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June 2013
Building Sustainable Immersive Brand Environments
By Cynthia Schick

     When Malcom McLean patented the intermodal shipping container in 1956, he revolutionized the transport of goods and cargo. No longer were the sale of goods limited to specific regions; thanks to the ease and uniformity of intermodal containers, goods could travel the world.

     Well, shipping container architecture is once again taking center stage, or rather, becoming the stage for hospitality venues, tradeshows and other public events with Boxman Studios’ design, development, and deployment of them as immersive brand environments for events and trade shows around the world.


Containers Come Full Circle

     Few inventions can boast as profound a social and economic impact on everyday life as the shipping container. It’s a large steel box built in standard sizes to support the transportation of goods by ship, truck, train, and sometimes even airplanes. Invented by native North Carolinian Malcom McLean (Maxton, N.C.)—known as the truck driver who reinvented shipping—the shipping container replaced wooden crates and loosely packed boxes that were clumsy, expensive and time time-consuming to load and unload.

     Because of its uniform design—stackability, versatility, strength, resistance to theft, and ease of loading and unloading—the uncomplicated shipping container greatly reduced the costs of production and distribution, some say by up to 90 percent. Nearly every product imported into this country is transported via a ship in a metal shipping container.

     Once the ship arrives in port, the containers are removed from the ship via a large crane and transferred onto railroad cars and tractor trailers for transport into the interior areas of the country.

     Today, the majority of shipping containers are manufactured in China with over 21,000 landing on U.S. shores each day. In the United States we have an overabundance of used shipping containers because of the economics of international trade; we import more than we export. But once they’re here, they’re oftentimes orphaned. This is where Boxman Studios comes in.

     “We see endless possibilities in the repurposing of these very sustainable boxes,” attests David Campbell, president, CEO and founder of Boxman Studios, LLC.


Serial Entrepreneur

     Campbell calls himself a “serial entrepreneur,” at one point in his childhood aspiring to be an architect. Today, he lives in Myers Park with his wife and three children.

     Campbell grew up in Katonah, N.Y., and earned a journalism degree from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1995. He returned to New York City and joined up as a stock broker with Prudential Securities, becoming a trader on Wall Street.

     An invitation to play golf in Charlotte a year later turned into a job offer with investment and brokerage firm Interstate Johnson Lane. After three years, he changed industries and accepted accepting a position with Harris Murr and Associates, a Charlotte-based real estate developer.

     Three years later, his burning desire to become an entrepreneur led him to open his own real estate development company, Acer Development, specializing in commercial properties, specifically office and retail space. Today, Campbell still keeps a hand in this business.

     Campbell describes himself as a visionary—a contemplative person. He deliberately takes time for reflection and goal-setting. He clears his calendar for one day every 90 days, going it solo oftentimes in the mountains to reassess and redefine his goals, dreams and expectations of life.

     He credits this open mindset of continually seeking out challenges for this current chapter in his life. In 2008, after reading an article about new uses for decommissioned shipping containers, he was intrigued. So he bought one and started playing in the mobile hospitality space. By 2009, he had a staff of 11.

     One of his first gigs was to set up a mobile hospitality venue at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Using a shipping container, Campbell’s vision was to create a positive sensory experience for each visitor, a concept called “experiential marketing.” Unfortunately, right before the event, the client cancelled. Having already designed a ‘Pop-up Party’ for his client, Campbell decided to attend the racetrack event anyway and throw a party to see who would come.

     “The unique design of the container as a hospitality venue attracted many visitors,” says Campbell. “I knew I was onto to something as I watched people slowly realize what the venue was made of and thought it was really cool. It validated our design principles.”

     Boxman Studios modifies these decommissioned shipping containers on a five-acre, 65,000-square-foot property just north of Charlotte. Both corporate offices and manufacturing are housed here, along with space for trucks that transport these repurposed containers to client locations around the country. Boxman Studios also has a storage, manufacturing and distribution center in Los Angeles.


A Better Brand Experience

     Campbell has structured Boxman Studios into three separate business proficiencies—design, development and deployment. The design process is highly collaborative, with the first question asked of the client, “What do you what want to achieve?”

     “I have all the faith in the world that we can create unique and one-of-a-kind experiences for our clients and for their customers,” says Campbell.

     “We have a custom solutions mentality,” describes Campbell. “When working with our customers, we want our solutions to be easier, cheaper and cooler than our competition.” Campbell says he has created a company culture around the “just say yes” approach to customers.

     For all of Boxman Studios’ projects, the main goal in the architectural design of a mobile hospitality venue is to facilitate interaction. Whether throwing a party or creating a pop-up retail space, clients typically want an attractive, interesting and welcoming venue to entertain and impress clients.

     And with using sustainable architecture such as shipping containers, Campbell points out that he is helping his clients align their brand with a responsible environmentally-friendly solution.

