I’m not ashamed to say it. I want to buy a truck, just to buy a Billy Box. Austin-based Billy Boxes is fresh on the truck bed scene making everyone from tailgaters to hunters turn their head.
Up until now, the chunky tool boxes have been the same-old accessory, a bit ‘meh’, lacking in their ability to secure your possessions, becoming more of a place to stash your trash, provide shelter for a raccoon family, or both. For Billy Boxes and founder Levi Smith, customization and organization is the name of the truck-haulin’ game, with design elements that set these tool boxes apart from every other option. We had a chance to ask Levi a few questions, find out about the design and what he keeps in his own Billy Box.
Behind the Design: Billy Boxes
There’s no drilling required to install these bad boys. Fasten them to the bedrails with the included set of J-bolt anchors and you’re done. Weatherproof LED lighting running on an 8-cell AA battery pack is fitted under the lid with divider panels, t-tracks, cinch straps, integrated tape measure and stainless steel padlocks all standard features. You can customize color and interior space to suit a golfer, tool addict, camper, hunter, angler, or anyone with enough passion for carrying their gear in an organized fashion. A fitted rubber mat cushioning, drain plugs and your choice of 25-textured powder-coat colors, gives you enough reason to want this box. An optional audio system is the added incentive. To sum it up, the construction is seam-welded 12 gauge (0.080″) marine grade aluminum that makes sure all your gear stays safe from the elements, and a stainless steel patented locking mechanism keeps theft at bay.
SS: What was it like growing up on a cattle ranch in Central Texas?
Levi Smith: I loved it then and appreciate it even more now with the experience becoming a rare one. I loved the animals, the space to explore, working in the shop, driving early, shooting and fishing. The list goes on, but it was certainly formative and stoked my curiosity in how things worked and my insatiable desire to learn new skills.
SS: What’s unique about the Billy Box? Why all the customization?
Levi Smith: The toolboxes today haven’t changed in decades. They’re all big empty boxes with the same plastic sliding tray. They’re necessary, because owning a truck means you have to solve the secure storage problem inherent with the vehicle design, but the toolboxes today just become unusable junk drawers. They all look the same. They all function the same. They all lack good security. We want to give people the opportunity to express themselves with color selection and then to customize how their box functions and is organized so they can store more of what they need and yet keep it all accessible. That’s the point of great organization – store more in the same space while making it all more accessible. Whether you’re a contractor, outdoorsman, rancher or similar, this makes a big difference in how you go about your activities and use your truck. We also wanted to greatly improve security because those hasp latches are ridiculous. All the toolboxes today have theft deterrent latches, but they’re not really secure. Our toolboxes are designed to keep your stuff where it belongs – in your Billy Box.
SS: What was the most surprising part of designing the Billy Box or finding out what people wanted to use it for?
Levi Smith: The funniest, and most common, question I get today is, “What happens if I lose my key?” People have never wondered that about existing toolboxes on the market because intuitively they know they or anyone else can easily break-in. With our design, it’s immediately apparent that breaking in will be a lot tougher. The answer to the question of course is that the point of the lock is to keep people without the key out. So, we recommend customers keep a spare key at home.
SS: What was the prototyping process like? What would you have done differently?
Levi Smith: Being new manufacturing, I knew I had a lot to learn in a short period of time. I was surprised though by how difficult it was to find engineers and fabricators who were willing to assume I may have produced a prototype and 2D designs good enough to leap straight to 3D design and go into production over a matter of weeks, not months. Most of the people I talked to in the industrial design and fabricating industry assumed we needed to restart and go through their normal prototyping process. Thankfully, I did finally find the right engineering and fabricating partner in Austin and we went from my prototype and 2D sketches to 3D and the first production unit in about 10 weeks.
I’ve been on a steep learning curve for more than a year now and love it. I enjoy the process and challenge of learning something new. Looking back though, I would have gotten engineers and fabricators deeply involved much, much earlier just to fit into their normal process and timeline. Challenging the normal conventions is laborious. We got it done in this instance, but it would be easier to fit into the normal flow. We’re doing that now with our new accessories and product improvement cycle.
SS: What hardware/software/hand tools did you use in the process?
Levi Smith: Growing up ranching, I knew how to farm weld, but let’s be honest – that means a weld that will hold, but looks terrible. I had to learn the basics of fabrication welding, including aluminum welding and going from stick to mig and tig. I’ve been a longtime woodworker, so working with my hands, machinery, etc. isn’t new, but metal working was. I push a lot of my woodworking equipment to the side in my home shop and got it setup for metal working including grinders, drill presses, upgraded welder, etc. I worked some at TechShop up in Round Rock too, using their cutting and bending equipment as I worked with the sheet metal.
SS: What does the founder of Billy Box keep in his Billy Box?
Levi Smith: Everything. I get in it nearly everyday. It’s packed full, but all accessible of course because of our divider panels, strap guides, lid storage, etc. Here’s a taste: full mechanics toolset, bolt cutters, tie down straps, camping supplies, rope, extension cord, security cable, tow straps, flashlights, travel fishing rods, golf clubs and shoes, sledge hammer, spare padlocks, towing equipment, tape measure, iPod (Billy Boxes include optional audio system) for music, screwdriver set, plier set, wrench sets, rain coat, trash bags, emergency vehicle kit, emergency medical kit, camping hammock, WD-40, tire sealant, assortment of gloves, heavy-duty hand cleaner, paper towels, quick straps, zip ties, bowie knife, heavy duty jumper cables, travel chair.