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20 Businesses Ideas with a Shipping Container

You might be surprised by the idea, but tons of small businesses and start-up companies are turning to used shipping containers to house their business operations! In fact, they’re becoming such popular options for small businesses and offices, that it’s likely you’ve seen one or been inside one before.

Shipping containers are extremely sustainable, resourceful, and budget-friendly construction solutions for businesses of all kinds. They have a sturdy, industrial-grade steel exterior that can withstand even the most inclement weather conditions. This is paired with industrial locking mechanisms, so that business owners can rest assured that their assets will remain secure. Shipping containers are also space-efficient due to their dimensions and square footage. They can also be easily customized and stacked to create just about any sort of design, layout, and size imaginable. They can be used as either temporary, semi-permanent (ie. utilized for several years) or permanent structures. This makes them available as solutions for almost any business need, plus they can be rented at a low cost.

There really is no limit to what sorts of businesses can be run out of a shipping container office. Here are some of the industries and business types that can utilize shipping containers to start their business.

1. Construction companies

Construction may be the industry that most commonly relies on shipping containers to run everyday operations. Most construction companies and contractors set up shop at construction sites with shipping containers. This gives them space to store their tools and materials as well as have a shelter for the duration of the construction project, which can sometimes last several years. Shipping containers for construction sites often come in 20 foot. and 40 foot. sizes. They are weather-proof and made of high-grade steel with advanced locking mechanisms, which efficiently protects their materials when off-duty.

2. Retail Stores

grey and yellow metal container van during daytime

Small retail businesses and boutiques can find great use out of shipping containers for storefronts. Especially if you are looking to start a small, local business to sell retail items, a shipping container can allow you to find the right amount of space on a small budget. Plus, storage containers can be stacked at any time (for instance, if you end up needing to expand) to add more space to your shop! This is becoming a trend for:

  • Clothing shops
  • Jewelry shops
  • Gift shops
  • Book shops
  • Secondhand shops and thrift stores
  • and more

3. Coffee shops

Using shipping containers for coffee shops is becoming a popular go-to option for coffee brewers and coffee distributors. Many small privately owned shops don’t require a ton of space to sell excellent coffee and establish a loyal customer base. Often, all they need is counter space, back-end storage space, and a few sets of tables and chairs. To give you an idea of how popular this new trend is, even large corporations like Starbucks are setting up shop in shipping containers across the U.S.

4. Pop-up shops

“Pop-up” shops for larger retailers or seasonal retailers are becoming a popular trend. They act as extensions of traditional “brick-and-mortar” shops. They can cater to a different locale or larger crowd than the original shop’s location. Pop-up shops are also great for seasonal business needs, or shops that are meant only to open for a few months out of the year. For instance, perhaps you want to run a business selling items in high demand during a certain season – like fireworks, Christmas trees or holiday items, firewood, and more. The perk of using a shipping container shop is that they are 100% temporary and portable. They can essentially be placed anywhere, as long as the shop is up to code with local requirements. 

5. Workshop or studio

Are you thinking of starting a business centered around a skill? Many people today are starting their own business teaching others their artistic craft – such as carpentry, music, art, photography, writing, etc. This can be a very lucrative endeavor, but you likely would rather set up shop in a professional space rather than your own home! A shipping container gives you the opportunity to have a designated work space without breaking the bank on renting an office.

6. E-Commerce work space

Are you running an online (e-commerce) business, such as an Etsy shop? If you start to grow and acquire many new customers, you’ll probably need space to work, store inventory, or even meet with customers. One option for a work space layout in a shipping container is a “work and store” space – which allows you to split the space in half. You can use one side for storing inventory, and the other as a work space.

7. Restaurant or bar

Starting a restaurant or bar out of a shipping container is becoming a trendy option! Converted shipping containers give the space a unique, industrial feel – and also give you the chance to be creative with your design and decor. It’s a perfect opportunity to let your creativity show, and save money with your restaurant’s start-up expenses at the same time. Plus, depending on your location –  a shipping container is portable and can often be placed on a plot of land. This makes it incredibly easy to have an inside-outside concept. That’s a great opportunity to stand apart from other restaurants and bars in your area!

