Entrepreneur Finds ‘Sizeable Market’ for Custom Phone Numbers in some locales

Entrepreneur Finds ‘Sizeable Market’ for Custom Phone Numbers in some locales

San Francisco, a city with no shortage of status symbols, has just gained another: the 415 area code. Like New York’s 212 before it, phone companies are mixing a new, dare-we-say ugly area code, 628, in for new numbers. But there’s no need to panic. As with all status symbols in San Francisco and elsewhere, a 415 number can be yours, for a price.

Ed Mance operates PhoneNumberGuy.com from the city. He started the company when he was looking for a business he was setting up and wanted to get a set of numbers that shared a common prefix. He couldn’t find any. Once he figured out how to get groups of numbers, a quest that took him several years, he found a marketplace waiting. At first he sold numbers on eBay; now he sells them by the thousands each year from his website.

Even before the appearance of 628, 415 was a “sizable market,” Mance said in a phone interview. But it’s not the most in-demand area code. “310” — Los Angeles — “right off the bat, are the hardest numbers to secure. They’re extremely rare. People can’t get a 310, even a random 310 anymore.” Instead, they’re stuck with LA’s version of 628, 424. “Nobody wants a 424,” Mance said, “especially if they’re in business.”

Other popular area codes: 214 (Dallas), 312 (Chicago), 305 (Miami), 404 (Atlanta), 818 (Hollywood, California), and 626 (Pasadena, California). These are “original area codes,” as Mance put it, in that they were the first area codes in use in the city.

Mance doesn’t buy numbers from random people. He usually buys in bulk from companies that don’t need the numbers any more. Mance offered three reasons why. He used to buy numbers, but was burned by people who didn’t actually transfer the number. The numbers could be stolen. Or the number could get too many unwanted calls. “The last one I bought on spec,” he said, “they told me it gets 1 to 2 errant calls a week. As soon as I plugged it in, the phone started ringing off the hook.”

EBay, he noted, stopped allowing telephone number sales several years ago due to similar complaints.

In this day and age, many people don’t even know the phone numbers of their spouses or parents. But historically, larger cities had smaller numbers in their original area codes because they were easier to dial on rotary phones.

The smallest area code, 212, belongs to New York City. Mance doesn’t stock a lot of 212 area codes, because they’re hard to get.

But David Day does. He runs 212AreaCode.com, which provides precisely the service you’d expect. Day got into the business the way Mance did: He had some numbers and put them on eBay. “We saw the demand on eBay was more than we anticipated,” he said, so he opened his own site. He’s now selling several dozen a week.

If you want a 212 area code, a random number will cost you about $75 from Day. Most buyers, however, don’t want a random number. For many, the rest of the number is more important than the area code.

“The ones who are area code sensitive are typically businesses,” Mance said. “There is a second stream of people that are buying numbers because they like the sequence of the numbers or the digits in them, and they really don’t care about area code.”

He offered an example in the 626 area code, in Pasadena. The area has many Chinese buyers who will buy a number “only with 8, because it’s good luck. Anything with a 4 in it I can’t sell, because it’s bad luck.”

A scan of the numbers offered for sale at Mance’s site shows the sorts of thing that are interesting to people. Many of the numbers have the last four digits as a multiple of a thousand. Others are repeated digits or sequences.

Many spell out words. “HURT and PAIN are the two most in-demand numbers,” Mance said, since they’re desired by personal injury attorneys. Other popular words include LAWYERS, LIMO, ROOF, HOME, CARS, and CASH.

Mance’s numbers usually go for $299 to $799.

Day’s biggest was a number that ended in 0-0000, which got him $16,000.

Author: Philip Bump The Washington Post

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