Name: Jeff Buckingham
Business: Blue Rooster Telecom
What he said then: In April 2010, The Tribune reported that two local telecommunications veterans, Jeff Buckingham and Cheryl Lovell, had launched Blue Rooster Telecom in San Luis Obispo.
The company provides voice phone service, Internet and private data networks for small businesses.
Buckingham founded Call America in 1983 and sold it 14 years later to GST Telecommunications.
GST went bankrupt in 2001, so he restarted the business with Lovell. It grew to have more than 2,000 customers with $7 million in annual revenue.
After Call America merged with Stockton-based Utility Telephone, Buckingham and Lovell left. Janice Petko, their former employee, joined Blue Rooster as director of sales and marketing.
What he says now: Buckingham’s fourth start-up, Blue Rooster now has more than 250 customers in San Luis Obispo and northern Santa Barbara counties.
Most had been with Call America, although Buckingham and Lovell didn’t solicit Utility Telephone clients. They retain a minority ownership in the Stockton company, which offers service statewide.
“We weren’t out there calling on folks,” Buckingham said. “A lot of people have called us.”
The merger with Utility was prompted by federal regulations under the Bush administration that threatened smaller telecom providers. The partners left, he added, because they prefer a more flexible working environment.
They weren’t planning to start another telecom business, but responded to requests from local businesses that “missed working with us.”
“A lot of people have a perception that it’s hard for a small company to compete with a giant company. That’s not true at all,” said Buckingham. “The small- to medium-size businesses around San Luis Obispo really prefer to do business with a company that’s a similar size and focus to them.”
Located in the same South Higuera Street building that once housed Call America, Blue Rooster has added two employees and a contractor — all long-time associates.
“People issues can be big in any company,” he said. “If you can avoid having those kinds of problems by dealing with known people, it saves a whole lot of time.”
Content to grow slowly, they’ve spread word about Blue Rooster by doing work with nonprofits and underwriting programming on KCBX-FM public radio.
“We want to grow at a pace that works for the business plan, but it’s not a race,” he said. “It’s the process that we enjoy.”