Shipping container use for businesses an option

Items for sale inside Perchd, a container shop on NW 9th Street.  (Mark Hancock)

Items for sale inside Perchd, a container shop on NW 9th Street. (Mark Hancock)

Sunshine Campbell wanted to think outside the box with her new business, which led her to open her store inside one.

Campbell wanted to open a modern design and furniture store in Oklahoma City, but without knowing how successful it would be she was looking for a small space with low overhead. She found what she was looking for in a shipping container, the kind normally seen on the back of trucks and trains.

“I knew I wanted to do something unique and different that hadn’t been done in Oklahoma City,” said Campbell, owner of Perch’d. “I wanted a small space until I knew it would catch on and do well.”

Located on a lot between Iguana and S&B Burgers on 9th Street, Perchd is inside a turquoise shipping container that features a showroom and small office. The concept was new to Oklahoma City, but without any specific regulations in place for the use of shipping containers, Perch’d was required to navigate the same process as any building in downtown.

“There hasn’t been any talk about a unique ordinance [for shipping containers] because honestly there is nothing different about them,” said Jeff Heinze, a planning use supervisor with the city of Oklahoma City. “They look different, but they are really like any other building to us.”

Perch’d originally opened without any permits and had not received city approval for its electrical setup. Campbell admits there was a lack of initial research done by her and her landlord, and that required her to close for nearly four months this year while she worked to bring the store up to code.

Sunshine Campbell perched atop items for sale inside her container shop, Perchd.  (Mark Hancock)

Sunshine Campbell perched atop items for sale inside her container shop, Perchd. (Mark Hancock)

“Since we were the first to do it there was no real guidelines for it in Oklahoma City,” Campbell said. “It was not completely on the city, but I would tell people to do their research before opening.”

The use of shipping containers has grown in popularity in other cities like Los Angeles and Chicago, but it remains a relatively unique concept in OKC. Heinze said he was only aware of four businesses in the city currently using containers, including one that has several stacked inside a building for offices.

Because Perch’d is located downtown it was also required to get special approval from the downtown design board, which typically requires new buildings to be at least three stories in an effort to encourage density.

However, shipping containers, while small in size, do fit with density plans as they are often solutions to fitting a business into a small lot. Shipping containers can save a business owner on heating and cooling costs, and the initial cost — typically a few thousands dollars is much cheaper than building a new structure.

“Its been really great to be a part of the growth happening here,” Campbell said. “By me opening that container … I think its allowed people to think outside the box. There are all kinds of people who are looking at new ways to do a business like this.”

Heinze said he expects to see more shipping container businesses in the future and said owners should plan to follow the same guidelines as any other building. While she was not happy to close her business for several months, Campbell said the process works well if you do your research.

“I think its fair that everyone have to follow the same rules,” Campbell said. “You just need to know what those rules are first.”

Ben Felder

Ben is a news reporter covering local politics, City Hall and education in urban Oklahoma City. He lives in OKC with his wife, Lori, and son, Satchel. Ben holds a masters in news media journalism from Full Sail University and is an OKC transplant from Kansas City, Mo. Twitter: @benfelder_okg

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