When travelling internationally, there is nothing better than immersing yourself in the local scene of the country you’re visiting. If you’re headed for Central Asia, the Abu Saxiy market located in Uzbekistan’s capital Tashkent should definitely be top of your list. Located in the west of the city, the market has something for everyone. Souvenir hunting backpackers rub shoulders with locals doing the weekly grocery shop. Vendors of traditional Silk Road textiles share the space with spice wholesalers. This creates a buzzing environment of business dealing and good-natured haggling.
It also has a fascinating back story. In 2006, Uzbek businessman Timur Tillyaev came across 680 unwanted shipping containers. Taking a punt on a piece of vacant land on the outskirts of the city, he used the containers to set up one of the region’s first box markets. Timur’s bet paid off and the market proved to be a huge success. Though no longer the owner, it brings Timur great satisfaction to see how Abu Saxiy has grown to become Uzbekistan’s largest market. Today, it is spread out over 25 hectares and is home to over 3,000 stalls.
As a businessman, Timur Tillyaev was conscious of the fact that one of the most significant barriers to starting a new venture is the start-up cost. He recognized that he could offer vendors an opportunity at a much-reduced financial risk. He stated:
“Re-purposed shipping containers are very cost-efficient and therefore popular with traders. There is no doubt they have contributed to enormous growth in the Central Asian retail economy.”
A second advantage to the containers was that they enabled Timur to be much more flexible on the leases he could offer. In many major cities renting commercial space demands a 12-month commitment. Timur’s containers enabled him to get around this problem. Being cheap and easily movable they offer market operators and stall holders great flexibility.
A consequence of this lower opportunity cost is that container markets of this kind, also known as box parks, provide everyone with an entreprenurial mindset the opportunity to open a stall. This results in an eclectic shopping experience, which is dynamic and responsive to local tastes. Box parks are popular with shoppers looking for a different shopping experience, and are a refreshing change from the predictable atmosphere of a typical shopping mall. This also explains their growing popularity across Asia and Europe. London’s famous Boxpark in Shoreditch always leaves visitors happy. A reviewer stated it has “nice energy and great food options – relaxed atmosphere and good location. Worth a visit if you want to unwind for a couple of hours with friends.”
Timur Tillyaev was also aware of his business model’s low carbon footprint. The construction industry is a major driver of climate change. By repurposing unwanted shipping containers instead of building his market from concrete and steel, Timur avoided the transportation and consumption of heavy construction materials.
A visit to Abu Saxiy is not just a way of immersing yourself in the culture of Uzbekistan and Central Asia, it also provides an insight into new ways of doing business in a more sustainable way.