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Monday, June 28, 2004
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal

WIRELESS COMMUNICATIONS: Side-by-side show

Some dealers selling rival products in one place, letting consumers comparison shop

By CHRIS JONES
GAMING WIRE



Wireless Toyz owner Tom Yaldo displays rival brands of cell phones at his 2415 Eastern Ave. store. His customers can sign up for service with any major carrier.
Photo by Craig L. Moran.

In the ultracompetitive world of cellular telecommunications, it's uncommon for competing service providers to play nice.

Consumers are routinely barraged with advertisements touting one service's benefits over another, with sales pitches covering everything from friendly advice from actress Catherine Zeta-Jones to a wandering dweeb who constantly asks if his voice can be heard.

But make no mistake: Each spot clearly touts why one company's products are supposedly better than another's.

Despite the $70 billion industry's rivalry, many Las Vegas-areas retailers believe it's in consumers' best-interests to comparison shop when buying cell phones, accessories and service plans. And they're giving shoppers the chance to check out several major service providers without driving from company store to company store.

"That's the big X factor; a customer can come in and get any carrier from our location," said Tom Yaldo, who on June 7 opened his first local Wireless Toyz franchise at 2415 Eastern Ave., near Sahara Avenue. "It's one thing to go into five different locations to see which (service) best suits a customer; we're more of a superstore."

In Southern Nevada, the nation's six major cellular service providers -- AT&T, Cingular, Nextel, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon -- each offer locations where their company's products are the sole offering. But many retailers are trying to capitalize on a "one-stop" shopping model that's already proven popular in other retail sectors.

Jim Salsman, owner of three Choice Wireless retail stores in Southern Nevada, has sold the six largest cellular providers' products and services to consumers for the past 18 months and their business-only services since 1997.

Despite such long-running connections, Salsman said providers routinely pressure him to drop one or more competitors from his product lineup. Business factors also hinder many retailers' ability to offer a wide variety, he added, which further restricts the prevalence of multi-carrier stores.

"We're always being pressured to slim down our our offerings," said Salsman, who cited a T-Mobile policy that prevents some stores from carrying its wares if those stores also carry rival Sprint. "And a lot of dealers just can't support all six brands, so if you don't meet their (sales) numbers they'll pull your rights."

Salsman said heavy advertising campaigns also drive many shoppers directly to branded stores or carrier-exclusive distributors. Still, he plans to continue letting his customers comparison shop.

"People like to see things side-by-side," Salsman said. "Our motto is: `You can't choose without choice,' "

Yaldo said he has encountered little resistance from carriers, and Wireless Toyz has aggressive plans for spreading its choice-based business model across the United States.

The company was launched in 1995 when founder Joe Barbat began selling paging equipment from a small kiosk housed inside a video rental store in Ypsilanti, Mich. It expanded into mobile phone sales the following year with an exclusive contract with Ameritech Cellular (now a division of San Antonio-based SBC Communications).

By 1998, Barbat realized the industry's growth potential and shifted to nonexclusive deals to sell competing telecommunication providers, as well as home satellite services from rivals Dish Network and DirecTV.

Wireless Toyz began franchising in September 2001 and today has more than 30 locations in several states. By the end of this year, it plans to open 35 more locations in five additional states.

Last year, Wireless Toyz's same-store sales increased by an average of 30 percent from 2002. Yaldo, who has exclusive franchise rights in Southern Nevada, hopes to open additional stores here over the next two years beginning with a second location near Jones Boulevard and Desert Inn Road, which is scheduled to open by Aug. 1.

Yaldo hopes to have six local stores in place by year's end.






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