"I was a car freak," Aaron Murray, the maker of Texas Toy Boxes
recounted, "and I owned about seven cars during the years between the ages of 15 and 20. Of course, every car had to have a speaker box, so my first woodworking experience was building speaker boxes for my cars and my friends' cars.
"After high school, I went to work on my family's wheat and cattle farm. When my grandfather started importing compact tractors from Japan about 10 years ago, we realized our customers needed parts, so my mother and I opened a tractor parts company.
"Three years ago, when my son was born, my wife and I went toy box shopping. We couldn't find anything remotely close to what we wanted. Naturally, because of our business, we wanted a tractor-themed room and toy box. I decided I could build something better, and set out to do it.
"The first one was not very impressive and eventually got deleted. It was built using only a jigsaw and did not fit together very well. It did help us get the sizes and proportions right, though. We wanted more than a mere storage box; we wanted something that doubled as a toy with various openings our son could climb through.
"While we were building the first prototypes, the wives of tractor customers who came in would see them, and they went nuts over them. Thus, we realized we had something saleable. We did about 50 prototypes. Many are languishing in the shop while others were used for destructive testing so we could learn what joinery and glues to use. There's at least three thousand dollars in wood alone that we went through only on prototypes.
"My son finally got one of the prototypes when he was about a year old. A friend's son also got one. Once we realized there was a market for these, we went ahead and built an addition to our tractor parts building dedicated to woodworking. Building wooden toy boxes soon became my main occupation, and this past Thanksgiving, we switched to almost full-time toy box construction.
"With all the news about recalls due to injuries and lead paint, we decided to make our toy boxes completely safe. They have no lids, so there's no risk of a child getting hit by a falling lid, having fingers pinched, or getting stuck inside the box. There are no small parts on which to choke, and we use completely nontoxic paints on those that are finished. We got the ANSI and ASTM standards and made sure what we made was compliant with them as well as the CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) guidelines. In short, we make them as safe as we could possibly make them.
"Rather than force parents to grapple with glue or nuts and bolts, we decided to sell them fully assembled. As a result, the boxes as they are shipped weigh about 60 to 80 pounds. Most people order them in bare wood so they can paint them to match their room, or leave them natural. We also offer them already painted.
"Our first design was a dump truck because it seemed easier to do than a tractor. We originally thought we would use actual tires on it, but decided it looked nicer completely in wood. While designing it, we made sure my son could get into and out of all the openings easily.
"Next came a bulldozer. In addition to the basic storage bin, it has realistic controls and lots of cubbies for open storage. The nose of the bulldozer, where the engine would be, is the toy bin, and it is surprisingly large. After that came a train, which also has controls similar to those in the bulldozer, along with a pilot that doubles as a bookshelf. We recently finished the design for a fire truck, but the tractor is still on the drawing board. We also recently built my son a desk, so we anticipate adding child-sized furniture at some point as well.
"My favorite of the lot is the bulldozer, and it appears to be my son's favorite also. In terms of sales, it is neck and neck with the dump truck. We don't advertise, so I am not sure how people are finding our website, but they are."
Considering the state of motor vehicle sales these days, hearing about the success of a business making non-motorized ones is heartening. Even more encouraging is the fact that this somewhat accidental business was the outgrowth of an old-fashioned can-do attitude.
"I guess my motto is if you can't find it available, make it yourself," Aaron admitted. "I did, and it seems to be working out for me."