Aug 31, 2023
How Sidio Mastered the Milk Crate
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Built on a modular system that includes dividers, lids, and lots of different colors, a new storage startup has created a better way to organize your stuff.
No storage container, bin or box is as universal as the milk crate. The open-sided, super-sturdy plastic cubes were invented by the dairy industry as a lighter, more durable and easier-to-produce successor to the wooden cases and bottle totes previously used to transport milk and cream. But the general public was quick to pick up on a solution so practical (and easy to steal). Now milk crates are better known for a much wider range of applications as storage for records, pieces of DIY shelving, car organizers, bike baskets, closet catchalls and more.
Unless you work in the grocery industry, you'd be forgiven for thinking the plastic containers have anything to do with dairy at all. Design brands like Hay have co-opted the crates as design-y home goods, and in the summer of 2021 TikTokers turned them into the centerpiece of a viral "challenge" so dangerous the app banned it.
Meanwhile, a new company called Sidio has taken on the mission of making milk crates better suited for how most of us actually use them.
Sidio's crates are rectangular, colorful, and highly adaptable with a wide and expanding range of accessories like lids, dividers, labels and wheels. You may have seen them on Instagram (or the cover of Gear Patrol Magazine) filled and neatly organized with climbing gear, photography equipment, or art supplies. You won't, however, find milk mentioned anywhere, and Sidio's inspiration didn't come from any operation related to Holsteins. Rather, it came from Hollywood.
"Milk crates are a staple in the movie industry," explains Sidio founder Trevor Carlson. "They have carts for them, they put all types of piping and grip equipment to build lighting rigs and camera rigs and stages, all of that." Carlson knows this because his co-founder, DJ Pray, used to work on sets as a gaffer. One of Pray's frequent work tasks was to organize carts full of crates and equipment, and a common way to do that is to make dividers out of cardboard and duct tape. But such DIY dividers don't last long, especially in the rain.
"We started off making a little system that went in regular milk crates as a side hustle."
An entrepreneur, Carlson recognized the opportunity within the problem. He'd previously created a successful e-commerce business selling aftermarket mud flaps for overland and rally cars, and using two of those mud flaps and a clipboard, created a rudimentary prototype milk crate divider. "We started off making that little system that went in regular milk crates as a side hustle thing and selling it to the movie industry," he says. The project did well — their dividers found their way onto sets for The Mandalorian and the latest Marvel movies.
When Carlson and Pray realized that creating a full crate system might increase Sidio's appeal, Hollywood was still an important part of the equation. Making tools and plastic molds is expensive, after all, and the movie biz seemed like a surefire way to meet the bottom line. "We had people telling us in the movie industry they're going to be buying a truckload," Carlson says. "Nobody came through that way." It turns out that milk crates are incredibly durable, and the sets were already flush with them.
Sidio's crates are made to function seamlessly with actual milk crates.
When the pandemic hit and the movie industry shut down, Carlson and Pray knew they had to find broader appeal for their creation. With Carlson's experience in the world of 4x4 vehicles, overlanding and camping was a natural fit. And coincidentally, the rectangular 18.5x12.5-inch milk crate that's a Hollywood standard fits perfectly into some aftermarket drawers people build out their trucks and SUVs with. (Also coincidentally, overlanding and camping took off during the pandemic).
In the short few years since, Sidio has been adopted beyond the venues of Hollywood and the outdoors. "We knew there was potentially going to be a lot of niches that adopted it," says Carlson. The company's early success despite unanticipated headwinds is both due to and reveals the universality of the milk crate as something of a standard unit for storage. It also helps that Sidio's crates are made to function with the milk crates they're based on, stacking with them or replacing them in any preexisting setup.
Where Sidio crates improve on the older model is in their modularity and supporting ecosystem of accessories. The dividers are perhaps the most useful (and a callback to the soggy cardboard that inspired the whole venture)—they lock into place and are easy to move around thanks to numbered slots that help prevent misalignment. A bottom mat is equally useful, especially when what you need to store is small enough to slip through the holes. In our experience testing Sidio's three-crate Pro Pack, I observed an unlisted feature of the crates: they make organizing fun. Converting a disordered self of photography equipment, outdoor gear and random odds into an efficient system was more of a puzzle game than a chore on the to-do list (the tonal result is far nicer to look at).
I observed an unlisted feature of the crates: they make organizing fun.
Carlson says the modularity was built-in from the beginning, and that many more accessories are on the way. "We have a list of modular compatible product ideas and we're just doing them as money comes," he says. One of those will be a cup-like container that holds small hardware like screws or pins.
Sidio's story seems simultaneously serendipitous and obvious—modular milk crates simply seems like an idea that should've already existed—an unlikely pairing that might be the hallmark of a good idea. Then again, it could all be fate: as it turns out, Carlson's grandfather was a pioneer in plastic recycling in the '70s. His business's specialty was grinding up old milk crates so they could be made into new ones.