Innovative Retailers – Boxpark

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The Name: Boxpark

The Place:Bethnal Green Road, London E1

The Story: Take the man behind the fashion brand Boxfresh and let him loose with 60 empty shipping containers. Offer brand owners short-term leases instead of the usual mammoth tie-ins and watch as they trip over themselves to use your retail space.


Roger Wade: Could be parking boxes near you.

This thing with shipping containers – what’s that all about? Well, Roger Wade the founder of Boxpak has always equated a shipping container with success. While with Boxfresh he would watch big companies shipping out their stock in vast metal boxes and a fascination was born. This turned into an economical love affair when he customized a shipping container to take to trade shows. Fed up with spending lots of money on silly flimsy booths, he used to rock up with his container in tow and then just whisk it away afterwards. Lovely.


I bet the trade show people loved that. Couldn’t say but Boxfresh soon took it all a stage further. Given the cost of shop fit outs Wade also got a bit narked whenever an under-performing store was closed down and another one opened up in a better location. All that money straight down the drain and another refit required.


I see where this is going …. Ha, ha, he thought. I want a shop I can just move to another place if it is not working out where it is. But in 2005 Wade sold Boxfresh and assumed he was going to retire to the land of consultancy.


Sounds restful. But wait, he started to see other container store ideas and thought darn, I missed the boat on my own idea. So he jumped in at the deep end with the idea of a whole shopping area made out of shipping containers. And in 2011 the world’s first ever pop-up mall opened. 40 containers downstairs, and 20 upstairs where the food/café units are.


All this coming and goingis there an issue with rates here? Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions. For your information Boxpark were welcomed with open arms by the regeneration teams in both Hackney Council and Tower Hamlets who have been delighted that a redundant bit of high street has been given a new life. They qualify for small business rate relief and Boxpark will be there for five years.


No high street retailers welcome here.

OK, so who is it for? Right, Boxpark and Wade are not interested in the tourists who want to gawp at the container structure. The mall is primarily there for the people who live and work in Shoreditch, secondly for people visiting the markets already there. It sells from a big range of different companies but the unifying concept is that they are all independent brands. There was a lot of interest from high street retailers but they were all ‘politely declined’. There are no vertical operations here, just wholesaling brands.


That sounds like a sort of local, ethical sort of thing? That’s certainly in the mix but vast money churning brands like Nike and Puma are there too which no doubt surprised some. Wade is not happy that ‘every high street is becoming the same high street’ and bemoans the fact that small brands don’t have the money to get on to the high street in the first place. Boxpark offers very short term leases whereas most normal developments require strong financial covenants and great long rental terms.


But I still don’t understand what Nike is doing there? All the brands there are doing something unique to Boxpark. For instance the unit Nike has taken is the only NIKE + Fuel Store in Europe. Diesel has a unit but it is the only UK outlet of their FiftyFive DSL sub-brand. Puma has launched their TWENTYONE concept store there. There are only 21 styles of footwear on sale at any one time and every 21 days it all gets changed around.


OK. OK. I get it. Er.. why 21 just out of interest? It’s their unit number.


Silly question. So what does Roger Wade actually see himself as now? ‘An ex-retailer and creative entrepreneur’. Boxpark is more of a department store in his thinking than a mall and he does not look to other malls for inspiration and innovation – although he likes them to be there to provide a counterpoint.


And the most important question of all – how is it trading? Well, Boxpark is not immune to tough conditions but it is fully-let and lots more brands want to get in on the act.  As Wade says ‘this is version one and the future will be even better’. And part of that future will be an embracement of new technology which is where Mr Charles Dunstone comes in.


He does? Oh yes. Dunstone is the non executive chairman of Boxpark and from the very beginning was a significant private investor in the business. Wade took him down to Shoreditch when the whole thing was just a building site and apparently he could ‘smell the DNA’ of the thing immediately.


And what of the brave new world of Boxpark in the future? Wade thinks the idea definitely has legs. He has been approached by a whole host of international agencies expressing interest. In fact he says a week doesn’t go by when he doesn’t give a tour to some continental contingent. But in concrete terms Spring 2013 is the launch date for Boxpark Amsterdam and probably another UK ‘much bigger and larger’ unit.


You know what I am going to ask now? Yes, and I can’t tell you because it’s all top secret. Just wait and see where it will be located – wherever it is chances are you won’t be able to miss it.

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