On November 9th 2012, we began taking entries for a competition we were hosting with BOXPARK. We had never seen a Tweet generate so much interest as:
“Enter to win 3 months FREE at BOXPARK! http://wearepopup.com/boxpark via @wearepopup”
As is clear by the number of great contestants submitting applications, BOXPARK is an incredibly innovative place to be and an exciting challenge for brands and retailers. BOXPARK has opened up a powerful and valuable opportunity for an independent business – at no rental cost and proven to us that they are willing to mix things up and see what happens. We love that attitude, and were curious about what the current BOXPARK retailers had to say about life in a shipping container in Shoreditch, and what advice they had to give to someone about to move in.
King from Thai And Lao Street Food (@THAIandLAO).
Thai and Lao Street Food, located on the upper deck in unit 53, started 12 years previously on Brick Lane serving honest and homemade food-to-order out of a van. Manager King explained that the restaurant has always been and will always remain a family-run, owned and managed business.
Thai and Lao Street Food moved into BOXPARK four months before and continues to uphold powerful tenets: keep it simple, focus on your product, and keep it fresh. Thai and Lao never pre-cooks anything, as King mentioned, “We get people who come in and expect us to already have food on the go, or just hand them something. We say, ‘there’s nothing to try until you order it!’ ” Whilst this style of food service might surprise some customers, it also helps expose new and unique attitudes to the local community.
King shared that being in the heart of Shoreditch has been encouraging, “the people are great – they know about food. We are surrounded by a mix of everything from artists to business owners. It’s young and fresh, and you really have everything in one place.” As we met with more BOXPARK businesses, King’s sentiment was echoed and proved itself as one of the keys to understanding exactly how BOXPARK Shoreditch operates.
Aleks from Abuze London (@abuzeldn).
Next, we met with Aleks, the owner and creative director from Abuze London, in Unit 35. We learned about Abuze London’s 10-year history, conceived by a group of friends as a way to turn their passion for graffiti and street-art into quality crafted clothing. Aleks explained, “we turned our life around to start this business. We were a large crew of graffiti writers and we came together to invest in a product.” Their shop at BOXPARK was the first physical location. And Aleks explained why, “It can be incredibly hard to find investment for designer brands that are managed by designers. It was a real struggle to get the investment together to take this space at BOXPARK… but now we are one of the top stores.”
Abuze London’s designs and artwork are heavily steeped in a history of London Street Art, and the traditions of stenciling, cut-out and spray paint could be traced throughout the shop’s fit-out. We asked if it was challenging to consider interior, physical space, having been dedicated to an online platform. Aleks replied, “Not really. We’re designers and artists, designing the space was easy. Some friends built our display units and we were lucky to be able to make the furniture and space exactly how we wanted it. The vision wasn’t the hard part… finding the money was the problem.”
Despite the extreme challenges associated with setting up shop for the first time, Abuze London was able to increase their sales and brand awareness with their physical space. When asked what advice he would give to a business moving into a physical space for the first time, Aleks replied, “It’s such a huge task. Be driven, and don’t take no for an answer. You’ll get knocked back, but you just have to take it and keep moving forward.”
Amanda from Original Penguin (@penguineurope) and FARAH Vintage (@farahvintage).
Amanda co-managed Original Penguin in Unit 11 and FARAH Vintage in Unit 12, curating their re-fits and product selection. For Amanda, Shoreditch provides the ideal opportunity to showcase vintage-inspired clothing with modern sensibilities. As Amanda explained, “a cool big brand doesn’t necessarily drive traffic to an area. The product and vibe are way more important. It’s about matching your environment well.” While concepts like “price-point” and “targeting” are important, businesses succeed most by understanding the style and desires of the locale.
Developing a business around these ideas can be difficult, especially as customer and community trends may shift rapidly, or change altogether. With Original Penguin and FARAH, Amanda was able to use this to her advantage, and built into their BOXPARK strategy is an ever-changing interior. “It’s great, we can come in here late in an evening or on low-traffic days. Because the spaces are so compact, we can re-arrange and re-develop the space very quickly. Being small makes it easy to switch it all up.” This also creates opportunities for engagement – with every change comes community announcements and updates.
We asked Amanda why BOXPARK in particular seemed to stand-out as a destination, “It’s surrounded by creativity, and BOXPARK is very open to trying new things out.” We started to understand how adaptation and moving quickly is embedded at the core of BOXPARK, and why shipping containers in particular seemed such a simple way to facilitate these fundamental tenets.
Ross Thompson from PUMA Twentyone (@puma).
We took an opportunity to do an old-fashioned Q&A with Ross with great results.
What is your position at PUMA, and what would we find at PUMA’s BOXPARK shop?
My position is Head of Retail for Capitalize Ltd, and we operate the PUMA Twentyone store at Boxpark. Built around the Boxpark store unit number 21, PUMA Twentyone will see stock refreshed every 21 days and promotions taking place at 21 day intervals. The concept is illustrated in-store with a menu and countdown board at the entrance, which lists the 21 special and limited editions footwear styles currently available and when new stock arrives.
What is the primary advantage of being a pop-up?
Retailing from a shipping container is a unique concept and it gives businesses the opportunity to display their products in an unusual way. High streets throughout the UK are all very similar and it is important to have something new and exciting for customers to see. These are key offers of pop-up.
What are some of the best aspects of being at BOXPARK?
It is interesting seeing how other brands showcase themselves, and to be successful the store has to continue to be exciting to customers. Being amongst brands who are all trying different ways to appeal to customers promotes a healthy rivalry and pushes each retailer to show their best side.
What are the advantages of being in Shoreditch?
Shoreditch is such a creative area and is really on-point when it comes to fashion. Having PUMA in Shoreditch helps us showcase the brand to people who care about fashion. The store is continuously visited by fashion students, fashion bloggers, and people in fashion PR. A unique concept like PUMA Twentyone has helped us receive many good reviews online by the media.
What advice would you give to someone setting up at BOXPARK for the first time?
The main challenge of the BOXPARK store is the space. To keep customers interested, stock must be on consistent rotation. Many customers come back frequently, and we would lose them if the store never changed appearance. The store has to be simple and refreshed regularly. Even though big brands might not choose to change their flagship stores as regularly, adaptability is one of the core strengths of the BOXPARK units.
Maybe it is the proximity and uniformity of the containers, or the fact that the entire mall feels tucked snugly against the Shoreditch Overground Station. What we know for certain is that BOXPARK elegantly captures the potential of what ‘pop-up’ can mean for a businesses: an opportunity to show ingenuity by getting great results within serious constraints, a requirement to be fast and flexible – to think on your toes, to take risks, and most importantly to see restrictions as opportunities.
Many thanks to Abuze London, Thai and Lao Street Food, Penguin Originals, FARAH Vintage, and PUMA for being generous with your time.
And special thank you to Claudia, Karen and Agee @BOXPARK for helping set up the interviews and supporting the competition.