by John Stratton
We’ve all been living in the middle of a technological revolution for the past few decades, and for most of us that’s been a very good thing—except for the confusing onrush of new capabilities and “apps” for that powerful little cellphone that we carry. In fact, the phone is so powerful that we often can’t decide what, exactly, are the best choices for our own lives.
But there are those who are there to help us sort it all out.
For the two founders of Wireless Zone stores in eastern and southern Connecticut—Neil Ryan and Scott Gladstone—it’s definitely not a “one size fits all” business. For the past 20 years, they’ve built a reputation for both keeping abreast of technology for business-to-business service, as well as, providing up-front, face-to-face service to everyday cellphone users. In fact, that service is what made them a success.
“Yes, the technology moves fast,” says Neil, “but Wireless Zone is there to make that technology available to real people to improve their real lives…by getting to know what those lives are all about.”
Scott adds that, “From Day One, we were very fortunate that we had a ‘customer-centric’ philosophy, building on referrals, involving ourselves in the community, and separating ourselves from our competitors.”
It was a lot of work, though, and involved a commitment to an opportunity that they jumped at in 1992, when Scott called Neil and said that they could collaborate in a then-emerging business. The two had been friends since freshman orientation at Keene State College in Keene, New Hampshire. Both were business majors; after graduation, Scott became involved in the car phone business… and he saw prospects for exciting growth. Neil plunged right in, and they both moved to southeastern Connecticut, with few contacts here other than a strong faith in the lifestyles of the communities around them—and in the Wireless Zone concept, which was part of the burgeoning Verizon system. They opened their first Wireless Zone in Groton, and now have ten stores with skilled, people-oriented personnel.
In those earliest days, Wireless Zone stores were about “car phones,” those gee-whiz features in the cars of traveling industrial representatives and busy business people whose office was effectively within their vehicle. Today, cell phones are everywhere, on every belt and in every handbag.
It’s hard to live without them, since they’ve grown far beyond voice communication into powerful computers with links to the Internet and hundreds of thousands of functions available. “It’s a remote control to the world,” Neil observes. As that “remote” increases in flexibility, though, understanding it becomes crucial.
“My view,” said Scott, “is that we are not a ‘box-store’ experience, selling a device and then charging you to set it up. We spend a lot of time to be sure that our team members know how to transfer data, emails, and applications for customers, so that the customer is confident in the phone’s use and potential. And we are there at no charge if they have questions or are looking for suggestions.”
Neil cites a contractor who came in recently, wanting a new phone. “We were able to show him how a new application can scan a room and help to provide working drawings, measure studs, locate key structures. We do it all: set up, load, train, transfer data, handle everything in the transition. What’s cool is that we can save them money, too!”
“With our customers,” Neil adds, “it’s an interview process, to give them a better mobile experience and help them grow into its possibilities. We do tons of education; it’s free; it’s enjoyable; it comes to us naturally.”
They are continuing to seek expansion beyond their present stores in Groton, New London, Killingly, Branford, Guilford, Wallingford, North Windham, Putnam, Tolland…and Brattleboro, Vermont. But a key is the staff, Scott asserts. “We keep our ears to the ground to find good people who are available,” he says, “so we can train, educate, and instill them with our customer-oriented values.”
The future of mobile computing and cellphones is ever-changing, said Neil, but he sees rapid increases in “machine-to-machine” connections that will keep homeowners in closer control of their home devices of all kinds; likewise, he sees ever more expansion of cellphones as means to manage home and personal finances.
Wireless Zone is very involved in community support with at least 50 organizations, notably the Make-a-Wish Foundation, Hospice of Southeastern Connecticut, Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, Waterford Country School, Madonna Place, and Thames Valley Community Services. The nonprofit donations can range from $1,000 to $30,000.
Neil, originally from Port Jefferson, Long Island lives in Stonington with his 10-year old son, Jack; and Scott is a Waterford resident with his wife, Simone, and children Shayna, 8, and Travis, 11.
“We’re fortunate, Scott reflects, “that the community was so receptive, and we want to always exceed people’s expectations for us.”