Tuck fills void

Company installs Internet-based phone systems

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Brent Tuck's company has offices in Steamboat Springs and Grand Junction, but they're in the same place -- sort of.

If Tuck goes out to work with one of his technicians and a client in Delta, he's still in the office -- sort of.

Tuck is president and CEO of Tuck Communication Services, a telecommunications company that sells and installs telephone systems for businesses. The company is installing a growing number of Internet-based systems that allow companies to place inexpensive local phone calls no matter how far-flung their offices and employees are.

A professional person "could go live in Steamboat Springs for three months and really be a part of his business, from a connectivity point of view, as if he's in the office," Tuck said.

In terms of communicating over the telephone, it's as if employees of the companies that have their own "voice over Internet protocol" (VOIP) phone systems have one giant office building that spans Colorado's Western Slope, or for that matter, North America. They enjoy one central voicemail system, and one centrally located receptionist can serve the entire company.

A business owner in Steamboat who wanted to talk to an employee in Grand Junction simply could dial that person's extension as if the person was in the next office, Tuck said. And the call can be made without incurring long-distance charges.

"A company that used to spend thousands of dollars on long-distance calling can now spend nothing," Fred Johnston said. A veteran Steamboat bus--inessman, Johnston joined Tuck as a sales manager six months ago and is now general manager of the rapidly growing company.

"During the first five months of 2005, we did as much volume as we did in all of 2004," Johnston said. "And right now, it just hasn't stopped."

Most of Tuck's customers use PBX phone systems that offer voicemail but are not Internet-based. The company still maintains those systems.

"Getting business isn't the issue, it's making sure we can handle the business that's the issue," Tuck said. "In the last 60 days,we added 20 accounts, and we anticipate adding 30 more in the next 90 days."

Part of the reason Tuck Communication Services is growing so rapidly is that it positioned itself to fill a void on Colorado's Western Slope created when a major competitor dropped out of the scene.

Tuck is picking up maintenance contracts abandoned by its competitor with the possibility of upgrading their telecommunications systems in the future, Johnston said.

A dozen years ago, Tuck was working for a video production company in Burbank, Calif. He was enjoying diverse productions that included a Steve Winwood rock concert and coverage of red carpet arrivals at the Oscars.

As facilities manager for the production company, it was his job to assemble the staff and camera crews needed to pull off a production such as an episode of the PBS series "Dinner and a Movie." Other times, they taped "wraps," in which a sitcom star introduced the next Bugs Bunny cartoon on the WB network.

"Since I was staffing the shoots, I could staff myself in as an (audio) boom holder or a camera assistant pulling the cable onstage at the Winwood concert," Tuck said.

He gave up that relatively glamorous lifestyle when he fell in love with a "Steamboat girl" and married his wife, Donna.

Tuck was employed as a telephone technician by another company. When it changed hands in January 2001, he decided to start his own company and make customer support a strength. He said he quickly landed major government and industry accounts, including Routt County and the city of Steamboat Springs, as well as Colorado Mountain College, Yampa Valley Medical Center and Twentymile Coal Company.

"Things were going really well," Tuck said. "We had myself, two technicians and Fred."

The company's rapid growth began last year. Another company that supplies the appliances and other hardware that go into a commercial phone system, TADIRAN Communications, urged Tuck to consider an expansion into Grand Junction and the Mesa County market.

Quickly, Tuck landed an important account with a company that runs assisted living centers, and the business began to grow at a rate no one quite anticipated.

Johnston said Tuck Com--munication now has the luxury of hand-picking large accounts the company thinks can help advance the goal of being more than just a phone systems company. Tuck wants to be a solutions-oriented company that meets the challenges of individual companies, Johnston said.

Tuck's business is not capital intensive -- the company purchases telephone equipment below retail and resells it to its customers at retail, but most of the profit is in labor, Johnston said. Tuck Communication Ser--vices is well-positioned to grow based on available cash and has no bank loans, he added.

At present, VOIP represents between 15 percent and 20 percent of Tuck's business. But he expects to see that percentage increase as the growing trend of location-neutral businesses and employees strengthens in Western Colorado and ski towns. VOIP supports the trend of executives and professionals living the mountain lifestyle in Steamboat while remaining fully engaged in their business lives, Tuck said.

"In my opinion, if you're looking at spending more than $10,000," on a new telephone system, the money would be best spent on a VOIP system, Tuck said.

In the future, Johnston envisions Tuck Communication providing VOIP to small businesses that can't justify spending five figures, by providing "hosting services." Essentially, Tuck would serve as a matchmaker, bringing together a group of small companies to share the infrastructure.

Tuck goes as far as predicting that companies and independent businesspeople contemplating a future move to Northwest Colorado will base their decisions in part on the availability of hosted VOIP.

Before joining Tuck late last year, Johnston was traveling 150,000 miles a year selling software. The sight of business executives lugging laptops through airport concourses while holding cell phones was a familiar one.

Johnston envisions a day when business travelers waiting to catch a connecting flight will plug their telephones into their laptops instead of burning cell phone minutes.

Travelers will be able to connect to the Internet via the wireless hotspots that already exist in airports, Johnston said. They'll take small telephone handsets out of their briefcases and plug them into USB ports in their laptops. From there, they'll be able to use "local" phone numbers at their home bases to call colleagues. And they'll find their voicemail messages merged into their e-mail inboxes.

"I spent 15 minutes with Brent, and I began to see a lot of possibilities," Johnston said. "Life is all about windows of opportunity."

Learn more about Tuck Communication Services at tcs-comm.com.

Or, Johnston can be reached at 879-2441, even when he's in Grand Junction.

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