Cellular phones may be ubiquitous today, but they weren't in 1987 when Elkhart-born Adam Grant spotted an Atlanta neighbor talking into a two-way radio that doubled as a phone.
The communications device was introduced by Nextel, which rolled out a mobile phone that same year. Intrigued by the innovation, Grant began a journey taking him from Atlanta to Houston and back to his home state.
He opened his first central Indiana mobile-phone store in April 1998, and now Grant Communications Inc. has grown to 15 retail locations-including 10 in the Indianapolis area and additional stores in Kokomo, Lafayette, Terre Haute, Crawfordsville, Mishawaka, Fort Wayne and Louisville.
Annual revenue now tops $4 million.
"At first, we were purely in sales of Nextel phones and accessories," Grant said. "In the last four or five years, we have brought in the service-center piece, servicing all of the phones and accessories we sell."
Adding the service component has been key to the company's expansion, he said.
Grant Communications is an independent contractor, reselling products it buys from multiple vendors. It's an interesting setup, since cell phone providers are both its suppliers and its competition.
And the market is always changing. Providers Sprint and Nextel merged this year, for example, offering an expanded product line for retailers like Grant. He sees both negatives and positives as a result.
"We're learning a whole new way of doing business," Grant said.
That's pretty much par for the course. Although he had to submit a business plan to Nextel to win its confidence early on, the realities were something else.
He didn't expect to be operating 15 locations, for one thing.
"It just evolved. Honestly, we never had it in our business plan to be this size," Grant said. "It just happened."
Stuart Countryman, president of Hoosier Badge, provides signage for Grant Communications. He sums up the company's growth in two words: "Holy cow!"
"[Grant] is extremely hard-working and energetic," Countryman said, "and his staff follows his lead."
Like many small-business owners, Grant found it difficult at first to handle sales and run the business.
"I sold in the beginning and my wife ran all of the back-end operations," Grant said. "Our biggest challenge ... was training people on how to sell the product and to actually get out there ourselves and sell."
Grant said he has risen above the competition by focusing on service.
"The way that we look at our business is a little bit different," he said. "Some businesses are out to get business any way they can. Our philosophy is, we're going to sell with integrity. We're never going to compromise ourselves-ever. We've driven that into our salespeople."
Clients like CP Morgan appreciate the attention to customer service. The builder's telecommunications specialist, Autumn Janzaruk, said Grant Communications provides Nextel and BlackBerry phones.
"They have a field service representative that comes to our office twice a week to service the phones and take orders," Janzaruk said. "And if we have a hugely busy week, they have no problem with coming more often if we need it."
The 43-year-old Grant says the biggest challenge he faces is corporate decisions that might be best for the carrier or Wall Street, but not for the local agents.
"We sometimes compare ourselves as puppets to the master," Grant said.
So what advice does Grant offer other entrepreneurs? It's a four-letter word: work.
"You better be able to put the time and effort into it," he said. "You'll always have competitors around the corner who will snap up your customers. You can never really relax because as soon as you do that's when you look at the numbers and say, 'What happened?'"
Adam Grant says his leadership is only part of the reason for the success of his company, which has 15 locations. He credits Grant Communications' employees and their dedication to customer service.