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CEO Spotlight: Kevin Sinclair, Wireless Zone

When CEO Kevin Sinclair first started working at the company that would become Wireless Zone, retail rents were a lot lower and phone prices were a lot higher. “Twenty-four years ago we operated out of a 2nd-floor apartment, and we charged $2600 for a phone,” he says, “and they all needed to be installed in a car.” The company that was then known as The Car Phone Store was comprised of 27 stores in three states. Now the company is called Wireless Zone and has almost 500 stores in 27 states.

Wireless Zone has become America’s largest independent Verizon Wireless franchise. The company has grown its business by attracting small retailers who cannot compete with the Walmarts and Best Buys of the world on their own. As part of Wireless Zone, these small businesses gain purchasing power. “I think I have better buying power,” says franchisee Debbie Peterson of Ann Arbor Michigan. She’s president of BLJ Wireless, named for the first initials of her three children. Peterson has always sold Verizon products, but she says the Wireless Zone relationship has made a huge difference. She says she doesn’t miss the “constant negotiations about price protection and availability. Wireless Zone does that for me.”

In return, Wireless Zone shares in BLJ’s success, and that of its hundreds of other franchisees, many of whom are in small markets that might not otherwise have access to Verizon devices. “One of our biggest benefits has been finidng local owners in Smalltown USA and giving folks in the middle of farm country a Wireless Zone that can service their Verizon needs,” says Sinclair. “The networks are built out across America and we are in very major metropolitan areas, but at the same time where we find a lot of great solid businesses is in rural markets, and our model plays well to that because our success has been built on finding very well-entrenched local entrepreneurs that know the market and get involved locally in their community.”

Being part of a community is important to Sinclair, who chairs the Make a Wish Foundation of Connecticut as well as the Wireless Zone Foundation for Giving. Sinclair believes small businesses have a key role to play in American communities, and he’s proud of the role his company plays in helping local businesses stay profitable. “By taking some of these independents that have 1-5 stores, by them joining the Wireless Zone system they become part of a national brand,” Sinclair says. Sinclair sees Wireless Zone as the Ace Hardware of the wireless industry, giving small local businesses a chance to compete with chains like Walmart or Radio Shack, just as Ace has helped small hardware stores compete with Home Depot and Lowe’s.

Wireless Zone handles supply chain management, warehousing, device delivery, and even lines of credit for its franchisees. “They said ‘Let us know what you need, give us a roadmap and we’ll help you get there,’ ” says Deb Petersen. “That was not something I’d experienced in my relationship with Verizon. You kind of work for them; if they sneeze, you get pneumonia.” Petersen says that as a Wireless Zone franchisee, she also has a better relationship with Verizon. “I’m a premium retailer for Verizon as a result of my relationship with Wireless Zone,” she says. “Usually you would need 10 stores to achieve that.”

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ABOUT AUTHOR

Martha DeGrassehttp://www.nbreports.com
Martha DeGrasse is the publisher of Network Builder Reports (nbreports.com). At RCR, Martha authored more than 20 in-depth feature reports and more than 2,400 news articles. She also created the Mobile Minute and the 5 Things to Know Today series. Prior to joining RCR Wireless News, Martha produced business and technology news for CNN and Dow Jones in New York and managed the online editorial group at Hoover’s Online before taking a number of years off to be at home when her children were young. Martha is the board president of Austin's Trinity Center and is a member of the Women's Wireless Leadership Forum.

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