Whether it’s a new home in an emergency, 
or a place to help you keep going during 
building work, cabins and containers are being transformed by retailers determined to keep on retailing, whatever the adversity

Refit, flood, fire or break-in - there are many reasons why a retailer might decide to trade from a temporary location, such as a shipping container or a Portakabin, and just as many benefits associated with doing so.

While refits of a week or less can often be achieved without a store having to close entirely, establishing a temporary store is a good solution for builds lasting more than seven days, Blakemore Design and Shopfitting commercial manager Phil Collins says.

Establishing a temporary store and allowing builders unrestricted access to the shopfloor and back room areas is not only likely to result in a quicker build than if they were having to work around shoppers, staff and deliveries; it’s easier on customers, too, he points out.

“From a shopfitting point of view it’s obviously better for the builders and fitters to be able to get in and work totally unrestricted. It’s also better for shoppers who don’t have to deal with the noise and disruption,” he adds.

When you consider that most temporary stores can turn over between 30% and 50% of normal sales, then setting up a temporary unit can be an attractive option, especially given that refits and builds rarely progress entirely to plan.

customer service

Carry on retailing

Not all retailers have the space to set up a temporary store, and some go to great lengths to keep on trading despite adversity.

Determined not to close during a full-scale refit of their Lifestyle Express store in Grimsby, retailers Pardeep (right) and Randeep Singh traded throughout by serving customers from the door.

“We were keen to keep trading as we know customers rely on us and count on us to provide the things they need,” said Pardeep. “However, staying open didn’t come without its challenges. Trying to find items while the shop floor was being taken up was far from easy, but we all had a laugh and our customers were incredibly supportive.

“They could see how much effort we’d put into staying open to serve them so they didn’t mind if their groceries took a little longer to arrive as we manoeuvred our way around the store.”

Just ask Ramesh Shingadia, who recently completed a complex refit of his Londis store in Southwater, West Sussex. Ramesh chose to close his store entirely while the refit, which was supposed to take just under two weeks, took place. However, unforeseen complications resulted in the build overrunning by 10 days, meaning the store was shut for almost a month. “We kept uncovering issues with the cellar, rotten timbers and floorboards and so on,” he explains.

In addition to providing an injection to cashflow, establishing a temporary store can also help retain custom - shoppers will still be able to turn to you for their daily essentials rather than running into the arms of your local competition, from where they may not return.

Surrey retailer Dean Holborn is a perfect example of just how beneficial a temporary store can be when builds don’t go to plan. He chose to hire a second-hand shipping container and set up a temporary unit on the pavement outside his Redhill store during a large refit last summer.

“The store had to be closed as the whole floor was being levelled and re-laid, among other things. We were supposed to be trading out of the shipping container for three weeks, but due to an unexpected problem it ended up being 14! For that reason alone the temporary store was an absolute lifesaver and I’d urge any retailer who was considering a refit to think about taking on a temporary unit if space allows,” he says.

“Building works rarely go completely to plan and if we hadn’t had the temporary shop we would have been in a very bad way. We’d still have had all our overheads including staff costs to pay, and no money coming in,” he points out.

“The builder helped us to source the container and it only cost us £550 to rent for the full period, which is peanuts when you consider that we ended up trading 50% of our normal turnover from it,” he says.

Dean also forked out for an electrician to run cables into the 3x2m sq container, meaning that it could support a till along with two second-hand chillers and a hot drinks machine.

Fresh bread and pastries were baked off at his second store in Nutfield early each morning before being driven over to the temporary store in Redhill.

“As the build took longer and longer we also rigged up a temporary awning outside the shipping container which enabled us to include newspapers and magazines and an ice cream freezer in the summer months.

“The range was predominantly made up of alcohol, tobacco, bake-off, and essential chilled goods such as milk and butter, but we also kept a small range of top-selling grocery products,” Dean says.

When it comes to deciding what to stock, Landmark Wholesale retail controller Stuart Johnson urges retailers to “look at making every little bit of space count”. He adds: “Provide the essentials, such as bread, milk, sugar and basic groceries, then look at the fastest-selling products in each category. Our list of core range best-sellers is a great place to start, and means that retailers will have the most popular products customers will want to buy.”

Chillers can also be hired should a store’s existing chillers not be suitable, or moveable. Spar retailer Georgina Burns rented two 2m metre cabinets for three weeks while her family-owned Burns and Co site in Malvern was refitted last year. The cabinets, which were set up inside a rented Portakabin on the forecourt, allowed the store to offer a core range of chilled goods such as milk, butter and bacon.

Blakemore’s Collins, who managed the build and set-up of the temporary store for Burns and Co, explains: “The cabinets were hired from The Bond Group and came on wheels so were perfect for moving around. The Bond Group offers between 1 and 500 cases, with flexible hire periods of between one week to indefinite, a full delivery and installation service as part of the package, as well as a 24-hour engineer service, so it all worked brilliantly.”

