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Containers Hostels is November's Featured Business of the Month

Thu, 26 November 2015

Bryn Powell, came up with the idea for his business, Containers Hostels, with his business partner Nick, after he graduated from the University of Leeds.
Bryn Powell, came up with the idea for his business, Containers Hostels, with his business partner Nick, after he graduated from the University of Leeds, where he studied Environmental Science. 
 
After his studies, Bryn worked as an operations manager at Fosterwood Ltd, providing him with invaluable experience which helped him when setting up Containers Hostels. Bryn and Nick originally planned on setting up Containers Hostels in London in time for 2012’s Olympic Games. Bryn quickly learned that flexibility when starting-up was vital, as Containers Hostels ended up opening two years later, in Edinburgh. 
 
Containers Hostels run a seasonal hostel in the summer months in Edinburgh, where 40% of the revenue comes in August due to the high quantity of tourists visiting for the Fringe Festival, with accommodation built from converted shipping containers. 
 
The business’ original plan was a 48 bed hostel in 2014, which was expanded into a 96 bed hostel when they started trading. They now have a 108 bed capacity, which was fully booked throughout 2015, and they expect to exceed sales again next year.
 
Shell LiveWIRE sat down with Bryn to catch up on how the business has been doing since he won a Shell LiveWIRE award three years ago, and to see what’s next for Containers Hostels.
 
What was the inspiration behind Containers Hostels?
It was originally a love for the backpacking scene and travel that encouraged us to see how we’d fare amongst the bigger contenders. We’d had our fair share of run down, convenient, boring hostels, but none had quite provided a quirky, environmentally friendly alternative to the ‘conventional’ hostel. We wanted to create our own, where you turn up alone and leave with friends and a family. From my point of view, Nick is the inspiration for me, my driving force and of course, my co-pilot. If it wasn't for him we wouldn't be here. His work ethic is second to none, his resilience is unparalleled and ‘No’ isn't in that boy’s vocabulary. And I love him for it.
 
How did you get into entrepreneurship? Did you always want to go into business for yourself?
Josh, my cousin, and Julian, his business partner, taught me a lot of what I now know. In fact I wouldn't be sitting here writing this if it wasn't for them or Nick, my own business partner; my riding crop and motivator. They inspired me into business the minute I saw the life they were living, being their own bosses and motivating one another. It truly is different to any other type of job. Ups and downs don't do it justice. One day the business is on the brink of failure, with no running water (sorted, just in time!) and then you get a call from your business partner, (in Burma, barely audible on the line) saying the dream of a hostel with a bar may be on the cards, to be opening as soon as 2017, just as you're in the process proofreading this interview to send off.
 
What challenges did you face when setting up your business?
Well, it's been a tough old slog. Living at home whilst all our friends have jobs in the city, seeing them making good money, with a payslip at the end of each month was a challenge at first. It gets tough when you have a business partner come on board, and then drop out because he doubted the concept (and quite rightly at that point). That really made it a challenge. I resorted to working part-time minimum wage jobs to tide me over. And parents (as incredible as they are for helping finance part of this project) put so much pressure on us: ‘When are you going to get a real job?’ or ‘so this the last Summer you're doing it then?’ became part of a Sunday night routine. But, ultimately, if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Hard work pays off, and you’ve got to put that in before anything else is achieved.
 
What is your proudest achievement with the business?
Sky News came and did a small feature on us in 2014, The Times wrote an article about us in that year too and, we won the Shell LiveWIRE award a year before that. But (and I know this is cheesy) it’s the hand shake and the sincere smile that you get when a customer leaves after having the most amazing experience of their lives that really allows me to feel proud of the project Nick and I created. Granted, it doesn’t come from every customer, but it's certainly more than in our early days. That’s what really makes all the hard work so worthwhile. Every five star review of people loving our product makes our absolute day and it truly means so much to us. Customer service and satisfaction of our clients is of the upmost importance.
 
Containers Hostels

You won a Shell LiveWIRE Award back in 2013, how have things changed for you since then?
It came at the best time; we were so set on a site in London and a permanent hostel at that point. Finding land was impossible with ‘no’ after ‘no’ after ‘no’. There wasn't anything for three young entrepreneurs fresh out of University, even three, young entrepreneurs with the biggest dreams. The Shell LiveWIRE award changed that; it was the much needed ‘yes’ that we had been waiting for. A credibility boost that so many start-ups lack, it instilled confidence in us and gave us something to be proud of. It was a personal triumph against those who doubted us.
 
What’s next for Containers Hostels?
Edinburgh is a fantastic spot for Containers Hostels and it works so well as a seasonal thing. The dream, ultimately, is a permanent hostel in London one day, but I think the next most realistic project before this is to create a low-spec eco-market somewhere in the country. Using solar panels to power the units and recycling yet more retired shipping containers. I feel the atmosphere that containers brings is perfectly suited to a market. 

Both myself and Nick run a tour company called ‘Escape London’, putting on mystery tours for Londoners, sending them to the towns and cities of the South East delivering that hassle free surprise aspect which motivates people to get out the city and into something exciting and new! We also put on coaches to quirky events, for example the Cheese Rolling in Gloucestershire, a fun day out every year (a crazy tradition where hundreds of people throw themselves down a hill in any way state or form, all for the reward of a 2kg cheese – great fun, which we were internationally featured on Snap Chat for!)

The trick is to get money coming in all year round. We’ve also got plans for a Hostel Bar in Burma, though we’re taking things one project launch at a time.
 
What advice would you give to aspiring young entrepreneurs?
If you know what you’re doing is a winner and if you believe in you, DO IT. Be flexible, adapt and don’t expect a miracle, but don’t give up either. 99% of the time your original idea isn't going to be the end product, so don't be stubborn. That doesn’t mean you have to compromise your product, but if you don't adapt it as you learn more about your market, and more by way of being a businessman/woman then you WILL make a success of it. And success is what YOU see as success, not what anyone else sees. There is no such thing as failure, only feedback. Think of a time that you were confident and successful, vividly remember it, and project that feeling into the future of your ideas, because that is where you're going. That was you then, that is you now, and that is you in the future.
 
Got a Smart Idea for a Business?
Do you have a smart business idea that will provide a solution to the world’s future transport, food, energy, or natural resource challenges, or make our urban environments cleaner and more sustainable places to work and live in? If so you can apply online now for funding!

 

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