Losing battery power in a cellphone can be scarier than any Halloween fright. But now visitors to Las Olas Riverfront and Cocowalk have nothing to fear when their electronics lose juice in the middle of a shopping spree.
Vending machines that can recharge a phone or iPod arrived at South Florida shopping centers this week. The machines have 18 different types of plugs to power different devices, including plugs for popular Motorola, LG, Samsung and Nokia phones. Within 15 minutes it will decharge and recharge a phone. Depending on the machine owner's preference, the charge can be or cost $2.
The machines at Riverfront and Cocowalk are free for the public to use. Machines are also at the Trump International Sonesta Beach Resort and the South Beach Marriott. So far Marriott is the only one with plans to start charging users $2. When the $2 fee is in place, $1 goes to Marriott and the other $1 goes to Miami Beach-based GC Media, the company that is distributing the charging machines.
The brains behind GC Media: a group of four friends in their 20s, three of them fresh out of college.
'We were out one night and our cellphones were all dead,' said Paul King, the 23-year-old chief operating officer. ``We wanted to borrow someone's phone and when we got someone's phone we realized we didn't know anyone's number by heart.'
King, his brother Mike, 29, and friends Andrew Smith, 23, and Jeff Muchnick, 24, decided to start a company that can sell these machines along with selling the advertising space on the machines. So after several months of researching online, they found a manufacturer in China. Two months ago they made a deal with the company to have 2,700 units in the United States in a year.
Last week they met with Wal-Mart executives and although no contract has been signed, Wal-Mart verbally agreed to put the machines in 50 to 60 stores.
King said the presentation was 'nerve-racking' but the Wal-Mart executives said they liked the machines and ``told us how much Wal-Mart can benefit from it.'
Now GC Media is negotiating with several other South Florida establishments to have the machines, including the University of Miami, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Gulfstream Park, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Miami International Airport, to name a few. The machines each cost $742 to have installed, and owners can make money from the video and poster advertisements on the machines. King said that in China a machine typically makes about $5,000 to $8,000 each month on advertisements alone.
Similar machines made by Smarte Carte, called the Charge Carte Rapid Charger, are in some airports, including Houston and Salt Lake City. The Charge Carte is $3 for a 30-minute charge.
Dave Graveline, a consumer electronics analyst in Miami, said similar machines were immensely popular in Japan when he visited the country last week, and he watched one teenager pacing a machine in a technology store waiting for a free plug.
'Who do you know that doesn't have a phone these days?' Graveline said. ``These charging stations will probably take off.'
Graveline, who hosts a weekend syndicated radio show about gadgets called Into Tomorrow on WKAT-1360 AM, WMCU-1080 AM and on XM Satellite Radio, said the machines he saw lock up a phone using a code and will release it when the owner returns. That way, people can charge the phone while they shop.
The machines from GC Media do not lock, and an owner would have to stand by the machine to watch. They could also use the phone while it is charging.
'If they don't lock I'd be leery of them,' Graveline said. ``I can't imagine anyone who's just going to stand around watching a device.'
But King said if there was a locking device for the phone, ``the whole advertisement pull would be gone.'
The model used by GC Media is the CLY-18, and there are about 100,000 of them in China, King said. GC Media is the sole U.S. distributor of this model.
King said they expect to make their first profit in six to 12 months, after their investment of $950,000 to start the business. Most of the investment came from King's brother, Mike, who used to be a trader on Wall Street, and Smith's parents.
King is also helping manage a real estate and mortgage company in Miami Beach called IST Realty.
'All my friends have these great jobs coming out of college,' King said.
``Then they all went to work in New York and Wall Street and I was the crazy kid who turned down a scholarship to Northwestern. I kind of didn't listen to them and went ahead with my own thing.'story_mapbox.comp --> /story_mapbox.comp -->