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Mid-America Blog

Re-use Retail Innovation

Written by Lindsey Shaw

Sustainability is nothing new for the retail industry.   It has ceased to be a one-off element of design and build and has now become a core element of industry ethics. With elements such as solar panels on roof tops, the use of recycled materials like re-claimed wood, and efficient energy use, the shipping container trend is global and growing.  This re-use phenomenon is not limited to retail shops, but it is also a feature of residential and hotel developments.   The shipping container concepts strive to be a part of the fabric of local life by adding to the communities in which they are placed.

Starbucks first created a shipping container drive thru & walk up concept in 2011. The four 16 ft. stacked shipping containers followed LEED certification “green” building standards. They each staff about five people and have no indoor seating. The original location sits outside of the corporate headquarters in South Seattle where employees look out to a shipyard that transports their coffees and teas around the world. The inspiration allows for an innovative new format emphasizing Starbucks’ commitment to reducing their environmental footprint and to use their scale for good.

Across the pond, a thriving concept called Boxpark Shoreditch (London) opened in 2011 as the world’s first pop-up mall made of 61 shipping containers.  In 2016, a second location opened in Croydon, and a third is planned to open within the next 18 months.  Boxpark fuses the concepts of modern street food, high street experience, and placing local and global brands side-by-side to create a unique dining and shopping destination.  It is an ideal hub for incubator retail and up-and-coming brands to enter a market without the high street prices. The Boxpark shops are chosen by invite-only and are given flexible and affordable rates. The concepts are always evolving and changing; they range from home essentials and unusual gifts, to juice bars and skateboard shops or beer bars within a chest-high ball pit concept. Needless to say, people are striving to create an interesting experience for their customers.

Back home, the Detroit Shipping Co. is finally underway after two years of planning following setbacks and delays due to zoning and permitting. Twenty-one shipping containers will be re-constructed into a 12,000 SF mixed-use entertainment and food hall in the Cass Corridor. Detroit Shipping Co. will be the first of its kind in the city. It sits between the Entertainment District Detroit (which includes the new Little Caesars Arena - home to the Detroit Pistons and Detroit Red Wings) and the Midtown Cultural Center and Wayne State University and hospitals. There are commitments from five local food vendors ranging in taste and style concept. Each restaurant will be 8 ft. x 20 ft.  Additionally planned in the two-story build are two bars with open-air seating, a beer garden, a central stage, and an artist/retail space.  Once complete, the Detroit Shipping Co. will re-invigorate a desolate corridor.

Chicago offers BoomBox, a pop-up kiosk installed in public spaces to provide unique retail, cultural, and community experiences.  It is a part of Active!Chicago, a new initiative to transform underutilized public plazas into cultural and economic catalysts.  In two locations, Wicker Park and Englewood, budding retailers are able to rent the BoomBox from two weeks up to three months.  Before having to invest the big bucks into a permanent retail location, small businesses are given the opportunity to test the viability of their product or service.

Creative twists on re-use and re-development appear in innovative displays. Sustainability will continue to be a driving element in the retail world. Shipping container developments are going to continue to pop up and be infused into communities.

starbucks shipping container
Image of a Starbucks shipping container location

Lindsey Shaw | Sales Associate
Mid-America Real Estate-Michigan, Inc.
38500 Woodward Avenue, Suite 100 | Bloomfield Hills, MI  48304
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