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Business Observer Friday, Jul. 24, 2015 6 years ago

All the marbles

Will Scott's industrial design company is on the hunt for efficiency in common products. A redesign of the cardboard box is just the first project.
by: Jean Gruss Contributing Writer

Executive Summary
Company. Marbles Industry. Industrial design Key. Let employees make mistakes so they can learn.

A new backyard grill Will Scott ordered recently arrived on his front porch inside a plain cardboard box, a package that weighed a monster-like 95 pounds.

Although he's a fifth-degree black belt in Taekwondo martial arts and a former champion in the sport, Scott had trouble moving the giant container. “It's sitting at my door and I'm dragging it into my house,” he laughs.

The struggle illustrates the opportunity Scott has to change an industry that's been largely unchanged for decades: the manufacturing of cardboard boxes. Scott says these boxes have been so imperfectly designed that they rip easily and cause injury to people who carry heavy ones.

Scott should know. He built a records-management firm called Fortress that stored documents in a Cincinnati warehouse using hundreds of thousands of boxes. Every year, 7% of those boxes ripped and it cost $7 to replace each one.

After selling Fortress in 2010, the entrepreneurial Scott got the idea to create a better cardboard box. He thought it would be simple. “After I sold [Fortress] I made the boxes thicker,” he says. “It didn't solve anything. I was looking at the problem all wrong.”

So Scott retreated to his attic, where he studied ergonomics and pasted 3,500 drawings of his concept for the perfect cardboard box. Five years later, with dozens of patents in hand, the Lee County company is now contracting for the manufacturing of boxes and licensing the products to others.

The boxes have ergonomically designed handles placed closer to the top of the box, minimizing strain and the risk of the box ripping apart. “Everybody hurts themselves in the moving process,” Scott says.

In addition, Scott's firm invented easy-to-use locks that can replace the traditional plastic ties to secure the boxes through a specially designed hole near the top. This is important for lawyers, hospital administrators and others who need to comply with security measures for liability reasons.

Box manufacturers are enthusiastic. “He's got several different things going on that are going to be beneficial to the packaging industry,” says Jeff Ramsey, president of Lake Mary-based Central Florida Box, a box design and manufacturing firm. “You can tell he's going to put every effort into his success.”

Finding his marbles
Before he started and sold Fortress, Scott was a regional sales manager for Merrill Lynch, overseeing 13 states from his home base in Cincinnati until 2001. And he was accomplished even in his youth: The top-ranked Taekwondo athlete in the nation, Scott missed out on the 1988 U.S. Olympic team and the Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea by one spot, courtesy of a knee injury.

Like many Midwesterners, Scott also rented vacation homes in Southwest Florida over the years. “I can do design work from anywhere,” he reasoned. “Let's bring the business here.”

Scott moved his company to Bonita Springs in 2013 to an office in the upscale Riverview Corporate Center, overlooking the Imperial River. Besides colorful walls and furniture with open spaces that encourage collaboration and creativity, the company has a fun-loving name, too: Marbles. The company says it encourages ideas that may sound a little crazy at first, like they've lost their marbles.

Marbles is an industrial design company, taking common items like cardboard boxes and making them better. It's an invention and licensing firm, Scott says.

The company chooses products to redesign carefully. “This isn't random,” says Scott. He explains: “One of the things I try to achieve is the X factor,” he says. By that, he means any redesign has to make a product more useable and cost less.

For example, Scott's team designed a variety of different-sized boxes that office workers can use to file papers. The boxes can be arranged inside a filing cabinet at 40% less cost than a traditional hanging-file system. This is important because many workers today share desk and cabinet space and need portable systems.

Besides boxes, Marbles is working on other projects. That includes redesigning rakes and shovels, as well as the handles for pallet jacks. “Our job is about making mistakes,” Scott says. “What did we learn?”

Sometimes it takes years of making mistakes. It took Scott and his team five years to design the cardboard boxes, which Marbles markets under the name Boxa. Just to get the grips right took 15,000 prototypes. “We've been in research mode until January,” says Scott.

Now Marbles sells Boxa boxes through Amazon, which Scott estimates will bring in $1 million in sales in its first year. “We share that with the factories,” he says. Besides Central Florida Box, Scott says he's working with other cardboard box manufacturers, including Norampac and Dura-Fibre.

The biggest opportunity for boxes now lies in licensing the designs to manufacturers globally. “This industry is gigantic,” Scott says, ticking off a list of other box users: moving companies, beer bottlers and diaper manufacturers. By the fifth year, Scott estimates Marbles boxes could be generating $100 million in sales annually.

Boosting sales
Scott and some undisclosed investors have so far spent $2 million creating designs and on attorneys to claim more than 100 patents. “We're trying to hire bright guys,” says Scott, who notes that he's had to recruit people from outside Southwest Florida because of the highly specialized work Marbles does.

In particular, he's looking for talented people who can bring a fresh approach to a problem. “Youth is very important,” Scott says.

The initial round of funding came mostly from friends and family, and Scott says he plans to raise several million more in equity to increase marketing. “I'd like six or seven more sales people,” he says. Currently, the company has 11 employees in 6,000 square feet of space.

Scott also plans to visit the Middle East and Europe later this year to expand the company's reach. “I'm staying away from China,” he says, noting that country's lack of patent protections.

Still, it's going to be a race to beat the copycats, Scott acknowledges. “We can't stop this,” he says.

Put it in the Box
It's an old problem: Why are boxes so hard to lift?

The industrial design wizards at Bonita Springs-based Marbles wanted to fix that. So they created Boxa, a different way to make cardboard boxes and make them sturdier, easier to carry and compliant with privacy laws. Mouse over the image below to discover how they did it:

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