Zero-Waste Side Hustle: Renting Out Moving Boxes
Updated: Jun 12
This post originally appeared on Budgets are $exy and has been republished with permission.
Today’s guest post is from Gary at Financial Fives, sharing about his side hustle of renting out moving boxes! What I love about Gary’s story is that he’s truly proud of the value he’s providing to the world. Starting any business is difficult, but it’s 100 times easier if you have a passion for the industry you’re in!
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably had enough about “hustle culture” and videos or podcasts about “maximum productivity” and waking up at 4 am to meditate. Don’t worry, that’s not the point of this post! I myself have garnered an aversion to those who advocate acting like a machine and accounting for every waking minute on your calendar.
I don’t know about you, but I like to enjoy life and live in the present, and if that takes me longer to reach FI, I’m 100% fine with that. Tomorrow is never guaranteed, so if we don’t take the time to bask in the sun or bike through a trail, what’s the point of all of that hustle?
With that being said, I think having a side hustle, as humble or lucrative as it might be, is a strategic way to reach FI. As you’ve surely heard, you can only cut your expenses so much, but your earning potential is virtually unlimited.. Since I was a little late to the party being a millennial who graduated college the same year Instagram was born, my side hustle came out of a need to feel like I am doing something to fix one of the biggest problems in my view: Trash. I read that the United States is the #1 trash-producing country in the world! 🤮 That’s something I’m certainly not proud to be #1 in. I wish I had the mind of an engineer to create compostable snack wrappers or start the company that came up with the coveted Hydroflask. Luckily though, I did have a knack for sales and negotiation, so that worked in my favor.
My Side Hustle: Renting Moving Boxes
My side hustle is a moving box rental company called California Box Rental, which was born after seeing the heaps of cardboard boxes piled next to dumpsters next to apartments and dorms by UCLA, where I went to college. I found that there were other companies that offered this concept in Canada, so I figured since there was nothing like that in my hometown of Sacramento, CA, that I would start one!
My business works like this: a customer contacts us looking for boxes to move or to organize, we help them create a rental package, we deliver the boxes and other equipment to their doorstep, they keep them for up to 4 weeks, then we pick them back up! No waste, no building up boxes or packing tape, no damaged items from overstacking or soggy cardboard after a rain.
Here’s what the boxes look like:
These boxes are incredibly durable. We've had maybe 10 boxes break or become damaged out of our entire inventory over the last 8 years, and that's usually due to mishandling. They are made from commercial-grade recycled plastic, and the biggest issue, if they're used too heavily, is the hinges or top flaps can become damaged. I'd say they have a life of 8-10 years.
As far as rental rates, we don't rent per box, rather per "bundles" catering to how big the client’s job is. The most popular package we rent is our House Bundle, which is 50 boxes, a few rolling dollies, a wardrobe box, etc, and that rents for $189 per week. We also charge $100 for round trip delivery within 25 miles of our storage facility.
When the boxes aren’t in use, we store them in a storage unit at a self-storage facility. We're still pretty small, and my business partner owns a moving company, so it made sense to save money to store them there rather than rent a warehouse.
Since sustainability and zero waste is a huge passion of mine, and this kind of business requires little startup capital (It cost me less than $2,500 to get up and running) I figured I’d give it a go, and we’ve been going strong for 8 years!
The hardest part of a business is just getting started. I would say the biggest challenges we had to overcome when we started was convincing people that this model was the new way to move. The idea of renting reusable boxes rather than buying cardboard ones was new to virtually everyone in town, even though it was flourishing in other cities. Even if people see our reviews or are contacted by us, we used to be easily dismissed. Now, the sustainability movement is really helping us.
The hardest part of growing the business is customer acquisition but also managing and cleaning inventory. When you are not a high-volume business, you can't pay someone by the hour to clean boxes or deliver them. Also, when a customer orders 100 boxes, they don't always check to make sure all the inventory is there, so it becomes a "he said she said" situation if things aren’t accounted for properly. Other times, we might miss a box that is stacked to be cleaned and sanitized, and if a customer gets a dirty box they are not too happy!
One thing I wish we did differently was having a better marketing plan in place so word of mouth spreads quicker. I always thought that the best brands don't advertise, their quality speaks for itself and their customers are their biggest fans. We have 5-star reviews across the board, so our customers do love us, but I think limiting our marketing budget is also limiting our revenue. It's just a side hustle to me though, I don't think I have the capacity for running it full time!
Passive vs. Active Side Hustle
The reason I went with starting a business from scratch was partially for bucket list reasons, but also for control. When you start your own business, you control the price, who your target market is, how to market your product/service, and so on. I knew that if I put substantial effort upfront, it could turn into more of a passive income stream for me, rather than exchanging my time for money.
This is key; you want to decide if your side hustle should be trading your time directly for income, or if you want to put a little more effort upfront so that it’s more of a passive income stream, allowing you to focus on other projects (such as writing a book!). It’s not a bad thing if you don't want to go the passive income route, in fact, it’s very noble! If you have a passion or knack for writing, designing websites, or interviewing people, there is plenty of money to be made by doing that. Some people, including myself, also get satisfaction out of doing something productive in our off hours to earn an income, which we can then use to reward ourselves or motivate ourselves that we can in fact reach FI.
For California Box Rental, I figured if I put in effort upfront to create preferred vendor incentives with realtors, mortgage brokers, moving companies, and property management firms, that I would have to put in less effort later on. We are primarily a referral focused business, we don't really advertise at all! While I’m sure we could earn more if we advertise more, my goal is to invest in an amazing customer experience so they act like our biggest promoters. So far it’s working, and we have a 5-star rating on both Google and Yelp!
This business model has also allowed me to live across the country and not be tied to our physical service area. I handle all customer inquiries, invoices, and marketing, and I have a business partner who is local that coordinates deliveries and cleaning of the inventory.
My business is not 100% passive, but it requires very little work outside of marketing to draw up a rental agreement and send it to the customer. Any time our boxes are in the customer’s possession, we are earning money. Whether they rent for 1 week or 4 weeks adds no more work on my end, yet we charge them more.
The future of moving boxes, and life after FI..
My goal with California Box Rental is to continue to grow it because we are the only show in town for now, and the sustainability movement is catching on quickly. Hopefully, in a few years, we’ll either triple in size or be acquired, so that there is a lot more capital to focus more on commercial and multifamily residential markets.
Even after achieving FI, I’m still planning to stay busy and work on things that interest me. I would like to become more involved in local policies and also philanthropy/advocacy around my passions of conservation, sustainability, and multimodal transit. Another goal of mine down the road is to create a coworking/entrepreneurial food hall in my hometown to foster innovation and also have a cool place to hang out!
My advice to you if you want to start a side hustle business is (1) find something you’re passionate about and that you’d do for free (2) find a way to monetize it and (3) don’t get in over yourself or risk your all of your hard-earned money in something that may not work out. Start small, do your research, watch and listen to others who have come before you, and have fun! If it doesn’t work, it’s not the end of the world. It’s a lesson to do better in the future, not a failure.