If you are considering buying a shipping container and wondering about what possible business ideas you might be able to do with it, you have come to the right place.
In this article we will share a number of possible shipping container business ideas housed in empty cargo containers, most of which are already running and successful in the different parts of the USA and other parts of the world.
We won’t go into the best principles for starting a new business here, but we will share some ideas of how you might turn your Conex container into a profit generating business. There are so many different business uses, that it’s very likely you’ve already been inside one or seen a shipping container business before.
Why choose a shipping container vs. traditional bricks and mortar building?
A few words on the advantages that you might consider in making your choice whether to operate your small business out of a shipping container vs a conventional building or retail space.
Ten Advantages of using a shipping container for your business
1) Shipping containers have a solid, industrial-grade steel construction that is made to withstand even the most extreme weather conditions
2) Used shipping containers are considered green friendly, sustainable when they are “upcycled” into a new capacity
3) Used containers are budget-friendly construction options as they are less costly per square foot than normal retail zoned spaces
4) Security – every container is equipped with industrial locking mechanisms on the doors, so that business assets will remain secure from break ins and theft
5) Containers are also space-efficient due to different size dimensions and square footages available
6) Because of their modular design, individual containers may be easily customized, connected and stacked to form any number of possible design, layout, and size configurations
7) If your business nature only requires a temporary, semi-permanent (ex. utilized for several years) space, a Conex box might be ideal
8) By their very nature, cargo containers are made to be transported, making it far easier than a bricks and mortar building to change the location of your business
9) As a property owner, utilizing the empty space to park shipping containers is an easy way to monetize vacant lots and unused property unsuitable for other business use
10) While many businesses need water and electricity access, shipping containers don’t need municipal power and water. Some businesses can be run off a generator and water tank.
Let’s dive right into a list of shipping container business ideas
Shipping Container Self Storage business
According to IBISWorld, the USA self storage industry’s annual revenue in 2019 was a whopping $39.5 billion USD.
This self storage industry revenue continues to be one of the fastest growing sectors in the US economy.
Americans have a huge demand for affordable storage space.
The good news is that steel shipping containers are specially designed for storage!
A profitable self storage business may be created by finding a vacant lot to place a number of empty containers. Buy a number of shipping containers and rent them out on a weekly, monthly or long term contract basis. Little maintenance is required, it is a monthly recurring revenue with little over head after the initial purchase of the Conex containers.
Items of all shapes and sizes are suitable to be stored inside the steel structures. Containers safely protect the renter’s contents inside and are solid, durable, completely weatherproof metal boxes that last for years and years. You could buy a number of them, install lock systems, advertise your service and you are in the container self storage rental business.
Food and Beverage service types of businesses.
A recent estimate counted 24,564 Food Truck businesses in the US as of 2020. This figure demonstrates a tremendous demand for small scale and portable, seasonal food and beverage service businesses.
The low start up costs and portability are at the top of the list why new restaurateurs are choosing to serve their menus out of shipping container restaurants.
A trendy, unique restaurant serving out of a converted shipping container is increasingly popular in many US cities. Not only is there a cool factor, the unique design is Instagram worthy and some of your online marketing takes care of itself, through customers posting about the cool container dining experience they just enjoyed.
Mobile container restaurants can be used for seasonal periods (summer vacation season), testing the traffic at new locations, and used as a contingency plan if your current location doesn’t prove profitable.
Conventionally, when someone wants to start a new restaurant or change locations, the owner needs to find a new location, invest significant money in renovating the space (exhaust systems and walk in coolers) and customizing the kitchen for their specific menu.
National chain Chick Fil A used a shipping container restaurant to keep serving customers and staff employed during restaurant renovations.
A shipping container bar provides the venue to serve alcoholic beverages out of a small and intimate setting indoors along with open outdoor seating area.
Often with container bars, they are located along side other container food service vendors, offering the adults a chance for a cold craft beer or cocktail together with their food.
Renting a container bar out for events and special occasions.
For example, Bar 2020 out of Australia, offers to deliver and rent you a fully stocked bar for your party, event wedding and so on.