     Boxman Studios’ mobile hospitality venues are oftentimes pop-up parties that are popular rental units for many reasons. It arrives as a box, the flaps go down and is adorned with a bar, couches, TV, stereos, WiFi, electrical (either power or solar), and customized branding—all built in and already attached. The only thing left to add are the people.

     Campbell has positioned his company as a strong player in the experiential marketing space. Essentially, experiential marketing attempts to connect consumers with brands in personally memorable and relevant ways by creating a positive sensory experience to influence or motivate potential customers to become loyal brand users.

     Experiential marketing uses tactics that ignite the senses and emotions, whether it is audio or visual (or a melding of both), a physical sampling of a product, an anticipation of winning something, or many other forms. In Boxman Studios’ case, they’re creating an architecturally unique sensory experience for the visitor to get their attention. Once they’ve gotten their attention, the next step is to share a brand’s message in a memorable way that will stick.

     Jack Daniels is one of the better known brands taking advantage of experiential marketing rather than traditional approaches. The company prides itself as independence with a shot of rebel. They used that mentality to create a comfortable environment for visitors to sit with a brand ambassador, discuss whiskey versus bourbon, and sample some good old No. 7. Jack Daniels gave customers a memorable experience.

     Red Bull is not only a high-energy drink, it is a high-energy company. They needed a customized venue that could travel with them anywhere. Boxman Studios created a convenience store-style interactive booth using a 20-foot container which features all the comforts and amenities of a convenience store, down to the snacks and ice-cold Red Bull. It is easy to set up and break down, and it can accommodate virtually any space.

     Boxman Studios’ sales team targets global brands, architectural firms designing sustainable environments, and/or marketing firms who support global brands selling solutions in support of tradeshows, events or clients in need of a permanent or semi permanent building.

     “These custom-built designs have many applications where we can create an environment that’s memorable, adds to our client’s brand equity, and highly complements what they are selling,” says Campbell.


Launching Customized Environments

     In 2012, Mark McInnis from Javelin, an experiential marketing agency in St. Louis, Mo., reached out to Boxman Studios to help their client Samsung with the North American launch of their new Galaxy S III phone targeting the consumer market. Samsung wanted to take the technology to the people and let them interact with the phones in an intimate environment to experience all of its features directly.

     Samsung’s 12-week, eight-city campaign took America by storm in customized environments that let people experience the smartphone on a personal level. Starting with a repurposed 20-foot container, Boxman Studios customized a ‘cabana’ design maximizing  showroom space and giving Samsung representatives room to engage with prospective customers.

     Fully customized and appropriately branded, Boxman Studios’ iconic solution attracted crowds in every market. The comprehensive campaign turned out to be so successful, that Samsung continued the tour in three additional markets.

     Earlier this year, Javelin reached out to Boxman Studios on another Samsung project, this time targeting college students. This road tour was designed to introduce Samsung’s next generation phone, the Galaxy S 4. For four days, a Boxman Studios’ mobile hospitality venue was set up in a recreational area on six campuses for the students to try out the latest and greatest Samsung phones and win prizes.

     McInnis says, “Boxman’s mobile hospitality venues give a sense of premium quality that feels permanent, versus another mobile technology that’s typically on wheels. These venues on campuses work very well for us,” says McInnis.

     “After an all day event, you can lock them up at night, return the next morning, open them up, host the event and then drive them out to the next location. For these types of road tours, Boxman handles all the logistics including providing trucks, drivers, loading and unloading. It truly is a great resource to have in our toolkit to offer our clients,” adds McInnis.


Google’s Garage

     Each year, the world’s leading thinkers and doers gather at the TED Conference for an event many describe as the  “ultimate brain spa” or “a four-day journey in the future in the company of those creating it.”

     Google wanted to have a big presence at this event and was given courtyard property outside the Long Beach Convention Center to create an iconic presence. The venue needed to be large enough to accommodate visitors from the TED Conference, and yet small enough to fit into a limited footprint. It also had to be versatile enough to include a range of activities to keep convention goers engaged and entertained. Boxman Studios was called in.

     Two weeks before the TED Conference, Boxman Studios began setting up shop in Los Angeles with five, 40-foot shipping containers. Reaching 24 feet into the air, Boxman Studios designed and created three temporary buildings that were dubbed the ‘Google Garage.’ Each container was delicately lifted from the street into Google’s assigned space outside of the Long Beach Convention Center.

     A 3,000-square-foot structure was then filled with all things Google, including interactive YouTube screens, viewing areas for the TED talks, an Android charging station, a basketball hoop, a claw machine, a coffee bar, and various other cool activities to take a break from the conference. The result—Boxman Studios created an innovative, yet iconic space for attendees.

     As a young boy, Campbell’s dream of becoming an architect didn’t necessarily involve big metal boxes used for sleek hospitality venues. But looking out to the future, Campbell has big dreams for these sustainable customized shipping containers. He sees endless possibilities including pop-up buildings for emergency services and greater uses in the education, medical and growing of food industries.

Cynthia Schick is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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