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Cellular South, Security Check relationship targets next level

Wireless communications provider Cellular South of Jackson and Oxford-based Security Check, which offers check protection and related services, have one thing in common.

While major entities in Mississippi, there are bigger players on the national stage. However, a recent agreement struck by the two companies proved Security Check can compete with the “big boys,” and both companies expect their new relationship will take them to the next level.

In October, Cellular South, which is the largest Mississippi-based wireless provider, entered into a contract with Security Check for various check payment services. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

According to Judy White, director of accounting at Cellular South, the agreement provides Cellular South with tailor-made check protection and other services, such as converting checks to electronic fund transfers (EFTs). Previously, Cellular South outsourced its check protection services to another company, which only offered the service on a small segment of the company’s business. And her company had a growing need for EFT conversion.

“Today, payments are made over phone lines, the Internet, etc.,” White said. “Over the years, we have added pieces to our process to account for this change. However, what we needed was a more consolidated application across the board. That is what Security Check is giving us.”

Over the past decade, Security Check has been one of Mississippi’s brightest up-and-coming businesses. It is now licensed to offer its check protection and related services in all 50 states and employs 150 workers, mainly students from nearby University of Mississippi. Its clients run the gamut from small convenience stores to such national companies as Radio Shack, Papa John’s Pizza, Carquest and Fred’s. It uses computerized dialing to place approximately one million calls per month.

The key to the company’s success is its approach — firm, but not obnoxious. Security Check’s philosophy is that sometimes good people write bad checks.

William Alias III, who co-founded Security Check with partner John Lewis, said, “We are fortunate to have assembled a team that allows us to think with the same mindset of anyone who needs our services. We have people who know how to call a grandmother or the brother-in-law of a florist, and people who understand the sensitivities when calling thousands of all-aged people for a major retailer or utility.”

“There are some businesses that spend more than $500 in advertising and operations to acquire each one of the hundreds of customers we’re calling,” said Rob Vincent, chief sales and marketing officer at Security Check. “That’s why it’s imperative our people are trained to understand collecting a returned check is not our sole focus.

“Mississippians are known for being well mannered and friendly, which is really important when you’re calling another business’ customers. We can be firm if need be, but at the same time respectful and professional.”

Security Check used this same approach when negotiating its agreement with Cellular South. Talks between the two companies began in 2003, but the momentum of the negotiations really ratcheted up beginning last spring. “We danced for two years and dated for six months,” Vincent quipped with a laugh.

In making the announcement of the agreement, Cellular South president Hu Meena said the fact that Security Check was Mississippi-based was a factor in his company’s decision. He said his company has confidence in call centers based in Mississippi because for years Cellular South operated its own call center operation in Meadville.

But Cellular South looked at other larger, national companies when searching for its preferred vendor, and the fact that Security Check is a local product was not the overriding reason it chose Security Check.

“We felt Security Check would do a good job,” Meena said. “They were energetic, they valued our business and they appeared to be responsive.”

White echoed Meena’s sentiments. “We wanted a customized service, not something out of a can,” she said. “With the national companies, we had to drag them along. They had a kind of ‘do-it-our-way’ attitude. Security Check listened to us and said, ‘Yeah, we can do that.’ We really appreciated their energy and willingness to come up with a solution we wanted and needed.

“It is important that Security Check is a Mississippi-based company. They are close by and accessible. If I have a question, I can call Rob or someone else I know on a first-name basis. It’s a big plus.”

The Cellular South account is also a big plus for Security Check. “It looks great on our résumé,” Vincent said. “The fact that we went up against the ‘big guys’ and won is a huge positive for our company. It’s should have a huge impact and lends us a lot of credence.”

With its Security Check agreement in hand, Cellular South will now look to continue its impressive, consistent growth. The company is now the largest privately held wireless provider in the U.S. It is licensed to provide wireless service to a total population of more than five million people via its network stretching from the Memphis metropolitan area, throughout all of Mississippi, along the Gulf Coast of Alabama and the Florida Panhandle through Walton County. Over the last handful of years, Cellular South has invested millions in technology upgrades, tower construction and the opening new and redesigned retail stores.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.

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