On the 2020 Facebook page they explain “Hire our 20ft Converted Self Sufficient Shipping Container Bar for your Event, Festival, Product Launch, Private Party or Corporate Event.”
Brewery or distillery in a shipping container
Independent breweries and distilleries are a huge trend in the food and beverage sector. As of 2019, 8,000+ micro-breweries operated in the U.S. According to industry figures, the independent brewery industry is worth $79.1 billion, and employs more than 550,000 people.
Starting a brewery in a converted shipping container space is a way to mitigate the cost of a warehouse space to house the brewing equipment. A cargo container space and layout is very convenient for this type of operation.
Already, small companies in Berlin, Perth and Cape Town have fabricated mobile microbrewery setups installed in repurposed containers. ‘Smart Breweries’ located in the Czech Republic are producing 11 550 gallons of beer a year out of self-contained brewing units. A great way to get started for aspiring brewmasters.
Commissary Meal Preparation Kitchen
While dine-in restaurants are a popular shipping container business, another food service business is meal delivery in which pre-set meals (often healthy menus) are prepared and delivered to busy customers. The small kitchen space in a converted Conex container can be a cost effective way to have a commercial kitchen to prepare meals that you may deliver directly to consumers.
A coffee shop is a small business ideally suited to shipping container reuse. There are many such coffee shops serving lattes and cappuccinos to go all over the USA currently in operation .
A small coffee shop doesn’t require a large amount of square footage to brew and sell high quality brews, sell snacks and simple meals, roast beans on site and sell roasted beans by the pound.
The basic setup is minimal: counter space, back-end storage space, and a few tables and chairs that may be placed outside the container cafe.
Place the container coffee ship in the corner of the parking lot of a gas station or convenience store at the intersection of a high traffic area and a colorful, eye catching sign can advertise your cafe to passing commuters.
Coffee mega-brand Starbucks has even set up stores in shipping containers in various locations in the U.S.
Shipping container shops and boutiques
Small, niche retail shops and boutiques can find a perfect spot to sell their goods out of storefront shipping containers. For many of these small shops, the requirements to setup are minimal. The seller is able to easily customize and brand the outside of the shop and open the doors to customers in a short time.
The cost per square footage for commercial retail space is prohibitive for a new business on a modest budget. A shipping container with the right amount of space can simply provide a far more economical space for selling products In city areas. The range of different goods and services that may be sold out of a small container shop are limitless.
Do you make quality, handmade arts and crafts goods?
Some of the more common types of small businesses that we see in cities are fashion boutiques, jewelry shops, gift shops, book shops, secondhand clothing shops and thrift stores.
“Pop-up” shops are set up temporarily, for shorter periods of time – businesses that are meant only to open for a few months out of the year. The shop might be a seasonal business type that only operates a few months in warmer weather, or conversely, during the Xmas shopping season. Some businesses sell items that are only in high demand for a limited time (around holidays for example)– like fireworks, Christmas trees or holiday items, firewood, holiday decorations, etc.
Special Event and Festival spaces
Multiple dates on the calendar every year feature local fairs, community events, music and food festivals, charity events and so on.
The events last only a brief time, but attract large numbers of visitors. Shipping containers can be rented out as spaces to plan and host events in the absence of available office space.
Some service providers are making money by renting out renovated shipping containers as a portable, temporary space for event organizers to run their events out of. The list include corporate parties, work conferences, professional workshops, music performances, theatre productions, sports competitions, and nearly any large, outdoor event you might imagine
An event organizer and promoter needs a temporary command center to run the event, provide shelter from the weather and a secure storage space for their equipment and supplies for the duration of the event.
An interesting and increasingly popular event use for modified shipping containers are mobile performance venues. A steel container, with fold-down sides, supplies a pre-configured music stage that’s easy to set-up, and transport to the performance site.
A group of young New Yorkers have a great example with The ArtBloc mobile performance stage.
Tradeshow marketing and outdoor exhibition space
Established companies often do off site marketing exhibitions – like in tradeshows in their industries. A shipping container exhibition space can easily be transported and setup at the venue and expose a companies products and services to new potential customers and business alliances.