Imperial Tobacco was also called in to establish a temporary gantry.

“We did do well from the cabin in terms of sales and didn’t drop by as much as we thought as we managed to fit in the top-selling items,” Georgina adds.

“We also had a container on site which we held stock in to be able to re-stock the Portakabin more easily.”

But of course, not all store closures are planned. Take Michelle Firminger of Ponsanooth Village Stores in Cornwall, for example. She was forced to trade from a temporary store set up in a log cabin after her store was devastated by floods last year.

Complications with the refurbishment and insurance gripes meant that Michelle was unable to move back into the store for 10 months. The achingly long delay rendered the temporary store a godsend from which she was able to rake in just over 30% of normal turnover.

The cabin sold all the key essentials such as milk, bread and eggs, and was run entirely by volunteers from the local community as Michelle’s insurance company wouldn’t foot the bill for staff costs.

“While it was born out of tragedy, setting up the temporary store ended up being a fantastic experience and brought the whole community together. We didn’t stock a massive product range - just essentials and best-sellers, plus kids’ pick ‘n’ mix,” Michelle says.

However, it’s important to note that setting up a temporary store does take a fair bit of pre-planning. For starters, it can take between two and three weeks for a basic container to be delivered to your store. Lead times for bespoke container conversions such as the additions of electrics or windows can take slightly longer at about six weeks, according to leading supplier S Jones Containers.

The company specialises in bespoke container conversions to include a host of specialist features such as windows, doors, partitions, electrics, lighting, heating, air conditioning and ventilation, plus special racking to maximise shelf space.

Another key consideration is the alcohol licence. Should you choose to sell alcohol from your temporary store you will need to apply for a whole new licence - a process which takes at least 29 days.

Gill Sherratt from advice and training specialists Licensing Matters explains: “The procedure for a temporary structure is exactly the same as for any new premises licence and needs carefully planning. An application is submitted and the 28-day consultation starts the day after. All being well and no objections received, the licence is granted on the 29th day.

“However, residents are very vocal these days and often misunderstand what is happening; they just see a new application for what they view is yet another alcohol licence and then object. This delays the process by potentially another three weeks.”

If you are certain that you will be trading out of a temporary location for only a matter of days, you could apply for a Temporary Event Notice without the need for a premises licence. However, these expire after 168 hours, or seven days.

It’s also important to factor in the time and manpower that will be needed to move stock into the temporary store.

Then there’s the cost, although as Dean points out these may not be prohibitive. S Jones Containers offer containers on a daily rental basis, either on short-term or long-term hire periods, with price dependent on size. The most popular standard container size is 20ft, which is 8ft wide x 8.6ft high.

You may also need to pay an electrician to wire the unit up.

However, all in all, retailers who have had to trade out of a temporary store agree that the reward was far greater than the effort. As Dean says: “Truth be told, we were actually quite sorry to see the temporary store go! It was an amazing experience and aside from being quite fun, it kept customers happy, staff paid, and us earning!”


Temporary stores fill the gap for community-owned shops

The community-owned shops sector boasts many shining examples of successful temporary stores and Grampound Village Stores in Cornwall is one (right). The store is currently trading out of a reclaimed 8m by 4m shipping container while the local community accrues funds to build a permanent site in the village.

“The container was bought second-hand from a local company for just £5,000 and, as it had already been used as an office, it already had electricity,” manager Margie Lundie tells Convenience Store.

“All we had to do was lay a new floor, and all the shop equipment and racking was bought second hand.”

The store sells a small but well thought out range of essential grocery items and a small fresh and frozen offer. The counter has been positioned to the left-hand side of the container, and racking extends all the way around the perimeter, leaving the central space free for shoppers to move around. “We will eventually build a permanent structure but for now the container suits our needs perfectly and business is booming! You just have to be very organised and play close attention to stock control as there is next to no storage space,” Margie adds.

The community-run Frensham Village Shop in Surrey also traded out of a custom-built shipping container from Mersey Sea Containers while it raised funds needed to build a permanent site.

Located on the local recreation ground, the container successfully served the community from 2007 to 2011 when a permanent store opened.

After this the container was transported to the village of Kingsbury in Somerset where it is still being used as a temporary store by local people while fundraising efforts for a permanent site continue.


It’s important to keep shoppers informed

Once the temporary store has been established it’s also a good idea to keep shoppers abreast of the build process. Dean Holborn used chalk boards outside his temporary store to communicate the stages of the build and what was available to buy.

“We also did our best to keep customers as informed and engaged with the build as possible, which kept it exciting rather than inconvenient for them,” he explains.

Landmark Wholesale retail controller Stuart Johnson agrees: “Where possible, retailers should take the time to communicate what’s happening, and why, with customers,” he says. “Generally customers will appreciate that retailers have gone to a lot of trouble to provide a temporary facility, and they will forgive you for not stocking your usual full range of goods.”