Wirespan is growing and looking for more

Customer satisfaction key in communications services

Small business

March 24, 2003|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

A year ago, Wirespan Communications Inc. was little more than a business plan with a few visionaries and some financial backing.

Since then, Celeste Wooten and partner Thomas Marshall have expanded to 35 employees with 24 vehicles, and the company is a blooming $2 million enterprise.

With a healthy contract from Comcast Communications Corp., Wooten said she expects Wirespan to grow even more this year, expanding to help Comcast serve its residential customers in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties. Wooten is expecting to reach into Comcast's commercial services as well this year, while she and Marshall work on a plan to franchise the business.

All the while, Wooten and Marshall say they are hoping to build a company that its clients will see as an extension of their own business services, and one that will change the perception of the "cable guy."

"There's a culture [among cable technicians] of cable gypsies; we didn't want that," Marshall said. "We wanted to create an entrepreneurial culture, but we wanted [the technicians] to belong to something."

Wirespan is a communications service company that installs an array of equipment for customers - from cable Internet modems and satellite dishes to projectors and telephone wires. Incorporated in January, the company is virtually a re-creation of an installation subsidiary of Verizon Communications Inc., where Wooten was previously a general manager and Marshall was head of operations. As Verizon has closed that business unit, Wirespan has taken advantage of equipment liquidations from the company, and has hired former Verizon technicians - about half of Wirespan's installers came from Verizon, Marshall said.

The Elkridge company has grown tremendously by taking on excess installation work from Comcast in Howard County - an arrangement that began with work for five Wirespan technicians last summer and has increased to 24 to cover the county. Wirespan has begun serving Comcast customers in Anne Arundel, and, last week, expanded to Baltimore County.

The company may also take on commercial work for Comcast in the future, Wooten said, a move that could double the staff. She said she expects the additional work from Comcast would cause Wirespan to hire a minimum of about 40 people this year.

She said Wirespan is exploring ways to help the business spread quickly to other areas with fewer out-of-pocket expenses for the company.

"One of the things we're talking about is somehow franchising," she said. "That's the best way to get the footprint we want without being so operationally taxed."

Although Wirespan competes with other contractors for those jobs, the company has tried to distinguish itself by hiring its own employees rather than subcontracting to independent installers, creating a dress code for technicians and by following up on customer jobs with quality inspections.

Those are the kinds of things that make their clients happy with their service, said Ian Linthicum, installations supervisor for Comcast.

"Their attention to the customer experience has been above and beyond what one can expect from many contractors," he said. "Wirespan has just been excellent. Customers will write in to tell us about their technicians. We've never gotten anything [negative] about their appearance or their arrival time."

One of the things with which Linthicum said he is impressed is that Wirespan employees give customers a card with a call-back number that allows them to contact Wirespan directly should a problem arise after the technician leaves.

"They can jump on it right away. Their post-calling program for completed work really takes the extra step to make sure the customer is attended to the way we need them to be," Linthicum said. "They've been pretty much right on par with what we expect from our in-house [technicians]."

While work from Comcast makes up the majority of Wirespan's business - about 80 percent, Wooten said - the company is working to bring its sources of revenue into balance by winning government contracts and services to small and medium-size businesses. Plans for expansion there include working with residential and commercial builders to wire new homes and buildings.

Wooten said the company also may soon consider opening a second office to serve Montgomery County and Northern Virginia.

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