Posted in news on September 19, 2016 7:02 pm EDT

Can Shipping Containers Change the Face of Church Retail?

Shipping containers offer immense flexibility as outdoor, mobile structures for food and other retail, and church designers are beginning to take note.

Retail spaces are evolving; there is a considerable need to develop structures that are mobile -- and [that] complement the customer’s experience. Images courtesy of Boxman Studios.











Sign up for our bi-monthly newsletter Designer Today to stay up to date with all we do at Designer and with what's going on in the field of house of worship architecture.


TAGS: alternative structures, architectural design, experiential design, marketing, mobile structures, retail, satellite campuses, shipping containers,


By Keith Loria

At first listen, the idea of using shipping containers to serve as temporary mobile real estate for businesses might seem a little crazy, for David Campbell, founder of Charlotte, N.C.-based Boxman Studios, he’s proved any naysayers wrong.

“Our origin is mostly due to a need in the events industry and serendipity,” Campbell says. “I had a real estate development company, but during 2008 the industry came to a halt. So I had a choice: live on what I had or try something new. When I saw some images of modified containers for houses, I thought there was an opportunity for me to utilize them for restaurant and food service spaces.”

He did some research into the idea and learned that the images he saw were all one-off, R&D projects, so he chose to teach himself how to build the designs instead of hiring a contractor. Boxman Studios became the first company in the world to specialize in the design, manufacturing, and deployment of customized shipping containers for commercial use.

Experiential emphasis

“Although my first intent was to build retail and restaurant units—because that was my existing experience—it took a number of years to complete our first retail project,” he says. “Very quickly after the start, we were exposed to the experiential marketing world and those projects took most of our time and effort.”

His familiarity with experiential marketing has changed the way he looks at space. “Retail spaces in particular are evolving, and there is more and more need to develop structures that are mobile, and [that] complement the customer’s experience,” Campbell says. “Very rarely is it justifiable to have the infrastructure where we need it, when we want it.”

An example is retail at a Florida beach community, which is easy to justify in the winter months, because everyone wants to be there. Inversely, northern areas are great in the summer but more difficult in the winter, so he decided—why not have a space that can accommodate both?

Pop up retail has become trendy, from boutique clothing stores to taco stands, but thanks to Boxman Studios, retailers can now really stand out in the crowd with the industrial-chic appeal of shipping container architecture.

Church application

Those in the worship community are starting to take notice, as well. Although the company has yet to work on a specific project, Campbell has already spoken to several churches interested in learning more.

“We’ve been in a number of discussions with churches to create space to accommodate expansion, satellite locations, and mission endeavors,” he says. “I never want to make a broad assumption as to why our thinking and subsequent solution is the answer, but I strongly believe we can help any organization look at their needs and open their eyes to alternative ways to build creative and functional spaces.”

Shipping containers offer immense flexibility, even after delivery. Retailers can open or close doors depending on the size of their space. The units lock up tightly at night; no need to think about renting storage space for collateral materials or hiring overnight security.

Another pro is the fact that a shipping container is a blank canvas and with client feedback, the company can handle the design, development, and deployment of any customized pop-up retail space.

About 50% of the business is modifying shipping containers, and the other 50% is purpose-building structures that are modular and mobile.

“The benefits to our container structures are [this]: All aspects of design, fabrication, quality control, and delivery are handled in-house, by our employees,” Campbell says. “This allows us to run different elements of the manufacturing process simultaneously and truncate the time to delivery and set up on site by about 40%. The durability and manufacturing timelines we offer can’t be matched by other solutions in the marketplace.”

And therein lies one of the problems. After his success, he has seen several copycat businesses pop up—many that don’t have the same experience and skillset of his team. He warns that whenever going with any company offering shipping containers as temporary structures, make sure you carefully consider the vendors.

“We are creating structures that need to stand up to state and local building codes to ensure safety and durability,” he closes. “Safety and cost effectiveness can easily be lost without planning and understanding of all aspects of your structure.”





Learn more about the companies in this story:

Boxman Studios



What people are saying


 Add your comment:


Remember my personal information

Notify me of follow-up comments?


Please enter the word you see in the image below: