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Guy Makes a Living Storing Students’ Mobile Phones in His Van while They Attend School

When New Yorker Jhonn de La Puente realized that many high school students aren’t allowed to bring their personal cell phones to school, he hit upon a simple yet brilliant business model – a cell phone storage van.

The 42-year-old now runs a company called ‘Safe ‘n’ Secure Cellutions LLC’ – it consists of a modified Ford E250 parked outside Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights High School complex, which houses four different public high schools. Right before they enter school, students queue up outside the van to deposit their phones through a small mail-slot on the side. They are handed colored tickets that they can use to retrieve the phones as they leave school at the end of the day. The service costs them anywhere between $3 and $5 per week.

Puente, a Crown Heights resident, has put a lot of thought and effort into creating the van – he said that he designed and customised it himself, adding security cameras, storage racks and a cash lock box. “I even did research on the average height of high school students to get a median height to put this window at,” he revealed. “It was really important to me that it was the right level so they could see my face and so that I could interact with the customers.”

Photo: Jhonn de La Puente

Along the van’s walls, he installed dozens of shoe organizers to create a neatly organised phone storage system. The plastic pockets on the organizers are large enough to hold smartphones, mp3 players and flip phones – they can accommodate up to 100 devices per day. Puente said that he spent about $4,000 on overall customisation, of which $200 were spent on the organisers alone.

The van is extremely popular with high school kids, mainly because most of them have to go through lengthy commutes to and from school – often taking over 40 minutes. And thanks to Safe ‘n’ Secure, they get to use their phones during this time, rather than leave the devices at home.

Photo: Jhonn de La Puente

Puente has first-timer customers sign waivers, stating that they will abide by the company’s rules and regulations. “This way, they know our rules and we also have any info we need (school name, school year, phone number, emergency number, email, etc.) in case we need to get in touch with the kids. But he does accept responsibility for any lost or stolen phone.

“If a phone is missing, that means we gave it away – I would buy them a new phone.” But, he insists that “that has never, ever happened.”

Photo: Jhonn de La Puente

As brilliant as Puente’s business is, sadly, he might have to shut it down sometime soon. He is facing his own share of problems – he does operate the van with a general business license, but a representative from the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs said that a general vendors license would be needed for cell phone storage businesses. He also added that general vendors cannot operate out of parked vehicles. That makes Puente eligible for $100 fines from the NYPD.

And the ban on cellphones inside public schools in New York might end very soon, which is good news for students, but not for the business. Puente said that he has mixed feelings about the issue. “Honestly, I see both sides of the issue,” he explained. “As a parent, I am for the mayor lifting the ban. I have to be in contact with my kids after school, to find out where they are. But as a business owner, this would be really hard.”

Photo: Aaron Reiss

Puente’s isn’t the only business that’s going to be affected. At least a dozen other vans will have to go if the ban is lifted, and several local restaurants and delis that offer cell phone storage will also have to shut the service down. This would result in a significant loss in revenue. Hopefully, guys like Puente will be able to use their sharp business acumen to come up with a new business model.

Source: CityLab