Monadnock Profiles: Jeff Brown has seen it all when it comes to cell phones

  • Jeff Brown, owner of the Wireless Zone in Peterborough, looks over a board of old cell phones he created to celebrate the store's 20th anniversary in anticipation of the 25th next month. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Jeff Brown, owner of the Wireless Zone in Peterborough, looks over a board of old cell phones he created to celebrate the store's 20th anniversary in anticipation of the 25th next month. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Jeff Brown. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 10/6/2019 6:16:41 PM

When Jeff Brown got his first cell phone 30 years ago, there was hardly a signal to be found.

It was big and bulky and most people he talked to weren’t quite sure what to think about a phone they could carry around with them. But something told Brown it was a product he wanted to be involved in.

“It just made sense,” Brown said. “And if you’re in sales, you have to believe in what you sell.”

He started as “almost a door-to-door salesman for cell phones” working for Cellular One. He left advertising on pay phones, alerting people to the idea of heated phone booths. He’d drive to their houses, fill out paperwork and then go to Bedford to a distributor to pick up the phones.

“There were no stores then,” Brown said.

Then in 1994, Brown decided to open the Car Phone Store in the Peterborough Shopping Plaza and the rest is history. Brown estimates he installed thousands of phones in people cars, doing so in the garage bay located on the backside of the storefront.

It will be 25 years next month since Brown opened the first option for cell phones in the area and has it ever been one amazing ride.

“We were the only retail store for 50 miles,” Brown said. “If you think about it, we brought cellular service to this side of the mountain.”

Brown has been involved for so long that he remembers “the big announcement” when all the retailers gathered together to hear about caller ID and voicemail. He’s seen the addition of the camera, texting, smart phones and the internet – all before the general consumer.

“When I started in this business, they said 4 percent of people had cell phones,” Brown said. “So the big thing is that in this business, things are constantly changing and we’re continually changing with it.”

Now Brown will be the first to say that he never saw the cell phone evolution turning into what it is today, where anything a person can get whatever they want right at their fingertips, but that’s only because when Brown began selling mobile phones, the internet was another unknown.

During those early days, Brown had a custom built office on wheels. In the back of one of those big delivery style vans, Brown had a desk, solar panels on the roof and the ability to do everything on the road – even the use of a fax machine.

“It was essentially a store on wheels,” Brown said.

He did so well as an independent agent that he went to work for Cellular One. He soon realized that working in the corporate world wasn’t for him, which also included a two-year stint as an agent manager for another cellular company.

Since Brown decided to open his first store, he has constantly needed to adjust to the industry happenings. Back then, Verizon wasn’t even a thing let alone the household name it is today. Now he’s one of 400 Wireless Zone retailers in the country, where he is considered an authorized independent Verizon retailer. Later this month, Brown will move into his fourth location in the Peterborough Shopping Plaza, another sign of the changing times. He’s downsizing the space because “we’re seeing a shift in the way people buy things” with more folks going to the internet for their cell phone needs.

But Brown still has many loyal customers, some of which were there within the first month of the store opening.

Brown considers getting into the cell phone business as another example of his willingness to take a leap. He has been involved in many ventures over the years, including owning the car wash in the plaza and a mosquito shield company for a few years. 

“After a couple years, I realized they weren’t for me and got out of them,” Brown said.

At one point, he owned three cell phone stores in Peterborough, Leominster, Massachusetts and Keene – that latter being the first one in the city. Now he just owns the one in Peterborough and that’s enough.

Before going to work selling cell phones, Brown had a 20-year career installing heating systems, even owning his own company. He even flipped a house on Main Street in Hancock, because “I always have to have a project.”

In 2011, he bought Hilltop Farm in Hancock, a Christmas tree operation that hadn’t been maintained, so it was his latest project to resurrect. In the last eight years, Brown has done a lot of work to improve the property, planting more than 4,000 trees that brings his total to about 9 acres of cut-your-own holiday memories.

The 25-acre property is his “slice of heaven.” He’s always enjoyed working outdoors and it has provided plenty of opportunity for that. After clearing more trees than he can count from the land, Brown bought a sawmill to process all the wood. That led to his latest hobby, where he creates one-of-a-kind signs that he gives to people for holidays, as gifts at weddings and has hanging all over his house.

With such a large piece of land, Brown has been able to add to his collection of heavy duty equipment. He’s always loved tinkering with machinery and owning a farm has been a great way to further that passion.

“I like to think I can fix anything,” Brown said.

He never envisioned operating a Christmas tree farm, but Brown could say that about a lot of his ventures.

“Doors open, I look inside and if it looks good, I go for it,” he said.

With the renovation project of the new storefront this year, Brown and his wife Mary decided that there would be no new businesses in 2020, but with 14 months left till the calendar switches to 2021, there’s no way of telling if another opportunity will arise that he just can’t pass up.

“You can't be afraid to try,” he said. “Some people think I’m nuts and I am.”

There’s no denying that Brown has done well for himself over the last 25 years, being on the forefront of an industry that has grown more than Brown could have ever envisioned. 

Long ago, Brown realized he didn’t want to work for anyone else, but that comes with its own set of sacrifices.

“When you’re independent, it’s hard to have a job,” Brown said. “I’ve been very fortunate, but when you’re self employed it’s 24/7. There’s not a day off.”

But no matter what he has done professionally, Brown knows it’s about creating memories that will be there in the end. That’s why he escapes to his camp in Maine as much as he can, spends time with his grandchildren and goes on day trip adventures that consist of getting in the car and going for a drive.

“My life is a story and it wasn’t planned,” Brown said.


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