De’Vonna Pittman said she knew it was time to relocate her e-commerce business when there was a trail of inventory winding its way through her home. “As much as I love my business, it became very overwhelming,” she said.
Nature’s Syrup Hair & Skin Care, founded and run by Pittman, now operates out of Saltbox, a membership-based co-warehousing company that offers solutions for e-commerce businesses.
Located in Arden Hills, Saltbox was built to help small businesses manage the physical aspects of their companies like inventory, packing, and shipping said co-founder Maxwell Bonnie. “You don’t move into a Saltbox,” Bonnie said. “You operate your business out of a Saltbox.”
Pittman is running her company, which has around 600 customers, out of a 300-square-foot Saltbox. Nature’s Syrup specializes in hair care products for textured hair, something she said the beauty industry is lacking.
From her Saltbox, she is able to formulate a few Nature’s Syrup products including body butter and hair growth oil. Once the products are made in-house, or manufactured and sent to Saltbox, Pittman said she has full control over shipping.
“E-commerce is the way to go, especially in beauty [products],” Pittman said. “People have figured out how important their time is and they don’t want to spend three hours walking around a mall anymore.”
When creating Saltbox, Bonnie said he and the other co-founders were “inspired by the size of the problem” when it came to starting an e-commerce business and especially managing the back end of those businesses.
“Co-working [spaces] helped people think about how they can get their needs met in shared models,” he said. “But that world was not built for e-commerce companies because they can’t run their business out of an office.”
The name Saltbox stems from a traditional New England-style home that resembles the wooden boxes salt was once kept in, according to the company’s blog. Workers who lived in saltbox-style homes often added work sheds for storage and industrial purposes.
Saltbox facilities are up and running in eight cities across the country. The Arden Hills warehouse, at 4440 W. Round Lake Road, is one of the newest and opened in December of last year.
Joel Morris, inventor and founder of Cubles, an interactive toy for kids that combines origami and building blocks, was one of the first customers at the Arden Hills location. From his Saltbox, Morris receives inventory from a White Bear Lake manufacturer and ships out Cubles characters to bookstores across the country. He said one of the best parts about working from a Saltbox is having centralized access to major shippers like FedEx, USPS, and UPS.
Bonnie said the entry-level fee for business owners is $500 a month for a starter suite. Saltbox suites start as a bare warehouse space that members can customize with shelving, desks, and packaging stations available for rent. Along with the suite, members get access to conference rooms, photography studios, and freight delivery.
Saltbox also offers what it calls e-Force employees who are trained warehouse workers and available for members to book in advance. Bonnie said e-Force employees can be hired for a variety of tasks like helping business owners manage their inventory and package products for shipping.
Flexibility for growth
Nosh Posh, a company that provides healthy snacking options in the form of vending machine service and curated snack bars, is in the process of relocating to Saltbox, said CEO and founder Tatiana Freeman. Freeman has already enlisted e-Force employees in helping her build furniture for her new headquarters.
Nosh Posh products can be found across the Twin Cities in co-working spaces like The Coven in St. Paul.
“You can be the smallest company, mid-sized, hitting your first $1 million, or hitting $10 million and find Saltbox valuable,” Bonnie said. As companies grow, they can relocate to various suite sizes ranging up to 2,000 square feet.
Honey Smitten, owned and operated by Cristie Maki and her husband, David, provides a variety of flavored honey sticks to 170 stores and is quickly outgrowing its 348-square-foot Saltbox. Maki said she soon hopes to move into a 700-square-foot unit and loves the flexibility Saltbox offers for growing companies like her own.
Many business owners are creating and shipping their products in a Saltbox, but Amy Adams, the owner of two Woodhouse Spas franchise locations, said her Saltbox functions a bit differently.
Before Saltbox, Adams said products for the spas would be shipped directly to her house and often left out in the rain and snow until she could make it home to store them in her garage – while her car sat on the street.
Adams’ Saltbox suite now serves as inventory headquarters for her businesses, conveniently located between the Woodbury and Maple Grove locations. By relocating a facet of her business to Saltbox, Adams said, she is staying organized, making better business decisions, and planning to open a third location.
Pittman said the most welcomed surprise from joining Saltbox has been building community with other people who are working on scaling their businesses.
“Entrepreneurship is lonely sometimes,” Bonnie said, Saltbox “helps entrepreneurs connect with other resources and be part of a larger e-commerce community.”