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First published in the Digitalist, May 10th by Brian Dickinson



Warehouse Worker Scanning Barcode --- Image by © Sean Justice/Corbis

Americans pride themselves on a do-it-yourself (DIY) approach to many parts of daily life. For some, frugality is a necessity; for others it is an ethical preference. It was a childhood lesson for Joe Shoen, CEO of AMERCO, the parent company of U-Haul.

Reusing and sharing are part of frugality—instead of buying a new tool, for example, you might repair an old one, or borrow from a neighbor. If you do not have the money to buy something you need, you figure out a way to make or rent it.

Today, doing things yourself less expensively is an important aspect of the green movement. U-Haul’s programs for reuse of packaging materials are one example of how Joe Shoen’s childhood frugality has helped the company become a green leader in the moving industry.

The company adopts other environmentally friendly practices too, such as offering auto rentals by the hour and converting old buildings into new U-Haul facilities.

Building trucks and an iconic business

Shoen’s parents, Leonard Samuel (“L.S.”) and Anna Mary Shoen, got the idea for a truck rental company as young parents living on a tight budget following World War II. They needed an inexpensive way to move their belongings between two West Coast metropolitan areas, but could find no rental trucks.

L.S. and Anna Mary later built their own trucks when they were unable to buy ones sturdy enough for their business. Their initial $5,000 investment increased to $6 million (worth about $50 million today) in sales by 1957. U-Haul had become the go-to place for people with little money to spend on moving and hauling.

Joe Shoen reflected on the company’s DIY appeal in a 2007 interview with the Los Angeles Times. It was the beginning of the Great Recession, when many people were struggling with loss of jobs and homes.

He compared U-Haul to the covered wagons of pioneer America. “That tradition of seeking a better life goes on,” he noted. “We help people get to a better life.”

Shoen is known for his careful practices with company spending. When on the road, he dines at fast-food and inexpensive chain restaurants, and he expects employees to be equally frugal when traveling on business.

Shoen understands that U-Haul customers are trying to save money, and that is part of the reason for the company’s environmentally friendly programs. Examples include offering used packing boxes at a discount or for free, rehabilitating old buildings for use as new U-Haul offices, and renting cars on an hourly basis to college students and other people who need vehicles only occasionally.


          For more on digital transformation in the paper and packaging industry, see How Digital Transformation Can Save Paper           And Packaging.

Reusing boxes

One way that U-Haul focuses on recycling paper products is by producing strong packing boxes made from 90 percent post-consumer waste. The boxes are so sturdy that U-Haul offers a “100 percent buy-back guarantee,” which offers customers a full refund when they return unused boxes to U-Haul.

The company also provides drop locations for used boxes at all company stores and some independent U-Haul dealerships. Other customers can reuse the boxes for free and later return them to a drop box for another round of sharing.

U-Haul sells other environmentally friendly packing materials as well, such as biodegradable packing peanuts—the kind used with only dry materials—and furniture pads made from denim cuttings and other pre-consumer fabric waste.

Using social media to promote green services

Today, U-Haul is the nation’s biggest moving truck rental company, according to the relocation specialist Unpakt. In effect, this makes it America’s biggest moving company. That means the company does not have time to do everything itself anymore.

One function for which it has contracted help is the organization, analysis, and response to social media data on customer engagement. Gathering and analyzing digital business data about online consumer comments is a huge task for a company as large as U-Haul.

As Social Media Today reports, to help with this effort U-Haul turned to the social media management platform Sprinklr. Sprinklr magnifies its platform’s capabilities through the use of SAP Hybris, which aids customer data management by helping provide digital customer engagement.

Sometimes reaching out for help is the thrifty thing to do. Customer data—both negative and positive—is like gold that needs to be mined. Technology can aid simpler elements of business, such as the modern-day covered wagons known as U-Haul moving vans. Green hyper-connectivity helps get out the word about how the company strives for sustainability.