Boxing clever during a recession

Jul 09 | 2012

The market for containers is growing despite the downturn in the economy and pressure on margins.

The Mover’s  Deputy Editor David Jordan travelled to Felixstowe to meet Sarah Jones, General Manager of Mr Box to discover the secret of their success and why people in the moving industry should care.

I met Sarah at the company’s storage and workshop facility in Felixstowe and for once I was thankful to be wearing my high-vis jacket. Sea containers stacked several storeys high surrounded us as we walked through the busy yard; a huge fork lift truck hurrying around, effortlessly lifting them precisely into place like a giant playing with Lego. Sarah explained that this was only one of their depots the company has seven similar sites around the country including London, Liverpool and Manchester.  New containers of various sizes are shipped in from China with one-way cargo to reduce costs while second-hand units are bought directly from shipping lines.  Once in the UK they are cleaned and prepared for sale or rent with many being adapted to suit customers’ individual requirements. The delivery period for a standard container is no more than five days.

Mr Box has enjoyed considerable growth since it was formed in 2000 and is now one of the UK’s largest suppliers of storage containers with a hire fleet of more than 2,000 units and annual unit sales of around 1,200. “About 25% of our business is in the self storage sector,” said Sarah. Using sea or metal storage containers is an easy way to get into the business, all you need is the space to site them and you can expand the capacity simply by adding more units as you need them. There’s no need for a building because all the units are fully weatherproof and secure.” Around half the units Mr Box supplies are modified in some way. For example, a 40ft container can be sub-divided into eight five foot compartments each with its own multi-lever security lock and anti-jemmey flanges. Using units like this greatly increases the return on investment for the self storage operator.

With over 10 years’ experience Mr Box is keen to attract more people to the self storage industry and is happy to offer free advice to anyone thinking of entering the business. “We supply about thirty self storage companies in the UK and we’ve helped many of them to get started by advising them on things like planning the site, security, obtaining planning permission and drawing up terms and conditions,” said Sarah. “We also help find leads for our customers through our website People looking for somewhere to store their belongings just enter their location and details on the site and we pass the lead onto the closest company to them. After all, the quicker they fill their boxes the more boxes well sell or rent!”

Mr Box also supplies access staircases and gantries for multi-level installations, high-security padlocks and all other ancillary equipment needed to set up and run a self storage business. “We aim to be a one-stop-shop for the self storage industry,” said Sarah.

But there’s more to Mr Box than just self storage, over the years the company has gained a reputation for designing and building some of the most novel creations ever derived from the humble sea container.  For example, a workshop and team welfare unit for the 2008 British Olympic Sailing Team was built by converting a new 40ft cube tunnel container with doors at both ends. It came complete with machine tools, storage for the boats’ spare parts, sail repair facilities and even a Reverse Osmosis Machine for preparing isotonic drinks for the athletes. The unit was fully air conditioned, painted white to reflect the heat, and could run from either mains power or its own generator.

Another unusual project was the creation of a mobile retail and advertising pod for high-performance sportswear supplier Under Armour. Again this was created by Mr Box from a 40ft tunnel and was equipped with special racking for hanging garments, TV monitors for showing promotional videos, forty spotlights and anti-slip rubberized flooring.  The exterior was painted black and featured the client’s logo to complete the corporate image. The unit, which also sported a DJ booth on its roof, travelled around Europe and appeared at numerous sporting events.

“The market for containers has really taken off during the past few years and there is every reason to think the trend will continue, especially in the self storage sector,” said Sarah. “For removals companies with a little space there is a real opportunity to get a share of the action in this low overhead, highly profitable industry.”

Top picture; the exterior of Under Armour's pod; inside the mobile retail and advertising pod for high-performance sportswear supplier Under Armour; Sarah Jones, and the interior of the Olympic sailing team's container.