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Exclusive: These Retrofitted Shipping Containers Are Changing The Game Of Pop-Up Retail

Retailers today are being forced to innovate, and the ever-present battle between e-commerce and brick-and-mortar for sales is opening doors to some unique concepts.

Take Co-Working In A Box’s new PopBox containers: These temporary shipping containers rolled out in a soft launch about a month ago and are generating industry buzz.


Similar to pop-up concepts, the retrofitted containers provide temporary solutions for developers and retailers. For a developer, it could be setting up a leasing office while a new project is under construction, or setting up a PopBox for a retailer that will anchor the finished project.

That’s on the very basic level, but co-founder Mark Kennedy has even bigger plans for the business in the near feature, such as partnering with third-party companies to set up PopBoxes at stadiums, parks and beaches.

Shipping containers are hot. Retailers are kicking butt trying to get people back to these centers … and this is a solution,” Kennedy told Bisnow. “It’s definitely going to turn the pop-up kiosk industry on its head.”

This is a turnkey solution where Co-Working In A Box handles all aspects of the process, from permitting approvals to design and delivery. PopBoxes are typically around 40 feet long, though they come in various sizes, and the company provides four different models fit for various weather conditions and locations throughout the US.


The steel containers can be refitted with wood or glass and are designed to carry the user’s banner. They come fit with interior and exterior lighting, doors, windows, facades, ramps and flooring hardboard insulation — all of which costs between $6k and $12k, depending on the design. Kennedy (pictured) said the company charges a 30% to 35% premium on comparable retail space in the area.

WSDevelopment general manager of Chestnut Hill, MA, retail destination The Street Allison Yee, who is also an expert in pop-up retail, told Bisnow she’s heard of similar concepts, though none quite like what CoWorking In A Box is hoping to achieve.

“I’m familiar to some extent with trailers being used for pop-up. We’ve seen retrofit trailers used to get the community excited about a retailer or a gym, but it’s [usually] a very expensive, customized endeavor,” Yee said. “If PopBox can create a turnkey operation bundled with an intimate knowledge of the permit process it makes it that much more interesting and intriguing for a landlord to pursue this type of partnership.”

Retailer Satellite


Kennedy wants to increase PopBox’s appeal to mall landlords as traffic generators. For stores within closed-in malls, PopBox offers a retrofitted outparcel that can be set on a corner street to cater to shoppers who don’t want to navigate the crazy parking lot and traffic of a center — such as the Adidas example pictured above.

“They serve as a satellite to some of the retailers in the mall, so they’ll carry a minimal amount of inventory in these boxes,” Kennedy said. “It’s not a drive-thru, it’s like a drive-up concept — that’s the reason why outparcels charge a 25% premium, because folks can just jump out and do their thing.”

Though still in the early stages, the concept is gaining traction as Kennedy works his network and builds partnerships to continue PopBox’s expansion. Architect Travis Price in Washington, DC, said to keep in mind the costs associated with such a project. Retrofitting shipping containers for pop-up use can be expensive, Price said, especially if the containers’ interior and/or exterior designs vary by customer instead of being mass produced.

“It’s what goes inside — what’s the function that goes into each one? The fit-out is 90% of the cost of putting that thing on the lot,” Price said. “The moment you start saying these boxes/pop-ups will create business, the game goes to what’s inside and is that mass produced?”

E-Commerce Pickup, Drop-Off


One big use for PopBox that Kennedy foresees is as a pickup, drop-off location for e-commerce products. This could also be an added solution for physical and e-commerce retailers looking to boost their last-mile and same-day delivery capabilities. Amazon’s coming convenience stores and curbside pickup concept are perfect examples.

Kennedy is confident the pop-up PopBoxes will fall in line with the autonomous car infrastructure set to change the way consumers live, work and play.

“I’m getting all of this interest from Silicon Valley because when you do these kind of PopBoxes at retail centers, once we get the autonomous cars people are going to have the ability to pick things up from (outside) malls or shipping locations where they won’t have to go in.”

WSDevelopment’s Yee agreed, adding, “Online order pickup — I think that’s really interesting and has potential to bridge the gap between online retail and brick-and-mortar to incorporate the experience people still crave.”