-commerce and growing expediency of shipping with the likes of Amazon and other retailers is forcing our industry to reorient our approach to product development. Among our customers’ top priorities are sustainability, lightweight products and cost-effective designs. Our role is to help balance these competing priorities.

The flip-top piece on a shampoo bottle characterizes this quite well. We may need to work with our customer to understand the process and cost of using a polypropylene top that meets e-commerce testing. While that cap needs to open and close effectively throughout its use, it also needs to maintain its integrity during the shipping process. Other design features may need to be introduced, such as a liner inside the cap. Alternatively, we may need to adjust the opening force. Ultimately, we have to master a design that is simple for the consumer to use day after day and durable enough to arrive intact.

Susan Shalhoub is a PBN contributing writer.