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Airlink Communications takes on wireless market

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by Paul Schreiber

SBJ Contributing Writer

A new wireless communications enterprise opened its doors in Springfield Jan. 1. Airlink Communications, founded by Randy Ruggeri, enters a marketplace already active with several local dealers.

The name Airlink reflects both the industry and his strategy, he said. "Air" refers to the wireless aspect, while "link" connects the "broad range of products and services" that will be available through the company, he added.

Airlink Communications utilizes a broker arrangement Ruggeri has established with Alltel, Atlas Communications and Midwest Paging. Essentially, he works as an authorized agent selling air time for Alltel, while offering paging services through Atlas and Midwest. He also works with an Internet service provider and is planning to add his own Web page designer.

"My company's philosophy is to be able to provide a wide array of products," Ruggeri said. He added that he believes his immediate challenge is getting customers to understand what his specific role is at Airlink.

"What I am today is only part of what I'm going to be offering down the road when other service providers come in," he said.

His top priority now is showing customers they can pick and choose to get what works best and is most cost effective, he added.

Ruggeri is familiar with the changing face of the communications industry. Answering an Alltel ad in Rolla more than 10 years ago led him to change careers, from retailing stereo equipment, VCRs and camcorders to working with a leader in wireless communications.

As president of Airlink Communications, he is using the knowledge gained from his previous role as Alltel's sales manager for Springfield and southwest Missouri.

Ruggeri is counting on his sales experience to give him a business edge. He said he is well aware "there are other companies that do what I do," but added, "no one has the number of years of experience that I have."

He said he is interested in getting back out in front of the public so he can "touch base with the customers again" and "explain what's going on in this technology revolution that we're in."

Springfield and surrounding communities form a healthy market for wireless communications. The geographical spread of communities requires reliance on phone contact to stay in touch, and often this is done while on the road.

"You've got a lot of people spending time in a vehicle," Ruggeri said. And the diversity of wireless service users has grown in the last few years. Ruggeri sees mothers with children "spending as much time as the businessman on the street today because kids are just so active."

Wireless communication products also sell well with student populations. Parents like the safety and security that comes with having their sons and daughters at college connected with a cell phone, according to Ruggeri. With pre-paid cellular phone plans, parents can give their children away from home a "security tool while they're on the street," he added.

Airlink Communications also sells cellular phones and related accessories. Ruggeri purchases his inventory through wholesalers and distributors who often "have stronger buying power than actually some of the carriers," he said. "Nowadays the equipment is kind of a necessary evil. Everybody's willing to lose money on equipment to get the service," he added.

In the near future, Ruggeri said, he will offer satellite phone services through Iridium. These phones work through satellite global systems and "allow customers to travel anywhere on Earth and have one number, and it will work anywhere, anytime," he said.

Ruggeri said his goal is to keep his clientele completely satisfied, and to do this he hopes to expand his sales distribution with more employees and, further down the road, the addition of a large communications "supercenter" store.

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