Thinking outside of the box launched a new career for Bob Eason, a former concrete contractor. Now he builds specialty containment boxes for the concrete construction industry.
Eason, 55 years old, was still pouring concrete a few years ago when he began looking for an economical response to more-stringent rules and monitoring of the ways contractors dispose of leftover, still-liquid concrete known as washout.
The city started requiring us to have an onsite washout prior to footing inspection, he says. Its not the spoils in the (ready-mix truck) chute, its the slurry water. The federal Clean Water Act wants to keep the high-pH concrete water out of the ground water.
On a lot of jobs we were doing, there was literally no place to washout. And its a $10,000 fine if you get caught washing out into a storm drain.
WHAT HE DID
Eason, who had 30 years of experience in high-end residential and commercial-building concrete work, started brainstorming with his long-time friend Greg Ramp, president of Meridian-based Aire Industrial, which makes spill-containment products for contractors. First they came up with a plastic box to collect the slurry.
We started messing around, making a PVC version. Those early versions of a large containment system proved not to be cost effective.
So then in my shop I came up with the idea of a cardboard box with a four-mil (plastic) bag liner. I just happened to kick the box one time, and it folded in half.
That triggered the breakthrough idea: a box easy to ship and set up. Our [pending] patent is actually the origami folding shape of our box.
He started using the boxes to clean up after concrete-pouring jobs.
HOW THE BOXES WORK
We would just deploy a box in the back of our trailer, wash our boots and tools, tie the bag closed, take it back to our yard and let the water evaporate out and make gravel out of it. After it sets overnight, it becomes a chunk of concrete, evaporation takes place, the water goes away and you just treat it like a piece of trash or recycle it.
HOW HE MADE IT A BUSINESS
Seeing the boxes commercial potential, Eaton created Outpak Washout Inc. in 2009.
Our first year was all development and lawyers and getting things figured out. The second year I got hooked up with a (distributer) guy who wasnt what he represented himself to be, so that was kind of a waste but its all been a learning experience.
The boxes are made by Dixon Container Co. in Boise. Bag liners are sourced from various out-of-state suppliers.
Our business model is to sell only through distribution, and we have at least one outlet in all but six or eight states. Whitecap Construction Supply is our main distributor. They have 150 locations nationwide. Around here, American Construction Supply and Specialty Construction Supply sell them. We also have a licensing agreement with a company in Australia and New Zealand that is manufacturing and paying us a royalty. We have a couple distributors in Canada.
I have 10 sales reps who also represent other products. I have a part-time financial officer who has been a godsend. He was a senior analyst for Simplot for 25 years and got laid off.
Eason sold his concrete contracting business to a former employee. Now he owns 90 percent of Outpak. His son, a business major at Boise State University, owns 10 percent.
HE GOT PROFESSIONAL HELP
Im making a living doing it, and I have to give compliments to Kevin Learned and the Small Business Development Center at Boise State. They have been a great asset, and I would highly recommend them to anybody starting a business.
WHOS BUYING THEM
Easons target market includes wholesale and retail building-supply stores that sell to do-it-yourselfers and contractors who handle wet materials. That list includes painters, stucco contractors, brick masons and ready-mix concrete providers and truck drivers.
His product line now includes two sizes of large PVC washouts and three sizes of the smaller, less-expensive, plastic-lined cardboard boxes. Capacities range from one-quarter cubic yard of concrete to 3 cubic yards.
Our most popular product is our 4-foot-by-4-foot box that holds 0.69 cubic yards. ($55 retail). And we now have a 30-inch by 30-inch box that holds one-quarter yard of concrete or 50 gallons of water that will retail for about $28 and is good for about two or three trucks. The 6-feet-by-6-feet model is specifically designed for pump trucks and holds 1.3 cubic yards. That big box retails for $75 to $80.
DOESNT THE CARDBOARD WEAKEN WHEN WET?
The cardboard is not just a normal cardboard. Its a water-treated, military-grade cardboard that will not delaminate if it gets wet. If it gets wet it becomes soggy, but once it dries out it retains its rigidity and can be used. The box has an origami-folded shape, instructions in both Spanish and English on the side, tabs on the bottom where you can stake it down, and v-grooves on the top to hold the plastic bag liner in place.
WHOS HE COMPETING AGAINST?
The No. 1 competitor for us is what they call the metal roll-offs, and theyre actually for larger jobs where theyre pouring 500 or 1,000 yards a day. Ours are more for residential (construction) use, repairing sidewalks, curbing and gutter, and bridge and deck crews.
According to Eason, a leading competitors box sells for $250 to $300.
He says Outpak has sold more than 30,000 cardboard boxes and PVC containers in two years.
WHICH CAME FIRST, THE CHICKEN OR THE CONTRACTOR?
Do you know what the No. 1 hobby bird in America is? The backyard chicken. So I took my box to Zamzows two years ago. Based on their input, I modified the box to become the Backyard Brooder Box for baby chickens.
Eason says he sold 8,500 brooder boxes last year. The major distributer for the brooder boxes is High Country Plastics in Caldwell. Zamzows and D& B Supply sell the boxes in the Treasure Valley for about $20 each.
WHATS NEXT? A PARTNER?
Well have our patent by the end of the year. Were looking at more private-labeling opportunities. I cant help but think that if I can sell 30,000 of them with my meager means, I like to think what I could do with the proper partner. I would love to find a partner with distribution connections. We do have a possible opportunity with Home Depot in Canada on the horizon.
RISING FROM BLUE-COLLAR WORK TO WEALTH
There are 75,000 concrete ready mix companies in this country. If I can get my boxes on 1 percent of the concrete jobs in America, Ill be a wealthy man.
Lennon S. Reid: firstname.lastname@example.org