Russell Cellular Inc. owners Jeff and Kym Russell spent 2009 knee-deep in converting more than 100 stores to Verizon from Alltel, setting the stage for a busy 2010.
“We focused on increasing staff and conducting more and better training programs,” Jeff Russell says.
That strategy has led to 103 percent growth 2008–10, adding 14 new stores that brought the company’s total to 138. Russell Cellular also increased its staff by more than 100 to 507, including six regional managers and a district manager.
Russell says employees at all levels are subject to the company’s new training initiative. New hires undergo two days of training to get started, store managers participate in monthly training, and training for regional and district managers is offered quarterly.
“There is always some kind of training going on each month,” he says.
Russell Cellular, which reported 2010 revenues of $53.8 million, has come far from its humble beginnings. Jeff Russell initially sold cell phones out of the trunk of his car, but he and Kym opened an Alltel store in Bolivar, using a $1,500 loan from Jeff’s mother, whom they repaid in 30 days.
With the conversion of Alltel to Verizon, Russell Cellular went from being the largest national Alltel agent, based on the number of locations, to being the fifth largest U.S. Verizon agent.
At the beginning of 2010, Russell Cellular serviced Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Illinois, Ohio and, with one store in West Virginia. At year’s end, the company had added a Michigan presence and shut down the West Virginia store. “The West Virginia location was really a part of the Ohio market,” says Darin Wray, Russell Cellular’s vice president of operations. “We hadn’t moved deeper into West Virginia and the one store wasn’t performing well.”
Wray says adding a layer of management to the team was in preparation for the company’s continued planned growth in 2011.
Russell Cellular will expand its Michigan presence, Russell says, with plans for 25 locations there by the end of May. There also are plans for a Russell Cellular store in Mountain Home, Ark., and expansion into the central Illinois market this spring and summer. Russell says lease negotiations are under way for the chosen Mountain Home location, and job candidates for that site are being reviewed.
The planned growth comes with costs – Russell says new store startup costs are between $40,000 and $70,000 – but expectations are high for 2011.
“We anticipate the largest revenue growth in the company’s history in 2011. We are just very fortunate that the cell phone became a staple in the consumer’s life,” says Russell, who anticipates 2011 revenues of $75 million, with more than 200 stores and 700-plus employees.
Russell notes that while plans are for the company to expand into other states, nothing definite has been decided. Getting set for that growth, however, has created advancement opportunities for Russell Cellular staff.
“Many of the people were promoted from within, giving our staff more opportunity with the company,” Russell says, noting the company added a director of operations and managers for accounting, information technology and staffing.
Even amid growth, Russell says he strives to maintain the personal connections his customers have come to expect. And according to Aaron Tanner, a financial representative for Northwestern Mutual Financial Network and Russell Cellular customer since 2004, those connections are what make the company special.
“When I walk into the store, the employees know me, or when I walk into the headquarters, they know me,” Tanner says. “It makes me feel like I’m a part of the corporation.”Click here for the complete 2011 Dynamic Dozen overview.