A Tour of Online Retailer Boxed’s Distribution Center Shows Innovation at Work

New Jersey has been in the national spotlight during the last few years for e-commerce news, such as Walmart’s acquisition of Jet.com (Hoboken), the state’s interest in and strong potential for Amazon’s second headquarters in Newark, and a lot of warehouse real estate development that continues apace.

Another successful startup, Boxed, a New York-based company with roots and a significant presence in New Jersey, has rapidly grown to become a large online retailer of nonperishable household supplies such as grocery (pantry items), cleaning, and health products. The company is venture-backed and has significantly grown its logistics footprint across the U.S., with four fulfillment locations.

Recently, the New Jersey Tech Council organized a tour of Boxed’s New Jersey fulfillment center that was led by cofounder and CEO Chieh Huang, along with the vice president of distribution, Rick Zumpano. The facility covers multiple functions, including warehousing, fulfillment, order management, and R&D. It employs over 100 employees, and the company now has about 500 employees across the country.

Boxed has been compared to Costco, as both focus on regularly needed family-sized products and supplies. However, Boxed has some fundamental differences. It does not charge any club membership fees. It started out mostly as a mobile phone app and quickly gained a large following among younger consumers. While it targets millennials who love shopping on their mobile devices, a large part of the company’s business comes from B2B customers needing supplies for offices.

The company has also made significant strides in R&D for their current operations, as well as for new business opportunities. For instance, the company recently launched the SmartStockup and Concierge technologies, which together use machine learning to predict when a customer might be running low on their stock and preemptively fulfill and ship the products to the customer.

During the tour, Huang showed the group Boxed’s in-house developed automated picking and packing technologies in operation. Most of the software powering their operations has also been built in-house. And they are using creative solutions to maximize the use of both the horizontal and vertical dimensions of the warehouse space, Zumpano said.

Huang highlighted Boxed’s startup culture of “No Walls,” where the executives do not have private offices, and simply share the same office space, break room, etc. They also believe in empowering their employees’ personal and family lives, and have a program to contribute up to $20,000 towards employees’ wedding expenses. In addition, they also have a program to cover college tuition for their employees’ children.

The company was founded in 2013 by four friends, including Huang, starting the company in Huang’s garage, in Edison. Later, they created their first fulfillment center in Edison, as well. Boxed has received several accolades from the industry. In 2016, Forbes named Boxed as one of the Next Billion-Dollar Startups.

Boxed is a great example of how the New Jersey startup scene has the potential to develop top-class innovation, leverage capital, and generate jobs, while creating a healthy work environment that benefits consumers and makes a significant contribution to the economy.

Atiq Hashmi is the founder of MobileXoom.com (Sayreville ), which offers consulting to e-commerce business operations.

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