Product promotional launches, demonstrations, instructional workshops, offering product informational resources and product sampling are all popular marketing tools at remote locations.
A South African-based marketing firm has created the Hottbox, an exhibition and experiential marketing space that’s put together from new Conex containers. The portable units have been repurposed into multiple configurations, branded, and placed at industry trade shows, exhibitions and outdoor community and business events.
Event or Tourist Visitor’s Center
Around most popular tourists attractions, parks, and community events that see a high volume of visitor traffic, you will find a visitors resource center offering information and even multi media educational presentations.
You may well have visited one of these around a campground, natural attraction, a city tourist center, national park, major festival.
The visitor’s centers are usually equipped with a help counter area , information station with maps and brochures, sometimes small items for sale like bottled water, souvenirs and snacks.
Business office space is increasingly expensive for companies looking to provide workspace for staff. According to estimates (in Houston), the average annual cost of renting office space for each individual employee is $5,668.
In an effort to supplement their existing office space, some companies have employed additional office space set up in shipping containers. It is a cost effective way to add staff office space near the headquarters without modifying the original building – which may not be an option.
Some businesses have outfitted empty containers and offer them as office spaces that businesses in their area can rent. A company may be required to move for many different reasons. For example, the business may be outgrowing their current facility, the building lease may be up and a prohibitive rent increase makes relocating an attractive option.
Since the office may be transported to a new location, any investment in customizing the space for the businesses’ needs isn’t lost when the lease has expired.
Shipping containers can be easily converted into a small workshop space.
A good example is a sea container bicycle repair shop. The outfitted container is dropped on a space near a park bicycle path during the warmer weather months when thousands of cyclists are on the bike paths. Bicycle repair service is a business that only takes up a small amount of room. The secure construction of a Conex box keeps the tools and bicycles safe overnight.
Bicycles may also be rented out of the container to visiting tourists and the entire shop removed at the end of the busy season.
Buying a shipping container using it as a rental center for different types of equipment requires very little work to get the container ready. The space may be used to store and arrange the rental of almost any type of equipment – landscaping and gardening tools for homeowners, rarely used tools for home renovations and construction for example.
Workshop and creative studio space
If you want to start a business centered around a technical or creative skill that you have, a shipping container workshop is a great place to start. Especially for those who started out of their homes and are quickly running out of room to work comfortably.
A dedicated work space is now required to allow for your continued growth – but must be more affordable than leasing a separate building space. A shipping container can be dropped in an empty space – either one you rented, your own property or a vacant space on a friend’s property.
Teaching crafts workshop
A related, but separate business, is teaching others your artistic craft. Skills such as carpentry, pottery, musical instruments, painting, silk screening, fabric making, sewing and fashion design and so on. The list is endless.
Rather than your own home, an equipped shipping container workshop provides the space and opportunity to have your classroom ready for paying students. With only a few work tables set up and your equipment in place, you’re ready to go. All of your supplies and equipment stored in a secure, specially outfitted environment for your skill.
Small scale manufacturing and artisanal crafts
A repurposed cargo container may also serve as a space where you can manufacture small quantities of various products to sell through 3rd party retailers. A good example would be traditionally home run craft businesses like bath and body products, candle makers, soap makers, scented home decorations and similar niche of products.
The smells of producing these types of products might make a separate workshop more practical than producing in ones home.
A surprising number of used cargo containers have been repurposed and used as gallery spaces.
A small exhibition space to display the artwork of local community artists is commonly seen around flea markets and outdoor community spaces.
Photoville is an event run Brooklyn that has made use of shipping containers for art exhibitions.
Farms and Farmer’s Markets
Everyone loves a farmer’s market. In addition to the fresh produce, a great variety of food and beverage vendors, craft and gift sellers also do business in the markets.
A container can be easily converted and transported to a farmer’s market space and closed up securely (or removed) during the winter off season. In addition to market vendors, many of the farmers themselves utilize the sea containers as roadside stands to sell their fresh fruits and vegetables to visitors.