When Jim Brennan Jr. first founded Sea Box Inc. in 1983, his storage-container business was pretty simple. His firm would buy used storage containers, often from shipping companies, then refurbish and sell them off to others at a small profit.
Eventually, Sea Box started converting and making storage containers for the US military, which used them for battlefield command centers, weapons and generator storage, and even for showers and barber shops for troops.
“For the military, it’s all about mobility – being able to quickly move things on trucks and trains and by ship and planes,” said Brennan, noting that storage-container sales to the military still make up about 70 percent of Sea Box’s overall business.
Into new markets
In recent years Sea Box has been pushing into other fields – including assembling custom storage containers for PODS Inc., the Clearwater, FL-based moving and storage company. PODS, which stands for Personal On Demand Storage, delivers storage containers right to customers’ residential homes and then picks them up later after customers pack them with belongings.
PODS can either transport the full storage bins to a new home or temporarily store them at one of its storage facilities.
Since its founding in 1998, PODS, as well as other companies mimicking its business model, have been taking major bites out of the traditional moving and storage markets in America and elsewhere.
Shifting the balance
The rise of combined residential moving-and-storage companies has been a major boon to companies like Sea Box, which now assembles 4,000 to 5,000 containers for PODS each year. Sea Box employs about 300 people, most of them at its East Riverton, NJ headquarters.
“It’s a good diversification for us,” said Brennan of his firm’s business with PODS. “It’s allowed us to get into a new field.”
And it’s come at an important time for Sea Box, as the Pentagon scales back its budget and forces Sea Box and other defense contractors to find potential civilian business elsewhere.
A container for every occasion
Joel Rathbone, director of the National Portable Storage Association, said the largest civilian users of new or refurbished shipping containers are usually construction firms, large retailers, hotels and other companies that need to temporarily store a variety of items, usually on site.
Rathbone said Sea Box and a few other shipping-container makers have really pushed the envelope when it comes to finding new uses – and customers – for storage containers, which usually comes in two sizes, 20-feet long and 40-feet long.
“Companies like Sea Box are going a step further in modifying containers for lots of different uses,” said Rathbone, whose association has 450 members across the country.
The sky’s the limit
Sea Box’s Brennan said moving-and-storage is not the only new field his firm has gotten into in recent years.
The company is now making dozens of temporary, modular air-traffic control towers for the Federal Aviation Authority – with the towers made out of storage containers stacked on top of one another. The FAA has embarked on a major renovation program of towers across the country – and Sea Box is constructing dozens of temporary towers for the government agency.
In addition, Sea Box also directly rents out about 2,000 storage containers a year to construction companies and other firms that need temporary storage facilities, including hotels and large retail stores that often keep excess inventory in bins outside their venues.
Though the Pentagon’s budget is being pared back, Sea Box still makes anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 storage containers a year for military uses. All of them are made in the US, under federal defense contracting rules.
By popular demand
Another niche area for Sea Box is making custom storage containers for restaurants, museums and entertainment companies that view the containers as “authentic” and cool looking. The containers can be used as outdoor bars, food stands or even small offices and building annexes.
“They love the corrugation style,” said Brennan. “We get a lot of the hip ones who want containers all the time.”
Steve Rolf, the chief operating officer at Sea Box, said Brennan is always looking for new ways to make, assemble, rent or sell storage containers. “He never says no to anyone,” Rolf said. “He’ll modify containers to do anything.”
“We’ve evolved a lot over the years,” said Brennan. “The business is a lot more professional and diverse today. I’m kind of shocked by all the industry changes over the years.”