30 under 30: There’s no containing Brent Nelson and Mike Ouellette

The childhood friends purchased a shipping container office and turned it into a business.

Mike Ouelette (left) and Brent Nelson were childhood friends before they launched Custom Cubes

Brent Nelson + Mike Ouellette, 28

Owner + COO/Owner + CEO, Custom Cubes

Life Story: Friends since they were kids in Surrey, Brent Nelson and Mike Ouellette had always planned to invest in real estate so they could become developers in their early 30s. But one Friday night over beers in 2018, they found a quicker route. Red Seal carpenter Nelson, then an assistant superintendent for a general contractor, and Ouellette, who was working at a logistics business, bought a used shipping container office on Craigslist. Moving the unit to Nelson’s backyard in Cloverdale, they refurbished and sold it.

Over the following year, the pair craned in several more containers, often working until 2 a.m. on weeknights to refine their craft. As sales grew, they set up shop in a small industrial space and started hiring. Custom Cubes now makes everything from construction offices to storage spaces to workshops. “We don’t even necessarily see ourselves in the container business,” Ouellette says. “We see ourselves in the mobile structure business.”

Their website gives clients the option to choose a standard design or request a custom job. For example, a farmer in a small community asked for a mobile meat processing unit. If it makes sense, the company will turn such a project into a new product category, Ouellette explains.

Bottom Line: Custom Cubes, which recently moved from Surrey to a new Delta headquarters with a 10,000-square-foot production facility, has 18 staff. As of June, it had 16 projects in the works and 65 presold. Custom Cubes also sells more than 100 unmodified containers a month.

Nelson and Ouellette, who just bought a similar business in Edmonton, plan to establish hubs nationwide and branch out into timber structures. Among their other goals: owning the land for each location, including a much larger HQ in the Surrey-Delta area. “Our aspirations for building and development haven’t changed,” Nelson says. “Now we’re just building that base and a foundation so we can succeed in that area as well.”