By Don Bolding
Killeen Daily Herald
Nine years ago, Sprint had an office in downtown Killeen on Avenue D. People could go down to the phone company and speak to someone face to face.
Now, in a pilot project, people can do that again with Sprint's local successor, Embarq. They can pay their bills; they can ask questions about their bills and about services. They can browse a limited inventory of retail accessories related to Embarq's services: local land-line telephone service, high-speed Internet, Dish Network and cell phones. Most packages bear the green-and-white Embarq name and logo.
It's taking a little while to catch on, says store manager Cindy Maggart, but people who get the idea typically exclaim, "Man, I'm glad you're here!"
"Here" is a storefront, spacious because of its sparse furnishings, on the southeast corner of the great retail complexes at the intersection of Fort Hood Street and U.S. 190. Next door to Gold's Gym, it draws a lot of foot traffic; within walking distance of Fort Hood, it draws the attention of lots of people new to Embarq.
The design, which includes interactive screens, won Embarq the national Store Design of the Year award for 2007 from Chain Store Age magazine for allowing customers to touch and see many of the products and services the company offers.
The company's first-quarter earnings report this year ranked Embarq's voice services tops in a field of 200 providers, considering performance and reliability, cost of service, offerings and promotions, sales representatives and account executives, company image and billing, according to J.D. Power and Associates, a global marketing information firm.
Embarq, formerly the local telecommunications division of Sprint, became a new company based in Overland Park, Kan., in 2006 following a merger of Sprint with Nextel in 2004. The name was announced in February 2006, and it was listed on the New York Stock Exchange as EQ starting in May.
Maggart was with Sprint 15 years before following the new logo.
The local store is one of only two in Texas so far, with the other in Kingwood, near Houston. In Embarq's 17-state area, "Very few of our operations are in metropolitan areas," Maggart said. "In some places, we ring all the way around a city, but mostly we're in areas with smaller populations."
A notable exception is Las Vegas, where Embarq is "the phone company," and six of the seven retail stores in Nevada are there.
Placement of the other stores in 11 states reflects Embarq's presence. Florida has 17 and North Carolina 11, including one in Fayetteville, next to Fort Bragg. Minnesota has three. Kansas, Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia each have two, and South Carolina and Tennessee each have one.
Maggart said she and her staff of six do a lot of "feet on the street" work, too. They are planning a float in Killeen's 125th anniversary parade and are planning a grand opening for the store for the week of the celebration.
"We still have a call center on Avenue D," Maggart said, "and we still do a lot of business that way, but our customers aren't forced to dial a number answered by a machine that gives them 10 options. The phone company' is really a single 100-year-old institution that has gone through many changes, and we're recalling how we used to be."
Contact Don Bolding at email@example.com or call (254) 501-7557