You may have seen shipping containers sitting outside of retail stores or piled high on trains and ships, but these storage units can become a lot more than just vessels for getting things from one place to another.

For cash-strapped small business owners, shipping containers open up a whole new world of opportunities. If you’re looking for a versatile space to help turn your business idea into a reality, it’s time to think inside the box. Capitalize on one of these 4 shipping container ideas to take your small business where other locations can’t.

Pop-Up Shops

A pop-up shop is a self-contained retail store that can be relocated overnight. These aren’t full-time operations, instead they are more inclined to offer seasonal items like Halloween costumes or July 4th fireworks. Some are used to test the viability of new products or potential business concepts, others as a temporary promotion for a separate brick-and-mortar location. These pop-up establishments are a great way to save money by recycling existing storage units. Leasing a unit from a supplier is also an option.


SEE ALSO: 7 of the Most Creative Pop-Up Shop Ideas Ever!

Extra Office Space

When starting a small business, owners may struggle to find the best office space to fit their needs. Renting a large property can be expensive, and building extra rooms in an existing space can drain resources and inconvenience staff. Shipping containers are completely weatherproof and sound in structure. They’re an ideal solution that can be refurbished to include everything you need to run your business, from electrical outlets to office furniture.
rusty shipping container

Inventory Storage Space

In cities where affordable inventory storage space is scarce and space is limited, the practice of converting shipping containers into inventory storage units is an attractive option. By stacking or cleverly arranging containers, design possibilities are endless. There’s also significantly less strain on the planet’s resources since the main structure of the building is already in place.

Restaurant In A Box

Forget lugging your vending cart around the city; you could have a complete restaurant in a self-contained storage unit that can be opened to the public during your operating hours, then closed up safely when you aren’t there. Or, keep it loaded on the back of your truck, so you can take the food wherever hungry people gather.

These portable food emporiums are the ideal solution for vendors who need to travel to festivals and events. During the off season they can be stored at little to no cost, but still be operable within hours. Using multiple containers, some cities have built two-story dine-in restaurants that rival many traditional restaurants. These ‘cargotecture’ restaurants prove that a little creativity can go a long way, especially when you have the right containers for inspiration.

Perhaps the best application for a used shipping container is simply using it to make a statement about the need to conserve resources — a topic that is top of mind with Earth Day around the corner. These 4 shipping container business ideas are just a glimpse at the limitless possibilities that these metal boxes can offer.

One of the key advantages of using shipping containers in your small business is their adaptability. As your business grows these spaces can expand with you. Need to change locations? Your shipping container business can move as easily as you would move any shipping or cargo container. In theory, with a shipping container business, you can simply take your business with you wherever you go.

Yamarie Grullon

Yamarie Grullon has years of experience creating helpful & engaging content for small business owners. As Director of Content Strategy at ShopKeep, a leading iPad Point of Sale System, Yamarie provides merchants with practical advice on all things related to business or point of sale.