RIDGELAND – Ron Windom’s titles at Telpro Communications Company are president and founder. He’s obviously proud of those titles and the company he has built from scratch and by himself. But there’s another title he answers to just as readily.
“‘Ron, The Phone Man,’ that’s what a lot of people call me,” the unassuming Windom said, chuckling. “That’s how they know me – the guy who came out when the phones wouldn’t work.”
Windom doesn’t mind that moniker because it was exactly that seemingly simple notion – showing up when customers needed him and fixing the problem – that has seen Telpro, a telephone interconnect and cabling company, in the last 10 years grow revenues about 300% and branch out into new fields of endeavor.
Windom’s journey to Telpro began more than 20 years ago with a Missouri-based company as a technician installing telephone systems. He liked the work and made good money, but didn’t like the rather arduous travel. Seeking happiness over money, he and his wife moved to Mississippi. (Though Windom was in a military family and grew up in California and Nebraska, his folks were Mississippians, and he had previously attended Ole Miss.)
Windom hired on as a technician with a Mississippi company in 1980 and quickly rose to the function of senior technician on the strength of his already extensive experience in telephony going back to the old analog days. Afterwards, he accepted a position as on-site technician for one of Mississippi’s largest financial institutions.
Over the course of his career, Windom began to realize that technicians enjoyed one thing that on the surface doesn’t sound like a plus – customer complaints.
“The salesperson makes the sale and they’re out the door. It’s the technician that hears the griping, the frustration, what the customer wants, and its the technician’s face they get to know,” Windom said. “So, I learned what the customer’s needs were. And I found really all they wanted was to have somebody show up when they had a problem. Businesses can’t wait days for the system to get fixed. I saw a niche. That’s what led me to start a service-oriented company.”
Windom admits he had no business plan nor any great expectations that he could make it. But knowing that he could find employment as a technician almost on a whim due to demand, he decided to give it a try.
“What did I have to lose?” he said.
In Aug. 1990, Windom started out of his house strictly on his own, selling, installing and servicing phone systems. Careful not to undercut his previous employer by soliciting from former customers, he did take on referrals from them. Windom said he did almost no advertising, even carrying the smallest presence possible in the phone book, but still grew on the strength of reputation and the referrals that reputation brought.
Growth has indeed been steady ever since. Windom said he grossed about $105,000 his first year in business. But by 1993, he had moved Telpro into a 3,000-square-foot facility on U.S. 51 in Ridgeland.
In 1996, Telpro added computer cabling to its offerings. Windom said that industry simply exploded, and while he is predicting a quick peak in installation work, he is forecasting a steady, lucrative service business in cabling for years to come. Today, Telpro has 16 people on the payroll and has about 500 customers. While 90% of its business is within a 300-mile radius of Jackson, it does work for Mississippi-based companies with out-of-state locations, thus Windom and crew have sold, installed and serviced equipment from St. Paul, Minn., to New Orleans, La.
It adds up to a lot of personal satisfaction for Windom. In fact, he is enjoying his best year to date with $3 million in revenues in 1999.
Windom said a large part of Telpro’s success is employee retention. He said Telpro pays well and has good benefits. But more than that, he emphasized mutual respect and unity. Because some of these employees are old friends and even family (his brother is an employee and minority owner), its especially important to him personally to see that his staff is comfortable.
Employee satisfaction and retention are important, Windom said, because Telpro is still all about service. He pointed out that of his 16 employees, all are technicians except two office support personnel. “You just have to do what you say you’re going to do, and shoot straight with them,” Windom said. “All they want you to do is show up and fix it. With today’s systems, the average problem can be fixed in 10-15 minutes. There’s no reason a company should have to sit around for days and wait for a technician.
“In 10 years, I’ve never had a customer call me down on the carpet. Not once. I think that’s because they know us, they like us. With almost all my customers, I’m on a first-name basis with everyone from the president to the receptionist. And they know me – ‘Ron, The Phone Man’.
“I guess you could say there are some businessmen who are in phones. I’m a phone man in business.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at email@example.com.
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