'A classic British icon': Red phone booths get new lease on life thanks to former Calgarian
Rob Kerr got the idea from Virgin’s Richard Branson and now business is ringing off the hook
They may not be used for their original purpose much anymore, but a former Calgarian says those iconic red phone booths scattered around London are a perfect fit for a new business venture.
"We have got one of the few businesses that can fit inside a phone booth," Rob Kerr told the Calgary Eyeopener on Tuesday.
"We repair very small objects, so one square metre is just about enough space to do it in."
Kerr is the co-founder and chief executive of LoveFone, a U.K.-based company that repurposes those red phone booths into cellphone repair shops. He got the idea from an interaction with Richard Branson.
"I do a bit of work with Virgin StartUp, workshops and that sort of thing. In the conference room they brought out a phone box. It was Richard Branson's first office, is what they called it. They were using it for Skype calls and I went in and had a look. They are actually quite spacious inside. You would be surprised," Kerr said.
"I quickly found a company that had been renting them out."
The phone boxes, while only about a square metre in size, can actually fit a lot, he said, "CCTV, internet, storage, heating — pretty much everything that we need — a work surface, electrical."
Everything, that is, except a loo (a British term for a washroom).
"Fortunately in London there are lots of pubs," Kerr said.
"We go to a nearby pub, offer them free repairs and that is usually enough to get a deal on using the bathroom every day."
There's a huge cost savings to retrofitting a phone booth compared to a traditional retail space. A 1,000 square-foot shop in a prime London location can go for around £123,000 (about $203,000 Canadian) in annual rent, Kerr said, whereas the annual rent on a phone booth is around £4,000 (about $6,600 Canadian).
There were originally about 60,000 red phone booths, introduced in the 1920s by architect Giles Gilbert Scott, but the number is closer to 10,000 today after the introduction of smartphones.
"The phone boxes are kind of a classic British icon, design-wise," Kerr said.
"The response from the community was great. I think people really like the idea of having an unused object being turned back into something that provides a public service."
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With files from the Calgary Eyeopener and CBC's Thomas Daigle