Memo to workaholics: Md. firm creates, sells an office in a briefcase

December 16, 1991|By Michelle Singletary | Michelle Singletary,Evening Sun Staff

For around $8,000, New Age executives can set themselves TC up with a mobile office in a briefcase, an electronic marvel that makes the cellular car phone look like a relic from the Industrial Revolution.

A Maryland firm, Stephens Engineering Co. Inc., is taking orders for a mobile office that combines a computer, printer, facsimile machine, modem and cellular telephone in a briefcase weighing less than 20 pounds.

After spending the last 12 years selling its computer services mainly to government agencies, the company is trying its hand at mass marketing the SEC 2000, an office in a briefcase.

"I believe with the SEC 2000 Stephens Engineering will be to the mobile communications world what Apple was to the Personal Computer world," said Wallace O. Stephens, owner of the Greenbelt-based company that is marketing the unit.

People who find themselves on the road more often than at the office may find the price tag for the SEC 2000 hefty but the mobility and integration of several systems priceless, Stephens said.

The computer is a full-featured unit with a 40 megabyte hard disk drive and a 1.44 megabyte floppy disk drive. It includes a fax machine that is able to receive all incoming fax transmissions and saves them as files on the hard disk drive. This eliminates the need for printing document pages and allows the user to view the fax on the computer screen.

The cellular telephone is fully integrated into the computer. The fax, with the help of a modem, can be hooked up to a home or hotel telephone for use over standard telephone lines in addition to the Cellular network.

It's the company's first attempt to market a product rather than its services. Stephens Engineering is a 1990 graduate of the Small Business Administration's 8(a) program, which allows small, disadvantaged companies to compete for certain manufacturing and service contracts.

The company has concentrated on building its business through system integration, facility and computer maintenance in the U.S. and abroad. A $40 million contract with the State Department that runs through 1994, the company has setup and maintained computers in 95 different countries, according to Stephens.

It's grown from a company started in 1979 with $100 Stephens said he used to buy gas and other small items, to a firm employing more than 130 people with $12.3 million in sales last year. By the end of its fiscal 1991, the family-run business will post about $21 million, he said.

Stephens firmly believes the portable cellular workstation represents the next profitable hit in the mobile office field.

In an already crowded market for personal computer sales, the company may have found a lucrative niche market with the potential for selling oversees.

Stephens said when he debuted the product at a trade fair in Kuwait in May, the response was overwhelming. "I could have sold a 1,000," he said.

He also received suggestions on how to improve the unit which had a list price of $8,995 and weighed 27 pounds. The new and improved unit, which hasn't been sold to any customers yet, is at least 20 percent cheaper now, lighter and will be available in a leather briefcase to give it a "yuppie" look, he said. Stephens wouldn't reveal any other changes to the unit until it hits the market early next year. A second similar model with additional features will be available by the end of 1992.

Stephens has signed on with the manufacturer of the SEC 2000 as its exclusive distributor. He sees the potential for selling the unit to law enforcement agencies, defense, real estate, construction and insurance industries.

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