Cathie Anderson

Lincoln startup rents out moving boxes made of recyclable plastic

Student volunteers from Sigma Chi fraternity Spencer Tan, left, and David Ellyason carry stacks of boxes into Desmond Hall during ‘Move-in Day’ at Sac State in Sacramento on Friday, August 29, 2014.
Student volunteers from Sigma Chi fraternity Spencer Tan, left, and David Ellyason carry stacks of boxes into Desmond Hall during ‘Move-in Day’ at Sac State in Sacramento on Friday, August 29, 2014. rbenton@sacbee.com

Even in a big city like Los Angeles, UCLA student Gary Grewal found it hard to collect enough moving boxes at the start and conclusion of each quarter of school.

Then he and his roommate got the idea of buying plastic crates, Grewal said, rather than the corrugated cardboard boxes they had to repurchase at the beginning and end of each semester. Other students asked to borrow them, he said, and a business idea was born.

“We thought, ‘Why don’t we buy some more? Then we can rent them out to more people,’” said Grewal, a graduate of Rocklin High School. “We tried it out, and it turned out to be a little popular. We said, ‘Maybe this is something we should be involved in.’ So we started the business.”

They didn’t have a name for their business, but they still managed to get enough clients to bring in a small income. Grewal finished up his studies in physiological science in 2010 and returned to the Sacramento region. He did some substitute teaching for a while but eventually became an investment adviser.

Grewall, however, had been entrepreneurial even as a child, and he liked the idea of being his own boss. By 2012, he thought he had enough time outside his 9-to-5 position to focus on the box idea.

“Sometimes, being younger, you’re not sure … how to start,” said Grewal, now a Lincoln resident. “I just said, ‘I’m going to go for it.’ I got a bunch of boxes for my inventory, and we created a website. I went door to door to moving companies and said, ‘Hey, we’re here.’”

Although Grewal uses “we” a lot, he’s the sole owner and employee of California Box Rental. He has approached apartment complexes, moving companies, real estate agents and even colleges trying to get the word out about his sustainable box option.

Some apartment complexes allowed him to put up fliers. Three moving companies – 916Movers, Two Men and a Truck and UNITS Moving and Portable Storage – quickly agreed to provide customers with information if they were looking to rent boxes.

“Once they saw that customers liked it,” Grewal said, “they wanted to put it on their website and felt like it was something they could do going forward. It’s still a new concept in this area, so it takes a lot of convincing. People still do the traditional thing of going to Home Depot and buying the boxes. … But some moving companies see it as a way to stand out and increase their market share.”

The 26-year-old Grewal offers several moving packages: In the house bundle, customers can rent 48 boxes, three dollies and a collapsible wardrobe box for $169 for one week or $199 for two weeks. There are also options for apartment dwellers such as the one-bedroom bundle, $59 for one week or $79 for two weeks. An independent contractor will deliver the boxes for a small fee. All the pricing is specified at his website, calboxrental.com.

Each of the company’s bright green boxes has about 2.5 cubic feet of space, Grewal said, and they can be used more than 50 times before they have to be replaced. In fact, he said, he hasn’t replaced a box since starting his business.

The tough plastic shells offer greater protection, Grewal said, and the boxes don’t require any tape. The lids snap right on, and each box has handles. Grewal hopes the concept of box rentals gains acceptance not only with college students and apartment dwellers but with all local residents. Sales are small now but growing exponentially each year.

“In five years,” he said, “I would like to have a warehouse or a storefront with our name out there. Customers would be able to come in our lobby and take their boxes in their truck or SUV.”

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