Big Boxes Parked Up For The Long Haul

Cally Skinner revisits the Shoreditch Boxpark, East London’s most established site for pop-up businesses.

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Boxpark is a collection pop-up retail outlets and services housed in shipping containers stacked together to form the absolute epicentre of Shoreditch hipster-town.

(The containers are cool boxes to go shopping in: whether you would want to live in one of them, like the migrants forcibly removed from their improvised camp outside Calais last night, is another question.)

I spoke to some of Boxpark’s shop owners and workers in a bid to find out what has made it so successful since Rising East‘s Hannah Blacklock first reported on it back in 2014.

East London Juice Co has been at Boxpark for a year now, selling a wide range of fresh juices and health food. Olivia has been working there since the shop opened and feels that the rise in pop-up businesses has definitely had an impact on the area. “Especially in this complex,” she explains, “as it is really supportive of emerging businesses which is exciting because you get more variety than any other shopping centres.”

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When asked what makes a successful pop-up, Olivia claimed it is down to giving the customer a more personal shopping experience. She maintained that owners should be almost always in store, communicating with regular customers and happy to engage with tourists or new faces, too.

Olivia feels Shoreditch pop-ups are more successful as East London was one of the first places to pioneer and welcome the pop-up set-up. Now people from all over the world expect to come to Shoreditch and find new and exciting shops offering innovative products with a young, sociable vibe.  “There is definitely a certain type of customer that comes into our store. It is usually the younger generation visiting from out of town and want to experience new things”, she continued.

It’s easy to see how easily tourists would be drawn into their outlet, with its wooden benches draped in fur blankets and copper chairs surrounded with tea lights and gold lanterns. The shop offers customers a fresh product that cannot be found on a typical high street and provides a unique, comfortable, aesthetically pleasing area to sit in – a far more personal feel than your average coffee-shop chain.

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Established brands like Estee Lauder have also set up a shop at Boxpark because of the crowds of people it generates every day. The ladies working in this outlet said “pop-ups give people a reason to come here. We had a brow bar here for a week and an Innocent smoothies tent set up on the grass at the weekend. There is always something new to see and this brings in regular customers everyday.”

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The Gift Box has been based in Boxpark for nearly two years and puts its success down to the large number of visitors who come by every single day – here in Shoreditch there is no such thing as boring weekdays followed by the weekend rush. A little bit of publicity doesn’t go amiss either. The owner reports that Boxpark “is advertised a lot in tourist guides and websites, as it offers something unexpected and unique, tourists are drawn in and choose to visit, as they have never seen anything like this before.”

A few doors down, Nordic Poetry is a vintage clothes store which also capitalises on Boxpark’s reputation. The workers behind the counter explained that “most people come in and ask if we’re a pop-up business, but this doesn’t harm our brand, if anything it has made us a bigger success, as people think we’re here today gone tomorrow.” They went on to say that Boxpark’s owners (the owner of the site rather than the individual businesses renting space in it) are so successful because they “tailor the shops, they know what will be successful here and how to target their audiences.”

Even long-established local businesses are gaining from association with the home of pop-ups. Meanwhile some ‘pop-ups’ have been at Boxpark so long they seem rooted to the spot.

This is a place which has changed what it means to do business in East London.