Big Interview: Roger Wade, Founder & CEO, Boxpark

Retail spaces may be shrinking across the country, but Boxpark is bucking that trend. Chief executive Roger Wade chats with Retail Gazette.

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Roger Wade

“I’m sure if you spoke to half the people on the streets of Shoreditch, they’d tell you that they hate Shoreditch and are only there as some sort of ironic exercise in nostalgia slumming.”

Although the views of Proud Cabaret owner Alex Proud on Shoreditch may be controversial to some, they represent the view of the majority of Londoners.

Shoreditch’s fairly universal “hipster” reputation is born from the area’s embrace of smaller more independent and entrepreneurial businesses.

Just as it is difficult not to jump straight to the term “hipster” when someone mentions the east London staple, it’s near impossible to picture the area as it is today without a giant black shipping container emblazoned with the word Boxpark.

“Boxpark Shoreditch has thrived as Shoreditch has thrived,” Boxpark’s founder and chief executive Roger Wade told The Retail Gazette.

“The streetwear industry is demanding, requiring brands to constantly innovate and create new products, I bought this same creative process to retail development”  

“It’s a symbiotic relationship: we need a strong and thriving local community in order to succeed and it’s great to see the regeneration of this prime location in east London.”

This symbiotic relationship runs deeper than a shared growth in sales and footfall. Since its launch in 2010, Wade has shared the area’s focus on promoting creative and unique concepts.

“I’m not interested in designing products which copy existing developments,” he said.

“I’m driven by a desire to create unique retail developments, like Boxpark Shoreditch the world’s first pop up mall, built from shipping containers.

“I wanted to create something new and fresh. I was inspired by a love of small independent retailers and container architecture.”

Wade’s ethos – which has driven £10 million turnover at Boxpark, rising fivefold in the last five years – stems from his career in street fashion.

Twenty-one years before Boxpark was launched, Wade created Boxfresh, a pioneering streetwear brand that led the way in importing brands like Carhartt, Penfield and G-Star to the UK.

“I spent 18 years building up Boxfresh from a market stall to an international brand selling in over a dozen countries,” Wade explained.

“During my period at Boxfresh I was used to creating nearly 1000 SKUs per season. Creating good products under pressure has become ingrained into my DNA.

“The streetwear industry is demanding, requiring brands to constantly innovate and create new products, I brought this same creative process to retail development.”

Boxpark borrowed more than just its name from Boxfresh, taking on its attitude of incessant evolution and rapid pace.

“Like all good entrepreneurs, you evolve, somethings don’t work but you keep trying new things, you find the best solution,” Wade said.

“Boxpark started as home for independent streetwear and sportswear brands but we saw the growth in independent street food brands too so we evolved and improved our concept to allow us to provide a home for food and drink vendors too.”

Despite its deep-seated relationship with Shoreditch, Boxpark has now evolved beyond even its east London origins, launching Boxpark Croydon in 2016 and announcing Boxpark Wembley earlier this year.

Though its “symbiotic relationship” has clearly been a key building block of Boxpark’s success, the pop-up model which it has spearheaded has been one of the few physical retail ventures to thrive over the past few years.

As we’ve seen with the collapse of Toys R Us and Maplin in recent weeks, big box stores are giving way to smaller, experiential stores which utilise space more creatively at an increasingly frightening rate.

This is why Boxpark has been able to succeed in Croydon, an area of London with a vastly different demographic from Shoreditch. Despite this disparity, Wade states location is still key.

“Wembley has evolved on from Shoreditch and Croydon – it’s effectively all indoors – it’s Boxpark stage three”

“Location is absolutely fundamental to Boxpark, both of our two existing sites and our third which is due to open in Wembley Park are prime examples of this,” he said.

“Boxpark’s positioning and proximity to transport hubs ensures we get great footfall year round.

“We have a constant mix of young, vibrant, up and coming independent traders and we do our best to help all of them succeed.

“There are a lot of similarities that can be drawn between Croydon and Wembley, both areas are undergoing major regeneration programmes and it’s great to be a part of this process.”

Wembley’s new site will represent the latest incarnation of Boxpark, and at 50,000sq ft will be the its largest project to date.

“Wembley has evolved on from Shoreditch and Croydon – it’s effectively all indoors – it’s Boxpark stage three,” Wade explained.

It could soon be difficult to imagine the retail landscape as a whole, not just Shoreditch, without giant black shipping containers emblazoned with the word Boxpark.

The pop-up concept is due to expand outside of London next year, aiming to trade from 12 locations by 2023. Retail spaces may be shrinking, but Boxpark is blowing up.

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