When Chieh Huang started the household goods and grocery e-tailer Boxed out of his garage in Edison, New Jersey, in 2013, lofty workplace benefits were hardly on his mind.
"When we started this business, I wanted to sell bulk goods to people all around the country," he says. "Social change through toilet paper was not on the agenda."
Perhaps not, but these days Boxed — a venture-backed company — is getting as much notice for the generous fringe benefits it offers to its more than 200 employees as for the company's smart business strategy.
Beginning in 2015, Huang began footing the bill for his employees' children to go to college and a year later offered to pay up to $20,000 for employees' weddings. While funding these major life events has certainly garnered Boxed its share of headlines (including ours), it also speaks to the thornier issue of how companies are attempting to attract and keep the best workers. At a time when the war for talent is especially fierce, being able to offer more than a fair salary and two weeks' vacation is crucial.
"After leading my first company, [gaming start-up Astro Ape], I realized that it doesn't matter how powerful or big an organization is. If all of its people walked out one day, that organization is worth zero the next day," says Huang, who practiced corporate law at Proskauer Rose before getting the itch to start his own company. "That was a huge epiphany for me, and it made me realize that I'm only as good as the people I lead."
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Since its launch four years ago, Boxed has been growing robustly with a simple concept: Give shoppers the convenience and price savings of buying everyday items in bulk (think brick-and-mortar wholesale clubs, like Costco or BJ's) and allow them to do it from an app on their smartphone and without an annual membership fee.
The company addresses several demographics with this approach, including millennials that don't have the time or patience to wend their way through a giant warehouse club or the transportation to get there. In fact, roughly 80 percent of Boxed customers are between the ages of 25 and 44, according to the company. The other group that's turning out to be Boxed fans are shoppers in rural areas that don't have a Costco or any other warehouse format nearby. Four fulfillment centers (Union, New Jersey, Dallas, Atlanta and Las Vegas) handle orders from shoppers throughout the United States.
Last year Boxed — backed with $132 million of venture capital from firms such as DST Global and GGV Capital — rang up sales of $100 million, double what it did in 2015. Part of its success has been in curation: Boxed offers about 1,500 items on its site, compared with around 4,000 at a typical Costco. Huang says the average order is $100 and contains about 10 items, so most qualify for the free shipping that starts with a $50 order.