8. Brewery or distillery 

Independent breweries and distilleries are a huge trend today. As of 2019, 8,000+ micro-breweries operated in the U.S. The independent brewery industry is worth $79.1 billion, and employs more than 550,000 people. It’s a promising industry to enter and begin a small local business. Starting a brewery in a converted shipping container space is a hugely popular option, since their space and layouts are very convenient for this type of business.

9. Mobile Shop

Mobile shops that offer food and beverages – like ice cream shops – are great business ideas. They can be set up in public areas, and cater to on-the-go pedestrians, walkers, or anyone strolling by. Plus, in addition to portability, shipping containers are space-conducive and can easily accommodate a service window to service outdoor customers.

10. Visitor’s Center

Whether for a campground, city, hotel, or other travel center – most visitor’s centers don’t require a ton of space. They usually simply require a counter area, bathrooms, and an information station. Shipping containers erects these centers flexibly, and on a budget.

11. Art Gallery

It’s important for artists to have a place to display their work. But normally, artists don’t have the cash flow to pay for a rented space on an ongoing or monthly basis. Shipping containers give artists the flexibility to use their space for a given period of time, or as long as they’d like. Conveniently, most shipping container suppliers offer a month-to-month rental option. So if you have an art show you want to put up for a specific amount of time, this option is perfect. Your supplier can work with you to deliver the container and remove it, depending on your needs.

12. Plant Shop or Nursery

Shipping containers have more outdoor functionality than traditionally-built buildings. They can easily be customized to allow sunlight and outdoor areas within the space, while still giving you the convenience of a physical shop. Many plant shops and nurseries take advantage of shipping containers to create the perfect environment for their plants. It also gives them an inviting storefront to let customers shop or browse.

13. Farms and Farmer’s Markets

Shipping containers are popular for agricultural and farming needs for many reasons, including their weather-proof material and flexibility with outdoor space. Many farmers are able to utilize containers not only to house their agricultural and farming projects, but also sell their produce and goods to a local community. They can be easily customized and converted into a farmer’s market space as well.

14. Real Estate Office

Many real estate agents are constantly on-the-go, showing properties to new prospects in various locations. But often, they need a small hub for clients to meet with them, as well as sign contracts with new clients and work on administrative tasks. Shipping container offices are great options for real estate companies because they are inexpensive, portable, and can be customized with a number of layouts for any business demands.

15. Apartment complex or dormitory 

Believe it or not, an entire apartment complex or dormitory can be built using shipping containers! Whether a developer wants to design a new apartment complex on a budget, or a school needs to add more student housing quickly, containers provide a fast, viable construction option. Just like a prefabricated building, shipping containers can be easily stacked, combined, or broken down and used for parts to create a multi-story building with hallways, stairways, and more. Because of their high-grade steel exterior, they’re extremely safe buildings to live in.

16. Health clinic

No matter whether your health clinic is meant to be permanent or mobile, you can house it in a converted shipping container. Many times, there is a need for portable health services – such as at a concert venue, outdoor festival, remote area, natural disaster relief area, war zone, and more. Clinics can utilize this portable option to offer health services to people who need them, from just about anywhere.

17. Schools, day cares, and educational facilities

Many educational facilities rely on budget-friendly, portable space for classrooms and meeting areas. Some schools need the extra space temporarily while they undergo construction in their main building. Other schools choose to run their educational services entirely out of the used shipping container. For example, in some rural areas where class sizes are relatively small, converted shipping containers are great options for schools and classrooms. Shipping containers offer layouts that are perfect to accommodate any kind of classroom or daycare design.

18. Repair shop

Tons of skilled workers in America and elsewhere run their own repair shop business. They usually need a small workshop space to service their clients. Shipping containers can be easily converted into a workshop, such as a…

  • Bike repair shop
  • Computer and IT repair shop
  • Auto repair shop
  • DIY shop
  • and more

19. Event space

Do you need a space to plan and host events? Many people nowadays are starting a business renting out a small space for their local community to throw events. This might include parties, work events, small conferences or professional workshops, music events, theatre performances, award nights, and more.

20. Gym or Yoga Studio

Are you a personal trainer or yoga instructor and want to establish your own space to train your clients? A shipping container is the perfect option for you. They can be easily converted to store equipment, such as treadmills and other cardio machines, weights, and more. This way, you will be able to have a home base to host current clients and attract new clients. Plus, you can design and customize the gym space any way you want!

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