Mention Croydon and the first thing the majority of people say is ‘Boxpark’. That, and the fact the place is a bit run down, is all people seem to know about this outer South London suburb. The metal shipping container type concept of Boxpark has become the ‘up and coming’ stamp of hipster approval and many councils and developers see it as an opportunity to regenerate their town centres, drive footfall and appeal to a younger audience.
Since its launch in 2011, Boxpark has morphed from retail to food outlets, and, now, work places. Just announced, Boxpark has nationwide expansion plans alongside two brand new concepts; BoxOffice and BoxHall. They currently have 3 sites in Shoreditch, Croydon and Wembley. and there are plans to expand with a further ten new sites over the next five years.
Left - Boxparks new concepts; BoxOffice & BoxHall
The new concept, BoxOffice, is a co-working space which will be incorporated into brand new Boxpark sites. The Boxpark and BoxOffice schemes will be a 50,000 - 150,000 sq ft. in size with developments featuring the Boxpark streetfood and bars set up on the ground floor and leisure operators such as virtual reality, cinemas, crazy golf and karaoke on the first floor and between two to four floors of co-working space above. Boxpark will work along alongside existing co-working companies on the launch and operation of the new BoxOffice concept.
BoxHall is a new food hall concept. These smaller, 10,000-20,000 sq ft, food and beverage destinations will be based on existing sites within city centres across the UK, featuring between six and twelve street food vendors at each site. Boxpark’s turnover is reported to be currently in the region of £10 million a year.
Boxpark founder and CEO Roger Wade said, “I’m really excited to announce our plans for our brand new BoxOffice and BoxHall concepts. Boxpark has always been an innovator in the retail and leisure sector and these brand new formats demonstrate our investment in continuing to evolve both the brand and the sites we build and operate. These two major new innovations will help us secure a further 10 sites across the UK over the next five years.”
They haven’t named the sites, but proposals were submitted to Brighton & Hove City Council to revive the crumbling Victorian arches on the seafront, and will incorporate a new premium hotel operator alongside a Boxpark.
Founder Roger Wade’s background is retail and he was the founder of footwear brand, Boxfresh. The pop-up Boxpark idea has been successful because it has mirrored Generation Rent. The temporary nature and its choice of more ‘edgy’ locations needs less investment and has less local competition. It’s the opposite of chainy, while still being a chain and situated at travel hotspots for a generation who aren’t learning to drive. Read ChicGeek Comment Neighbourhood Shops - here
Councils are also encouraging them too. Croydon Council gave Boxpark a £3million loan, plus another £180,000 grant of public cash towards its launch party. Croydon Boxpark has 40 traders from around the world, both established and start-up, set in over 90 shipping containers. With Croydon as a further example, while the Boxpark seems to be thriving near the main East Croydon station with direct trains to London and Brighton, Westfield’s much feted shopping centre in the middle of the town seems to be wobbling and being pushed back further and further. Bricks and mortar is expensive and these easily converted containers are ripe for small start ups, offer more customer choice and can be moved easily if a location doesn't work.
Right - Time Out Market London opening at Waterloo Station in 2021
When Boxpark first opened in Shoreditch it was retail focussed with brands such as Calvin Klein Underwear and Nike. It quickly moved more into food when it realised young people wanted experience over stuff. The two further Boxparks were purely food focussed. Now, they’ve realised there is potential to develop further and make ‘Box’ the ‘Easy’ brand for younger generations.
Eating at these places is cheaper and cooler than eating in standard restaurants. It has spawned imitators such as Pop in Brixton and GRUB in Manchester while chains like Byron Burgers and Jamie’s Italian have all suffered. Shopping centres and town centres are seeing that these hipster concepts appeal to Millennials and Generation Z who want authenticity, and, while a similar idea, they feel like the antithesis of the traditional American mall type food courts.
Food is the fulcrum for all these developments, and it's the theatre of food that creates the buzz and energy missing from many modern retail locations. People need to eat, it brings people together and makes them leave the house.
These mini-food halls are seeing a boon ATM. ‘Market Hall’ opened at Victoria Station and Fulham with a third opening, the flagship, ‘Market Hall West End’, opening late 2019 in the old BHS building off Oxford Street and will become the largest food hall in the UK. Covering 37,500 sq ft over three floors, with over 800 covers, "this impressive space will feature twelve independent food vendors made up of crowd favourites in Fulham and Victoria as well as some new faces, four bars, a children’s play area, three dedicated events spaces and TV recording studio including a demo kitchen". Market Hall founder, Simon Anderson, told the Big Hospitality website in April 2019, “We are concentrating our attention for the next year and a half within the M25 as we know the London audience well. When we go further afield we’ll go to the north first as half our management team is based in Yorkshire and has a good understanding of that marketplace. Within the next few years we hope to have three or four more sites in London and three or four out of London.”
