Think Inside the Box: How We Cut Our Shipping Costs in Half

Last spring, while our first batch of Freedom Chairs was being manufactured by our vendors around Massachusetts, we started tackling one of the most challenging design obstacles of the project: designing the box.

Requirements

Our boxes had to meet some difficult, and conflicting, functional requirements:

  1. Protect the Freedom Chair on it's way to you. No matter how many "handle with care" and "do not tumble" stickers we put on the box, we have to plan for it to be dropped on any corner from 36" in the air, and tumbled with reckless abandon. 
  2. Be as small as possible. The smaller the box, the less it costs to ship it via UPS Ground (our most common shipping option). However, the smaller the box, the less room there is for padding to protect individual parts.
  3. Require minimal assembly. As much as we love our IKEA furniture, we don't want our customers to have to worry about a complicated assembly process. We want the chair to be ready to hit the trail as quickly as possible. This meant that we had to keep most of the chair assembled, resulting in a bigger box.

We chose a cardboard box with custom cut cardboard inserts (rather than styrofoam inserts) because they are sustainable and easy to work with. We worked with a local company, Abbot Action, to help us design and manufacture them.

Prototyping

We prototype everything, and the box was no exception. We had a small batch of boxes built with our custom inserts so that we could drop and ship test them.

Our first drop test taught us the importance of good straps. They pull the walls of the box against the internal bracing, holding everything together a lot more securely than tape or staples!

Our first drop test taught us the importance of good straps. They pull the walls of the box against the internal bracing, holding everything together a lot more securely than tape or staples!

We did a test shipment to Phoenix. The box was beat up pretty badly, and most of the straps were missing. The chair inside was in perfect condition, but we knew we had more work to do to keep the box in good shape.

We did a test shipment to Phoenix. The box was beat up pretty badly, and most of the straps were missing. The chair inside was in perfect condition, but we knew we had more work to do to keep the box in good shape.

We used our tests to improve the box, insert, and strapping designs: we added more inserts, chose to wrap certain parts in paper to prevent jostling and scratching, and strategically padded certain parts of the box. 

Box 1.0

After a few rounds of prototyping, we ended up with boxes that were durable, small enough to ship via UPS Ground, and that only required our customers to use a single small wrench during assembly (to attach the front wheel).

A peek inside our first generation box.

A peek inside our first generation box.

Three of our first boxes, lined up and ready to ship!

Three of our first boxes, lined up and ready to ship!

These boxes measured in at 44" length, 26" width, 19" height, and 50lbs. Ultimately, each box cost us around $30 each to manufacture and around $175 to ship around the continental US. We charged $200 for shipping to cover these costs.

Box 2.0

The first generation of boxes served us well, safely delivering almost 200 GRIT Freedom Chairs to happy riders around the US. However, $200 for shipping was pretty expensive, so we decided to try to update our box design to help save our customers some cash.

We looked into the primary cost drivers and learned that we were being billed a "large package surcharge" for every shipment. The sum of the length of the box and the perimeter of the cross section, or L + 2 x (W+H), came out to 134". Since this was above the 130" threshold defined by UPS, it resulted in almost $60 of extra shipping fees per box!

With that in mind, our goal was to shave off at least 4" to avoid these surcharges. More size reduction would result in even more cost savings. We went back to the drawing board and spent more than a few afternoons playing "Freedom Chair Tetris" in our office, trying to find smaller ways to protect every part. 

Boxing the levers in a cardboard spacer let us pack them closer to other parts in the box.

Boxing the levers in a cardboard spacer let us pack them closer to other parts in the box.

With the levers in their spacer, the height of the front dividers could be reduced, and the seat back twisted and put on top. This helped us to reduce the length of the box.

With the levers in their spacer, the height of the front dividers could be reduced, and the seat back twisted and put on top. This helped us to reduce the length of the box.

The wheels are braced on top of corrugated spacers. Removing the axles helps us better protect them during shipping, and saves us almost an inch of height.

It took a few weeks, but ultimately, we found success! Our new box is 2" shorter in length and 4" shorter in height, bringing our combined sum to 126", eliminating the large package surcharge and cutting our shipping costs in half! We're excited to start passing these savings to you, our customers, immediately. We've reduced our shipping charge from $200 per chair to $99!

Unboxing experience

Wondering what it's like to receive and unbox a GRIT Freedom Chair? Here's Ben unboxing (from a 1.0 box, but the chair assembly is identical) and putting one together. 


Stay in touch - sign up below for stories, offers, and updates straight to your inbox! 


The GRIT Freedom Chair is the most versatile chair on the market, designed from the ground up to handle any terrain. From trails to grass to snow, the Freedom Chair is built for you to push yourself. Born out of research at MIT, the Freedom Chair's patented easy-push levers reduce shoulder strain and put you in control of your mobility. Ready to hit the trails.  Learn more about the GRIT Freedom Chair at www.gogrit.us