How to Plan a Shipping Container Pop-Up


Let’s start with the basics: What is a pop-up?


Pop-ups may be the most versatile and approachable means for retail businesses to test their ideas and grow their following. To the world, pop-ups mean one thing: temporary. How that limited-time opportunity takes shape is a little more flexible. Some pop-up shops happen in vacant buildings; some have mobile exhibits that are brought to markets across the country; some happen once; some pop-up in different locations hundreds of times per year. They’re used for product launches, clicks-to-bricks concepts, seasonal products, market testing, and special occasions. And that doesn’t even scratch the surface. For a deeper dive, read our blog, “What is a Pop Up Shop?”

Pop-ups were born from necessity and are usually realized as tents haphazardly sprung up in a parking lot with a few card tables displaying product. Minimal thought is given to brand engagement, to experience, or even to repeated business. Which brings us to the more important question, what does a good pop-up look like?


What is a good pop-up?


Well managed pop-ups are thoughtfully designed spaces, that allow for customers to interact with merchandise, try on options, and develop a connection with the brand. Pop-ups should be beautiful, mobile extensions of your brand. They should house remarkable experiences for customers, influencers, and employees.


Why are they effective?


  1. They’re experiential

Experiential Retail is a strategy used in the retail landscape to increase engagement, interest, and traffic in physical retail locations. It provides an opportunity for brands to connect in one-on-one interactions with their customers. Theoretically, these interactions happen in an environment where happy and powerful memories are being made. While the experience can take many forms, experiential retail usually includes some sensory, educational, and communal experiences with emotional connotations. So, through your experience-driven retail strategy, the brand becomes associated with those powerful memories. To learn more about experiential retail, read our blog post, “Can Highschool Psychology Teach You About Experiential Retail?


  1. They’re temporary

As previously mentioned, the temporary nature of pop-up shops is baked right into the model. Temporary opportunities are often perceived as scarce and therefore develop a sense of urgency in a customer base. That’s why big sales have a time limit. Customers need to come in fast, regardless of the obstacles, to take advantage of the sale. Pop-ups drive a similar phenomenon but instead of saving money, customers save themselves from FOMO (the fear of missing out).


  1. They’re inexpensive

When we talk about inexpensive options, we’re typically talking about the total cost of ownership. The temporary nature of a pop-up means that you aren’t paying the 10-year lease agreements common for most brick-and-mortar retailers, you aren’t required to customize the space, and you aren’t tied down to a single location. Beyond that, pop-ups are typically custom designs or DIY projects which gives an entrepreneur or brand much more flexibility to play with design, materials, and layout to value-engineer a budget.


What can pop-ups be?


Coffee Shop: With the power to move location, owners are inspired to introduce their new business to many markets and cultivate a breadth of customers around the area.

Triangle Coffee Shipping Container

Specialty Retail: These are shops that focus on a specific product category. Occasionally, these shops will be free-standing, but usually, they appear as part of a larger shopping center as a kiosk, booth, or pop-up.

One Loudoun Shipping Containers

Mobile Bar/ Taphouse: Event venues, particularly those that focus on temporary activations, don’t keep bars open year-round. They need short-term solutions that can be set-up and broken down easily, in a few hours.

Lambeau Mobile Bar

Convenience Store: Take advantage of mobility by positioning your shop near events or community gathering places where people might need to stop by for a quick refresh.

Shipping Container Pop up

Mobile Showroom: Instead of bagging up the item and taking it home right there, their order is boxed up and mailed, sometimes delivered that same day!

BeautyKind Popup


Determine your Budget


Before you start, have a budget in mind. Plan based on those constraints.

Location – 30% of Overall Budget

First things first, you need to determine how much space you’ll need for inventory, point of sale, staff, and customers. To stay on budget, you may need to sacrifice either space or location. We recommend choosing a space with less square footage and more foot traffic than other options with similar rent. We can help you maximize your space. We cannot pull foot traffic out of thin air


Logistics and storage services- 10%-20% of Overall Budget

Do not forget this key line item. Without logistics, your store (if you’ve chosen a mobile on-demand design), your inventory, and any branding won’t be at the location. You can save some money by utilizing your own staff to set up and dismantle your store, but without experience, their risk for damaging inventory and signage, or hurting themselves is significantly higher. So, make sure there’s room in your budget for professional logisticians to handle the heavy lifting. Based on how many activations you’re planning, this number has a little more flexibility, between 10% and 20% of your budget.


