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A local leader in the office machine business since 1920, PTC Select has watched up close as technology has evolved over the years.

While the technology itself has changed drastically, the overall approach of PTC Select really hasn’t changed that much.

The typewriter took centuries to develop and perfect. It eventually saw its peak, and later became obsolete with the onset of the digital revolution. Such is the nature of the technology life cycle.

While its portability and lower cost made it a huge step forward from the printing press, the first typewriter was far from perfect. The idea for the first typewriter came from England in 1714, but the first model of the office machine was credited to an American named William Austin Burt more than a century later. In 1829, Burt was granted a patent for his “typographer.”

The two instrumental parts of the most successful typewriters were developed in the 19th century—type bars and moveable carriages. While many tried to create a worthy typewriter, not until the end of the century was one produced that outperformed writing by hand. Christopher Latham Sholes and his associates, Carlos Glidden and Samuel Soule, are credited with creating the forerunner of the most popular typewriters. The three men approached the Remington Company, renowned for its sewing machines and firearms, who eventually manufactured the proposed “Type-Writer.” The Remington Model 1—the first successful typewriter—was a hit.

“By 1909, 89 separate typewriter manufacturers existed in the United States alone, so popular had the new device become,” notes a 1977 article by the IBM Corporation. “And, as predicted, the typewriter had become indispensable.” These machines began to populate homes and offices throughout the country, and Peoria was no exception. Peoria Typewriter Company began selling them out of a storefront at 420 Liberty Street in 1920.

A Peoria Institution
In 1912, one of Remington Typewriter’s district managers overheard young Arthur H. Kellstedt selling lamps at the Dallas State Fair. Impressed by his salesmanship, the Remington representative offered Kellstedt a job selling typewriters in the Texas panhandle. Originally from Iowa, Kellstedt was far from home but soon took an opportunity to move back to the Midwest, where he became manager of the Remington branch office in Peoria. Thus began his lifelong career of supplying the area’s typewriter needs.

Partnering with Joe Pavloski, Kellstedt established Peoria Typewriter Company (PTC) in December of 1920. Since then, the company has remained true to its founder’s business model—building relationships with customers instead of merely selling a product. That model has allowed PTC to continue to prosper over the years, even as specific products marched toward obsolescence, to be replaced by others. And, as its current owner, David Jaegle, points out, it’s hard to find someone in Peoria who hasn’t heard of PTC.

Arthur’s son, Phillip Kellstedt, took over the business when his father retired, and although he’s no longer an owner of the company—the business was sold to Jaegle and Fred Funk in 2003—the 92-year-old still has a desk up front and wanders in every once in awhile to lend a hand.

Jaegle joined the PTC team long before he owned the company, making deliveries on foot when he was just 15 years old. Since then, he’s seen PTC relocate three times before finding its current home on Knoxville Avenue.

Consistently moving up in the company, Jaegle soon joined the service department, cleaning local schools’ typewriters. “Every year in the summertime, we would haul all of their machines in and clean them and get them ready for the next school year. That was a very big part of our service business years ago,” he recalled.

From there, Jaegle moved into sales, and then gained management responsibilities before becoming part of PTC’s ownership team. Funk signed on with PTC in 1995 as a service technician and later became service manager, before joining with Jaegle to purchase the company nearly a decade later. Both men have watched technology evolve so quickly that the machines they first worked on have nearly been done away with.

Evolution of an Industry
When computers began to dominate the office technology market, the name “Peoria Typewriter Company” wasn’t helping business. While the company began selling computers as far back as the 1970s, it was not until 2003 that Jaegle and Funk changed the original name to PTC Select to reflect the changing times.

PTC became an authorized Hewlett Packard dealer in the 1970s, but it took some time before the computer industry took off and the company began selling more computers than typewriters. The evolution of the industry, said Jaegle, was very gradual, much like when televisions first hit the market. “Not everybody got one when they first came out because they were expensive…It wasn’t that long ago that a desktop computer was $2,500 or $3,000. You can buy that same machine today for $500. So it was gradual, just from the standpoint that it had to become more affordable.”

