Interview with Jake Hollier: Jake’s Coffee Box

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“It isn’t everyday you can have your coffee fix from a telephone box.” That’s explains better the authentic concept of Jake’s Coffee Box. The first business of this kind to be set in Birmingham that will be located at the Eden Place, on Colmore  Business District in August.

The idea of renting an iconic red telephone box was embraced after Jake kept in touch with Red Kiosk , a company from Brighton that proposes the idea of developing unused telephone boxes into retail units.

With the projects ongoing in Brighton, Liverpool, Leeds and several other cities in the country, it’s time to Birmingham to set up its own first one. Jake’s Coffee Box has its soft opening event on July 27th.

Midlands Trade: How did you come up with the idea of your business?

Jake Hollier: It was completely by chance. I have always wanted to be my own boss since leaving school, however, never had the courage to do anything about it. Partly because I had no idea where to start.

I knew I needed to start things off small and it’s only when I was walking through Birmingham City Centre that I walked past a group of telephone boxes with a To Let sign in them I saw an opportunity there.

I went home and thought long and hard about what I could I put in a telephone box, not an easy task as space is very limited. Then it hit me, why not sell something I enjoy like coffee. The space is perfectly functional for a mini coffee shop so why not? As soon as I decided on my product, the ideas were coming in from all directions.

Midlands Trade: Why did you choose a telephone box as a business?

Jake Hollier: As mentioned above if I ever wanted to go down the self employment route I need to start off small, and there’s not much smaller than a telephone box. Its also iconic to our nation, a British institution at its best. Of course telephone boxes are falling into disrepair as there purpose is not really needed anymore. However I’m proud to say I will be bringing one back to life to serve a different purpose, hopefully for a very long time to come.

Midlands Trade: What kind of products will be sold in your business?

Jake Hollier: My main focus is on a wide range of espresso based products, however flavoured teas, hot chocolate and pastries will also be on offer.I’ve also found a great little company in Shropshire who make gourmet sausage rolls, they are delicious and something I am also looking to provide. Also I am cake lover there’s no denying that, so cake is a must for me especially carrot cake.

Seasonal and one of products are also going to be a common theme such as ‘Tea and Scones offers’ or ‘Christmas themed drinks’. Its all very exciting and everyday a new idea springs to mind.

I do want to stick to the above initially; however, I already know how I want to expand and what other products I want to provide. Not saying no more there though as you’ll all have to wait and see.

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Midlands Trade: Are you working with specific products?

Jake Hollier: I will be only using one coffee brand at first because it’s a good product that’s above average and I believe my customers will love it.

However, the aim is to be the best. So I will constantly be trialling different coffee brands to find the best. As for the cakes a very close friend of mine is an amazing baker, no exaggeration.

Her cakes are incredible, and without the need to ask she’s eager to bake for my establishment already. I usually see her once a week and when I do, she’s bringing different cakes for me to try and I have to say so far so good.

Midlands Trade: How will your products be organised inside a telephone box?

Jake Hollier: I’m providing so many different products it’s starting to sound like a Tardis. Well, there is of course no room for me inside the telephone box plus all the equipment, instead I will be standing on the street with the door propped open

The bottom of the telephone box will house a water tank and mini fridge. Above that will be a space for the espresso machine, hot chocolate machine and storage for cups.

Above that at eye lever is a heated display unit for the pastries and sausage rolls. A mini pull out shelf at the side of the telephone box to house sugars and milk, so people can help themselves. Plus, a small portable counter to house a cake stand and one off products. It all sounds to much however it will fit, don’t worry.

Midlands Trade : What is different about this kind of business?

Jake Hollier: It’s one of a kind for the city. Not everyday you can get all your coffee fix from a telephone box. And compared to the big boys, my product will be personal. I love to talk to people, and it’s now my opportunity to befriend my customers.

I’m not some massive organisation, it’s just me and I do see myself as a friendly person. Not only am I bringing a great product to the streets of Brum, but the aim is also to make every customer leave with a smile on their faces. It sounds cheesy but that’s just me. And that’s something the big coffee companies will never be able to compete with.

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Midlands Trade: What will Jake’s Coffee Box bring of different to Birmingham?

Jack Hollier: I love Birmingham, it’s where I was born and I can’t do enough to big up the city; however, I’m not stupid and I’m aware of the problems the city has to face.

One thing I believe Brum is lacking in is street dining. Places like Camden and Bristol have thriving markets with tonnes of street food on offer. These places have a real buzz and help bring people together.

We do have the likes of Digbeth Dining Club but it’s not enough. I’m offering a unique experience that’s going to entice people off the street and hopefully become part of the wider community.

Midlands Trade: Why did you choose that specific area to open Jake’s Coffee Box?

Jake Hollier: That area is perfect for my establishment. Thousands of professionals walk along Colmore Row everyday, to and from work, and not forgetting during the lunch time.

As well as this the future of the area is looking bright. The HS2 HQ headquarters opens in July housing 1000 members of staff. Plus HSBC will be moving to the area in the further future housing another 1000 professionals in the area. I believe this is the best possible location for my coffee kiosk and will thrive in such an area.

Midlands Trade: What are the challenges of starting a business like yours?

Jake Hollier: Everything has been a challenge.  I have no business experience nor any experience working in a café, so its all been a huge learning curve for me.

Everyday I’m learning something new but I do enjoy the challenge. If I had to choose my biggest challenge though it would be the use of space. I have had to choose very carefully what I will sell in store, products I believe will be the best for my customers. A telephone box can only house so much, choosing what has been so difficult.

Midlands Trade:  Is social media playing a big part in the setup of your business?

Jake Hollier: Yes.  My Facebook page went live a few weeks ago, plus my twitter page will be up and running soon as well.

The company I’m renting the Telephone Box off are also beginning a big push on social media on there end to drum up lots of interest and support.

Due to the nature of my business an actual website would be useless, so social media is going to be my only online presence. I will be keeping people up to date with almost every movement and decision, of course the opening date as well.

Midlands Trade: What kind of clientèle are you expecting to have at Jake’s Coffee Box?

Jake Hollier: My main clientèle are going to be professionals; Snowhill is primarily offices housing law firms, banks and accountancies.

I’m not ruling anyone out though. I want my coffee to be the best so I’m expecting the coffee lovers to take a keen interest in the store. Tourists are another possibility. It’s a beautiful part of Birmingham with stunning architecture,  plus one of the bus stops for the hop on hop off bus tours. So to conclude everyone is welcome.

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Midlands Trade: What would be your advice for someone thinking about starting a business like yours?

Jake Hollier: My main word of advice would be don’t be scared to ask questions.I left school at 16 and went straight into work. As mentioned before,  I always knew I wanted to be my own boss but was to scared to make a suitable move.

I’ve wasted six years already because I was to nervous to even enquire about such things, but take the plunge it’s so worth it. There has been so much help from family, friends and various other people I have met along the way and I have not even opened yet.

If anyone wants to do what I have done, do your homework, know what you want to specialise in, and just go for it. No one wants to wake up one day asking ‘What if I had just tried’.

Photos | Rob Dann and Jake’s Coffee Box 

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I'm a Brazilian journalist based in West Midlands. In Brazil, I have worked with International Trade and Logistics publications. Now in the UK, I keep writing and I dedicate myself to a new project : Midlands Trade - a blog focused on business in Europe and Brazil. It's also supporting small businesses throughout the #MeetTheBusiness.

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