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Reuse. Repurpose. Recycle. How a Simple Idea Reshaped an Industry.

by Jim Mitchem, Writer, Boxman Studios

Reverse Logistics Magazine, Edition 57

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It all started in 2008. That’s when David Campbell, who was in the commercial real estate business, came across an article about repurposing shipping containers for uses other than their original intent. At the time, the commercial real estate industry was in a lull, and so David decided to consider mobile real estate. The idea was simple, to parlay off of the fact that humans are migratory. We move. We shift. We don’t sit still. A few weeks later, David purchased a decommissioned shipping container and got to work. He cut out the sides and laid them down to provide something like a floor. Then he added some canvas awnings, bamboo flooring, a bar, some couches, and a television, and in 2009, the first Boxman Studios mobile hospitality suite was born.

At last estimate, there are over 17 million shipping containers in the world. Considering that the average lifespan of a container is between 10 and 15 years, along with the fact that America is an importing nation, and it’s clear why US ports are teeming with empty or idle shipping containers. Once decommissioned, containers are either left to rust, melted into steel beams, or repurposed for alternative uses. Melting requires roughly 9,000 kW-hrs of energy - or about the same amount of energy used by the average home in America each year. People know Boxman Studios for making cool things out of shipping containers, but what they might not realize is the positive environmental impact of repurposing them.

Over the years the simple concept of turning a decommissioned shipping container into a mobile hospitality venue has morphed into something much different. Since 2009, Boxman Studios has grown from a three-person outfit in a warehouse that was barely able to hold one 20’ container, to a company of forty plus people in a 66,000 square foot manufacturing facility. With clients like Google, Samsung, Red Bull, Hyundai, and Covergirl, Boxman is utilizing repurposed containers in ways that solve a range of problems for clients in the Events, Trade Shows, and Built Environment sectors.

Campbell knew early on that the only way the company could grow and prosper was to continue innovating. Modifying the configuration of a 20’ container originally designed for pop-up parties, the company was able to create a 20’ pop-up retail store for Adidas during the Boston Marathon. Two 40’ containers became the centerpiece of a tasting station in Times Square for Lays during the launch of a North American campaign for the snack food giant. Five different sized containers were customized to create the Google Village at the TED Conference in Long Beach. And as of this writing, ten containers are traveling from Jacksonville to Pasadena as part of the ultimate tailgate experience for IMG College in an environment called The PlayMaker’s Club.

As its clients started approaching Boxman with new ideas, the company had to modify its offerings and add talent to its staff to help fulfill demand. This meant hiring designers and architects and tapping into the rich local NASCAR talent pool to bring fabrication and finishing teams on board. This high level talent also started working together to ASME specifications - the highest building specs in the United States. As a result, their creations can withstand hurricane force winds along the Gulf, snow loads in the Midwest, and even earthquakes out West. To top it off, Boxman maintains a fleet of trucks to deploy their creations across North America.

“Over the last four years we’ve been across Canada for Fiat, have deployed in five US cities concurrently for Hewlett Packard, and are currently touring college campuses across America for Hyundai. Logistics is a huge part of what we do. We take pride in the fact that we get our builds to their locations on time and safely.” says Campbell. “Our company is built on three primary pillars, Design, Development, and Deployment. Sometimes the deployment part gets overshadowed considering the kinds of things we’re building for brands, but without our logistical aspect, we’re just not the same company.”

Safety is another major part of Boxman’s business plan. Repurposing shipping containers for uses other than their original intention is a hot trend these days. And, while it’s not difficult to purchase and modify a shipping container, the second a torch comes into contact with it, the integrity of the container changes. Boxman Studios recently authored new policies that sets the industry standard for how containers are repurposed. The end result is a model that ensures the highest quality and safety for anyone who interacts with their creations. The ASME standards and engineered stamped drawings provided by Boxman are unique to the industry and will help their clients adhere to rigid insurance requirements and local municipality codes.

So where does the shipping container innovation go from here? If you ask David Campbell, it could be from anywhere.

“We have built our company on the idea that we can’t do it by ourselves and we don’t have all the great ideas,” he said. “The next great concept of what we design, manufacture, and deploy at Boxman Studios could come from anywhere. Got any ideas?”

Jim Mitchem is a writer and communications tactician. His first novel, Minor King, is due in 2014.
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