Hispanic Heritage Month: A Note from Our CEO and Founder
National Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to celebrate and honor the contributions and accomplishments of Hispanic and Latino Americans. As a native Puerto Rican, I’m extremely proud to be included in this group. My story tells where I came from and how it led me to start CompanyBox. My hope, is that it inspires others who are like me.
At the age of six, my family moved from Coamo, Puerto Rico and settled in Geneva, a small Ohio town. No one in our family spoke English but my parents immediately sent me to first grade. I remember my mother handing me a bagged lunch and pointing in the direction of school. But the teachers didn’t know what to do with a kid who didn’t know a single English word, so I sat in the back of the classroom and tried to pick things up the best I could.
My parents did the same. They were determined to make it without any outside help. So, when my shoes started getting holes, my mom slipped a sheet of corrugated into the bottom of the shoes to protect my feet. I often joke that’s when my love of corrugated started.
Is there a kind of bravery that forms in all of us when we’re put in difficult situations? When I watched my parents, I saw how they were reacting to this new life. They decided to start a business to help others like us, by taking in migrant workers – offering them a place to sleep and food to eat.
Really, I credit those days for my work ethic. Watching my mother and father juggle 6 kids and a business, even with so little in their pocket and poor understanding of the language. It lit a spark in me. So in elementary school, I started working at a local garden nursery. I remember catching a ride with the immigrants staying with us to hoe weeds in the nursery fields. My $0.50/hour went directly to my family. (I’m sure I didn’t love handing over my entire pay check, but you know – oldest child duties and all.)
After high school, I attended Edinboro University on a track scholarship. Graduating with a business degree, I began working at Society National Bank (now known as KeyCorp.) in commercial banking. Later, I took a job with a large packaging corporation; Smurfit Stone Container. They started me at the bottom, so I could learn every part of the industry, eventually growing my territory as a salesman.
Packaging was so intriguing. I know it sounds geeky to say that, but it’s like a puzzle – you have this product and have to find a way to display or ship it. I saw so many opportunities for companies to take advantage of the plain brown box. That’s why I decided to find a way to differentiate myself from the other companies – to really push the envelope.
I started suggesting my customers print on the outside of their boxes – flood coat it and reverse out their logo. Custom packaging; it was a new concept to everyone. Some people told me it couldn’t be done. Others loved the idea. But there was one problem. This kind of technology wouldn’t exist for 30 years.
I improvised. Printing my designs on a plotter and sticking them to the outside of boxes using Elmer’s Glue was the only way I could get the look I wanted. It definitely wasn’t perfect. The paper bubbled, but it was new and different. Now I look back at photos of myself and see an extremely driven person. When you have to survive from zero, there’s more drive.
By 1991, my wife and I started our first packaging business – always with the idea of offering custom packaging to everyone. But the right technology still didn’t exist, so we focused on other innovative solutions. (Like how to protect products from damage during shipping.) I was just waiting for digital printing to advance. Finally, I saw my opening to take custom printing to an e-commerce platform in 2012.
That’s when I launched CompanyBox with my son Kyle.
It was a dream. CompanyBox is now deeply rooted in the same Hispanic family values that I had as a kid. Over half of our employees are Latino. I wanted CompanyBox to be a place where we can give other Hispanics the same opportunities I had – a way to build up their life. We’re not just an e-commerce company. CompanyBox is the people who work here and the relationships we build with our customers.
Here’s to holes in shoes and all the big dreamers out there.
Can we help to make packaging part of your brand? Contact us to collaborate.