// Photo courtesy Consumer Cellular
Another milestone occurred in 2010-11, when Consumer Cellular finalized partnerships with Sears and RadioShack, gaining access to the retail market. And this past August, the company opened a call center in Redmond that employs more than 200 people. About 300 people work at another call center in Phoenix.
About that smartphone push: The (smartphone) name itself is a bit of an obstacle for a company targeting a certain kind of Luddite, Marick admits. But Consumer Cellular is pressing ahead, selling phones stripped of apps along with plans emphasizing affordability and flexibility. “We treat it as a regular phone,” says Marick. “You want our $2.50-per-month data plan, you get it.”
The strategy appears to be working. Last year Consumer Cellular sold only a few smartphones. But during a single week this past May, smartphone sales accounted for 32% of phones shipped from the company warehouse. Consumer Cellular has sold an entry-level smartphone for a couple of years, but this past spring they released two more: the Samsung Galaxy Exhilarate and the LG 930. “Those have really taken off,” Marick says.
Targeted advertising is helping spread the message. Consumer Cellular’s (exclusively) national marketing campaigns target publications and cable television networks favored by retirees, including TV Land and the Game Show Network. Those retirees, whose numbers are on the rise, are helping fuel the company’s 30% annual growth rate. Marick also credits the company’s award-winning customer service — Consumer Cellular has been ranked the No. 1 wireless carrier in a Consumer Reports survey for the past three years — and a prudent approach to financing. “We’re privately held; we have no long-term debt, and our focus is reinvesting everything back in the business.”
The company’s corporate culture is equally close to the vest. The management team vacations together, the CIO and head of equipment and distribution have been with Consumer Cellular for about 17 years, and much of the strategic planning takes place on a “back deck with beer,” Marick says. “You see a lot of startup groups like that, not companies that are 18 years old. Even as we’ve gotten quite large, we still think of ourselves as a small business.”
Of course, balancing, and synthesizing, opposites is standard practice for a company that sells technology to the tech-averse and targets a niche market that, increasingly, is no longer niche. “People say, ‘Oh, you’re going after seniors, so all your customers must be in Florida, Palm Springs,’” says Marick. “But lo and behold: There are seniors everywhere.”