EcoBox, an Austin box-supply company that started in the trunk of a Volkswagen sedan in 1994, has outpaced its big-business competitors by selling used, durable boxes at cheap prices while offering customers a chance to be environmentally responsible. That and a dash of new technology has allowed EcoBox to grow to a four-store chain that grossed over $4.5 million in 2009.
Austin local Christi Smith started the company when the urge for businesses to go green was not as profound as it is today, says EcoBox co-owner Dale Malone. “To say that when the company started up, one of its goals [was to] be environmentally friendly would probably not be correct,”he said.
“The company was actually started out of the trunk of Christi Smith’s car,” recalls Malone. “She would get used boxes from the people that bought them new from U-Haul, where her husband worked. She parked on the side of the road, popped her trunk open and sold them to make a living.”
After Smith and her husband retired, they sold the company to another couple, who then retired and sold the company to Malone and co-owner Sam Lee in 2003. Both attended college at the University of Texas and went on to work as engineers at3M Corp.
EcoBox has come a long way from Smith’s trunk. Three of its four stores are located in the Austin area, and the fourth opened in San Antonio last Juen. “When we bought the company, we had one location off of Lamar, and the demand was greater than the supply,” Malone said. “That is no longer a problem. Eventually, we will have locations in all of the major cities in Texas.”
Since Malone and Lee acquired EcoBox the company revenues have increased by more than 50 percent, propelled mainly by a change in technology, Malone said. “When we began using Oracle [software], we were able to manage our company in real time, which is very advantageous. We now have 100% visibility, meaning that I can see what is being purchased at our store in San Antonio right here from my desk in Austin.”
The Oracle Corp. software allows EcoBox to control distribution of its products from any of its locations. Malone and Lee have access to a unified business plan that includes business management, information technology and business objectives. The technologically savvy EcoBox withstood the recession thanks to the fact that their prices remain lower than most competitors on average. Small boxes are about 50 cents cheaper, and large boxes are more than $1 cheaper, according to Malone.
Branding themselves as an environmentally friendly hasn’t hurt earnings, either. “Austin is definitely in support of companies that are green, so Ecobox is geographically at an advantage,” said Breeze Marketing media buyer Mia Vieira. “Don’t get me wrong. The green wave is making its way around the country, but Austin started it.”
Malone and Lee think they have a business that will persist. “Not only are we offering our customers a chance to be environmentally friendly,” Malone said. “We… are definitely environmentally conscious. We recycle, we use biodegradable products, we deal in scanned documents in order to avoid killing trees, and drive hybrid cars. Oh yeah, and we are much cheaper than our competitors.”
source: Stephannie Garci, Reporting Texas