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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Space fills quickly in container market

A worker welds a metal pole yesterday at Phnom Penh’s container night market where the construction is in full-swing.
A worker welds a metal pole yesterday at Phnom Penh’s container night market where the construction is in full-swing. Pha Lina

Space fills quickly in container market

Cambodia's first-ever container night market is fully booked and set to open in little over a week, introducing a hip shopping concept to the capital that has proved wildly popular in London, Singapore and Bangkok.

Construction crews are putting the finishing touches on 90 shipping containers laid out in rows and around the perimeter of a 1-hectare plot of land near the National Assembly building. The modified 12-metre containers – most divided into three 7.5-square-metre stalls – will serve as pint-sized bars, restaurants and shops for what its developer promises will be the capital’s most unique market experience.

Srey Chanthorn, chairman of Jet’s Group, said yesterday his company has invested $400,000 into developing the new market and the response from vendors has exceeded expectations. All 224 market stalls have been booked, with most vendors committed to two-year renewable contracts.

“All stores have already booked and paid a security deposit,” he said, adding that about 10 to 20 percent of the vendors had not yet signed contracts.

Thailand got its first container night market in 2015 with the launch of Artbox, a roving night market that makes a habit of disappearing only to pop up a few nights later in a different location. Its enormous popularity, especially with the young, hip crowd, spawned the even bigger and more illuminated Neon Night Market, a 1,000-unit container market that opened two months ago in central Bangkok.

Chanthorn said Phnom Penh’s container night market, scheduled for a soft opening on February 14, would follow a similar format, but with a distinctly local flair.

“This is the first time for a container market in Cambodia and our design is a bit different from ones in other countries as it incorporates traditional Khmer elements,” he said. “It is a unique concept, and comes at a time when business people are trying new designs and décor to compete [for customers], and not just focusing on cement construction.”

Chanthorn said from an investment standpoint, the container market was a small gamble, requiring relatively low upfront capital expenditure and promising a higher rate of rental return than the open-air restaurant and karaoke joint that previously occupied the land.

“Investment in the container market requires a fair bit of management, but it is more profitable than constructing a normal market or renting out the space,” he said.

According to Chanthorn, the market’s used freight containers were purchased from a local logistics company, costing just $1,500 to $2,000 for the 40-foot containers, and $1,300 for the smaller 6-metre units. With a little modification mainly sawing out windows and adding divider walls the container stalls fetch $300 rent per month, or $350 for the corner units.

Chanthorn explained that instead of getting $5 per square metre by renting out the entire 1-hectare lot for $5,000 per month, his company stands to pull in around $20 per square metre from the container market, whose stalls cover about half of the lot’s land.

In addition, the low cost and portability of the shipping containers reduces the operation’s long-term costs and risk.

“The container market can be easily moved or dismantled,” he said. “If we used standard construction we would face a loss if we had to tear it down, but here we’ve used shipping containers, which require a lot less capital for construction.”

Chhuon Kassara, who has rented out a corner unit in the container night market, said he and his partner have invested $10,000 into opening Spicy Cocktail, a beverage stall serving soft drinks, smoothies and cocktails. He said he was convinced the novelty of the container market would draw large crowds, bringing a fast return on this investment.

“I expect we will turn a profit because this market is different from other night markets,” he said. “Most Cambodians like to visit places with a fresh look and unique décor.”

Similarly, Chhun Rithykha, said he learnt of the new container night market from a friend, and decided to take a crack at opening a small clothing shop in it.

“It’s my first time to start a business, but I think having a stall in the container night market could bring in profit because it is the first of its kind in Phnom Penh, so should attract a lot of customers,” he said.

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