Madison Green Box, LLC

Moving is rarely a pleasant experience, but Oregon residents Lori Carlson and Mike Bleker are working to make the process easier, cleaner, and greener than ever before. Bleker, 44, oversees apartment communities in Madison and Milwaukee, while his domestic partner, Lori Carlson, 38, is a former audiologist turned home cleaner. Together, the Oregon residents launched Madison Green Box, a service that rents out plastic, eco-friendly boxes as an alternative to cardboard moving boxes. The idea sprung from Bleker's frustration at seeing apartment dumpsters overflowing with cardboard after tenants moved in. "He didn't like the eyesore the discarded cardboard was creating," said Carlson, "but I was more excited about the green component of the idea."

The couple's research proved theirs wasn't a unique idea, which actually helped in the planning process. "We could see how others were pricing their products and the types of boxes they were using because we had lots of models to choose from," Carlson said.

They did not do a formal business plan. "We didn't need investors or financing. It's all up here," she said, pointing to her head.

Madison Green Box, a member of Dane Buy Local, is not a franchise, although a similar franchise just moved into the area. "We knew it was a matter of time before they came to Madison," Carlson said of the competing firm. "But we think it's a good thing. They'll spend a lot of money on advertising and we might be able to piggyback on some of that product awareness."

On their initial order, Bleker and Carlson purchased 1,000 plastic, recyclable boxes from a North Carolina manufacturer for about $12,000. Measuring 27 x 17 x 12 inches, the boxes have flat tops and easily stack inside and atop one another. (Taller wardrobe boxes are also available.) They also rented a heated, 1,000-sq.-ft. warehouse space in Oregon for about $400 a month. Most significant, a brand-new Nissan NV truck was purchased for $38,000, then wrapped with artwork and the Madison Green Box logo. All told, start-up costs ran about $65,000.

Madison Green Box delivers an agreed-upon number of boxes to a customer's address, complete with a convenient four-wheeled dolly for mobility, then picks them up at the new address after the customer moves in. The boxes are rented by the week, and customers are spared the amount of time it takes to collect boxes, tape, untape, and discard them. Free delivery is offered throughout Dane County and beyond. All returned boxes are cleaned and disinfected before being sent out to the next location, keeping what could be tons of pounds of cardboard out of the landfills.

Bleker and Carlson established partnerships with Capital City Transfer of Verona and the HospiceCare Thrift stores. "If our customers have a box full of items designated for charity, we'll pick it up and take it to the Hospice Thrift Store for them," Carlson said. Some apartment complexes are also offering new renters a basic box rental package as a value-added incentive. "It's so important to get involved with different groups, especially through Dane Buy Local," Carlson said. "That's been a blessing for us."

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