By Eric Peterson | Mar 01, 2021
Modified shipping containers
Before going into the container business, Halsch studied petroleum engineering at Colorado School of Mines. As his prospects for a career in oil dwindled with the price of a barrel of crude, he began marketing used shipping containers on Craigslist. Halsch had worked in sales since high school and had found there was a lack of capable intermediaries.
He launched Overcon Containers to buy and sell used containers in 2015. Two years later, he started ROXBOX to modify containers starting with a mobile taproom called the BeerCan. It quickly took off, and Halsch shuttered Overcon in late 2017 to focus on ROXBOX.
"I didn't see huge growth potential as just a container brokerage," says Halsch. "The margins are super low, and there are a lot of problems with logistics and shipping. I've got a background in engineering and really wanted to utilize that knowledge to build things."
Subsequent to the pivot to manufacturing, ROXBOX quickly expanded from food-and-beverage-oriented modifications to offices -- like the Eldorado Climbing Walls headquarters in Louisville -- and other applications. Container-based structures typically start around $50,000, and go up from there. A small accessory dwelling unit (ADU) is about $125,000.
"We've really carved out a fantastic niche in the contract manufacturing realm," says Halsch. "What we found is there are very few container companies around the country that actually do their own manufacturing. A lot of the big container brands and big flashy names you hear about, a lot of them contract out all of their work and are mostly design houses, and do the architecture, engineering, permitting, and all of that. When it comes to actually building the containers themselves, there are very few people that actually do that."
ROXBOX bucks the trend by focusing on manufacturing. "We understand all the nuance that goes into them. We're certainly experts on building these and assembling multiple containers together," says Halsch. "We've gotten a lot of people that deal with containers and have brands already that are reaching out to us, asking us to manufacture for them. We're starting to see a shift into production from one-off-type buildings."
As volume increases, so does the breadth of work. ROXBOX is collaborating with RK Mission Critical on a range of projects -- including cryptocurrency mining containers -- and the company has also made portable ICU-level hospital rooms and on-mountain restaurants for Winter Park Resort.
The COVD-19 pandemic sparked the company's food-and-beverage orders. "The dining room is now a liability, so a lot of quick-service restaurants are extremely interested in modular and even downsizing their footprint," says Halsch.
For 2021, ROXBOX has launched the HELIOS solar refrigerator under exclusive North American license from Australia-based Black Stump Technologies. Halsch touts them as "a phenomenal product" that runs 100 percent off of solar power. "It's 24/7, off-grid solar power to do refrigeration, freezing, as well as atmospheric ice generation and water generation," he explains. "You're essentially able to have cold storage wherever you need it."
The company is also in the design phase for the Argo Mill redevelopment project in Idaho Springs. "We're doing a ton of boxes for them," says Halsch. "They're adding a gondola all the way to the top and a big viewing deck with restaurants. ROXBOX is handling two restaurants and two bars, and we've got a bunch of storage containers down below that have refrigeration in them, and we're also doing the caretaker's home."
ROXBOX is also preparing to launch a residential line in spring 2021. "We've got a secret project going up in the foothills," says Halsch. "It's going to be eight homes, and they're all going to be 3,000 square feet."
Working primarily with one-trip containers from China, ROXBOX works with outside architects and engineers as well as electricians and other subcontractors, but handles all fabrication and some finishes in-house.
"A lot of the production team is welding-focused," says Halsch. "A lot of them do have carpentry and other types of construction experience, but we're definitely a welding-focused company at the moment."
ROXBOX's big differentiator? "Our quality is bar none," says Halsch. "Very, very few people -- if anybody -- do a better job from a quality perspective than we do. . . . The second thing is: We're answering the phones. We're getting quotes back to people. A lot of other container companies, they're just not answering their phones."
Halsch says ROXBOX's year-over-year sales growth will be close to 10X from June 2020 to June 2021. To accommodate it, the company is readying a second facility in the Montbello neighborhood in northeast Denver that will add 27,000 square feet to supplement the existing 5,000-square-foot factory.
If all goes according to plan, the company will hire 15 to 20 employees when it opens in mid-2021. "We've got enough orders to fill that place up right now," says Halsch. "We're actually looking at the next spot before we even move into this one. Things are good."
Challenges: "Making sure as we're hiring fast that we're hiring the right people," says Halsch. "We've done a really good job as of late hiring the right people who have continually furthered the business mission."
Opportunities: "Modular construction has been blowing up since about 2011," says Halsch. "Over the last two or three years, it's gotten even better, and when COVID hit, it added another layer of being able to build these offsite and ship them to their end location."
The trend just got a big boost when the International Code Council (ICC) approved shipping containers as a valid construction material in 2021. "It's finally been legitimized as a building material in the building code," says Halsch. "We've been waiting for this for two or three years. What that means is now all financing is now on deck. You've got every general contractor in the country now has the ability to put this into any project that they're working on as a module."
"We're in a really, really good position to continue one with manufacturing out of shipping containers and be one of the biggest names in the country doing so."
ROXBOX is evaluating additional facilities in other regions to support the growth, he adds. "Having something on the East Coast where the land's a little bit cheaper, the labor's a little bit cheaper, we're able to compete for a whole new clientele."
Needs: Experienced fabricators, tradespeople, and general laborers. "If you've got a good attitude and you want to work your way up, we've got a lot of openings," says Halsch.
ROXBOX also needs growth capital. "We just got finished up with a raise with the City of Denver," says Halsch of a recently closed $600,000 round. "The City of Denver loves what we're doing. They've been a huge proponent of our company and have helped us in a lot of new areas."
Fundraising is ongoing. "The next round we're going after is going to be about $1.5 million, and we're looking to close that by the end of this year," he says. "We want growth equity type of partners who are looking to put money into a company to continue to watch it grow."