Providing an Eco-Friendly Moving Experience with Elf Boxes’ Peter Sanchez

August 29, 2014

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so excited to have with us today Peter Sanchez. He’s the CEO, and I mean Chief Elf Officer, for Elf Boxes. You can check out Elf Boxes at www.elfboxes.com. Welcome to Green is Good, Peter Sanchez. PETER SANCHEZ: Thanks, John. Thanks for having me. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know, Peter, just like most great entrepreneurs and innovators that we get to have on Green is Good, there’s never a straight line from point A to point B to point Z one day. Can you share a little bit with our listeners before we get talking about your great brand, Elf Boxes? Can you share with our listeners the Peter Sanchez journey leading up to founding Elf Boxes? PETER SANCHEZ: Sure. I think the seed for Elf Boxes started with that old entrepreneurial thing about scratching your own itch so we moved a lot when I was a kid to New York, Connecticut, Florida, and then I moved to Illinois for law school and back to DC and moving was always a horrible, painful process and things get broken and you’re dealing with cardboard boxes. Where do you get them? What do you so when they’re done? And so that’s sort of where the seed started and then in college about 20 years ago, I had seen a friend of mine who was using and was using these plastic totes that would use in CVS or sometimes in supermarkets and they would store them behind the store and she would borrow them and use them for her moving and then return them because why would you need these plastic bins? And so that’s sort of where I got the idea that you could use them for moving and then I had seen this actually used for office moves. I work in an office. I’m an attorney during the day and sometimes, when people would move offices, I would see them using these plastic crates and so when I moved the last time I moved, I checked to see if this was a product available for consumers and it wasn’t and I thought, wow, this would be good for residential moves, not just office moves. Why isn’t this around? I had that thought but I didn’t do anything about it and then when I was thinking about setting up a company, my girlfriend works for an environmental nonprofit and so we had talked about starting a company and we wanted it to be something green and my dad, who lives in Florida and does custom cabinets, he’s getting a little old to keep doing construction so we wanted something that he can do so he had the warehouse and the truck and some reliable people so we thought hey, this would be a great idea to do where you can provide this service to deliver these plastic moving boxes, which can be used hundreds of times and are green, and deliver them to people, pick them up when they’re done. It’s very easy, very convenient. It’s much stronger than cardboard. These hold 100 pounds each and there’s no messing with tape or assembling them and they’re one size so you can stack them one right on top of another very quickly in a moving truck. You don’t have to play box Tetris or box Jenga so all the pieces sort of fit into place and then it took a while to get it going because I had to get the supplies. I had to get the website going and get the ducks lines up but it’s been really well received and everyone loves it and I’m really happy with the results. JOHN SHEGERIAN: What year did you start this again? PETER SANCHEZ: We started this last year. It’s been almost 12 months exactly. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Gotcha, so you started a year ago, and let’s talk about it and for our listeners out there that want to follow along on your laptop, desktop or your iPad or other tablet, you can go to www.elfboxes.com. I’m on your site now. I love your site. It’s really green and blue, the colors of the earth. It’s very colorful. It’s also sort of it keeps you going because there’s movement on the site and everything else so share a little bit about what you’ve created here and your boxes. First of all, can these boxes be recycled? PETER SANCHEZ: Yes, they can so they can be used 2- to 400 times and when they start to approach the end of their useful life, they start cracking or whatever, they can be recycled and turned into more boxes. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow, and are these made in the United States or are they made in China or how does this work? PETER SANCHEZ: Absolutely. They’re made in the U.S. There’s a company in Florida that manufactures these and a company in Virginia and we had looked at sourcing this because these are the same industrial boxes that are used by shippers at supermarkets and pharmacies and they buy these boxes in bulk and a lot of them get them from China and that’s not something that we wanted to do because we do believe in the green part of it and we wanted to keep it local and keep it green. I think it’s more important to stay true to your mission than to save a few bucks in the short run. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, they’re made here in America and so talk a little bit about other brands out there. We don’t have to go into any specifics, but there is a big reuse and recycling cardboard market nowadays. Do a compare and contrast about using recycled or reused cardboard boxes versus your green Elf Boxes. PETER SANCHEZ: Sure. Well, the most you can use a cardboard box is about two to three times and then it’s very weak because it gets crushed and you put tape on and tear it off so you get about two to three uses out of cardboard no matter what and as I said, these can be used up to 400 times so you’re getting a lot more use out of it, which makes it greener and also, the cardboard that you get is gonna come from cutting down trees, which lead to deforestation, and when it does come time to recycle, it takes a lot of energy to recycle cardboard and it takes 90% less energy to recycle a pound of plastic than it does to recycle a pound of cardboard so 90% less energy plus 400 uses versus three uses. This come out way in favor of using these products over cardboard. