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Start Your Business Success Stories

Entrepreneur Succeeds By Thinking Outside the Box

used-cardboard-boxes-marty-metro-stack-101012-02 Credit: UsedCardboardBoxes.com

When it comes to truth in advertising, the name of Marty Metro’s company says it all: UsedCardBoardBoxes.com (UCB).

Metro’s company buys used cardboard boxes by the truckload from large companies. When the boxes arrive at one of the company’s nine facilities across the country, they are inspected, sorted and prepared for resale and delivery to other companies.  He calls it “box rescue.”

The business model works because it provides a service for companies on both ends of the transaction. The companies that buy the used boxes save money by buying used rather than new product. And they’re equally happy on the disposal side because UCB pays more for their used boxes than recycling companies.

“We guarantee we pay more than the recyclers,” Metro, the company’s founder and CEO, told BusinessNewsDaily. “We have heard that customers save anywhere from 10 to 50 percent using our boxes.”

Cardboard boxes are big business in the United States, representing a $49 billion slice of our gross domestic product. Most boxes are usually used only once and then get thrown away or are recycled. That takes a heavy toll on trees; it takes 17 trees to make a ton of boxes, according to UCB.

There’s also the environmental impact of manufacturing and shipping new boxes and sending old ones to recyclers, frequently to distant destinations such as China. By locating its distribution facilities throughout the country, UCB helps companies reduce their carbon footprint.

“The concept is powerful,” Metro said. “Companies can be environmentally responsible and get more money.”

UCB also serves the consumer market with moving kits that include used boxes and packing materials, but this represents only about 10 percent of the company’s business. The soul of UCB is business-to-business sales.

UsedCardboardBoxes.com, though, had inauspicious beginnings.

Like many entrepreneurs, Metro cut his teeth in business with a stint in consulting, signing on with Andersen Consulting after receiving his MBA from the University of Arizona. Other gigs with technology and consulting firms followed until he found himself out of work with a legion of other consultants in the aftermath of the dot.com crash.

The dot.com crash also caused a number of people to move to pursue new opportunities. Metro noticed an opportunity for a business to connect people with a product they needed.

Most people scrounged used boxes from supermarkets or liquor stores, Metro said.  Other people paid retail for new packing boxes, creating a lucrative market for companies such as U-Haul, which makes an estimated $150 million a year from the sale of packing materials. Either way, in the end the boxes were thrown away or recycled.

Metro saw a retail opportunity. He started a business in 2002 called Boomerang Boxes that had four retail outlets taking in used boxes and reselling them to people who were moving.

“We learned that it was a great business model but a very challenging logistical model,” he said “It was a logistical nightmare. We had people lining up at the door.”

But the business was hemorrhaging cash, and Metro shut down the retail operation after three years.

“My first company failed miserably,” he recalled.

The idea, though, didn’t. He retooled his business plan to focus on a business-to-business model and built tracking software to handle logistics. He also abandoned retail stores and partnered with warehouse and distribution facilities in nine locations. And the idea was reborn as UsedCardboardBoxes.com.

“We did with boxes what 1-800-Flowers did for flowers,” he said.

Today, Metro heads a lean operation with core team of 10 employees and another 100 contract workers in the field.  It’s having a much better run.

“We’re running a profitable green operation and heavily investing in expansion,” he said.  “It’s the most rewarding thing to be doing something good for the environment. It’s a great place to be.”

Ned Smith

Ned was senior writer at Sweeney Vesty, an international consulting firm, and was Vice President of communications for iQuest Analytics. Before that, he has been a web editor and managed the Internet and intranet sites for Citizens Communications. He began his journalism career as a police reporter with the Roanoke (Va.) Times, and was managing editor of American Way magazine and senior editor of Us. He was a Captain in the U.S. Air Force and has a masters in journalism from the University of Arizona.

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