These modern food halls are like an internet portal or host. The umbrella brand hosts numerous smaller and unknown brands offering more choice and novelty while charging a fee and not getting their hands too dirty. Shopping centre owner intu asked Market Hall to open at their Lakeside centre in Thurrock this Spring. I wrote this last year, ChicGeek Comment Returning Malls To Markets
'The Hall’ “brings together dynamic and independent food traders from across the south east and use the big-city energy, theatre and excitement of street-food to create a compelling dining experience for intu Lakeside’s 20 million annual footfall” says the blurb.
The Hall at intu Lakeside is 14,500 sq ft and includes seven kitchens, a coffee shop, pop-up areas for food trucks, two bars and seating for 680 people.
Other examples include the Time Out Market London, opening at Waterloo station in 2021 - Read more ChicGeek Comment Investors Letting The Train Take The Strain and Eataly, opening on Broadgate, next to Liverpool Street station, in 2020.
Left - Eataly opening on Broadgate in 2020
This global Italian food “marketplaces” operator, which combines retail and restaurant concessions, already has locations in New York City, Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles, as well as in Japan and Brazil. It promises a selection of “the best Italian products, restaurants, bars, quick services, exciting on-site production laboratories, and a cooking school.”
The Boxpark brand is the leader in this area of pop-up food malls and developers and towns are seeing this as a worthy replacement for the contraction in retail demand. The new BoxOffice and BoxHall concepts seem like logically growth of a popular brand.
Umbrella brands like Boxpark also know councils and shopping centre owners will offer financial incentives for them to bring these currently cool concepts to their locations. The only difficulty I see is expecting an unlimited supply of authentic, ambitious and quality start-ups to fill them. These concepts are only as strong as their groups of operators and it will be a fine balance of supporting them while profiting from them.
Shopping centres are morphing to survive. Opening cinemas, restaurants and other attractions to get people out of the house and their tenants happy with more footfall, they are trying to move away from being a one trick shopping pony. This is old news.
But, it’s all so chainy and sanitised; the antithesis of what is cool today. It’s basic.
Left - St George’s Market - Belfast
What’s cool today is start-ups, seasonal produce, artisans, craftspeople, farmer’s markets, Boxparks, ethnic food and passionate and motivated people seeing the whites of their customer’s eyes.
Shopping centres need to harness this energy and support it.
I’ve often been jealous of the historical, covered markets they have in many Northern towns. This isn’t poncey, Daylesford Organic type markets, but real markets for everybody, offering quality and affordability. Lots of fresh produce and home made products. I know, if I had one closer, I would use it.
I visited Belfast 18 months ago and fell upon St George’s Market. It was a mid-week wednesday in October and the whole place was buzzing. Built between 1890 and 1896, and supported by The National Lottery, the restoration preserved its Victorian heritage, from the authentic stone bricks to its Bangor Blue roof slates and replicas of original Victorian shops.
As well as restoring an important historical building, the project created a modern market place providing a space to trade and grow for over 170 small local businesses, and supports around 400 jobs each week.
Since its renovation in 1999, St George’s Market has gone from strength to strength, trebling the number of days it trades from one day a week to three. The huge variety and quality of products on offer helps to attract over 600,000 visitors each year. St George’s Market was named the UK's Best Large Indoor Market 2014 by the National Association of British Market Authorities.
There were signs on the doors saying there was a wait-list for stalls. It was a mix of food, arts and crafts, vintage artefacts and unique gifts. Of course, not everything was to the highest taste, but that’s the point of a market, it’s an excitement of discovery and unpredictablity. The opposite of a modern and bland shopping centre. It was thriving and it had an energy that I wanted to spend time in.
I recently visited Centre:MK in Milton Keynes. It’s a busy, 1970s listed shopping centre at the heart of the city. I had a walk around and noticed, huddled under a flyover type structure, was an outside market: little stalls selling vegetables and other types of street market products.
Shopping centres need to bring this inside, polish it up a bit and expand it. But not sanitise it. These types of markets were often looked down upon, much like Primark was - Read more here - but things change and we need a return to a type of frequent shopping that we’ve been doing for thousands of years.
Right - Kirkgate Market - Leeds
This is the modern version of an ancient market. Somewhere I can get great bread, home-made chocolates for presents and authentic products from all the nationalities who have made their home in the UK.
I live in Croydon. They opened a Boxpark over a year ago. It’s fantastic. It’s a large food court which feels like you’re trying something new and getting passion in every mouthful. It’s just food and you congregate on large communal tables in the centre after visiting what feels like an unlimited choice of cuisines.
People are just as tired of chain restaurants as they are of chain stores. It’s time for independents. These shopping centres could support whole armies of people itching to start their own enterprise. There are so many people wanting to follow their dreams and try something new without the prohibitive cost of opening a shop or starting a website. These brands are very active on social media and offer newness and a point of difference.
Large towns and highly populated areas could easily sustain a thriving market type concept. The shopping centre needs to be an umbrella rather than a controller. The other shops would benefit from more frequent visitors and the buzz of the shopping centre. This is also how future brands will start.
Remember Marks & Spencer started on a market stall in Leeds after all.