"This is it," said the woman as she brushed past shelves brimming with a spectrum of colored cardboard. "Welcome to Boxfli where we don't have anything generic."
Jayne Flinn stood proudly within her Costa Mesa shipping shop alongside her husband and co-founder Mike, and motioned toward a communal table that held tape rolls in a rainbow of colors. Behind them, "Grease" played on a flat screen.
"We're all about creativity and originality," she added. "Why not make shipping fun?"
Here, shoppers can find in-house created boxes of all shapes featuring striped prints, hearts, modern-art style lips and a preppy argyle. Holiday-themed patterns have showcased designs from a leaping bunny rabbit to the phrase, 'Keep Calm and Dreidle On."
The concept isn't only about the boxes, however. The Flinns are big on customer service and that is where the storefronts take mainstage.
Since the store opened about a year ago, customers have been able to select eco-friendly boxes from 30 sizes, ranging from $3.60 for a 4-inch cube to a $9 16-inch by 10-inch by 10-inch utilizer box, and have an employee assist with the presentation and packing.
Packages can be customized with a variety of colored tape, bubble wrap and crinkle filler. Foam peanuts, the Flinns said, aren't offered as the cushioning material isn't biodegradable and doesn't coincide with the store's environmentally friendly philosophy.
"When a recipient gets a brown box, it's not exciting," Jayne said. "Our goal is to make this place fun."
The concept developed over dinner.
Jayne, owner of Flinn West Real Estate and Mike, president of Scope Packaging, were talking about business ideas one night during the height of the recession.
They had tossed around a handful of service-industry concepts, from opening a hot dog stand to a sandwich shop, but after dismissing such suggestions, the two thought more about their backgrounds and interests.
They knew they were visual thinkers — Mike with his expertise in design and production at the Orange-based packaging and display company his parents founded 52 years ago, and Jayne who develops and refurbishes office and retail buildings throughout Southern California.
Then they remembered that even though there is a growing number of shoppers purchasing items online, storefronts are still a necessity for services. People need to drop off clothes at a laundromat or cleaners, have their shoes shined or fixed at a repair shop and have their packages shipped at a mailing center.
Everyone buys gifts and sends care packages to family and friends. Business documents, eBay and Etsy items have to be mailed, too.
But why is the shipping process such a chore? The steps of finding the gift, wrapping it, stuffing it into a basic brown box, waiting in line at a shipping center and facing a disgruntled employee, Jayne said, doesn't have to happen.
Boxes don't have to be uniform; they can look more like art. A staff can be cheerful and help a shopper customize a package. Shipments can even smell good from a spritz of perfume.
"We saw there was a niche for us and now we're completely revolutionizing the shopping experience," Jayne said. "Our boxes make you feel special."
The staff of 10, who said they have fun learning how the sender will use the box, recounted stories about people who had purchased from the store.
One girl bought the largest box to jump out of to surprise her dad when she returned home for spring break.
Actress Sofia Vergara posted an image of the packaging on Instagram after she received a shipment from a Boxfli client.
A woman stacked boxes in the shape of a tiered cake to hold money donations at a wedding.
Aline Toler, who operates Momikini Swimwear, a bathing suit company for pregnant women, said she has been a Boxfli client since the store opened. She became a regular customer after she learned of the product selection and features.
"It's a unique facility and easy to ship here," Toler said. "The customer service is always very fast and helpful."
The Flinns said they plan to spread that customer service beyond their Costa Mesa and Mission Viejo stores as they open other shops in California and Nevada.
Mike added that Boxfli will soon feature a Kia Soul, wrapped with the company's logo and information, whose driver will go to homes, pick up packages and process the shipments back at the storefront.
"It's a convenience for customers," Mike said. "We want to pick up their products and help provide service to that busy business owner or elderly person."
Boxfli also offers novelty gifts and greeting cards that help make a package even more special, Jayne said. And to make a mail center fun for all ages, a blue labeled mailbox within the shop's rentals is filled with toys for children.
"We want to make it hip and fun because everybody has to ship," Jayne said. "The most exciting part is watching a person's mouth drop open and they say, 'How come no one has thought of this before?' People are happier."
If You Go
When: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday