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|Articles - July/August 2013|
|Monday, July 08, 2013|
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BY LINDA BAKER
The wireless-communications industry thrives on the latest and the greatest; witness the masses who camp out in front of Apple stores every year or so anticipating the newest iPhone. Consumer Cellular, a Tigard-based wireless service and phone provider, is not one of the trendsetters.
“There are a lot of wireless companies that get really excited about the youth, business users, those early adopters,” says CEO John Marick, 48. “We’re the boring category. We target people who want cellular phones for the safety and convenience.”
Most of those people are seniors. Founded in 1995, Consumer Cellular has carved out a niche targeting older users with simple, inexpensive and no-contract cell phone plans — with basic service starting at $10 a month. The company grossed about $263 million last year, up from $44.6 million in 2007.
Almost 20 years after Marick and co-founder Greg Pryor identified a void in the marketplace — “the cell phone was a luxury item then; nobody was trying to make it affordable,” Marick observes — Consumer Cellular is growing strong yet faces a few challenges ahead. More competitors are entering the low-cost wireless space. Plus, Consumer Cellular’s target market, the over-50 set, is becoming increasingly tech savvy, “making it harder for us to get our message out,” Marick says.
To stay competitive, Consumer Cellular is setting its sights on an initiative that might seem a contradiction in terms: adapting the ultimate tech status symbol for customers who care little about tech or status. That device would be the smartphone, a product Marick says “could be our next big thing.”
Consumer Cellular — which employs about 800 people, including Marick’s wife, Tami, and sister, Jill Leonetti (both are part of the management team) — has enjoyed its share of next big things. During its first 10 years, the company focused almost exclusively on the Oregon market. That changed in 2005, when Consumer Cellular signed an agreement with AT&T to buy and resell space on the wireless conglomerate’s network. “That’s what really made us a true national player,” Marick says.
In 2009 the company forged a partnership with another big player, the AARP, giving Consumer Cellular a direct line to the association’s 40 million members. That relationship helped grow the company’s customer count from about 30,000 in 2006 to more than 1 million today.
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