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Updated: March 6, 2023

Thinking outside the box for a different kind of pop-up container

File Photo / Tim Greenway Ben and Emily Davis, founders of OpBox, say the firm’s mobile pop-ups can be outfitted for retail shops, but also for life-changing uses such as mobile showers for the homeless.

Siblings Ben and Emily Davis have gained a well-deserved reputation for thinking outside the box, and never more so than with the advent of OpBox in 2018.

The Nobleboro-based business was born from an earlier venture, Portland Container Co., which leased out recycled shipping containers. But the containers were impractical as they lacked windows, were heavy to move, and were also prone to rust.

Enter serendipity. During a trip to Canada, Ben Davis came upon a unique building material that used 100% Recycled PET plastic from JD Composites of Nova Scotia.

JD Composites became a joint venture partner with Acadian Composite Materials, which makes the panels that OpBox uses to build its portable venues. Acadian Composite, an OpBox sister company, produces durable, insulated panels made from recycled plastic sourced from the ocean and landfills.

The Davises envisioned boxes that could be adapted for a variety of uses, from retail pop-ups to food vendors to ticket booths.

The siblings went quickly to work, raising $500,000 in a seed round of funding that included a community development block grant and private capital. The money was used to bring production efforts in-house to Nobleboro, hire workers and buy equipment.

OpBox continued to evolve, as the Davis siblings were named Mainebiz Next List honorees in 2018 and, in 2021, received more accolades with a SCORE Maine 2021 Business Award in the Greenlist category.

Ben Davis said when honored by Mainebiz that applications for OpBox storage containers are “endless.”

Growing the business

Ben Davis’s prediction proved to be true, as voiced at “Greenlight Maine,” a statewide pitch competition. In his winning pitch during Season 7 of “Greenlight Maine” in 2022, Ben spoke about how OpBoxes can be fitted out for pop-up retail shops, but also for life-changing uses such as mobile showers for the homeless.

Beating two other contestants in the final round of the televised business-pitch contest, OpBox won $25,000.

The Davises applied the winnings to create content for its first OpBox Village in South Boston, a collaboration with two partners and branded as the C Street Pop-Up Iron Works. The village consisted of 80,000 square feet in modular rental spaces intended for retail, food and drink operators.

“This is a very repeatable model that we hope to roll out nationwide,” Ben Davis says.

This winter, OpBox partnered with L.L.Bean — a frequent customer — on a ticket shack on the west side of Mt. Abram ski area.

The company also started 2023 with a new office at TechPlace at Brunswick Landing. On the production side, the Davises aim to expand efforts this year, but a location has not yet been chosen.

Entrepreneurial spirit

Ben Davis’s entrepreneurial spirit first became apparent in 2016, the year he started True Course Yachting Inc. In his late 20s at the time, Davis was the manager of a yacht club when he came up with the idea of offering a concierge service for owners of yachts of up to 100 feet. The business model included boat detailing in addition to project management. True Course Yachting also served as an intermediary between boatyards and the customers for which they retrofitted vessels.

Davis knew his idea had real potential to be a successful business by looking and listening to “the needs and pain points of boat owners.”

“I realized that there was a gap in services,” Davis says. “And I knew that with my skill set, I could fix them.”

He also knew others who had worked in the marine industry and could do the work.

“I put those things together — the people with the need and the pool of talent that could solve it,” he says. From the work he had done, he knew he “had a network of potential customers.”

“We never really had launch mode,” Davis said in a 2016 interview with Mainebiz about starting the business. “We started right in with operations and have continually developed as the needs grow.

“Our biggest challenge is in developing the team, the processes and the management behind operations.”

When asked what he wished he knew when starting out, Davis replies, “How important the back-end structure is. You have to build the foundation first — you can’t just go straight for the chimney.”

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