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, so these are made out of industrial-strength plastic? PETER SANCHEZ: Right. They’re industrial-strength plastic. They’re the same kind of totes that people use in industrial shipping, shipping stuff from one supermarket to the warehouse and back. They hold 100 pounds each. They have handles and attached lids so it makes it very easy to use. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, they don’t require tape or any of that kind of stuff? PETER SANCHEZ: Right, there’s no tape required. The lids are attached. They’re interlocking lids so you just flip it closed and it’s ready to go and they’re nestable. One fits inside the other so when they’re not in use, they don’t take up a lot of room and then when you do use them, you fill them up. Because they’re rigid, you can put your wine glasses in the box on the bottom and your kettle bells in the box on top and it won’t matter what order you put them in, which makes loading the truck a lot quicker. If you’re moving you don’t have to worry about these are fragile, they need to go in on top. You can just stack them one right after the other and the fact that they’re the same size, 27 by 17 by 12, then you can just stack them up like Lego bricks and you don’t have to play box Tetris or box Jenga and try to find something to fit in that little hole. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, easy to keep clean, I take it? PETER SANCHEZ: Yes, very easy to keep clean. After we get them back, we inspect them, take off the labels, clean them with an air compressor and a green cleaner so that they’re sanitized before they go out again. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, this is not only just for consumers, Peter, but these are also for businesses, I take it? PETER SANCHEZ: Yes, so this industry got started with the commercial office market and like I said, the reason I got into it was that no one was servicing the homeowners so we do like this as a residential product but we also do some small- and medium-sized office moves and that’s been very well received also. We’ve got about 15 video testimonials on our site from people that have used them for home or office moves and everyone seems to love it. JOHN SHEGERIAN: For our listeners out there that just joined us, we’re very happy to have Peter Sanchez with us. He’s the CEO, and as he calls it, the Chief Elf Officer, of Elf Boxes. You can check out all the great things he’s doing to make the world a greener and better place at www.elfboxes.com. You know, I’m on your website right now and I would love you to share with our listeners a little bit about the opportunity here to use your boxes, Peter. If you don’t live in Florida and you want to use your great green moving boxes, where do we find the moving boxes in California or another state or another city? PETER SANCHEZ: Well, the good news is that this idea is catching on so it actually started on the West Coast and if you’re in a large city in the U.S. or Canada and you Google ‘plastic moving boxes’ and the name of your city, you should be able to find one. If you’re on my website, I actually have a link on the bottom that says ‘partners’ and there are a bunch of different box operators in other cities like California, New York, Illinois, Chicago, Texas, places like that, and if you’re in an area where we’re not because we’re only in Florida, you can check that link on our website and I’ll direct you to somebody who’s probably closer to you who can handle it and we’re not getting a kickback from any of these people. I just want people who move to use this product because I want them to move green and have a better moving experience. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You’re doing it all for the right reasons. I just clicked on it and all these partners came up and it’s really easy to use so for our listeners out there, it’s www.elfboxes.com and you click on the partners at the bottom and up they come. What I also love about your website- and we were talking about this off the air- but it’s something for our budding entrepreneurs and other ecopreneurs out there to hear that you’re doing, Peter, and it’s really unique and really important is I noticed the phone number on the website is your phone number and can you share a little bit about why you did that and why you do that? PETER SANCHEZ: Sure. It’s actually my cell phone and I’m a big fan of Tony Shea of Zappos and I’ve read his book where he talks about wowing people with customer service. One of things when I look at websites that I hate is when you need to talk to somebody and the contact info is hidden. You have to click around just to find a phone number to call because they don’t want to encourage people to call but I have the phone number on the top on the home page and every other page so that if somebody has a question, they can just pick up the phone and call me and any question they have, I can answer and I think this is a big part of this business is gonna be customer service and to get people to switch from something they know which isn’t as good, cardboard, to something more eco-friendly, we’re gonna have to make it as easy for them as possible so I’m more than willing to talk to anyone and that’s why I have the number on there. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Peter, I think that is just awesome. You’re giving the customers the wow experience that Tony Shea has taught us all about at Zappos and I think that’s a great way to lead Elf Boxes to the next level. Talking about the next level, there are so many interesting great entrepreneur shows out there now, especially Shark Tank. Is this something that you’ve ever thought about? Would you ever go on Shark Tank or a show like that to pitch your concept to further grow it? PETER SANCHEZ: We’ve had that question from a lot of customers that say you should go on Shark Tank, this is a great idea, it should be on there, and we don’t have a desire to do that. We’d like to keep it family owned and operated so as I said, my dad does the deliveries. My nephew helps him and actually, if you look at the pictures, there’s a little picture of a baby in an elf hat in one of the boxes and that’s one of my other nephews. We’d like to keep it in the family. I do love Shark Tank and I did hear that another box operator in New York — I forget the name — has just auditioned for Shark Tank, so even though we’re not gonna be on it, we like the fact that somebody else is gonna go on it because the biggest obstacle to keep it from spreading is that people don’t know this exists so people find us when they’re searching for moving boxes but not necessarily Googling plastic moving boxes so if somebody goes on Shark Tank, which is one of the most watched shows on TV, with another plastic moving box company then if you’re in another city, you might say let me see if this is available in my area and then that’ll help spread the word and introduce the idea of green moving to people where they might not have known that green moving even exists and there are other green options besides the moving boxes. There’s definitely new innovation like the soy peanuts and the eco-friendly wrapping paper so I think the more green companies that get on shows like Shark Tank, the more it’ll help all of us. