All Tech Considered
11:47 pm
Thu November 28, 2013

Businesses Woo Customers With Free Phone-Charging Stations

Originally published on Fri November 29, 2013 8:42 am

It's around dinner time at Honeygrow, a casual restaurant in central Philadelphia.

Erin Campbell was on her way here to meet a friend when she realized, with panic, that her cellphone battery was dying.

"I noticed I only had 14 percent [battery] left, and I actually texted her on my way in to see if she could bring a charger with her," Campbell says.

But Campbell's friend told her there was no need to bring a charger — just inside the door of Honeygrow is a kiosk where customers can charge their phones.

To use a kiosk at Honeygrow, a customer picks an empty pod from the kiosk and opens a tiny door with a key that's in the lock. Inside, there are power cords for iPhones 4 and 5, BlackBerries and Androids. Customers plug in their phones, lay the phone on the shelf and lock the door with the key.

Campbell charges her phone here during dinner. After eating, she stops to unlock the little door and unplug her phone. Success: The battery is up to 66 percent.

Charging The Lifeline

Philadelphia entrepreneur Doug Baldasare founded ChargeItSpot after his own brush with phone battery death a few years ago when he was out with friends.

"All of our phones were dead so we were saying, you know, 'How are we going to find each other?' " he says. "I pointed to a store — it happened to be an Urban Outfitters — and I said, 'Why can't I walk in there and charge my phone?' "

Now Baldasare's company has phone-charging kiosks in some Urban Outfitters locations, as well as Whole Foods, a ski resort in Colorado and other retailers and restaurants in a half-dozen states.

"We need our phones so much every day in our lives — we clutch them like it's part of us; it's a lifeline," he says. "When our phones run low, we're really anxious."

There are companies with similar products, but they often charge customers to plug in, Baldasare says. ChargeItSpot's kiosks are free for phone owners — businesses pay to house a kiosk. In exchange, traditional brick-and-mortar retailers might get new customers.

"I started to realize, you know, that would be good for the retailer," Baldasare says. "It would bring me off the street, into their store and wow, if I could lock my phone up while it charged, now I would be really captive. I wouldn't have my phone on me. I don't know what to do with my life without my phone, so I'm going to shop."

Honeygrow owner Justin Rosenberg says customers are extraordinarily happy to be able to charge their phones at lunchtime.

"A lot of people come in here with the, I guess, the infamous 5 percent on their phone bar, and they know they can go to 25 percent by the time they leave lunch," he says.

Rosenberg says the kiosks are driving sales, at least a little. Sometimes people come in to charge their phones and end up buying something that's relatively cheap, like a drink.

As his business grows, he says, he plans to include kiosks in his new locations.

Copyright 2013 WHYY, Inc.. To see more, visit http://www.whyy.org.

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Do you feel your smartphone batteries tend to run out just at the wrong time, usually when you're far from your charger?

From member station WHYY, Elizabeth Fiedler reports on a solution.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHATTER)

ELIZABETH FIEDLER, BYLINE: It's around dinner time at Honeygrow, a casual Center City Philadelphia eatery. Erin Campbell was on her way here to meet a friend when she realized every phone owner's nightmare: her phone battery was dying.

ERIN CAMPBELL: I noticed that I only had 14 percent left and I actually texted her on my way in to see if she could bring a charger with her.

FIEDLER: Campbell's friend told her there was no need to bring a charger because just inside the door of Honeygrow is a kiosk where customers can charge their phones. Campbell did just that. After eating, she stopped to unlock the little door and unplug her phone.

CAMPBELL: So I was able to charge it while we were eating and it went from 14 percent to 66 percent in like a half hour so.

FIEDLER: To use a kiosk at Honeygrow, a customer picks an empty pod from the kiosk and opens it with the key that's in the lock. Inside there are power cords for iPhones 4 and 5, BlackBerries and Android phones. The customer plugs their phone into the correct one, lays the phone on the shelf, and locks the door with the key.

DOUG BALDASARE: We need our phones so much in our daily lives, we clutch them like it's part of us, it's a life line and when our phones run low, we're really anxious.

FIEDLER: Doug Baldasare founded ChargeItSpot after his own brush with phone battery death a few years ago when he was with friends.

BALDASARE: All of our phones were dead, so we were saying, you know, how are we going to find each other? And I pointed to a store, it happened to be an Urban Outfitters, and I said why can't I walk in there and charge my phone?

FIEDLER: Now Baldasare's company has phone-charging kiosks in, of course, Urban Outfitters, as well as Whole Foods and other retailers and restaurants in half a dozen states - including a ski resort in Colorado.

There are companies with similar products but Baldasare points out they often charge customers to plug in. ChargeItSpot's kiosks are free for phone owners - businesses pay to house a kiosk. Baldasare says in exchange, traditional brick and mortar retailers get new customers.

BALDASARE: I started to realize, you know, that would be good for the retailer. It would bring me off the street, into their store and, wow, if I could lock my phone up while it charged, now I would be really captive. I wouldn't have my phone on me. I don't know what to do with my life without my phone, so I'm going to shop.

FIEDLER: Back at Honeygrow, owner Justin Rosenberg says customers are extraordinarily happy to be able to charge their phones at lunchtime.

JUSTIN ROSENBERG: A lot of people come in here with the, I guess, the infamous 5 percent on their phone bar and they know they can go to 25 percent by the time they leave for lunch - or leave lunch, which is always good.

FIEDLER: Rosenberg says the kiosks are driving sales, at least a little. People come in, buy something that's relatively cheap - like a drink - and charge their phones. He says as his business grows, he plans to include kiosks in his new locations.

For NPR News, I'm Elizabeth Fiedler, in Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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