Getting Technical

This company used the Internet to survive the telecom slump

Two years ago, things didn’t look good for the husband-wife team of Garth Gordon and Vivienne Bramwell-Gordon, both 42. As president and vice president, respectively, of Tampa, Florida-based Phones Etc., the pair was closely intertwined with the telecom industry, which at the time was heading into a major slump.

Founded in 1994, Phones Etc. is a retailer that sells refurbished Avaya and other telecom equipment to small companies and nonprofit groups at a 40% discount. The firm — also known as a value-added reseller or VAR in the industry — also removes and liquidates excess equipment, handles installations, and purchases excess or out-of-service computers and telephone and office equipment. It also offers leasing and finance programs and information technology (IT) consulting.

Garth and Vivienne combined their experiences in medical insurance, sales and marketing, and international banking to found Phones Etc., which today has 11 employees. The endeavor has paid off for the pair. With clients that include Hillsborough County Workforce Alliance, Dairy Farmers of America, Georgetown University, and Nordstrom, the company posted $1.5 million in sales last year, up from $484,000 in 2001. For 2003, equipment and IT sales combined are expected to reach $5 million.

Phones Etc.’s path to success began humbly in the Gordons’ home, where a bedroom served as Phones Etc.’s first office and the garage doubled as a warehouse. Start-up costs were about $2,400, taken from the founders’ savings and used to purchase a shipment of the first product they’d sell: high-end telephones.

When the telecom slump hit in 2001, the Gordons had to get creative, so they came up with a four-point plan to keep selling product and maintain reasonable inventory levels:

Expanding the company’s presence on eBay, one of the busiest business-to-consumer sites on the Internet

Increasing their Internet presence with a Website of their own to sell products directly to consumers

Getting minority-certified to sell equipment and IT services to the U.S. government

Branching out into IT consulting

As they grow their own company, the Gordons say they also want to be more “civic-minded” and consider themselves in a prime position to help bridge the digital divide for other minority entrepreneurs. “We’ve seen the power of the Internet in our own business, but we realize that a lot of minority-run firms aren’t getting that,” Vivienne says. “We think we can help by donating our services and equipment where we can. Our approach to business is multifaceted, and we plan to stick with it.”

Phones Etc.; 8263 Causeway Blvd., Suite E, Tampa, Florida 33619; 877-888-7931; www.affordabletelephones.com.

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