Store design and layout – 20% of Overall Budget

Your physical store is the centerpiece of your pop-up campaign. During the design process, you’ll see a variety of solutions based on your goal and budget. To streamline this process for your team and for your designer, draft a priority list of features you want and the ones you need (also called a creative brief). You’ll likely find that mobile solutions will allow you to be versatile in your store layouts and designs and you can adjust on the fly depending on the size of the space. Then determine the lifetime cost of your store (how many years, weeks, months do you plan to use it?). The average half-life of a regularly activated on-demand retail space is about 3.5 years. Consider that the mobile solution may provide a 7-year depreciating tax life, which could decrease your total cost of ownership and/or expense and allow you to realize a quicker ROI. Does it make more sense than renting a similar option or buying property? That will depend on your overall goals and budget.


Promotion, Staffing, and Miscellaneous- 30%

The remaining budget should be used for marketing your campaign, staffing the store, and miscellaneous costs like Wi-Fi, travel & lodging, and housekeeping expenses. Generally, the breakdown works out to be:


15%- Staffing

5%- Miscellaneous

10%- Marketing and Promotion


… but, these figures depend largely on your individual needs. Some funds may be allocated to a line item that is more important to you. We urge you to reserve the 5% miscellaneous costs for emergencies. You never know what may come up during your on-demand retail season. It’s best to have a little ‘oops’ money set aside.


What’s your strategy?

When we talk about strategy, we mean a written-down account of your offering, the offering’s value propositions, who your customers are, and what channels you use to connect with them (channel). This process isn’t unique to developing pop-ups. Nonetheless, it will inform how you proceed through the rest of this process. To help you understand what we mean and get some ideas for your own pop-up’s we’ll be approaching the remainder of this article using a fictional company, Confused Tattoos, to illustrate our points. Below is a brief outline of Confused Tattoo’s strategy.


Company Name: Confused Tattoos: It’s not what you think.

Offering: Customized temporary tattoos using mixed media, $10-$250 per tattoo

Value Propositions: Incorporates mixed materials (rhinestones, feathers, fabric, etc) into custom-designed temporary tattoos; Lasts 3-7 days, just long enough to outlast a music festival or long-format event; Waterproof; fun for all ages.

Customers: 10-30-year-olds looking for a fun way to express themselves without the commitment of a permanent tattoo. 

Channels: Social media, Events (music, innovation, technology, art, free expression), Lifestyle/ Influencer blogs, On-site word of mouth


Where should you go?


As you might imagine, Boxman Studios’ two most frequented tour stops are New York City and Los Angeles. Although pop-ups aren’t restricted to these two cities, they offer brands the three most important features in any activation space density, accessibility, and opportunity.

Density refers to how many people will be in the space. You want to choose a location that is already a draw for people. While some brands have the customer base to hold a stand-alone event, it’s much more efficient to piggy-back off a larger event that would interest your customers. If you’re on the fence and looking at density with ROI in mind, we suggest using this formula:


(Amortized Cost of Large Assets + Variable Event Costs)/ $0.10 = Total number of event attendees.


Confused Tattoos wants to purchase a pop-up space for $250,000. This is a large purchase that they plan to use at approximately 12 events over the year. Just like you would pay off your car or home, confused tattoos will account for the cost of this space over the life of its use. So:

$250,000/ 12 = $20,834


Amortized Cost of Large Asset = $20,834.

 In addition to the space, the variable event costs must be considered in your Return on Investment calculation. Variable costs will typically change from event to event based on your programming, the technology you use, the price of the space you’re leasing, how many activators/ brand ambassadors you’ll need technology packages, and any other expenses incurred with the planning and execution of the event. Confused Tattoos has allocated $40,000 for each of their 12 events.


Variable Event Costs: $40,000


In this ROI formula, $0.10 is used as a suggested value for cost per impression. The standard CPM (cost per thousand impressions) online is approximately $100. So, $0.10 represents the cost of a single impression online. Ultimately, it’s up to you to determine how much value you place on impressions vs. customer acquisitions vs. marketing opportunity. Please feel free to adjust the number to best fit your business model.


