Rod Bolls studied business and international trade, taught English in China, started a business while in grad school, and worked in the storage industry for eight years before founding Boxwell in 2015. His Boulder-based company provides quick-assembly, portable storage containers, which can be customized for clients.
Boxwell’s design, engineering, sales and marketing teams work from Boulder headquarters, but the company’s products are made in China, where the two largest intermodal container manufacturers in the world are based, he said.
Boxwell’s 8-by-20-foot containers, which are fabricated using steel tubes and panels, come with 24 nuts and bolts, and pieces can be assembled in 5 to 10 minutes by two people and a forklift, Bolls said. “Think of IKEA ready-to-assemble furniture,” he said.
The portable storage industry is about 20 years old, Bolls said. It evolved out of the self-storage industry, which is valued at $30 billion. There are 60,000 self-storage locations across the United States, he said.
Portable containers delivered to and picked up from customers’ home made storage easier, he said. Somebody worked out the logistics and made it easier for consumers, said Bolls, an accomplished endurance athlete with 40 marathons and 5 Ironmans under his belt.
We recently met Bolls at his office to find out more about Boxwell.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
1. How’s the business doing?
Bolls: Boxwell has become a multi-million dollar global business, serving clients around the world. We have been doubling our revenue every year since we began. We have 150 global customers, including 13 in Colorado. We want to have 300 customers by 2020.
We have 15 employees who put in their best to help grow the company. You don’t need an army of employees, you need good people who align with the mission of the company to provide top-notch service.
2. What has contributed to Boxwell’s success?
Bolls: Our continuing success is rooted in the culture we have been able to create. It’s about treating our employees the way we treat our customers. We offer flexible work schedules, profit sharing, professional development opportunities and company-wide volunteer days.
More importantly, its about evoking a sense of community in the company by getting more involved with local nonprofits. Our employees have helped pack toiletry bags and assembled fresh Crock-Pot meals for There With Care, which provides support for families during the critical phase of a medical crisis.
Boxwell also donated portable containers to the Museum of Boulder during its move to a new location at 2205 Broadway.
Our employees also volunteer with Without Limits Productions, a company that organizes athletic events.
All this helps create positive vibes and keeps us focused on serving our customers and the community we call home.
3. Who are your core customers? How do you get them excited about your product?
Bolls: Businesses in self-storage and portable storage industries are our core customers. We have had inquiries from the moving industry and the restaurant industry. But we are staying focused on our core customers. Most of our customers have found us through word of mouth and the relationships we have built over time.
When we pitch our product and services to potential clients in the self-storage and portable storage industries, we speak about how our product can help them become more successful.
Our containers are classified as equipment and can be set up without potential restrictions new construction might face, cost about 50% less than a typical brick-and-mortar structure, and can be delivered in about eight to 10 weeks. We also tell our potential customers they can claim depreciation on the equipment and save on their taxes.
4. Do you simply provide your customers a steel box, or do they have to accessorize it as well?
Bolls: We design our product based on a client’s needs. It could be a simple container, or it could be a souped-up container with insulation, moisture proofing and temperature controls. Containers can be painted in different colors and imprinted with clients’ logos.
5. What factors affect the global container manufacturing business?
Bolls: Like many businesses, it is dependent on the cost of steel, labor, currency fluctuations, and also politics. Our margins fluctuate depending on how all factors play out. Our prices can vary from $20 to $30 a unit on average. Sometimes we absorb the increase or pass it on to customers. It depends on the situation.
We are closely watching how the U.S.-China tariff spat turns out. As a small company we are nimble and quick. We can pivot on a dime.