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Typewriter Business Goes Computers

November 4, 1997

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. _ Bill Kamarek didn’t see it coming.

When he founded his company 17 years ago, he says, he couldn’t have predicted the computer revolution that’s transformed the world.

``I thought typewriters were the best thing,″ Kamarek says. ``I thought they were going to go on and on forever.″

So in 1980, when typewriter manufacturer Olivetti decided to sell its Virginia Beach dealership, Kamarek and four partners who worked there decided to buy it.

That first year, the newly renamed company employed 13 people, sold a few hundred typewriters and had revenues of $400,000.

It’s come a long way.

The tiny typewriter distribution and service center has grown into the nation’s 15th-largest computer networking company, according to the September issue of Network magazine. Recently purchased by Florida-based Global Imaging Systems, it now has more than 200 employees and $59 million in annual revenue.

Electronic Systems not only sells computers and office equipment to companies, schools and government institutions. It installs them, networks them, services them.

``We offer a one-stop, cradle-to-grave resource,″ says Steve Allosso, vice president and general manager.

Though the company didn’t anticipate the boom in personal computers, it has never looked back as it adapted.

Getting computers, printers, servers and other equipment from major manufacturers at low rates, Electronic Systems serves as a dealer for, among others, Ricoh, Panasonic, IBM, Compaq, Hewlett Packard, Microsoft and Novell.

``A lot of the typewriter dealerships that were around then don’t exist today,″ says Kamarek. ``We were able to transition ourselves. We were able to pick some different niches and be successful.″

The company first branched out beyond Olivetti in 1981, when it became a dealer of Syntrex word processors. A little later it got into IBM typewriters, and then in 1986 Panasonic copiers.

Electronic Systems didn’t sell computers until 1989, when it became a dealer for Entre, IBM and Compaq. Now it sells about 1,200 a month, a small part of the overall operation, Kamarek says.

The company says it also stressed something else as it advanced into the computer age: treating customers well.

Marketing director Mike Herbert says it’s not just talk. Anytime a customer has a problem, he says, they can go right to the top and call Kamarek on his own line.

``That’s something that he really means,″ Herbert says. ``He doesn’t screen his calls. I’ve seen him take calls from a customer with a problem right in the middle of a meeting.″

Employees carry ``empowerment cards,″ declaring they can do anything to satisfy a customer so long as it is:

The right thing for both the customer and Electronic Systems.

Ethical and legal.

Something they’d be willing to be accountable for.

Consistent with the company’s basic beliefs.

One customer who says she’s more than satisfied is Carol England, an office manager at Southeastern Cooperative Educational Programs, or SEACEP, an agency that runs education programs for students with disabilities.

Ms. England recently kept getting an error message when she tried to print budgets and tuition reports.

Enter Darrell Hix, a systems engineer with Electronic Systems. After talking the problem over with a colleague at headquarters, he determined the WordPerfect program’s print file was corrupted.

Deleted, reinstalled, problem solved.

``My frustration with the computer can get very high sometimes,″ Ms. England says. ``But he lowers it every time he comes.″

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