Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

As E-Commerce Grows, Demand for Safe Delivery Meets a Possible Solution

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

As E-Commerce Grows, Demand for Safe Delivery Meets a Possible Solution

Article excerpt

An outsize maibox that initially failed to catch on is to be sold by Home Depot, as more and more people shop online and are often not home to accept packages.

When asked how the Elephant Trunk, a large, lockable mailbox, got its name, Vanessa Troyer laughed and rolled her eyes. You could tell she had been asked the question many times.

"The name Elephant Trunk came about just because the Elephant Trunk can hold a lot," Ms. Troyer, 48, said recently, sitting in a conference room at Architectural Mailboxes, the company that she and her husband, Chris Farentinos, 45, run in Redondo Beach, California. "It was as big as a baby elephant" -- and not just its nose.

That, it turned out, was a problem. Back in 1999, when she and Mr. Farentinos dreamed up the Elephant Trunk, it was designed to be large enough to hold the television-size computers that people were ordering as e-commerce began to take off. But while it was still in prototype, flat-screen computer monitors came along, defeating its purpose.

"It was deflating," Ms. Troyer said. "All this time and money and energy had been wasted."

If Ms. Troyer did not sound all that deflated, it is because the Elephant Trunk is back -- in a slightly modified form. Now considerably smaller, it is being introduced in 157 Home Depot stores around the United States in a three-month test run. Mr. Farentinos, a former designer of baseball bats, says he wants it to become a "lifestyle product" that no household can do without. Just as everyone has a mailbox for snail mail, he hopes that everyone will soon have an Elephant Trunk for home-delivered packages.

The developers were featured in this column in 2010 for the Oasis, a lockable mailbox for regular mail that they started selling when the Elephant Trunk fell through. Their story shed light on how an idea can be as dependent on timing and adaptability as anything else.

Even after shoving the Elephant Trunk into the proverbial drawer, they were convinced that it would eventually see the light of day; it was just a matter of when. Sure, computers had become skinnier, but more and more people were shopping online for a wide range of products, and they often were not home to accept the packages.

Beyond the annoyance of coming home and finding those packages "behind a planter," Ms. Troyer said, or wet from the rain, there was the danger of parcel theft.

Still, when they floated the idea of a mailbox for packages, the response from retailers was, "I think it's too soon for that," Ms. Troyer said.

"They'd say: 'I don't get it. It's too big,"' Mr. Farentinos said. The two, who have been married for 23 years and business partners for 11, often finish each other's sentences.

But as the years went by and online retailing became ever more pervasive -- 167 million U.S. consumers now shop online, according to a report by Forrester Research -- the idea of a safe place to store deliveries seemed more of a no-brainer. …

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