All in the Ameritel Family

BTA Award of Excellence Winner Finds That a Commitment to Families Makes a Good Business
BTA Solutions June 1999
By Scott Cullen

Family matters at Ameritel Corp. And while that may not be the primary reason the Rockville, Md.-based business equipment dealership has been able to remain competitive and successful in a turbulent industry and a competitive Washington metropolitan area marketplace, it certainly is a contributing factor. After all, the driving force behind most successful companies is its people. And Ameritel has put together a talented staff that has helped earn it a 1999 BTA Award of Excellence.

At Ameritel that focus on family and family matters extends from the top of the firm with brothers David and Daniel Kaufman, the company’s president and vice president of sales, throughout the company. The Kaufman’s have created a flexible yet productive workplace that seamlessly meshes the demands of business with that of family obligations. This flexibility has enhanced employee loyalty while lowering turnover. “We encourage family because if you’re happy at home, you’re happy at work,” says David, a father of four, including triplets. “It works the other way, too. If you’re happy at work, you’re happy at home.”

Adds Daniel, “We realize work is a vehicle, not someplace that runs someone’s life. It’s important for people to have a family life. We’ve gone a long way to brand ourselves as a ‘family business’.”

Ameritel employees are well cared for. Employees receive a generous benefits package that includes a 401(k) plan with employer matching and health care that is 75 percent employer funded–a rarity in many businesses when one considers escalating health care costs. The company frequently promotes from within and encourages employees to acquire new skills. For example, after the company installed a new voice mail system, the company’s receptionist had additional time and flexibility to learn bookkeeping skills, which has increased her value to the company. That’s not an unusual occurrence at Ameritel. The company’s current marketing support coordinator started out as a receptionist before moving on to administrative assistant and bookkeeping positions before being promoted to her current position.

“If someone is not maxed out and sees a need they can fill we want to hear about it,” says Anita Stonebraker, vice president of administration. “We want them to feel their opinion is important.”

Everyone is important at Ameritel at all levels of the organization. Although the company usually hires entry level people for shipping and receiving, Stonebraker points out that those individuals who start in that position don’t stay there for long, often progressing up the ladder to bench technician, then field service helper before they become Canon trained field service technicians.

Not only does Ameritel have a strong and loyal employee family, it has a strong product family as well. The company was founded in 1984 as a fax-only dealer but has since added copiers to the mix. In 1987, David joined Ameritel as a salesperson. He was later promoted to sales manager and eventually to the company’s presidency. He purchased the company four years ago and shortly thereafter brought his brother Daniel on board.

As a fax dealership, Ameritel forged a reputation as one of the top dealerships in the country selling Group IV fax. The company currently carries Canon digital copiers and fax machines as well as Canon’s C-Series copiers. A recent addition to the product mix is Canon remanufactured copiers, which along with Ameritel’s digital expertise has helped contribute to the dealership’s growth. David notes that these moves have increased sales dramatically without sacrificing the small company feel and customer service.

It was at a BTA conference that David was first turned on to the possibilities of selling remanufactured copiers. He says that carrying high-end remanufactured copiers was helpful in preparing the company for digital products.

Enhanced relationships with suppliers and a narrowing of product lines also have helped keep the firm competitive. The Kaufman’s long history of loyalty to their employee family also carries through to their vendor. No longer is the company selling other fax lines; instead it is focusing exclusively on Canon. Even the remanufactured copiers the company sells are Canon.

“This relationship with Canon has become ever stronger simply by selling more of their products and supporting them well,” says David. “With Canon being a leader in copiers and fax, we felt we needed to specialize. We also offer our customers Canon Leasing and strive to be a ‘Canon House’ all around – even to the calculators on everyone’s desk.”

Ameritel carries on the trend of superior customer service among BTA Award of Excellence winners. Daniel describes the company’s customer service department as “second to none.” And with a philosophy of “under-promise and over-deliver” its not surprising that the company has a wide range of satisfied clients. This commitment to customer service shines through day in and day out at Ameritel. If, for any reason, the dealership can’t deliver, customers receive a $50 supply credit. Ameritel also goes the extra mile by offering rentals as well as service loaners – something even some of the big conglomerates are hard-pressed to provide in some markets.

Last year the company’s gross sales volume was $3.43 million. Not bad for an independent dealership with 27 full-time and three part-time employees. Considering how competitive its market is, particularly in the face of competition from the mega-dealers, David says that the company has carved a niche by remaining small enough to respond to its customer’s needs quickly and effectively

There’s a lot of good to being a strong independent,” says David. A big benefit of doing business with Ameritel is that customers have easy access to the owners if necessary. “If they have a problem, I can make something happen,” he says.

The company is just as flexible with its customers as it is with its employees. “If a customer needs something special, we’ll go a long way to make that happen if it makes business sense to both of us,” notes Daniel

As an independent, locally-owned and operated dealership, the Kaufmans feel that it is essential to emphasize their independence and commitment to family in their marketing efforts. Of late, advertising has become a family affair as David’s five-year old son Michael has become somewhat of a company spokesperson in advertisements. Not only does Michael laude the benefits of doing business with Ameritel, he also reports on industry trends and updates clients on the growth of the triplets. Cable television advertising also emphasizes the company’s “family theme.”

Despite its successes, Ameritel has no time for complacency. The company continues to explore new marketing strategies. Recently it took a 27-foot RV and converted it into a custom mobile demonstration facility that travels from customer site to customer site. “It has already proved itself as a fantastic tool of convenience for our clients and cost-effective marketing for our sales department,” says David. It also makes life easier for Ameritel. It’s not unusual to see one of the copiers on the RV rolled right out the back door and into the customer’s facility after a demo.

Keeping up with the times is another component of Ameritel’s success. The company is well prepared to conduct business in the digital age. In addition to the aforementioned experience acquired through selling high-volume copiers, the company has on staff a certified network engineer (CNE) who provides the company with the networking expertise so essential for selling and servicing connected digital products. Having a CNE on staff also helps customers feel more confident when doing business with Ameritel

While families are cherished at Ameritel, the company also remains focused on its commitment to the community. It supports and contributes to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the United Cerebral Palsy Foundation, the American Cancer Society, the Alzheimer’s Association, Mellwood Center for Mentally Retarded Adults as well as other local charities. This year, Ameritel will sponsor Shady Grove Hospital Foundation’s Golf and Tennis Classic

The company recently opened a second location in Baltimore –another measure of Ameritel’s success. As a successful company, it’s not surprising that the Kaufman’s have an eye to the future and continue to set lofty but manageable goals for their company

“Our goal is to grow in a controlled fashion to a $10 million company with 50 employees within the next three to five years by selling Canon products and service,” says David. If past performance at Ameritel is any indicator, that goal is a done deal

Scott Cullen is a free-lance writer and president of Cullen Communications, New Hope, Pa. He has written about the office equipment industry since 1986.

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