Manufacture This

The blog of the Alliance for American Manufacturing

Manufactured in Texas, the durable tool boxes fill a much-needed niche.

At 38, Texas born and raised Levi Smith has taken the ultimate Waltz Across Texas.

Smith grew up on a cattle ranch outside of Austin, but it wasn’t long before he realized he wasn’t going to be a cattleman for the rest of his life.

After learning trades such as electrical technician, health-care technology, woodworking and even overseeing a BBQ Brisket business, Smith discovered manufacturing. He soon realized he could provide a unique, quality product unavailable anywhere in the world — and he could manufacture it right here in the United States.

Billy Boxes are all-purpose tool boxes that sit behind the back of pickup truck cabs. Smith designed the boxes based on his own experiences — he had been driving a pickup for his entire life, and had grown frustrated with what was available on the market.

Levi Smith

“I think people get the wrong assumption about the truck driver community. For a lot of guys, their truck is their office,” Smith said. “They live out of that vehicle. It’s nice to have a functional truck to drive around town because their truck is where they spend most of their time. They want something that isn’t going to break, something that looks good and something that functions well. That’s what we try to do with the box.”

Named after billy goats — known for being durable and agile — Billy Boxes are manufactured in Austin, Texas, and nearly all parts and materials are sourced in the United States. It’s a two-part process — a contract fabricator in Austin does the cutting, bending and welding, and the boxes then are sent to Smith’s Austin shop to be painted, assembled, finished, and customized according to requested specifications by the customer.

Just a handful of small materials aren’t made in the U.S. because the raw materials are tough to get at certain times of the year, Smith said.

“We are committed to making it here. Most of our competitors, their model is made outside the country and assembled here. So they are working with a nearly finished product. They’re adding labels and springs and putting it into a box,” he said.

“We want to make it all here. We want to cut it here, weld it here, paint it here,” Smith added. “These are hand-crafted boxes, so that’s our motto. Made In Texas. Made In America. We would like to be like WeatherTech or something and get that total commitment from top to bottom where we could source everything all the way down from parts to machinery here in the U.S.. So that’s our brand and we believe in it.”

Filling a Void

Pickup truck and auto dealers have been selling trucks for nearly 100 years, but they have never manufactured the tool boxes. Dealers often sell after-market accessories, but it can be tough to find suitable tool boxes, Smith said.

“The first thing anybody that buys a truck for the first time, the first thing they should notice is although they bought the ultimate utility vehicle, it has no space to store stuff securely outside of the cab where people need to go,” Smith said. “Some guys try to solve it with a hard cover on the back, which takes away the bed of the truck so you just as might as well have bought an SUV. I think part of it too is that there is really not much out there because it is one of the most boring accessories on a truck to date. Everybody just finds the basic silver and black tool box with a plastic tray in it. They’re all basically the same.”

The Billy Box can be built to consumer specifications and purchased online. It features accessories such as individual compartments, holes and clips for certain tools, a built-in tape measure, straps on the lid for fastening essentials such as levels, and clips and hooks for specified tools. It also contains customized features for the recreational user, such as a V-grip system that secures shotguns and rifles during hunting season and fishing poles for that weekend at the lake. It even comes with a built-in stereo system.

The Billy Box is made of 12-gauge aluminum, which is 25 to 50 percent thicker than anything presently on the market. The heavier aluminum gives the box the rigidity it needs. “The toolboxes people buy at Lowe’s and Home Depot, you can carry them with one arm,” he said.

The Billy Box can also be ordered with D-ring anchors on the front of the box to secure it even tighter to the truck bed. Its unique T-track system allows the user to make different size compartments, and Billy Box also comes with a durable rubber mat covering a drainage hole to facilitate spills or rain when the box is left open on the jobsite.

"We want to make it all here. We want to cut it here, weld it here, paint it here. These are hand-crafted boxes, so that’s our motto. Made In Texas. Made In America." Levi Smith

At present, Billy Boxes are available only through the company’s website. Smith said that in the early stages of the business, he thinks it is more important to have a direct relationship with the customer.

“They can customize it when they order it. When you show up at a dealer, you’re typically expecting to get it with a wait,” he added. “We have a bit of a different business model. We’re exploring a couple of other opportunities like putting them in auto dealers and truck outfitting dealers, but right now we will have much more opportunities online dealing directly with the customer.”

And as Smith sees it, the potential is unlimited.

“We don’t have many employees right now, but we obviously have the market shop that allows us to build orders,” Smith said. “I have visions of opening up a manufacturing facility and putting more people to work. We’ve had a good round of orders coming in to Austin.”

He adds: “Right now, I’m the chief cook and bottle washer. Our goal is to have our own Made in the USA manufacturing facility and assembly line, right here in Austin.”

Visit Billy Boxes online.