Charter moves into new home for state operations (Alabama) (1 Viewer)

cablewithaview

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Apr 18, 2005
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This week Charter Communications Inc. opened for business in its new state offices in Vestavia Hills, a project that gives the company room to grow in a booming market and also serves as a signal that the cable television business isn't what it used to be.

Located at 2100 Columbiana Road, the 37,000-square-foot facility, the site of a former Winn-Dixie grocery store, brings under one roof Charter's Alabama management personnel as well as dispatchers, field technicians, installers and retail sales representatives for the local region, creating new synergies that executives say already are enhancing customer service.

Charter announced plans last fall to lease the space. Demolition began in November, and renovations got under way the following month. Architecture firm Gresham Smith and Partners designed the new space.

Don Karell, Charter's vice president and general manager for Alabama, declines to reveal the precise cost of the work but says it was a "multimillion-dollar project." He says the building was gutted, leaving only the walls, foundation and roof. Workers punched holes in the walls for windows and reconfigured the space "from the ground up."

With the facility largely complete, the company began relocating employees there a few weeks ago. This week, the center opened to the public.

As Charter's main state office, the facility handles oversight and support of operations throughout Alabama.

Previously, Charter's state offices shared space in the company's Southlake call center.

With executives and other office staff relocated, call center operations, as well as the company's commercial group, which operates from the Southlake site, will expand, Karell says.

Karell says the company will add some positions once existing employees settle into the new location, but he does not yet know how many.

The new facility also holds Charter's largest Alabama warehouse, where the company will store its priciest equipment, sending shipments to ancillary locations as needs arise.

But perhaps most interestingly, the facility provides a large new retail area that allows the company to show off its newest products and services.

Certainly, the days of calling the cable company to come out and install a box are not gone. David Redmond, Charter's director of sales and marketing, says 70 percent of new business continues to come in through Charter's call centers. But in recent years, the introduction of so much high-tech possibility has created a growing need to do business the old fashioned way: face to face.

Showing off new gear

In its new retail space, colorfully decorated in pale green and blue, echoing Charter's signature shades, salespeople can demonstrate the possibilities of digital video recorders, high-definition television, video-on-demand and other technical breakthroughs. And with new capabilities - such as voice-over IP, which will allow customers to make telephone calls over an Internet connection - on the way, the need for show space is sure to grow.

"The options now are so many, so wide, so varied," Karell says. Rather than trying to explain all of them on the phone, the company now can demonstrate them firsthand.

Lynne Coker, the company's director of government relations, says such in-person contact "has been the missing link for a lot of consumers."

Customers also can pay bills at the facility, or get tips on how to install equipment themselves. Including the new site, Charter operates 14 retail locations throughout Alabama.

Company leaders say the new site provides greater visibility than Charter's other offices, and its central location makes it accessible to metro area customers. It also offers ample parking.
Faster response time

And having so much of its Alabama work force under one roof - combined, nearly 200 of Charter's 650 to 700 Alabama employees work in the new location - gives the company greater flexibility in meeting customers' logistical needs.

For example, dispatchers in the past worked in a location separate from the technicians that would be dispatched to jobs. Now, they can interact immediately. Pointing to a room filled with busy dispatchers, Redmond says, "I now see the technicians walk in there all the time. It's great."

Coker says such innovations have enabled Charter to reduce the window for installer visits to as little as two hours, a far cry from the days when consumers could spend a day waiting for the cable truck to pull into the driveway.

Such changes are part of a cultural shift in the industry, Redmond says. "People used to see us as a utility," he says. Now, Charter and other cable operators are seen as players in a very competitive business. Meeting customer demand becomes increasingly important.

The company opened its doors at the new facility without fanfare, but from the very first day customers already were beginning to trickle in. And judging by the large volume of parking spaces outside marked "visitor," it's clear company leaders are expecting a flood.

Charter operates franchise agreements with 188 cities and counties throughout the state, including most of the Birmingham area's growing suburban markets.

Redmond says all of Charter's product lines showed "stellar" growth last year, and 2006 appears to continue that trend.

Karell says Charter's business is increasing throughout the state, but its Birmingham area markets, in particular, are booming, and the company is working hard and fast to keep up. He says Montgomery, with its new Hyundai automotive plant, and Auburn, too, are big growth areas.

http://www.bizjournals.com/birmingham/stories/2006/04/24/story4.html?from_rss=1
 

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