Under IMO's free service, a wireless expert will visit companies to help them choose the right cell phone, carrier, price plan and applications - with the ultimate goal of saving the customer money.
Matthew Arnow's job was to help the everyday consumer figure out what kind of cell phone to buy, which wireless provider to pick and what kind of service plan to select. Now he's getting down to business.
After serving as a sales manager for a year and a half at Independent Mobile, a company that offers virtually all cell phone brands, prices and plans, Arnow acts as a business solutions executive responsible for serving as a wireless consultant to small companies. The new role is a natural fit.
"It seemed like a lot of business customers came to me because I knew all the technical aspects of the phones,'' he said.
Independent Mobile, or IMO for short, operates two retail stores, one in Shoppers World in Framingham, the other in Columbus, Ohio. The Waltham-based company officially launches IMO Business Solutions July 30, marking a shift away from the startup's strict retail setup serving individual consumers and into an underserved and potentially lucrative market of small- to medium-size business customers.
"More and more businesspeople were coming in looking for advice,'' Arnow said. "They'd be reaching out to us and now we're taking the approach of reaching out to them.''
Under IMO's free service, a wireless expert like Arnow will go out and visit companies to help them choose the right cell phone, carrier, price plan and applications - with the ultimate goal of saving the customer money.
"Every company wants to choose the best wireless option, but the time or patience to research all of today's choices makes it nearly impossible,'' said Bill Nebes, IMO's chief executive officer. "Many businesses have sought our assistance to avoid the hassle of researching all the options themselves and to find ways to reduce costs.''
IMO has set up the service as a six-step process: the "kickoff'' of the consultant's visit; unbiased "analysis'' of network capabilities and needs; "comparison'' of current phones and plans with what's available now; looking at a company's "competitive advantage'' in terms of productivity and customer service; "cost reduction'' by picking the right devices and plans; and "cash out,'' or turning in old wireless phones to IMO for cash.
"Ideally we would work with an IT director of a company or an office manager,'' said Arnow, adding that the typical business customer IMO serves has 25 to 50 phones. "A lot of companies call several people for various needs. Now they have one point person to help them with everything.''
Kevin Dewhurst, operations manager at office furniture dealer Environments at Work LLC, turned to IMO when its wireless needs suddenly grew. The Boston-based company, which has a second showroom in Framingham, went from four phones to 20 last June when it acquired a rival.
"They were there for us when we needed them. They would drive the phones over to us (at a previous office) in Natick and even to downtown Boston (after the company moved there in September) when we added employees,'' Dewhurst said. "Our needs were changing all the time and they were great at adapting to that.''
Dewhurst said the "one-stop shopping'' aspect of IMO was an "added bonus'' to the consulting services.
"In the wireless sector, you usually find that single focus,'' he said. "You either go to a Sprint store or a Verizon store or a T-Mobile store. ... IMO was able to offer us multiple options under one roof.''
Following the further consolidation in the cell-phone industry, there are now five national carriers from which to choose: AT&T, Helio, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless. (Cingular, recently taken over by AT&T, is disappearing, while Nextel survives as a brand sold by Sprint Nextel Corp.) The carriers offer more than 300 types of wireless plans.
In this region, a typical cell-phone store is affiliated with one of these providers and therefore sells only one brand. Only a few of the big-box chains such as Best Buy and Circuit City carry multiple wireless carriers. IMO, which acts as a broker to all the major wireless carriers, considers itself the exception because it offers expert, independent analysis through consultations with staff and a software program that narrows down a customer's needs.
While taking on business customers over the past two months as the new service in a development phase, Arnow found that some companies had unused phone lines, sky-high data bills and dated applications.
"There's a lot of waste,'' he said. "Sometimes they realize it but it's just easier to pay the bill every month.''
IMO will also take time, if requested, to train a customer's employees on-site when new phones and wireless applications are brought into the workplace.
The company started up in 2004, opening the Ohio store in November 2005 and the Framingham outlet in February 2006. IMO is close to shifting into expansion mode but will add stores only after careful calculation, according to Tony Andrews, vice president of retail operations.
"Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart, had his first store for seven years,'' he said. "The easiest thing you can do is open stores and lose money. We're very conscious of doing something unique.''
The expansion would start with eight to 10 locations set up as a "district of stores'' in a particular market, Andrews said, adding that the growth may or may not take place in the two markets - Boston and central Ohio - in which IMO has a tiny toehold.
IMO has raised about $13 million in venture capital, all from Highland Capital Partners in Lexington.
"They are very, very strong supporters of what we are doing and clearly want us to have a national presence,'' Andrews said. "But we're still in the prove-the-model stage.''
Greg Turner of The MetroWest Daily News (Framingham, Mass.) can be reached at email@example.com or 508-626-3909.