Container developments a winner for all

Jan 23, 2015

RetailWire contributing editor, Bernice Hurst, grew up in New York City but has lived in England for forty years. Her American trips now are a mixture of business and pleasure, often triggering trains of thought on the way things have (and haven’t) changed in retailing.

Container parks are a cheap, practical way to attract footfall and small retailers with their mixed-use target audience. The Downtown Container Park, which opened in December 2013 and has become a destination in Las Vegas, for example, could happily be replicated anywhere. The site repurposes shipping containers for use as shops and cafes, adding open spaces for adults and children to relax. The location offers everything except parking (close but not on-site).

Conceived to help regenerate poor, neglected areas while supplying places for new employees and residents to shop, container parks are an opportunity for retailers looking to be recognized and stand out from the competition. The Vegas park boasts a 4.5 star rating in 36 Google reviews, and is ranked 34 among 267 attractions in the city by TripAdvisor. spelled out potential uses for containers, that typicall have a shipping lifespan of just five years. "Durability, adaptability, light weight, low cost and ease of stacking" make them ideal for transformations all over the U.S. as well as Europe, Australia and Russia. noted their sustainability and uniqueness as ways of putting sustainability principles into practice. Whether permanent or pop-up, they emphasize innovation and economy as significant advantages, adding having temporary status could encourage customers to buy quickly before a store disappears, contents and all, onto the back of a truck, train or ship to its next location.

With doubts raised recently about the future of large malls, indoor or out, perhaps containers’ time has come. Photographer Seph Lawless (not his real name) has published a book entitled "Black Friday," not on the subject of the annual shopping frenzy but, rather, portraying empty and dilapidated malls countrywide. The Guardian refers to multiple estimates projecting the closure of malls in the next decade or two, citing changes to communities and lifestyles.

Shoppers show preferences for shopping in places more like "downtowns." Perhaps shopping centers like that in Las Vegas, which are made from environmentally friendly, recycled and re-purposed shipping containers, are part of retail’s future.

What do you see as the pros and cons of retail container parks? Do you see more retailers using containers in the future as either pop-up shops or permanent stores?

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9 Comments on "Container developments a winner for all"

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Ryan Mathews
6 years 10 months ago

Here in Detroit we are experimenting with using containers for low-income housing. Containers have some amazing qualities and the conversion costs are far lower than that of new construction.

So chalk that up on the pro side—relatively low-cost along with sustainable design, ease of transport/take-down, design flexibility and other things.

On the con side, well, they are containers, so the easiest way to build with them is as if they were over-sized, metal Lego blocks. Plus, depending on the scope of the conversions, conversion costs can begin to look less attractive.

As to the last question, their mobility makes them perfect for pop-ups. In many cases it may be more cost effective to re-purpose existing empty retail space.

Zel Bianco
6 years 10 months ago

I think this is a fantastic way to generate jobs and revive neighborhoods. It is also a great way to appeal to Millennial and Generation Z shoppers who are searching for authenticity and individuality. I can’t see retailers using shipping containers as permanent stores—there would be a lot of physical hindrances if a store tried to have more than a small, curated selection in stock and surely a shipping container store would lose some of its cool, transient appeal if it were made permanent. But this seems like a great, lower-cost way to test interest and try out new product lines.

Anne Howe
6 years 10 months ago

This is an area of retail innovation that has huge potential, especially in urban cities where there is an abundance of property that needs re-development. It’s perfect for Detroit (said as a 50 year former resident). It’s also perfect for areas where containers are abundant and space is at a premium. Charleston, SC and Savannah, GA come to mind (now that I live in NC).

I wonder how many Etsy designers would ship product to a row of Etsy containers that could feature their makers’ products. My creative juices are flowing …

Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
6 years 10 months ago

Re-purposing containers is a great idea. Using them for other purposes is great as long as the conversion costs can be recouped. Given the flexibility of using containers, creating a destination space seems less likely to have a long-term appeal. However, using containers as pop-up stores to take advantage of locations where consumers congregate seems like a real opportunity to be flexible, add an element of surprise to shopping and a way to use the portability function of containers.

Steve Montgomery
6 years 10 months ago

This seems to be a great way to address many of the under-stored areas of cities like Chicago. The question will always be the cost of doing this versus the alternatives. I have no idea of the cost of converting a container into a store, but do know it will need utilities, etc., to meet the needs of its customers and local building codes.

The center mentioned in the article is composed of a lot of small shops that seem to have a tourist slant to them. Unfortunately many of the areas that can use additional shopping are not in tourist areas.

Lee Peterson
6 years 10 months ago

Love it! Uniqlo did this at the entrance of Central Park about 3 years ago as an intro into the American market (only one level, though) and it certainly worked. As a retailer, what’s not to like? Flexible, portable, cost effective and cool looking: it’s what you would brief out for the perfect fixture package.

You could see this as the “Mall of the Future.”

Ralph Jacobson
6 years 10 months ago

This is a great way to “pop up” shopping—and other services—in a space-constrained urban setting. Of course, if popularity grows with these containers, more and more will appear in suburban areas, too. Whether permanent or temporary, these container sites help leverage the abundant resource of old shipping containers, which is a good thing.

I think with the trend of urban/old-school/grungy lifestyles, these are actually very attractive. It reminds me of the Chelsea Market shopping mall in NYC.

Richard Layman
6 years 10 months ago

For what it’s worth, under-retailed (“low income”) neighborhoods usually have plenty of vacant commercial space. The issue most often is lack of economic demand, lack of population, shrinkage, etc.

What might work is opportunities for itinerant retail, using models like public markets, but with more pop-up type, flexible spaces.

I don’t see that best being met with containers.

As pointed out in another comment, many of the container markets are in districts that are successful economically, tourist areas, etc.

Laura Heller
6 years 10 months ago

I visited the Container Park while in Las Vegas for CES and found the entire operation inspiring for a variety of reasons.

For one thing, Zappos’ headquarters seems to be feeding the revival of the area and creating some unique retail start-ups—including Zappos’ own pop-up.

And the Container Park’s mission to foster small businesses is a real boon for burgeoning retail concepts. There’s a low cost of entry and a sense of community that lets small business owners learn from each other. At least one retailer I spoke with there has now signed a lease in a more permanent location on the strip. If only more cities could sponsor such an initiative.


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