Wireless Zone heads for national expansion

Wireless Zone heads for national expansion

One man’s dream has grown from Car Phone Store in Wethersfield

 


After hitting high marks expanding south and east, Middletown franchiser Wireless Zone wants to take its brand national, especially as its products gain further recognition. The original Car Phone Store in Wethersfield that opened in 1988. The company since changed its name to Wireless Zone and grew to 440 franchise locations across the Northeast, Southeast and Midwest.

Founded in 1988 as the Car Phone Store in Wethersfield, the franchise has grown by leaps and bounds over the past three years while exclusively selling Verizon products. While not the only seller of Verizon products, Wireless Zone has nonetheless benefitted from the expansion and popularity of that brand.

In 1999, when Verizon was formed, Wireless Zone had 98 franchise stores. That number grew to 265 by the end of 2008; but the explosion happened over the past two years as the number of Wireless Zone franchises hit 440 at the end of 2010. The company expects to be at 500 by October.

Revenues at Wireless Zone soared accordingly. In 2008, the company generated $140 million in revenues; in 2010, that number nearly tripled to $400 million.

“It has been a great ride, and based on what Verizon is doing for the future, we believe we are tied to the best horse in the race,” said Kevin Sinclair, Wireless ZoneKevin Sinclair, CEO, Wireless Zone CEO.

Last week, Verizon began selling the iPhone out of its corporate stores, which creating a buzz in the tech community as iPhone users longed for better coverage than AT&T’s network. While product retailers such as Wireless Zone won’t get the iPhone until March 1, the franchiser believes the buzz will filter down and bring more traffic into the stores.

“The iPhone created a tremendous awareness about smartphones,” said Sean Fitzgerald, Wireless Zone vice president of franchise development. “Adding the iPhone is just going to give us another great product to sell to our customers.”

Amid its expansion and the buzz of the iPhone, Wireless Zone got more positive recognition in January when trade publication AllBusiness ranked the Middletown firm the No. 10 franchise in the country, ahead of companies such as McDonald’s, Motel 6 and Buffalo Wild Wings.

AllBusiness said business people looking to open a franchise should look to Wireless Zone because of its agreement with Verizon, the company’s strong support of its franchises, and the booming wireless Internet and cell phone market.

“Because of our exclusive relationship with Verizon, we can use their name in our signage,” Sinclair said. “I can piggyback on all the marketing that they do.”

As Wireless Zone looks to expand, Sinclair said the company needs to grow smartly and focus more on the business that its stores do, rather than the number of franchises. The company doesn’t want to saturate markets just to grow needlessly.

When the company decided to expand out of its Northeast comfort zone, it looked to regions where Verizon was strong, starting in the South and then moving into the Midwest. As those markets grow, the company continues to strengthen its position in the Northeast.

“We want to grow the right way and not outpace ourselves,” Fitzgerald said. “We are looking for people with smart business acumen.”

To gain a foothold in some desired markets, Wireless Zone is not waiting to bring franchisees on board. Instead, the company is opening corporate stores in the hopes of making their sales strong and then selling to a franchisee. Wireless Zone has 12 corporate stores.

In furthering its geographic reach, the company is pursuing partnerships with companies already in those markets. Wireless Zone is working with Morgan Keegan Technology Group to open stores on the West Coast. The company also is buying out smaller companies and converting them to Wireless Zone stores.

When Russell Weldon first founded the Car Phone Store in Wethersfield, he wanted the store to sell exclusive wireless products. In 1988, most wireless products were sold by small car stereo stores that had the capacity to install car phones, and Weldon was told his wireless-exclusive store would fail, Sinclair said.

As technology grew and wireless products became mainstream, Weldon’s vision became lucrative. Before Verizon formed, Wireless Zone was the biggest agent for Bell Atlantic Mobile, a predecessor to Verizon.

Sinclair believes the company and wireless technology are still at the beginning of a revolution. With the launch of Verizon’s 4G network, making wireless speeds equal to cable Internet speeds, and new products that could replace cable television and landlines altogether, Wireless Zone is positioned well for the future.

The rise of the tablet computers such as the iPad only make wireless an even more important part of this new technology, Sinclair said.

“Obviously, there’s plenty of great opportunity happening in this industry,” Sinclair said.

By Brad Kane

bkane@HartfordBusiness.com

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