Oberlander Communications Systems has a rich, 26-year history of steady growth and performance, and according to President and CEO Ken Kirchgessner, this history affords it an enviable reputation as a leader in its market. “The FCC’s breakup of AT&T and the Bell Operating Companies provided the opportunity for competition in what had been a monopolistic industry.”

Founded in 1976 as a privately held Illinois corporation, Wayne and Joyce Oberlander—and the company’s management team and staff—accomplished their vision of dominance in the Peoria area with a strong presence in each of its target markets, Kirchgessner said. “Today, 15 employees support the needs of approximately 1,300 installed systems across a defined geographic territory in central Illinois. At inception, OCS was a shirttail operation of another family corporation, Protection Alarms Inc., which provided residential, commercial, and industrial security and monitoring services.”

Kirchgessner said OCS began simply as a company that could install and service electronic telephone systems, building on the technical knowledge of the security division. “At a time when the industry was just beginning, there was a growing need for this business as consumers were seeking sources for their needs—alternatives to the traditional phone company. Becoming experts in the industry and providing legendary high levels of customer service were key to the company’s steady growth.”

Today, OCS is owned by Ken and Teresa Kirchgessner but still retains the name of the Oberlander family. Oberlander Communications currently offers products and services in five distinct core competencies: business telephone systems, wireless systems, voice processing systems, voice and data network connectivity, and sound systems.

Kirchgessner said a number of aspects set Oberlander Communications apart from other companies in its industry. “It’s becoming more difficult to find small, private companies in this industry with 25 or more years under their belts. We’re one of a handful of such companies in the Midwest. Also, the depth of knowledge and experience acquired through tenured employees is important; we have many employees celebrating 10-, 15-, and even 18-year anniversaries.”

He said the attitude of Oberlander staff is another factor. “I’ve never known a group of individuals more dedicated to delivering the best value to the customer. Among our employees there’s a genuine concern for the success of our customers and, therefore, how our performance impacts their success.”

Finally, the products offered contribute to the company’s success as well. “We’re authorized dealers for two of the world’s leading electronic manufacturers: Toshiba and NEC. They’re recognized as having some the highest quality products in the marketplace, and we dealers are held to very high standards and practices. Our customers receive extremely high value for their investment,” he said.

When it comes to business communications systems, Kirchgessner said Oberlander Communications has the products and expertise to solve nearly any challenge facing its clients. “Most importantly, the attitude and dedication to customer care is second to none. I think our slogan—‘The Only Call You Need To Make’—sums it up pretty well.”

Kirchgessner said there have been several shifts in the industry which have forced change. “One of the more pertinent changes includes competition for local service, similar to the ‘opening up’ of the long-distance market. Ultimately, this change should allow for variety of service offerings at competitive prices driven by consumer demand. In the short term, the transition is, and will be, awkward. Another change is the Internet, which has impacted the way people communicate—for example, ubiquitous e-mail, chat rooms, and Web sites. The Web is complimentary and synergistic with traditional forms of telecommunication. It plays an increasingly important role as businesses continue to develop methods to utilize its breadth and power. And of course digital technology changes everything. When information is digitized—magically becoming 1s and 0s—most traditional boundaries are removed. We can do almost anything we want with a piece of information. The challenge often boils down to defining what exactly we want to do. Getting there is usually the easy part.”

Kirchgessner said some people are still fuzzy when it comes to deciphering the Oberlander family of products. “In conversations with various people in and around our community, I sometimes hear comments which indicate to me Oberlander Communications hasn’t been as effective as we’d like in creating a clearly distinct identity—our “brand” if you will. Not surprisingly, some confusion exists in delineating the three companies in the family evolution: Oberlander Electric, Oberlander Communications, and Oberlander Alarms. While we’re proud to share a fine heritage with our sister companies, it’s important we establish a strong, unique identity that’s immediately recognized as the company of choice for all business communications needs.”

Attracting customers to Oberlander Communications is usually done through word-of-mouth advertising. “There’s nothing more powerful than a satisfied customer referring us to someone else. Naturally, we try to stimulate this element of our marketing plan. Beyond that, we try to build name recognition and consumer awareness through a number of methods including focused print and media advertising, participation in community activities and organizations, and professional networking. Our Web site has proven to be helpful educating potential customers about the company’s services and products. The next evolution of our site will be launched early in 2003,” Kirchgessner said.

He said the greatest challenge so far as a business owner is to have the vision and wisdom to guide his organization. “I rely a great deal on my faith that ours is a business graced by God and that His hand guides us and provides for us. Seeing His plan unfold is an awesome reward.”

The telecommunications industry has certainly seen its share of challenges over the last quarter century, and Kirchgessner said the near future will continue that trend. “The industry is constantly evolving and thereby presents both challenges and opportunities for companies such as ours. In a time when long-term is expressed in months and short-term expressed in days, it’s hard to imagine anything that won’t change in 10 years—except our name perhaps.

“But we’ll still be a localized service organization providing IT knowledge and expertise to businesses in the central Illinois region, with a primary focus on voice conveyance technologies. Our goal is to be the best provider in our market. Changes consistent with attaining that goal are always worth considering,” he said. IBI