Community services

OpBox creates unique places for retail and community services

Ben Davis, co-founder of OpBox, sees his Nobleboro-based startup that designs and builds modular, eco-friendly “pop-up” spaces as key to helping the retail and hospitality industries and the community infrastructure sector to find flexible and affordable mobile spaces.

“It’s the modern mall. It’s not that big footprint that’s stationary. It’s a flexible solution that speaks to the consumer and can change and evolve as consumer needs change” , Davis said. “It’s flexible. It’s outside. It’s more affordable.”

Rather than leasing expensive retail space in Portland’s Old Harbor, retailers such as Rugged Seas have used OpBox as a temporary downtown outlet. LLBean also used OpBox as part of their outdoor skating venue this winter. OpBox sites rent for around $1,000 a month or sell for around $20,000, Davis said.

An OpBox Village will come to Boston in early summer and will include eight OpBoxes that will host various retailers and vendors. Plans are underway for OpBox to appear in Chicago, Atlanta and potentially Charleston, SC, Davis said.

OpBox, which has built dozens of its recycled spaces, sees a variety of uses for it. In addition to retail stores, the hospitality industry sees OpBox as a way to make a mobile tap room, for example.

“We see this as a blank canvas for people to use for their own purposes,” said Davis, who (along with his sister Emily) was named to the 2018 Mainebiz Next List.

Davis is also excited about the community infrastructure opportunities for OpBox. As part of a project with the Maine People’s Housing Coalition and the City of Portland, OpBox will launch mobile showers for the homeless in Portland this summer.

“It’s a really fantastic and scalable solution that could be used in other cities as well,” Davis said.

In San Francisco, for example, there is a mobile shower service that uses city buses, but was much more expensive to equip and unaffordable to replicate. Instead, OpBox spent a year in the design process to get its mobile shower units ready for use in Portland, Davis said.

OpBox raised $500,000 in a seed funding round that included a community development block grant and private equity, Davis said. The money was used to bring its production efforts back to its Nobleboro location, hire workers and purchase equipment. She aims to expand her production efforts this year, but the location has not been chosen.

OpBox grew out of a previous company, Portland Container Co., which used recycled shipping containers but lacked windows, was heavy to move, and also rusted over time.

While on a trip to Canada, Davis came across a unique building material using 100% recycled PET plastic from JD Composites of Nova Scotia.

JD Composites has become a joint venture partner with Acadian Composite Materials, a sister company of OpBox, to produce durable, structurally insulated panels made from recycled plastic from the ocean and landfills. Acadian Composite Materials manufactures the panels that OpBox uses to build its finished portable sites.

Davis said OpBox was also selected for season seven Greenlight Maine, a statewide collaboration of entrepreneurs and business leaders designed to promote and mentor business development and growth.