The first time I heard about container shops, I was like “What’s this person talking about? How can that woman own a container? Does this person really know what a container of goods cost?” That was many years ago.
I was living in Ibadan the first time I heard about a container shop. I heard about it from someone that resides in Koroduma, close to Mararaba in Nasarawa State. I haven’t heard or seen anything like that before. So I was actually confused when I heard that a petty trader owned a container. Things like that didn’t exist in Anambra and Oyo States then, so you can understand my ignorance and confusion.
I later moved to Koroduma and saw this wonderful edifice. I was like, “Whaaaatttt! Is this for real? Containers as shops?” I mean, I have only seen containers as ‘containers’ for goods that are moved by long trucks and emptied when they are brought to warehouses. I have also seen containers as makeshift offices in construction companies. But I’ve never seen them as private shops, and even homes. My small mind thought that once these containers were emptied in the warehouses, they will be bought by these construction companies, resold for more importation and exportation, or dismantled for other constructions works, such as gates and wheel barrows.
What I know that petty traders use in those days as their shops were temporary structures made with wood and aluminium sheets, commonly known as batchers. But these structures have their disadvantages because they are easily affected by fire outbreaks, thefts, termite attacks and weather attacks. But the conversion of these batchers to containers is an innovative idea that saved these petty traders a lot.
The first time I saw a container shop, I marvelled at the artistic works done to that chunk of metal. Openings were made for the windows and doors; rafters were constructed above it and zinc or aluminium sheets used to make its roof. The inside wasn’t left out as the floor was tiled. Shelves were built on the walls for the display of goods, and the ‘office’ table and chair kept at one corner. A veranda was also added to this shop by extending the ‘roof’ and tiling the floor at the front, and sometimes sides of the container. Trust me, it was a beauty to behold. If you didn’t look well, you may think that it was actually a real house made with cements, sands and blocks.
But my major interest in this piece is not about the aesthetic features of the container shops, but the economic roles they play in Nigeria. I believe they can be found in every part of the country today. Here in Enugu, they are springing up in every nook and cranny of the town. Though this invention has a lot of advantages, it equally has some menaces that need to be checked before they get out of hand. But I will start with the good side of it.
- Less Capital Investment: The good thing about having a container shop is that it is cheaper to start. I asked, about two years ago, how much a container costs and was surprised to hear that they come in sizes – one room, two rooms and even three rooms (lol) – and in grades – the very durable (the original foreign ones that came into Nigeria with imports), the constructed ones (the ones made in Nigeria using lower quality metal), and the second hand of any of these two. I was told then that a one-room durable container will cost me like eighty thousand naira (#80, 000), while the constructed one of same size may take me like forty-five thousand naira (#45, 000) to acquire. If I decide to go for the second hand containers, I will need to have between thirty-five to twenty thousand naira, depending on the grade and size.
I looked at this and realised that I could easily start up a small scale business with about a hundred thousand naira, that is, if I see where to keep the container.
- Lower Rate of Thefts, Damages and Accidents: The coming of container shops has reduced the reported cases of loss of goods to theft. These containers are built in such a way that their locks cannot be easily accessed by someone without the right key. This means that it will be very difficult for a thief to break in.
Containers also prevent fires and destructive animals from gaining access to the goods inside the shop, unless the ‘house’ has been destroyed in some parts by rusts. Honestly, I haven’t seen anyone who lost her wares in the container to fire.
- Mobility: It sounds funny but it is true. Container shops are mobile shops. I witnessed this first hand when the Nasarawa State government came to demolish most of the containers placed on major streets. The way these shop owners were carrying their shops, with all the goods inside, into nearby compounds were marvellous scenes to behold. So, if the area you placed your shop isn’t accommodating, you just have to carry your shop to another place. No need for too much talk.
- Revenue Generation: Even though our government has not really acknowledged these types of shop owners, a lot of revenues are being generated through them. These people pay tax, or I say taxes, to different officials from their respective domiciled local governments. They also pay rent, even though that may be small. Yes, in case you didn’t know, they pay whoever that is in charge of that land they kept their shops. And then, they are traders, one way or the other, which means they contribute to the economic affairs of the country. Besides, I have seen a huge container shop used by a wholesaler to stock and supply drinks to retailers. So, container shops are not owned only by petty retailers.
Like I said earlier, container shops can cause some social nuisances to the community. One of the ways they do this is by littering the environment with abandoned containers. Because containers are private properties, nobody else can enter and use it without the permission of the owner. In most cases, the owners of such shops may leave town and never bother going with their ‘shops’. Some of them may put it up for sale but will send away prospective buyers with their exorbitant prices. These abandoned containers obstruct the free movement of cars, humans and floods. And they can become comfortable habitants for deadly animals and miscreants.
Another problem with these container shops is the illicit transactions going on in and behind them. I have observed that some of them in Enugu seemed to be peddlers of marijuana. Maybe because nobody really checks on their business dealings, nor regulate their operational time, they can comfortably go ahead with both legal and illegal businesses. Law enforcement agencies need to be more vigilant with some of these people. Instead of treating them like they don’t exist, the government should encourage them to register their businesses so that they too will feel like they ‘follow’.
The way container shops are springing up in every space in the city needs to be looked into. I am not against them, after all they are reducing the rate of unemployment, but they need to be checked. The way they keep containers these days is gradually making the town look untidy, unplanned and unorganised. These shop owners look for any available space that could contain their ‘shops’ and drop them there (even if they block part of the road, they don’t care). The concerned landowners and caretakers seemed to be more interested in the little money these people pay them than in the problems they create.
Anyway, container shops have come to stay in Nigeria. No one can send them away right now, at least not in the near future. All that the town planning agencies need to do is to map out places for them to keep their containers and ensure that they stick to their corners.
The law enforcement agencies should also monitor the activities of these people. They should not be allowed to open these shops in residential areas only to start selling illicit goods and inviting the wrong type of crowd.
As for the unemployed, you actually don’t have reasons to complain now because you can see that a lot of business ideas have been flowing around. What skills do you have? What business do you want to go into? Have you ever thought of owning your own ‘mobile’ shop or office? See, there’s no need to waste more time. This is Nigeria, things are moving very fast right now. So, look around you and find the right spot for your own container shop and mount it there, before someone else takes that space.
Keep the hustle real.