Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Mailing Tube Whose Purpose Undoes Itself

The Good: Good idea, Decent for document storage
The Bad: Not strong enough for confident shipping, Price, Cost to mail, Diameter
The Basics: Too big, too weak, this mailing tube does not hold up!

Last night, I was searching for non-media items to review and I came across the small mailing tubes I use and I set to reviewing them. The smaller mailing tubes (reviewed here!) were about as perfect as one could expect of a product that consists of a cardboard tube with plastic caps in either end. As I prepared to offset yet another media review, I realized that perhaps a far more useful review might be of the larger mailing tubes I have kicking around.

This particular item is a white Kraft (it's a reinforced paper that has a great deal of strength) mailing tube with plastic caps to seal the ends. Before I go into the function and performance, some technical details: this particular tube is a hair under 37" long from outside end to outside end and a touch over an inch in diameter (outside to outside diameter is close to 3 1/8""). The inside diameter is precisely 3 inches (i.d.) and the inside length is a hair over 36" long. The plastic caps take up some of the volume and the thickness of the cardboard makes it a very tight fit for anything that is exactly 36" in length, hence the different measurements. These measurements may be convenient to know in order to make the best decision about this product.

Many places sell these tubes singularly or in pairs (Staples has them in pairs for $6.50 at my local store), though they are available by the carton as well. I've honestly never needed them in such bulk as to justify a full carton, as my main need for these is to ship full-sized movie posters.

The recessed plugs come already in the tube and that's a great place to begin the actual critique of this mailing tube. The plugs come out of this product with ease. With the diameter of this mailing tube and the flexibility of the plastic caps, these recessed plugs are almost impossible to keep in the tubes based on tension alone. Ideally, these mailing tubes rely on the tension between the plastic and the cardboard to remain sealed. In order for this to work, the tube would have to be very thick and the cap would have to be thicker as well. With the smaller tubes, the caps worked wonderfully because the cap thickness is in approximate proportion to the thickness of the tube. Here, the plastic caps are the same thickness as the plastic caps on the smaller tubes, which means proportionately they are thinner. In simple, practical terms, these are more flexible. Often when I pick these tubes up in the store, I have to check and make sure the caps are in both ends. I've found many where the caps have fallen out.

In order to use this mailing tube for shipping, the ends MUST be taped completely. The caps must be taped in place, lest they pop out during transit. If using this size mailing tube for storage, I highly recommend taping one cap on, especially if one is using this for storing heavier rolled documents (like blueprints).

I use these mailing tubes most commonly for mailing promotional posters to customers for upcoming films. Most of these posters range from 24 - 30" in width and anywhere from 36 - 40" in length. My experience with these tubes has been that they are problematic for using to mail posters. Ideally, one wants to roll a poster into such a tube and let it unroll to let the tension hold it in place. The problem with this mailing tube comes back (again) to the tube's diameter. Because the diameter is so large, single posters will not unroll to "coat" the inside of the tube. Instead, they unroll but tend to remain slack (i.e. they unroll and stop, not pushing outward more). Single posters almost universally move around within the tube, which leads to damage of the posters.

This mailing tube is likely ideal for mailing ten or more posters as the volume of that number of items seems to offer the tension needed to hold them in place. With less, I've found the posters slide around. Keeping them in place (and mint) then becomes a near-impossible chore. Conversely, I've found whenever I've sent only one poster in these, the documents come out real easy, so ease of removal is good.

This gets to what sold me on the smaller mailing tubes. The smaller mailing tubes are virtually indestructible. I love them. This size tube does not fare so well. Fifty pounds of weight on the tube crushed it pretty thoroughly and while this tube is not easy to puncture, when it was punctured, the tube did not hold up very well.

The problem with this mailing tube is all in the design. People shipping items (like large posters) want mailing tubes that are inexpensive. As a business, we need to be able to pass the expense on to customers. In my case, with a product like this, it becomes near impossible. Because of the size of this, the postage costs are stifling (it was $6.50 to mail the tube with one poster before the rate hike, I shudder to think what it is now). Added to the cost of the tube (approximately $3.75/ea.), this becomes a near impossibility to sell a $10 - $20 poster with $10.25 in added expenses - without any handling charge! This is ludicrous considering that this product does not offer an ideal amount of protection (i.e. I'd like one that was harder to destroy; the idea of fifty pounds of mail colliding with one such tube is rather probable, which leads me to believe these get damaged frequently).

The solution to this problematic item is actually more problematic. Customers like me need two things from a mailing tube like this: affordability and protection for documents inside. This is not affordable (at least not cost-effective for shipping single units) and the lack of protection offered by the caps which so easily come off and the ease with which the tube is crushed does not inspire confidence. Sadly, the solution is to make the wall of the tube thicker and the caps more rigid and tight fitting into the tube. This would, of course, drive up the price of the tube and the cost to ship it. But then, it would also do what it is supposed to do.

I've only used these mailers twenty times, but their performance has made me nervous virtually every time. As a purely coincidental bit or irony, I just went up to get some tea and I accidentally stepped on one of these larger tubes that did not have its cap on. I hit the tube about six inches from the end and before my full weight was on it, I began to backpedal. The tube however, was severely dented.

That's the best warning away from this mailer I can give.


For other, random product reviews I have written, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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