Sunday, March 21, 2004

Dreams contained no more

Box Place took flight for couple

By Jenny Callison
Enquirer contributor

GROESBECK - Listening to their instincts - and their customers - has helped Barbara and Bob Dewar shape their small business and find niche markets. As a result, The Box Place has evolved into a veritable smorgasbord of packing, wrapping and novelty items and serves large, small and micro enterprises.

Corporate refugee Bob Dewar helped his wife establish a small pack-and-ship store in 1986. Like many people new to business ownership, the couple chose the structure of a franchise. Soon, however, the limits set by the company began to grate. Many times, the Dewars' efforts to expand their business met with opposition from the corporate owner.

"We thought there was so much more potential for this business, but they slammed the door shut on new ideas," said Bob Dewar, who had gotten into the business after jobs with Procter & Gamble and Ford. He had left the corporate world because he realized his personality was more suited to business ownership, and he wasn't happy with the franchiser's limited vision.

"We got into a big disagreement over it. So when our franchise agreement expired at the end of five years, we didn't renew it. We changed our name to The Box Place and went out on our own. They tried to make us sign a non-compete agreement, to no avail."

Instead, The Box Place became the store its owners had dreamed of. The Dewars moved to a larger location on Colerain Avenue and began stocking whatever their customers demanded.

The franchiser had warned them that, as independents, they would not be able to get the inventory they wanted. That wasn't the case, Barbara Dewar said.

"We found out long before we broke from the franchise that we could go out and get the products, and in fact, become distributors ourselves."

The Box Place buys and distributes for 50 manufacturers of packing goods, from tape to mailing tubes. The relationships the company has built with its suppliers have allowed it to expand into custom packaging.

"Bob can do anything; he can get you any kind of boxes you need," said Mary Lou Stacey, who works in Andrew Jergens' print, post and distribution department. "If we need a special box, we call Bob."

The Box Place also has found a ready market among small and home-based businesses that need packing materials but can't buy or store in volume.

"They want a little bit of this and a little bit of that," Bob explained. "We're both wholesale and retail. I believe that we are unusual. Our main strength is that we have every kind of packaging supply that there is.

"People could order these items from a catalog, but then they would have to pay shipping and buy whole cases. We will break a case."

Genell Mays gives the Dewars high marks for their flexibility and help to emerging businesses. The entrepreneur, who moved his online retail business, Outabounds Enterprises Inc., to Cincinnati in 2001, said The Box Place was willing to set up an account for his company even though he was new to town.

"We hit it off from the beginning," he said. "They have competitive pricing, which helps us keep our costs down. And in this era of 'just in time,' he provides us with the number of boxes we need. That way, we don't have to tie up our money in boxes."

Despite its name, The Box Place is more than cardboard and packing peanuts. The front of the store is Barbara Dewar's realm: a gift boutique that offers unusual wrapping papers, ribbons and novelties. Like the rest of the store, her gift inventory evolved from customer requests, she said.

"We started out in a different shopping center next to a haircutting place," Barbara Dewar said. "Kids would come over with 50 cents and ask what they could buy. I started putting stickers and other little things in the store for them."

From there, Barbara Dewar's stock grew to include greeting and special occasion cards. She expanded into small gift items, and her average sale grew from 50 cents or $1 to $10, then $20. She found that higher-end gifts also would sell. When she introduced nautical-theme gifts and accessories, they flew off the shelves.

In the early days, Barbara's burgeoning boutique encountered stiff resistance from the franchiser.

"They would say, 'You can't have this.' I told them, 'My customers want this, and whatever they want, they're going to get.' "

Now she stocks many themed product lines such as teacher gifts, patriotic items and holiday goods, and oodles of collectibles.

For most of its history, Box Place revenues grew about 12 percent annually, Bob Dewar said. Then, as the economy began to falter and sales of all kinds slowed, the need for packing materials dropped.

"The last three years have been difficult," he said. "But we're up well this year. Packing materials companies know when the economy is starting to slump, but they also know when an economic upsurge is coming. We started seeing increased demand back in August."

The Dewars say they always put their customers first.

"We can have a project going on here and call Bob at the very last minute and he will have the boxes here the very next day," said Stacey. "He delivers to us, sometimes that very day, if we need it badly. If we're too busy to go down and meet him, he brings things up to us."

Said Mays: "The Box Place can help us grow by growing with us, in terms of meeting our shipping products needs. I wouldn't consider going to another supplier because I would have to build another relationship."

In and out of the box

From the decorative to the strictly functional, The Box Place caters to those who need to contain, display or ship merchandise. The inventory of boxes ranges from tiny jewelry containers to sturdy appliance cartons.

Bob Dewar prides himself on solving customers' special requirements, such as a box he designed to securely hold small ampules of liquid, made from materials that can withstand extremely cold temperatures.

The Box Place uses column pricing, which means the unit price varies depending on the quantity of items purchased.

8259 Colerain Ave. 741-1888 or



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