SOUTH BRISTOL, Maine — Ben and Emily Davis left careers out of state several years ago to return to Maine.
The couple already had a South Portland business renting storage containers, typically used by home and business owners while moving. Ben Davis says about a year ago, he realized there were other ways to use those steel and aluminum boxes.
“About the 200th customer who said ‘I could work out of one of these’ -- that was sort of a light bulb,” Davis said.
He says friends sketched out design possibilities.
“We just had an overwhelming positive feedback from those initial drawings, literally on a napkin. Now we’re here in production.”
By "here," Davis is referring to Gamage Shipyard in South Bristol. Davis, who used to be a yacht captain and owned a yacht management business, says boat-builders have all the skills to transform the storage container to Op Boxes, the name of both the product and the business.
“Op”, he says, stands for opportunity.
The containers are fitted with insulation, wiring, plumbing (if needed), and high quality interiors. David says the Op Boxes can then be used as small retail spaces, for food service, or for hospitality businesses. He says they can be easily moved from one location to another, and be set up and ready to open very quickly.
Ronna Lugosh of Peapod Jewelry in Edgecomb is considering buying one of the Op Boxes for a seasonal store in Portland.
“I like that because in the winter we won’t pay for staff, probably pay to store the box, but won't have to pay rent or keep the lights on,” she said.
Lugosi is interested in a Portland project Davis says he has entered into with the city: an agreement for him to manage several city spaces and locate OpBox businesses there. That includes a strip of land between the Maine State Pier and the cruise ship terminal. Ronna Lugosi says that appears to be a good location to attract both traditional tourists and cruise ship passengers during summer and fall and then move the OpBox out.
At the shipyard, manager Mike Tatro says they have built out four of the boxes so far, and Davis says there are orders for more -- and not just from Maine.
“We’re starting to hire some folks for his business now. We’re starting to sell outside the state. This box we are looking at here is a retail space going to Austin, Texas," said Davis. He added that it will be used as a retail space in the Texan city.
Tatro says he likes the concept and thinks there is the opportunity to grow it beyond the current uses.
“It offers so many different possibilities where it can go. As far as what Ben is doing with it, looking into solar applications, going into disaster situations -- there’s so many applications for this concept.”