Thousands of red telephone boxes are being sold off as many get little use. But some savvy entrepreneurs are finding alternative uses for them.
:: Thousands of red phone boxes to be sold off
Here, business owner Ben Spier explains why he started selling salads from one of Britain’s best-known landmarks:
I first thought of running my business from an old red telephone box when I walked past a poster advertising that they could be rented out.
Until then I had been selling my hearty and colourful salads at markets across London in an insulated trailer that I built with a mate.
I had been looking for a permanent home to run my business, but was put off by the high rents.
But when I saw the advert, I realised if I could put shelves up the inside of the door and a fridge inside, I could sell from there at a fraction of the cost.
Image: Ben Spiers turn this phone box in to a shop selling salad
I sent my friend some very poorly drawn sketches of the wooden pod I thought we’d need to build inside and we built it, just about managing to squeeze a fridge into the space.
In May 2016, I began selling the food in London’s Bloomsbury Square, offering a menu of five seasonal dishes.
The telephone box proved to be the perfect business incubator – it was relatively low rent for the exposure to footfall that I got – although the limited capacity of the fridge meant I only had space for a maximum of 60 customer’s worth of salads.
Everyone loved the quirkiness, but for me it was key just as a base from which to sell – I wanted to make sure people knew our lunches were top notch and that it wasn’t all a gimmick!
It worked because I had lots of regulars from the nearby offices – they proved to be a higher proportion of my customers than tourists, so I could tell the salads were drawing people back.
Although, I always enjoyed the bewilderment on tourists’ faces when they saw the converted telephone box.
Image: Ben Spier sells salads
I even had a salad-dodging friend come along to see it who insisted he wouldn’t be buying one.
However, I persuaded him and he was converted – he ended up coming twice a week and bought two each time, saving one for his dinner!
The telephone box proved to be a great niche marketing tool because of the iconic status – whatever you do with them you get people talking and it’s fantastic to give them a new lease of life.
The format also encourages businesses such as mine to develop their sales technique by being out on the street, as well as learning to be resourceful with space and the elements.
A downside was the rain, but we built a nifty canopy to slot onto the top of the pod.
The business did so well it gave me the confidence to take the next step to apply for bigger premises.
The proof of a semi-permanent business was really helpful in putting together an application for a permanent location.
Image: Ben now runs Spier’s Salads
It helped with Transport for London taking the plunge and letting me a unit in St James’ Park station, where I now run Spier’s Salads.
I had to let someone else use the telephone box this summer so we could concentrate on the unit at the station, but we’re planning on re-opening it in the Autumn so hopefully we’ll see the return of our very first loyal first customers.