Shipping containers are ideal for smaller retail businesses, as more and more shop owners are starting to find out. Firstly, containers are cheaper than standard brick and mortar stores. This means small businesses can often afford to own their own retail space instead of leasing.
Owning your own store gives you a great deal of flexibility. You can decorate to fit with your brand, and you can modify your container so the layout is exactly what you need. If your business grows, you can add additional containers for more floor space. And if the rent for the land on which your containers are placed gets too high, you can take advantage of the portability of shipping containers and move somewhere else.
As long as you have access to a company that can help you modify the container to fit your need, you could hypothetically create a space for any type of business — including these 10 creative retail businesses ideal for container shops.
There are a number of cafes made out of shipping containers, and even Starbucks has gotten in on the ‘cargotecture’ movement with a container store in Washington (USA). A cafe in a suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa has taken a different approach: their location, made out of shipping containers, also includes a showroom where their coffee makers and other merchandise are displayed and sold. This cafe-retail idea could easily inspire other food and drink-based retailers.
2. Brewery tasting room
Container architecture fits well with the industrial-chic ambiance that many micro-breweries seem to go for in their retail locations and tasting rooms. There is more good news for would-be brewers who are thinking about container-based retail outlets for their beer: because it’s easier to add on containers than to expand a brick-and-mortar brewery, a container setup can be very practical.
Say you need more brewing equipment to deal with increased demand. You simply have to add another container. Experts can cut it and outfit it so that it connects right onto the containers that you already have. Need more seating in your tasting room? The same strategy will work.
3. Beachside kiosk
One of the best aspects of container shops is that they are highly portable, making them perfect for seasonal businesses that are open for a part of the year or move locations depending on what time of year it is. If you can rent space near a beach, you can use your container as a shop to sell swimwear, sunscreen, beach towels and sunglasses. Open side containers can easily be turned into kiosk-style open-air shops. The side can be swung down and secured when it is closing time.
4. Holiday store
Depending on the season, people are looking to make purchases they wouldn’t even consider at other times of year. Your container shop could be outfitted to sell holiday items like ugly Christmas sweaters, noisemakers for New Year’s Eve or ornaments. Containers can be insulated and heated if you want to give people an indoor browsing experience. Or, if you have an open-air kiosk, you could run electricity to your container and set up a warm drink service for your customers.
5. Art gallery
There are several reasons that a shipping container shop is ideal for an art gallery. First of all, you can modify it to create a space with an ambiance fitting for the art you’re trying to sell. Secondly, your container shop will be portable — so when it’s time for an art fair, cultural event or craft market, you can literally take your whole gallery with you. Plus, containers are known for their eco-friendliness, a trait that many art fans will appreciate.
6. Made-to-order T-shirt shack
What if you only have a limited amount of space and can only get a small 10-foot or 20-foot container? One idea could be to have a T-shirt stand where your inventory doesn’t need to be displayed. You can have made-to-order designs in books or on tablet screens that people can scroll through, and stow your printing equipment in the back of the container. When someone orders, you just have to walk back, grab a blank shirt and print the design on it.
7. Outdoor adventure store
This is another seasonal business that can seriously benefit from moving into a container. Like the beach kiosk idea, an outdoor outfitting store can be transported to the space where it’s needed the most: near a hiking trailhead or launch point for kayaks and canoes. You can even have multiple containers, such as one 40-foot model for your retail space and extra 20- or 10-foot boxes to store larger merchandise like canoe paddles or rucksacks.
8. Book shop
Kindles and Nooks are taking away some of the business from bookstores, but many people still support book sellers, especially independent ones. A container shop can help maximise profits in an independent bookstore by keeping overhead low.
And in fact, books are actually an ideal product for containers, because you can take advantage of the full length of the box by lining the walls with book shelves. During the warmer months, you can even put a few tables and chairs out front for readers who want to browse before they buy.
9. Sports memorabilia dealership
Sports stadiums are a great place for kiosk businesses, since most have expansive parking spaces where you can place your kiosk. Giants Stadium, in San Francisco, just launched an entire stadium-side complex made from shipping containers. A sports memorabilia shop would do very well in such a setting. Then, when the season ends, you could ship your container to another stadium that hosts sports during your team’s off-season.
Container shops are perfect as the backbone of a store that can put its products outside. With an open-side container or a container that has doorways cut into it, you have the ideal setup for an indoor/outdoor shop. Florists or garden stores can place their living products right in front of their kiosk, giving them access to sunlight and allowing passers-by a good view of the merchandise.
Because of their flexibility, shipping containers can be used for a number of different types of businesses — so if you want to enter the world of retail, this could be a really viable option. Let yourself be inspired by all the creative container-based business possibilities and the businesspeople who have made their retail dreams a reality using modified cargo carriers.
Image: Christina Hendricks