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Are you gonna be offering those other green products that you just mentioned? PETER SANCHEZ: We are. We just got a sample batch of the green wrap. There’s a company in North Carolina called Giyami. I may be mispronouncing the name but they make wrapping paper from renewable resources and we’ve tried it out and we really like it so we’re gonna be adding that to our website soon. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, how much weight can each of these boxes hold? PETER SANCHEZ: The boxes are really strong. They can hold 100 pounds and you can stack them one on top of the other. Even though they hold 100 pounds, we do tell people to try to keep it to 50 pounds each because people don’t realize that when they load it up with books, it can hold 100 pounds, but it’s a lot harder to carry 100 pounds than you think, especially when there are stairs involved and stuff like that. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, Peter, how does that compare to cardboard? PETER SANCHEZ: A cardboard box will hold about 25 to 35 pounds depending on if it’s a new box and single walled or double walled, so it actually holds anywhere from three to four times as much weight as a cardboard box. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it, and what other advantages to your Elf Boxes have over cardboard if you were just doing a pitch right now and we were on an elevator together? PETER SANCHEZ: I think the biggest advantage is that we’ve heard from customers is that it’s delivered and picked up. People are very busy. They don’t have time to scrounge around looking for free boxes, which might not be as clean as they like, and buying boxes is expensive and you still have to go to Home Depot to get them so we deliver these to the home and pick them up when they’re done. As I said, they’re stronger than cardboard. You don’t have to mess with tape. You don’t have to put them together. They’re ready to go and they’re stackable so it loads the truck quickly and it keeps things from getting broken. That’s another feedback that we keep getting from customers. Several customer have told us this is the first time I’ve moved where nothing is broken and then they’re really happy about that. JOHN SHEGERIAN: What’s your vision, Peter? I know your dad and your nephew work with you and that’s a wonderful thing to have a family-owned-and-run business down in Florida, but are you planning on, do you want to expand to other cities with Elf Boxes? PETER SANCHEZ: I’d like to expand it a little in Florida. Right now, we’re servicing Palm Beach County and a little bit of Broward, but I’d like to keep growing it and get down as far as Miami and serve that whole southeast part of Florida. I wouldn’t want to take it national and grow it and have it expand beyond where it’s just family and people we like and trust in the business. I think it’s a great model for somebody else if they want to franchise it, but that’s not why we got into it. We didn’t get into it to become incredibly rich and make a dent in the universe. We just want to help people with their move and operate a green business that leaves the world better than when we found it. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s wonderful, because every entrepreneur’s vision is different and that’s a great vision and more power to you. We’re down to the last two minutes or so, Peter. Can you share a little bit about what were your biggest challenges starting this business and what are your final thoughts and pearls of wisdom you could leave for the young listeners around the United States and around the world that listen to Green is Good that are inspired by you and want to be the next Peter Sanchez innovator in the green and sustainability field? PETER SANCHEZ: Well, I think the biggest challenge to growing this has been public awareness about the product because everyone that’s used it loves it and they tell their friends about it but how do you get that critical mass when people don’t know this exists? So getting the word out is key and that’s where places like your radio show, I think, are helping the cause because getting the word out helps all these box operators and in terms of what somebody else can do to get involved in the green industry, I think that the best things you can do is just start. There are so many new green businesses that are starting now and green used to be this and now it’s mainstream and everybody wants to do good for the planet so there’s tons of businesses you can start on the green space and the best thing you can do is just get started. There’s always gonna be things popping up that you didn’t anticipate and you’re gonna learn along the way but you’re gonna learn a lot more by doing than you ever will by reading about it so I would say just start. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That is just great advice. Just start. I love it and for our listeners out there that want to just start moving green and moving more sustainably and supporting Peter’s great business model, you can go to www.elfboxes.com. Peter Sanchez, we thank you for coming on the show. We welcome you to come back on anytime you want to share the continued journey of Elf Boxes and we thank you for being a visionary ecopreneur. You are truly living proof that green is good. PETER SANCHEZ: Well, thanks for having me, John.