Tonawanda News

August 16, 2009

BUSINESS: Even in the middle of a recession, Wireless Zone continues to grow

By Joe Olenick

Town of Lockport — Lockport Wireless Zone opens at 10 a.m. Friday, and within five minutes the business is already full of customers.

Wireless Zone owner Dave Bogart said his store has undergone a massive remodeling to help with the increased business. The store had become so busy that more space and a better way to help customers was needed. So for two weeks, Wireless Zone temporarily relocated to the end of South Transit Square plaza while the storefront had the work done.

“We needed the retail space,” Bogart said. “So the wall was moved back 12 feet. We’ve refloored, rewired and repainted. We got rid of the counter in back.”

The increase in business required management at Wireless Zone to make the store more customer friendly and to create more space. Bogart said over the past year, the Lockport store, as well as his other two locations in East Aurora and Springville, had seen sales increase 20 percent. That’s a real accomplishment considering the surge took place during one of the longest national recessions since World War II.

Despite the economic struggles, people are still using their cell phones, Bogart said, which is part of the reason for Wireless Zone’s success. He added Wireless Zone never saw a slowdown in business.

“People use their cell phones for everything,” Bogart said. “They’re communicating, navigating, updating their Facebook. Your phone is always with you. People can’t live without it, and they won’t cut back on it.”

Sean Fitzgerald, Wireless Zone’s vice president of franchise development, said cell phones do a whole lot more now then make and receive calls. New options and equipment have changed the industry in a short time, he said. Answering questions and educating customers is something Wireless Zone helps with and brings people to the stores.

“People are learning phones do a lot,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald said Wireless Zone decided a few years ago to expand its position in the market and implement a new strategy. That included improving relations with customers and how the company chose its franchisees. The franchise, first known as the Car Phone Store when it began in 1988, has 350 locations and expects to operate more than 400 by the end of the year. Now Wireless Zone has expanded into Michigan, Texas and the Midwest.

“The key is finding the right franchisees,” Fitzgerald said. “They’re the real magic behind the success.”

Changing the store’s layout was another part of the strategy. The change makes the stores interactive, complete with digital signs, a useful Web site and the grouping of cell phones by need. Having a marketing agreement to sell only Verizon products helps, too, as Verizon is one of the most popular brand names in the world.

At the end of the remodeling, the Lockport Wireless Zone was one of the first franchises to create a more interactive store for customers. Rather than the counter in back, which could get crowed since that was where since all customers ended up, Wireless Zone has work stations, separate desks with computers spread out in the store allowing Bogart’s nine-person staff to handle customers one-on-one.

“It’s meant to help serve the customer, but it also looks nicer,” Bogart said. “Customers have even said it feels more personal in here.”

Bogart’s locations in East Aurora and Springville will eventually see the same remodeling work done. He wanted to have work done on the Lockport store first because of the amount of business it does. The store is ranked No. 3 nationwide in sales out of 340 Wireless Zone locations and is the top store in sales in upstate New York.

However, Bogart gives the credit to his staff — nine employees in Lockport, six in Springville and three in East Aurora. They know the products and services better — in fact they know the customers well, too.

“Most of them need help. They’re not looking to buy a new phone,” Bogart said. “We put the emphasis on them. People will come in here and say, ‘I’ll wait for John’ or, ‘I’ll wait for Jake.’ They’ll only work with that person.”

Contact reporter Joe Olenickat 439-9222, ext. 6241.