Thinking outside the Boxsal

[Alyson Kuhn] Last week we featured the Boxsal press kit, designed by The Brand Hatchery for Three Blind Ants. Do you think this is a portrait of five blind ants, or is it a quintet of brand hatchers? You’re both right! We chat again with owner and creative director Aaron Opsal (with the Amazon smile and glasses) about having fun at work and turning an idea into a product.

As shown in the Boxsal press kit, a Boxsal is a pretty, fun, picnic box made from nice heavy cardboard.

What is your relationship with Three Blind Ants ?
It’s our company, but it’s separate—for our crazy ideas. We treat it as an independent client. We hold ourselves to schedules and budgets and creative strategies.

The back of the Office Boxsal. That’s an illustrated keyboard maze on the end panel; the other end has an Excel spreadsheet for tracking your picnics.

Had you ever brought your own product to market before?
No. Every once in a while, we would toss around ideas about reinventing something. Somehow we wound up talking about the picnic industry, which hadn’t see a real innovation in 10 or 15 years. We researched making an inexpensive wicker hamper. We did a bunch of work on it, then got super busy with other paying projects. When it came back up about a year later, we launched a separate company—Three Blind Ants—to pursue it. Blake Wright [disguised as Mike Tyson at top] and Frances Yllana, who’s at another agency now, provided the muscle in terms of illustration as well as design.

Today’s Date Boxsal. Yes, everything will fit inside.

Who received press kits?
We started by selling the Boxsals online, then reached out to select retailers in the Dallas area. We could picture them in Urban Outfitters, for example. A friend said, “You should go to the New York Gift Show.” We had sent many clients there in the past, but we had never gone ourselves. That show motivated us to create the press kit. We were hugely successful: We picked up more than 30 retailers just from the show.

The tasty press kit contains a dozen post cards in a gingham paper wrap.

Had you considered using a material other than cardboard for the Boxsal?
I love nicely molded plastic things. But we didn’t want to go to Japan to have everything made, and we don’t know much about plastics. We work with paper. That’s what we know. So we decided, “Let’s create a bunch of these picnic boxes that can do things that wicker can’t.” And because we know paper, we know what we can put on it and what we can do with it. It was logical and sustainable. We knew we could carry through on the sustainability.

The Boxsal, which measures 20 x 15 x 5 in., is die cut from cardboard with high post-consumer waste content.

So how did you actually start figuring out structurally how the box would work?
We did a whole series of prototypes. The handle was a big deal, because we needed structural stability. The Boxsal should hold all your stuff as well as your food. Even at full capacity—30 pounds—the handle is totally comfortable to hold and carry.

“Our genius intern at the time deserves credit for developing the bendable cardboard inserts.”

Did you test the prototypes in picnic mode?
Yes! Picnics are a fun chance to escape, and we wanted to have fun with it. When we took our first prototype to the park, at least 10 people came over and asked, “Wow, what is that?!”

Urban Picnic Boxsal: boom box on the front, graffiti on the back

Do you have any large customers?
Yes. Our biggest boost came from Pandora. They called in November last year to ask about using Urban Picnic, which looks like a boom box, for one of their corporate holiday gifts. They wanted to have it stuffed with delicious snacks, so we reached out to a local group to help us with fulfillment. We are currently sold out of everything, and although we could easily have reprinted Urban Picnic, we decided to honor our original vision that the Boxsals be limited editions.

So you aren’t madly reprinting for the holiday season?
No, we aren’t. Our vision was, “When they are gone they are gone.” We’re using the time to work on new things for 2013. We launched a design for Spanish Suitcase, who commissioned their own Boxsal. They sell it filled with gourmet treats from Spain, including olive oil, wine and bottled water. And we’ve just finished up our carry-on size—12 x 8 x 4 in.

“Did I mention that we had thought—briefly—about shipping the Boxsal unassembled?”

Are you still having fun with it?
We are. You learn so much along the way when you get into doing things yourself, rather than just having them done. You want to think you got all the variables correct. I’d say that on the creative, the part we know best, we nailed it. On the logistics, not so much.

Who else is who at The Brand Hatchery (top photo): That’s interactive developer Preston Darley in the bow tie. Brunette Kate Rutledge handles account services. Redhead Amy Opsal is VP Operations. The Brand Hatchery, located in Dallas, helps companies find, craft and broadcast their story to the masses through pictures, pixels and paragraphs.

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