When the circuit breaker took place in April last year, many businesses were impacted following forced closures as part of government regulations to curb the Covid-19 virus.
However, it’s a different story for Nikhil Charan and Robert Rajeswaran, who both embarked on a new business venture at the thick of a pandemic.
Called Boxaroo, it is essentially a one-stop shop for all company swag and corporate merchandising needs. It carries a wide range of products, from apparel, office goods, tech accessories, drinkware and bags, as well as preset boxes like a Work-From-Home box, New Hire box, and Client Appreciation box.
“We help companies ideate, produce, customise and distribute products to their team members, customers and partners,” explained Nikhil.
While Boxaroo in its current form was set up during the circuit breaker, the duo were already independently consulting for global clients about corporate merchandising strategy prior to that.
Nikhil’s first entrepreneurial venture was a B2B marketplace, but he also previously worked at and consulted for companies like Samsung, Singtel and Uber.
Meanwhile, Robert started off in the banking sector in London. He saw an opportunity in EdTech, which led him to build and run GoCode — a coding platform for kids in the United Kingdom — which later expanded to Qatar.
In their corporate roles, the both of them have been on the buying end of corporate merchandise.
“Between us, we both had a decent understanding and network within the manufacturing, supply and distribution in this space. We were already used to coordinating supply and logistics to and from multiple markets,” said Robert.
An Effective Marketing Tool For Companies
Another major reason why they decided to venture into corporate merchandise is that they feel the industry is lagging behind.
The supplier model in the merchandising and promotional products industry in many parts of the world has remained unchanged for the last three decades, but the customer and the customer’s needs have changed drastically.
The customer today places a lot of importance on quality, is savvy, is influenced heavily by brand and good design, and wants a lot more than just printing logos on cool stuff.
– Nikhil Charan, co-founder of Boxaroo
He added that swag and merchandise are “exceptional marketing tools” — but they only work if recipients find use for them. In fact, statistics have proven that it works not just as a marketing tool, but also as a loyalty tool.
Therefore, they started up Boxaroo to address three main challenges that are faced by consumers: poor product quality, lack of price transparency, and the utter inconvenience of it all (the tediousness of finding and negotiating with traditional suppliers over the phone, lack of visibility and slow turnarounds).
With an aim to resolve consumers’ pain points, they decided to do away with cheap, low-quality products and sourced for high-quality products from both branded (Nike, Adidas, Moleskine, Swell etc) and non-branded manufacturers instead.
The duo spent months validating their business idea, speaking to businesses and the people within these businesses that order swag and corporate gifts.
Swag isn’t just for employees. Some companies (especially B2B) spend a big chunk of their marketing budget on swag because it has been proven to have high levels of brand recall and brand reputation.
But again, to work, it has to be useful and the quality has to be top-notch.
– Robert Rajeswaran, co-founder of Boxaroo
After validating their business idea with early customers, they worked on simplifying the ordering process with a self-serve platform.
“Once customers place an order, a dedicated account manager works closely with them to get their orders produced,” he explained.
“Then we set up partnerships with global warehousing and logistics partners to help our customers seamlessly store and ship merchandise around the globe at the best rates possible.”
They Don’t Just Stick Logos On Products
From the start, the founders knew they wanted to distinguish themselves by not going in with a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, which made a huge difference.
“We weren’t going in as a supplier. We were approaching this space as consultants who could get swag made, but also help brands achieve their objectives with it,” stressed Robert.
Nikhil chimed in that they didn’t want to settle with just sticking logos on products. They wanted to work with discerning brands and help them solve problems that they were facing this space.
However, despite their enthusiasm, he confessed that they experienced a “slow start” in the beginning.
“Getting new clients onboard was not easy, but a big opportunity opened up when we started getting calls from global organisations that wanted to send care packages out to their teams during lockdown,” recounted Nikhil.
“We pulled all our resources remotely to make this happen. I guess it all comes down to being able to solve real problems for customers.”
While the response was indeed slow at the start, they quickly learned what customers were looking for and swiftly adapted to meet their needs.
Having a solid understanding of the target audience within companies helped us to focus on the right people. Once we got the first ten clients onboard, it was a snowball effect from there.
– Nikhil Charan, co-founder of Boxaroo
To date, their pool of clients include giants like Netflix, PayPal, Spotify, Coca Cola, Uber and Amazon.
Automating The “Complex Space” Of Corporate Merchandising
Nikhil observes that most businesses have a common goal to deliver the same result in an easier fashion.
Since corporate merchandising is a “complex space” and there are endless options when it comes to creating unique products, they wanted to help solve this pain point.
“In terms of making this process easier, we are only at the beginning,” said Nikhil.
Currently, they are already building tools and services that can eventually automate the whole process to make it easy, efficient and fast.
What’s in the pipeline is the integration of their services into HR, marketing and sales platforms. This means that very soon, companies can automate the whole process of shipping swag out to new team members, new clients and new sales leads.
“They wouldn’t need to lift a finger. Just set some basic rules, and the right items with the right branding will go out to the intended recipients like clockwork.”
All in all, there is a still a lot they can do to innovate further in terms of technology, logistics and product offering.
The bootstrapped startup founders said they are trying their best to change or reimagine many processes within this industry, so there’s a fair bit of trial and error involved.
“Getting that right, and building what customers want is what we’ve been focused on. Once we’re ready to grow the business, we will certainly look at the possibly of raising funds.”
“If we fundraise, we want to do it for the right reasons and at the right time,” added Nikhil.
Featured Image Credit: Boxaroo