In 2013, Chieh Huang started Boxed – the household good and grocery e-commerce store out of his New Jersey garage. His goal was to sell Costco style bulk household goods to consumers all over the U.S. What sort of benefits he'd offer his employees as his company grew were the last thing on his mind.
But that was then and this is now. Boxed is getting a lot of attention lately for the generous benefits it offers its more than 200 employees. Starting in 2015, Huang started paying the college tuition of employee's children. In 2016, he began paying up to $20,000 for employee's weddings. These super-awesome fringe benefits have certainly garnered Huang and Boxed a ton of positive press, but they've also shined a light on how companies tackle the complicated issues of attracting and retaining talent. Two weeks vacation is simply not enough to retain the best talent.
Huang figured that out early. His first company was a gaming start up called Astro Ape. It was there that he realized that if all of his employees walked out one day, no matter how successful a company is, that would ruin it. He realized that he's only as good as the people that work for him.
Boxed launched in 2013 and has seen tremendous growth in four years. Huang aims to give shoppers the convenience and price of buying items in bulk such as at Costco, except without an annual membership fee. Additionally, shoppers don't have to leave their house and find parking, they can shop Costco style from an app on their phone.
Boxed succeeds across a number of demographics including millennials, who don't have the patience or time for a trip to Costco, people who don't have the transportation to get to Costco, and people in rural areas without access to a Costco. Boxed has four fulfillment centers located in New Jersey, Atlanta, Dallas, and Las Vegas.
In 2016, Boxed had $100 million in sales, double what the company had in 2015.
It was during a visit to Boxed's Atlanta fulfillment center in 2015 that Huang got the idea to pay for his employees' children to go to college. He learned that only two of the fulfillment center employees owned cars. The rest had often had a long walk just to get to the public transportation they took to work. He wanted to do something to fix that situation and make it easier on his employees. Of course he could have immediately solved the basic problem by buying all of his Atlanta employees a car, but he wanted to do something that would be long lasting, encourage upward mobility, and change their lives significantly. For Huang, the answer was education. Huang gives a portion of his salary to a nonprofit foundation. He writes the tuition checks from that foundation.
The payment for weddings happened about a year later. An employee of Boxed's New Jersey fulfillment center broke down crying at work. He was working two jobs seven days a week to pay for his mom's medical bills and his wedding. When he realized he couldn't save enough in time to do both, he broke down and left work early that day. When Huang found out, he was surprised because the employee was a stoic guy. So he called him up and found out what happened. Huang stepped in and paid for the wedding.
That led Boxed to put a policy in place where it will reimburse any full-time employee up to $20,000 for their wedding expenses. Less than 10 full-time employees have left the company voluntarily since these benefits started.
Huang's upbringing played a big role in influencing his focus on these unusual benefits. He is the son of Taiwanese immigrants and his parents struggled to make ends meet while raising him and his sister in New Jersey. The family made trips to Price Club so that his parents could stock up on the food and household goods they needed at prices they could afford.
Huang's parents refused to cut corners when it came to Huang's education. They knew it was the key to offering him a better life in the long term. Huang attended Johns Hopkins University for his bachelor's in economics and Fordham University for law school. After a stint practicing corporate law, he started his gaming company. He sold it to Zynga in 2011. After some time off, he got the idea to start Boxed and launched that from his garage in 2013.
The jump from gaming to toilet paper isn't as random as it seems. When Huang got married and moved his family to New York City, he missed the big box warehouse shopping he grew up with. He figured other people did too. Taking the concept mobile seemed like a logical step. Less than 2% of consumer packaged goods are sold online. Huang has tremendous opportunity for growth with Boxed.
One thing is for sure, with the reputation for generosity that Boxed has, he gets a lot of top talent beating down his door for a job. That said, Boxed is growing so fast at the moment that even with superlative benefits, he cannot hire people fast enough!