From business failure to multimillion-dollar ‘green’ niche

Marty Metro Founder of UsedCardboardBoxes.com

Photo thanks to the company

Marty Metro loved the thought of buying something used and selling it for a bargain. He previously watched resale shops do it successfully for a long time with from clothing to sports equipment. "EBay became a $10 billion company selling something used cheaper than new," says Metro, a former IT consultant for Fortune 500 companies.

However when Metro saw a moving truck loading boxes throughout a cross-country drive in the late 1990s, he recalls speaking with his wife about how exactly difficult it is for folks to eliminate boxes after they’ve moved. "They break them down, tear them up, however they still don’t easily fit into the recycling bin," he said. That casual conversation ultimately inspired him to leave his lucrative tech career in corporate America and strike from his own. Metro’s idea was for connecting those who have used boxes to those that need them. Concurrently he’d keep a whole lot of cardboard out of America’s landfills and help the surroundings.

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While Metro passionately believed in the idea, little did he know he’d first fail miserably at retail and sink deep into debt before turning everything around. He would need to recast his eco-friendly idea and create innovative technology to greatly help him ultimately create a nearly $10 million business.Still, there have been five years of hard lessons learned on the way. Metro’s journey is among inspiration, innovation and perseverance, which all small-business owners can study from.

In 2002, Metro got his begin by founding Los Angeles-based Boomerang Boxes, a shop that sold used cardboard boxes, primarily to people getting into new homes and apartments. His father, a CPA, was skeptical, saying, "You are going to need to sell a hell of a whole lot of boxes to pay your rent."

It proved dad was right. Selling $1 boxes out of brick-and-mortar locations didn’t quite settle the bills. By 2005, Metro was forced to turn off Boomerang Boxes’ four locations. Consumers seemed to love the idea, however the company was losing $15,000 to $20,000 per month and finished up $300,000 with debt, which Metro continues to be paying down today.

Still, Metro refused to stop. He started focusing on a plan to market used boxes online, however in a distinctive way. "Historically, no-one really sold boxes — aside from used boxes — online," recalls Metro, now 40. "These were very costly to ship, so a lot of people just visited a shop (and asked because of their discards.)"

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Zac Fratkin, operations manager for Usedcardboardboxes.com, organizes boxes at the company-owned distribution center in Baltimore, Md.

However in 2006, he secured $300,000 in capital raising to build an web store called Usedcardboardboxes.com. Metro’s distribution centers — owned and run by third-party logistics teams — make shipping better and inexpensive because they’re strategically located in the united states close to the major cities of LA, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago and near Syracuse, N.Y. The business also owns and operates its facility in Baltimore.

By 2008, Usedcardboardboxes.com had grown to $1 million in annual sales and demand was quickly starting to outweigh supply. Metro needed more boxes, so he started investing used boxes from national companies, expanding his customer base beyond consumers.

For Metro, the best challenge then became tailoring his used offerings to specific needs. Whenever a company requests a 12-by-12-by-8-inch box, for instance, nothing else can do. That is where his tech expertise has can be found in handy; Metro developed custom software that automatically matches what companies need using what he has usage of.

If a company needs 100,000 boxes, that information is placed into a database that checks what boxes can be found, the price to ship them and the purchase price Metro must charge to generate a profit. His IT staff updates the program and improves it daily. "It is extremely much the core of our success and a significant element in our future," he says.

Metro’s software and monitoring system carries a business-to-business portal that provides big companies the choice of viewing real-time inventory and ordering directly from the distribution centers.And he can access data from each distribution center from his computer — and even his phone — that allows him to quickly identify and manage any problems or issues as they appear.

Electronic Recyclers International, which recycles computer components and other e-waste, is a customer for 3 years. Leader John S. Shegerian says buying used cardboard boxes not merely saves money, but also ties in nicely along with his company’s green goals. "We make it a cultural thing. Even our forklifts are hybrids," he says. "They have an excellent business design that supplies the boxes we are in need of — whenever we need them — and they are recycled."

Meanwhile, Metro’s father is no more concerned about his son selling cardboard boxes. The business’s annual sales are simply under $10 million and growing fast, according to Metro. He now includes a few hundred business clients — including twelve large corporations. And the business’s average order has truly gone from a $100 moving kit in 2006 to an $8,000 truckload today.

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