Here’s Confused Tattoo’s formula:

($20,834 + $40,000) / $0.10 = 608,340

Under these circumstances, the Confused Tattoos should activate at events with at least 608,340 attendees across the duration of the event. Meaning, they should not expect 608,340 per day. If the event is a week, you should divide the daily attendees by the duration of the event.

 Confused Tattoos will be at a 4-day event, so they should choose an event that has approximately 152,085 attendees per day. Alternatively, they may want to adjust how much value they place on an impression or if that is the best indicator of a successful event. 

Accessibility refers to the logistics of getting to and staying in a space. You want to choose a location where people will be able to physically approach you (so VIP only areas aren’t ideal), but also where the community and environment make you approachable (so avoid places where people are there for a specific, unpleasant purpose). A quality activation location will be safe, connected, welcoming, and allow for authentic experiences. Consider how the physical space can bring people together, to manifest community in a very literal sense. When we combine the physicality of a space, with the marketing prowess of developing feelings of membership in a brand’s community, you get what we call Third Placemaking. This is the paradigm by which commerce and community become synonymous.

For Confused Tattoos, this means they’ll want to choose a space (if the option is available to them) where people come to hang out for a while. The tattoos take some time to create and set, so choosing a location where screens of the event (concert etc) are visible, where attendees may still hear the music, and where attendees might go naturally to prepare their look for the day like locker rooms or near a large bank of mirrors.

Opportunity is tied to the concept of probability. How likely is it that the people around your activation will want to engage with you? You’ve done your homework in the strategy portion of this process, so the answer to this question is intuitive. Look back on your answer for “channel” and you’ll find a great indicator of where you might be able to access your customers. Choose locations that are ripe for developing powerful memories and where your customers are in their element

 Confused Tattoos already knows they have the perfect product for music festivals. The festival scene is ripe for self-expression, wild fashions, and lots of free time to explore the grounds. Alternatively, Confused Tattoos may not find as much opportunity to do business at an accounting seminar, where people are formally dressed, adhere to a tight schedule, and want to be perceived professionally.




Designing your Pop-up Shop

Start this process with a creative brief. This will be a guiding document that helps you (if you’re a DIYer) or your designer determine the aesthetic, footprint, MEP needs, and approvals that may be required to activate the space to code. If you don’t already have an idea to work from, some initial brainstorming and research can be helpful. In the brainstorming process of developing your pop-up’s look, we recommend using Pinterest. The site is an invaluable tool for designing pop-up locations because of it’s:

1.Size. Inspiration can come from anywhere, and everyone knows that a picture is worth a thousand words. Pinterest has a massive, varied inventory of photos.

  1. Accessibility. Access Pinterest from any computer or smart phone that connects to the Internet.
  2. Abstract. Brands and agencies can create whole boards based on a theme, tone, or mood they want to capture.
  3. Concrete. You can also create lists of tangible features, such as furnishings, fixtures, electronics, and lighting to reinforce your designs.
  4. Free. Anyone can sign up for a Pinterest account at no cost. Whether you prepare a board before or after your initial contact with the designer, it can be a useful and fun way to collaborate on a project. Some pictures get tossed, others incorporated, but they all provide insight and direction into your goals.


Confused Tattoos: Creative Brief

 Brand Statement: Confused Tattoos is a lifestyle brand that provides custom-designed, mixed material, temporary tattoos for women and men.

 Campaign Outline: Confused Tattoos would like to develop an experiential pop-up shop where 3 tattoo artists will be taking clients for 3-hour shifts during outdoor music festivals. The design should include a reception and consultation area where clients discuss designs with their artist and pre-pay for their tattoo while the artist sets up his/ her area with the materials needed. The space should have a cool and airy- feel like an oasis or place to escape from the congested festival grounds, without feeling detached from the rest of the event. We would also like to include some experiential programming that can keep clients entertained while they wait and allow us to grow our email list where our clients and brand advocates can get discounts, updates, free designs, and news about our travel schedule.

 Mandatory Elements: minimum of 6 chairs for tattoo artists and clients, a sanitary station for cleaning tools in between clients, branding/ signage with wayfinding, a visual way to communicate what Confused Tattoos is and how we work.