But as the cost decreased, so did the profits that dealers could make on sales. “In the old days, I’d sell a $1,000 typewriter and there would be a decent amount of profit,” noted Jaegle. The purchase included delivery, setup, a basic how-to lesson and follow-up with the client. “Nowadays,” he continued, “the margins are so tight that you get the box and it’s really more user-driven—the customer has to do their own setup.” Jaegle maintains that we, as consumers, have made this the case, as our desire for the lowest possible price has stripped away service options that were once included. Consumers today prefer a no-frills product at a lower price and the opportunity to purchase service contracts separately, as needed.

While the majority of PTC Select’s current business is derived from computers, the company does, in fact, continue to sell and service typewriters. Believe it or not, they still sell about one typewriter every month. Most of their business, however, focuses on selling and servicing computers, printers, plotters and servers. Keeping their employees up to date on all of the hardware and software needed to work on these machines requires continuous training, noted Jaegle, unlike working on typewriters.

“The typewriter didn’t have software—it was a mechanical device. If a part broke, you replace the part and it’s fixed. On a computer, you don’t know if it’s a mechanical problem or a software problem, so you need a far greater skill set and/or technicians’ experience to know what to look for.”

Years ago, the training of typewriter technicians involved sending employees to workshops, a marked difference from today’s training, which typically consists of computer technicians viewing webinars right at their desks. The major shift from learning the ins and outs of typewriter hardware—which didn’t change substantially from model to model—to learning both the software and hardware components of computers—which, of course, change significantly—keeps PTC Select employees on their toes.

“Every month, maybe every day, there’s something new,” said Jaegle. “We went from technology that would be pretty similar, from a repair standpoint, for five or more years to computer technology that is pretty much obsolete the day after you buy it. There’s far more knowledge to be captured [now] because of that constant change, and it’s fairly rapid.”

Building Customer Relationships
PTC Select doesn’t just sell office machines; they strive to become instrumental parts of a business’ team, listening to their needs and recommending the best products for their specific situations. Through detailed questioning, PTC discerns exactly what software, data backup, servers, printing and scanning resources are needed. Using a cost-per-page analysis, they can help businesses make informed decisions about which printer would be most economical for their purposes. Jaegle noted that while the initial cost for Printer A may be somewhat lower than Printer B, the costs of printing and maintenance may actually be higher in the long run. This is the type of knowledge that can make PTC Select indispensible.

To support that equipment, PTC Select offers several types of service plans, from break-fix service to blocks of hours paid for upfront to reduce overall costs. Clients looking to reduce expenses even further can bring their equipment in to the shop, although PTC Select technicians are always willing to make on-site service calls.

Clients with no in-house IT staff can opt for PTC Select technicians to come to their businesses on a regular basis. Some have technicians come out twice a week for four hours at a time to work on whatever IT issues have arisen. The technician will check that data backups are working properly and perform system updates and any maintenance necessary to ensure continuous and optimal performance. PTC Select also offers 24/7 service coverage on server equipment and has a technician on call at all times should something arise after normal business hours.

PTC’s team of 18 employees is able to accomplish much with little. “We pride ourselves on the efficiencies we have in order processing,” noted Jaegle. “We’ve probably got the lowest supply pricing in town, very quick turnaround on quotes and are very responsive from a service standpoint.”

While the technology itself has changed drastically, the overall approach of PTC Select really hasn’t changed that much. Staying true to Arthur Kellstedt’s original business model, Jaegle said, “My number-one goal is to provide the highest level of customer satisfaction at a competitive price and build customer relationships.” With a goal like that at top of mind, this company is well positioned to serve the Peoria community for years to come—no matter what the winds of technological change may bring. iBi

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