Kelowna: Built to last, Big Steel Box goes global
As Internet trends go, the tiny house movement is on the brink of world domination and if there's one fan favourite among the funky dwelling alternatives, it's the shipping container.
From stacked container apartments to the single box options dropped on the verdant paradise of the owner's choice, the corrugated metal structures have acquired enough allure among back-to-the-land types and the architecturally curious to spawn their own niche in designer magazines.
Are these homes a realistic housing solution for the average Okanaganite? Not really, according to Devon Siebenga, president of Big Steel Box Structures, a company poised to provide container housing options globally.
"It's not actually a more cost effective solution. It's an alternate solution and it has real benefits being that it's structurally built out of steel," he said. "But the reality is, all of your interior wall construction is the same as any other building and in some cases you have to use a little bit more special products."
And this means the costs go up.
For example, a typical building breathes whereas a steel shipping container does not. When Big Steel Box builds one of its sleeping structures, they have to compensate by using a polyurethane spray-foam insulation which can then act like a vapour barrier to ensure condensation doesn't form inside the walls.
The box may look cheap, in other words, but once the work starts inside, the bills start mounting.
"Structures" is the story of the year at Big Steel Box, which merged with the Mission Group in 2012. While the original company, Big Steel Box Corporate, continues to make leaps and bounds, landing clients like the Target —it worked with Ledcor on the store's roll out in Canada providing storage for the goods prior to opening—the Structures branch of the company is quietly expanding, providing everything from military to logging camps with staff accommodations.
The pitch is simple.
"If you want to start to move a wood frame, you need to have significant reinforcement where the box is already built to move…and any transportation system is build around this building block so it's ultra portable," said Devon, 26, one of the three brothers who run this young company.
Now housed under the Mission Group, Big Steel Box is actually a spinoff of a landscaping company owned by his father, Barry, who brought his sons Jason, Devon and Ryan Siebenga into the fold when they each left high school.
Barry started the business by purchasing a few containers for himself to use in his original business and was soon loaning them out to friends.
The system became a side venture and over the course of a three year period it grew enough for his oldest son, Jason, to skip the post-secondary school route and start with the company in 2003 at 20 years old. Ryan followed the next year, running a storage company out of Abbotsford and Devon in 2005, when the family acquired On-Site Storage in Kamloops.
The three brothers, each running separate companies, decided it was time to brand under one name and with the birth of Big Steel Box, the company exploded.
"We were actually approached by a few companies out of the U.S. that were interested in acquiring our business and, through that process, we saw that we had a huge opportunity to take over the market for portable storage in Canada," said Jason.
He's now doggedly pursuing a five-year plan to dominate the domestic container storage market with a goal to have a presence in every city of 100,000 people or more. The company can do everything from move a family home to provide the containers for large construction projects or other commercial needs.
And this year, Big Steel Box Structures, which operates as a separate company under the Mission Group, has started to spread its wings, providing housing in Cuba, called Jack and Jill sleepers, working on a 100-man camp in Northern B.C. and bidding on contracts in Saudi Arabia.
The key to the speedy build lies in their ability to find good mentors, Jason said.
Working under Jonathan Friesen, chief executive officer of the Mission Group, they're able to access the resources of the partners in the parent company, like Randy Shier, the architect who heads MG Homes, and the business leadership they need to make good decisions.
"When I look at the guys from the Mission Group, I thought, if we can get these guys interested in the business and working with us I think we can do as good or better than working with (the American companies who offered the first merger), even though they have everything on paper," said Jason.
And as for the name, that part of the equation is owed to a woman in Vernon who helped with their branding.
"People see our competitors' boxes and they think that they're Big Steel Boxes even when they're not branded as a Big Steel Box," said Jason. "It really resonates and it's so easy to retain."