From this brief, we can determine that Confused Tattoos’pop-up should have:


  1. Plumbing or a portable sink, for the sanitization station.
  2. Modular walls that allow them to create different sized/ varying quantity of rooms for tattoo artists to work with clients.
  3. Electricity for low-profile fans
  4. Storage for their materials at each station, back of house to hold back-up inventory
  5. Tall ceiling, possibly an upper deck for added space, height, visual interest
  6. Mostly windows, to give clients a view of what’s happening outside the booth, and gives people a chance to see what the temporary tattooing process would look like, should they choose to engage
  7. Programming with a value-adding service in exchange for email addresses (What if there were a few quick, standard tattoos that could be given away in exchange for an email address? What about an add-on to an already designed and purchased tattoo?)
  8. The space needs to have a large, blank wall that would allow for graphics to communicate the offering and process to perspective clients.
  9. The design should integrate lots of natural light and neutral colors to achieve the oasis feel Confused Tattoos is looking to achieve.
  10. Include a computer or POS system to collect email addresses and scan credit cards.


What are some design options for a pop-up shipping container?


Upper Decks

Chick Fil A popup


Cabana Doors

Deloitte Cabana Doors



Shipping Container Awnings



Facebook RNC


Strategic Lighting

Piedmont Plastics



Custom Mill Work

Dark Horse Custom Mill Work



Should you buy or lease your pop-up?


You’ll benefit from a purchase if these factors are important to you:


Complete Customization.

When you purchase your shipping container pop-up, we build it to your exact specifications. If you need a highly specialized space, such as a multi-container structure or intricate luxury finish packages, our purchasing option is a more streamlined and cost-effective way to approach the project. If you permanently modify one of our existing assets, you may end up paying considerably more for the container than if you’d built it from scratch.


Longer Engagements.

There are no strict timelines for owning vs. renting, but for long-term campaigns, buying can make more financial sense. For a yearlong tour, the cost of renting often exceeds that of owning.


Open-Ended Options.

After the close of a tour, Boxman Studios can store your container or do an “upfit” so it can keep evolving and serving your needs in new, creative ways.


Tax Benefits

By utilizing Boxman Studios’ product, our clients can receive tax benefits. Based on IRS Publication 946, container structures are categorized as 7-year tax life property. Specifically, the code states, “Any property that does not have a class life and has not been designated by law as being in any other class.” This means that modular units are not called out in the IRS Publication 946, therefore it defaults to a 7-year property, which allows you to depreciate the units over a 7-year tax life. Commercial traditional stick-built construction in IRS Publication 4562 is classified as nonresidential real property, which has a depreciation period of 39 years.


You’ll benefit from a lease if these factors are important to you:

Try It Before You Buy It.

If you are considering a custom build and have never experienced a shipping container activation or installation before, renting can give you the opportunity to test and determine what works best for your brand goals. Maybe you learn that your audience didn’t use the indoor lounge but loved the outdoor seating and awnings. Next time, you can incorporate what worked, and leave out what didn’t. Or tell us, and we can fix the layout, programming, or branding immediately, so you can continue your tour with a container that meets your needs. “Rental” doesn’t mean off-the-shelf.


Ideal for Shorter Or One-Time Events.

For some events, buying may not be the best financial or logistical choice. If you’re planning on utilizing the structure once a year, renting may be the most convenient way to create a brand experience for your audience. With our custom leases, you can have the same level of flexibility without needing to store your space for the other 51 weeks out of the year.


Inventory Management.

Many companies prefer to maintain a lean inventory and keep their overhead low to reduce tax or insurance implications. In this case, renting helps you manage your inventory in a way that is more advantageous.


Supplement Owned Assets.

When our customers purchase custom-built shipping containers, they’ll typically use them regularly throughout the year. Occasionally, they may have a show or venue where they can utilize a bigger footprint, so they choose to supplement their existing assets with rental units to ensure that they make the most impressive impact for those events.



Planning a shipping container pop-up can be overwhelming. Boxman Studios is a team of designers, welders, event professionals, activators, and everything in between to help make this process completely turnkey. For more information about pop-up shops, read “4 Benefits of Pop-Up Retail Space.” Or, if you’re curious about what we can provide, reach out to us via our contact form.