KELCOM Celebrates 50 Years In Southwestern Ontario With Cutting Edge Technology And Unparalleled Customer Service Milestones
From its humble beginnings as a marine radio service company 50 years ago, KELCOM has become a leading provider of business and consumer communications solutions across Southwestern Ontario with seven distinct divisions under its corporate umbrella.
Launched as KELL Communications by Wilson Kell, a transplanted Torontonian, as a service offshoot of Marconi Radio Company, the company started by servicing old-fashioned tube-style marine radios used by freighters and other vessels plying the Great Lakes.
In 1969, Kell hired Vince Otcenasek (a recent immigrant who escaped the communist regime of Czechoslovakia) as his first employee, before deciding to move back to Toronto and he essentially gave the company to his newest employee with one condition — change the name.
Otcenasek had already made one change — to K.E.L. Communications — so switching to KELCOM wasn’t much of a stretch for the fledgling company and its new owner.
It was the beginning of steady incremental growth for the Windsor company, which now has about 200 employees in locations across Windsor, Tecumseh, Leamington, Chatham, London, and Vaughn.
Reiner Neumann, who has been with the company for more than 45 years, remembers parlaying his hobby as a ham radio enthusiast into a part-time job, while still in grade nine, after meeting a company manager at a ham radio gathering.
“It was in the early days of shortwave communications and I was fascinated by it and jumped at the chance to get in on the ground floor,” recalls Neumann, who now runs the company’s Wireless Division.
Neumann would become a shareholder in the company while studying for an engineering degree at the University of Waterloo; and by 1978, he and Otcenasek formed a partnership and bought the company.
Neumann also remembers how the company handled service calls on Great Lakes freighters, in the early days.
“You would get a service call request and a technician would be ferried out to the ship by a tender and climb up this rope ladder hung over the side of the vessel,” says Neumann, laughing, during a recent interview. “Depending on how good and how fast you were, you might be finished by the time the ship reached Sarnia and then you’d take a cab back home.” He adds, “It was all pretty rudimentary as a business model, but it was the beginning and the growth since then has been remarkable.”Over the next few years, the company added fleet service contracts with area police, fire and ambulance services, as well as cement companies, heating and cooling operations and trucking outfits, all of which needed communication solutions between its offices and drivers.
While the company still offers two-way radio and pager services to clients across Southwestern Ontario, KELCOM also provides cellular phones, mobile computing devices, telephone systems/data services, home and business security services, fax machines and copiers, 3D printing, high speed internet, VoIP digital phone services, 24 hour telephone answering services, and more.
KELCOM has become known throughout the industry as a one-stop shop for all businesses communications’ needs. And the growth was designed to build on services already offered to clients.
In the early 1970s, the company introduced beepers to its clients, which morphed into the pager division, explains Neumann.
When the telephone industry was deregulated in the early 1980s, giving consumers the opportunity to buy their own telephones rather than continuing to rent from Bell Canada, KELCOM started selling phones to its customers.
Neumann notes the company launched a security system division to take advantage of the fact that staff were already on board 24-7 running its beeper and messaging division.
“We thought — why not use the same staff to monitor security systems? So that’s how we got into that business,” Neumann states.
Neumann continues by adding that fax machines quickly followed and this became the Document Division, which also offers 3D printing services.
KELCOM added cell phone services in the mid-1980s through an agreement with Bell Cellular, but soon switched to Rogers Communications.
The company also offered two-way radio and cell phone services through Clearnet before selling the radio channels and becoming a Clearnet dealer.
“It gave us a large competitive advantage over our competitors, because those communication systems were much more effective and efficient,” believes Neumann.
Clearnet would later merge with Telus, and KELCOM, facing a choice to represent either Telus or Rogers, sold off its Rogers’ interests and retained a business relationship with Telus.
By the late 1990s, KELCOM recognized that wireless internet access was the wave of the future and launched its Wireless Division, now run by Neumann, Pete Varga and Dennis Hill.
About 20 years ago, Neumann and Otcenasek decided that their growing client base would be better served by dividing the company into separate divisions so each could focus on their core competencies.
“It means our clients can now deal with one separate division that fits their needs, so instead of having one person who knows something about a lot of things, we decided it was more efficient for our customer to deal with one person who knows a lot about certain services,” informs Neumann.
So he kept the part of the business he most enjoyed — the Wireless Division — and Otcenasek brought on partners to take over the remaining divisions.
In all, the company is now divided into seven separate divisions with ownership shared between 11 partners.
Besides the previously-mentioned Wireless Division, the owners include: KELCOM 3D and Document Divisions (Len Colucci); KELCOM Radio Solutions Division (Dale Carr and Tim Schweyer); KELCOM Voice and Data Solutions Division (Gerry Vanderheide); KELCOM Call Centre and Telephone Answering Service (Scott Lyons); KELCOM RevolutionIP Division (Dejan Todorovic); and Security One (Chris Neumann and Dave Moavro).
One of the main attractions of working for KELCOM is its loyalty to long time employees and the continuing opportunities for growth within the various divisions.
“We have had people work their entire careers at KELCOM and retire after 40 years on the job and we still have many who have been with us for between 20 and 30 years,” Todorovic proudly points out. “Many of our employees are immigrants and minorities who have been launched along their career path by joining our company.”
Todorovic also emphasizes that KELCOM is a local company with employees and owners who all call Windsor and Essex County home for themselves and their families. He also mentions the company supports dozens of charities and events each year in the local community.
According to Todorovic the company (under RevolutionIP) was “the first local DSL provider, the first local VoIP supplier and the first local cable internet reseller.”
“Today, we can provide a single internet connection that is faster than all the combined speeds of thousands of internet customers from 20 years ago,” he says. “Most recently, we have started helping business owners manage their digital presence by improving their web pages, increasing their search engine optimization and handling their social media accounts.”