South Africans increasingly want homes, businesses, and pools made out of shipping containers. There is just one problem: the containers are now too expensive, if they can be found at all.
Now the recent floods in KwaZulu-Natal have seen 12m containers hike in price by a whopping 129% and 6m containers by 81% compared to pre-pandemic, according to Mikateko Nkosi and Bongani Khumalo, founders of House on Wheels.
Based in Johannesburg, Houses on Wheels is a design and architectural business that specialises in conversions of moveable shipping containers into houses, shops, salons, businesses, and pools.
Though they have seen increased demand for their services across the country, the founders struggle with supply.
Despite more people being open to the idea of owning a container business or home, Houses on Wheels is losing money. The business makes zero profit on their containers, which costs them anywhere between R58,000 and R62,000 for a 12m B-grade container, and R35,000 to R40,000 for a 6m B-grade container.
"The pricing has shifted our approach to actually not making any profits from the container sales but just the actual conversions and design," said the founders.
Coronavirus lockdowns drove demand, said Khumalo and Nkosi. As businesses began downsizing and cutting costs, container businesses and shops seemed a more viable option. But those same lockdowns, labour shortages, and other supply disruptions, made for a poor global distribution of containers. Then Durban harbour was hit hard by flooding.
Shipping containers provide an alternative to traditional building methods which can be more costly and time-consuming, says Khumalo. Having a container is an alternative to renting, and is a way to push more young entrepreneurs into doing business through affordable means.
With the demand for containers constantly increasing, so has the time it takes to procure them, regardless of price. Watching stock availability is now an important part of their business, said the House on Wheels duo.