Senior-friendly wireless carrier Consumer Cellular to be sold to private equity firm
Consumer Cellular has been laser focused on the senior market in the quarter century it has been in business. Co-founder and CEO John Marick insists that approach won’t change now that the Portland, Ore., no-contract wireless carrier is about to be sold to private equity firm GTCR. Marick, 56, plans to relinquish his post once the deal is finalized towards the end of the year, but he’ll remain on the Consumer Cellular board. Wireless industry veteran Ed Evans will take over as CEO. Terms of the deal are not being disclosed.
Marick grew Consumer Cellular under the belief that older adults had been all but abandoned by the largest wireless carriers. As an MVNO or Mobile Virtual Network Operator, Consumer Cellular leases lines from AT&T and T-Mobile and sells phones and discounted service to seniors. Plans range from $25 a month for a single talk-only line with 500 MB of shared data to $60 a month for a single line with unlimited shared data, with further discounts available for AARP members. Phone are also sold in Target stores.
Along the way, Consumer Cellular has earned “Highest in Customer Service among Non-Contract Value Wireless Providers,” from J.D. Power nine times running.
“One of the things (GTCR) said repeatedly to us is `you guys have done a great job building this business. Our number one priority is just that we don’t screw it up,’” Marick told me over the phone.
He believes under new leadership the company can expand beyond its current base of some four million customers.
While Consumer Cellular sells the brand-new iPhone 12 and 12 Pros with 5G, along with rival 5G flagships such as Samsung’s Galaxy S20 and S20+ devices—forget the stereotypes, some seniors are early adopters too--the sweet spot customer demographic are phones in the $100 to $400 range. Moreover, roughly one in five of its customers still carry flip phones.
“For our typical customer, they’re able to watch their YouTube videos and stream live sports and do all those things from their 4G phones today,” Marick says. “What we don’t want is our customers who are taking advantage of our more affordable options to feel like they’re missing out on something because certainly today they’re really not.”
Marick says Consumer Cellular has weathered the pandemic pretty well. While COVID-19 slammed much of retail, the company has benefited from having a strong online presence. Call centers remained open and Consumer Cellular even added a couple of hundred employees. Voice usage rose generally, and the volume of calls spiked as staffers helped customers learn how to use the likes of FaceTime, Google Duo and Zoom.
Meanwhile, as a farewell bonus to his 2000 employees, Marick is gifting each of them 1 1/2 times their salaries, to be distributed over the next year.