Turning Calls into Cash

Cellular company expands its market base and bottom line through acquisition

The world has gone wireless. Perhaps no one knows that better than Leroy Wright, chairman, president and CEO of TLC Next Generation International Holdings L.L.C. Wright, 29, owns 75% of the largest cellular holdings company in Missouri with 22 retail stores nationwide, 110 employees and nearly $11 million in revenues.

It was just four years ago when Wright began working at Southwestern Bell Mobile Systems as a direct sales representative. He quickly became the company’s top salesperson, earning a six-figure salary, but scrapped it all for entrepreneurship two years later.

Using $150,000 in start-up capital raised through private placement (he sold shares of his company to his co-owners and employees) and personal savings, Wright launched Wright Cellular, a St. Louis-based cellular phone agency, in 1996. Providing cell phones to small and mid-size businesses, the company earned $700,000 in revenues its first year and was ranked the No. 4 cellular phone retailer in the St. Louis metropolitan area. But with the changing face of cell phone users, Wright knew he had to expand his market base to remain competitive.

In 1997 Wright purchased Next Generation Inc., then the No. 1 cellular company in the state. Unlike Wright Cellular, Next Generation had a strong retail presence with 10 stores in malls throughout St. Louis.

It focused on consumers outside the business environment and offered wireless, cellular, paging and other products and services.

“I knew that it was a valuable asset that could help me grow my business, so I discreetly approached the owners and asked whether they were interested in talking about the potential sale of their company,” says Wright.

Undaunted by their initial skepticism, Wright crafted a solid business plan and used his selling expertise to attract such investors as Civic Ventures, a St. Louis venture capital firm that put up $1 million in equity, and NationsBank, which threw in another half million dollars from its venture capital fund. After introducing his financial team to the owners, serious talks began and within six months Wright closed the deal. Civic Ventures and NationsBank, along with other investors, own 25% of the company.

TLC Next Generation serves as the umbrella company for Wright Cellular, Next Generation and its newest subsidiary, Next Generation San Diego.

Last year, TLC formed a partnership with Pacific Bell Wireless to open retail stores in the top six malls in San Diego. Wright says he anticipates adding four more stores by the end of this year.

TLC Next Generation International Holdings L.L.C., 911 Washington Ave., Suite 625, St. Louis, MO 63101; 314-588-1600; e-mail: lwrightceo@msn.com

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