Why repurposing London’s iconic red telephone booths is big business

Lovefone is repurposing some of London's iconic red telephone boxes into mini-mobile repair shops.

With the advent of mobile telephony, pay phones largely fell out of use the world over. But red telephone booths are synonymous with the city, and while its disuse hasn’t dulled its appeal to tourists, mobile repair shop Lovefone is now breathing life back into these iconic booths.

The company plans to open up a series of the world’s tiniest repair shops inside the traditional British red telephone booths, and on the 19th of May, Lovefone launched its second booth in Knightsbridge following a Greenwich launch last August. The new box is at 20-22 Brompton Road, SW1X 7QN.

Aside from their standard electronics repair services, Lovefone is also offering free mobile phone charging and wifi at their phone box repair shops. The aim is to have 35 locations in London over the next 18 months with Franchise opportunities available outside London.

According to CEO, Rob Kerr, Lovefone’s innovative approach to repurposing these K6 phone boxes came from searching for locations to expand the company’s retail locations. The steep cost of high street rent drove the team to think inside the box. “All the Itsu, Prets and chains are outbidding independent operators making it very hard to find affordable locations on the high street,” he tells GrowthBusiness. “Red Kiosk is our landlord, and they buy the boxes from BT. We pitched the idea of a tiny repair shop and they loved it. We ran a proof of concept in Greenwich in the summer and are now rolling out Knightsbridge, Holborn, Hampstead, Richmond and Kensington with more to come.”

“At the moment there are few credible high street repair companies so this was a way of getting onto the high street in a capital efficient way. We designed a special pod that goes inside the box and provides cctv, internet, power, temperature control and storage.  After that we found some slender repairers to sit inside and it’s working well!  We do about 80 per cent of our repair offering at the moment in the box. It’s a bit too small for laptop repairs but perfect for iPhone repair.”

As with any business, it’s all about location, location, location. “We tend to look for boxes on the high street of great neighbourhoods in London with lots of footfall. We have an exclusivity agreement with Red Kiosk company for the mobile repair concept so they let us know when they acquire new ones on an ongoing basis,” says Kerr.

Life in a box can get isolating, agrees Kerr, which is why the company rotates its technicians in the boxes and the shop so they have some form of team interaction during the week. “It can be a bit challenging working in a one metre square shop on your own – especially when it’s raining! When technicians have downtime they work on refurbished iPhones that we purchase from the operators and sell through our website. We courier parts and devices back and forth across the city to the boxes and from our repair lab in Brixton.”

The K6 model telephone booths were introduced in 1936 by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of the coronation of King George V. Today, over 10,700 remain in the UK. The K6 is the most popular and recognisable phone booth design in the UK, and has since become a British icon. For more on the evolution of the phone booth, check out an interactive timeline by Lovefone here.

Praseeda Nair

Kellen Rempel

Praseeda was Editor for GrowthBusiness.co.uk from 2016 to 2018.

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