Elmo Beutler experienced highs and lows in the telecommunications business before launching BeeLine Long Distance in 1993.
Elmo Beutler has been to the bottom of the entrepreneurial heap and back up. In the late 1980s he bought a used telephone switch from his former employer and attempted to start a long distance company in the Northwest.
The move – and the business – was unsuccessful.
“We nearly lost everything,” Beutler says.
But like so many successful entrepreneurs, that failure provided valuable experience and fed his desire to run a successful business.
A friend later called Beutler and asked to partner with him in another long distance services company, this time in Texas. He brought his switch and his family to Texas where the success was easier to come by.
In 1993 Beutler sold his share in his Texas company and moved his family back to Utah to be closer to family.
“It ended up being great timing because my wife’s mother died unexpectedly shortly after we moved back,” he says. “It was nice to spend some time with her before she died.”
In October 1993 Beutler started BeeLine Long Distance. He negotiated deals for wholesale minutes from larger carriers like AT&T and Sprint. His switch was located in downtown Salt Lake City and he handled customer service, sales, billing and technical support from his home.
Eventually he moved his company to an office in Draper where the first three employees were brought on. Now the company has 16 employees and is located in the heart of Orem.
“The turnover of our customer base is very low,” Beutler says. “People like that we’re a local company. They like doing business with local people.”
Beutler’s company buys about 5 million minutes a month at a reduced rate from larger companies and sells those minutes to residential and commercial customers. BeeLine also supplies customer service, technical support, billing and switching to subscribers.
BeeLine offers traditional long distance, 1+ calling, as well as 800-number service, a dial up long distance service that is cheaper than the 1+ calling, travel cards and prepaid phone cards. The prepaid phone cards are found in retail stores throughout the country.
“The larger companies like us because we’re a big client,” he says. “Telephony is a very competitive business and those companies are looking to sell as many minutes as they can.”
BeeLine’s business model allows them to offer competitive pricing, but that is only half of the equation.
“We combine that with what I think is excellent service,” Beutler says.
BeeLine customers can call with a question and then talk with the same person on a second call, which not all long distance companies can claim.
“That is the one area that’s important to the success of our business,” Beutler says. “We work with people on a personal level.”
While Utah County is where the majority of BeeLine’s customers are found, Beutler is expanding internationally through voice-over IP technology that utilizes the Internet. The new technology takes analog messages – produced when someone speaks into the phone – and turns them into digital messages. The message travels through the Internet to the destination switch. The destination receiver takes the digital message and turns it into telephone-friendly analog messaging – all at U.S. rates.
“Many countries have one state-run telephone company,” Beutler says. “The Internet is making it so you can’t have monopolies in telecommunications. Now, people in some of those countries will be able to make a call at half the rate of what they’re paying now.”
In an industry where tenths of a penny mean the difference between making money and losing money, Beutler believes the key is to keep and motivate quality employees. At BeeLine, employees are offered ownership options, and management decisions are made by small committees instead of a single individual. Employees are rewarded for ideas that save the company money or bring in additional revenue.
“I think we have a good environment here,” Beutler says. “The people here are treated the same way I would like to be treated.”
Beutler also has a unique perspective on his pay.
“I make sure that I don’t make any more than my highest paid employee,” he says. “I don’t want people to think I’m taking all the cream off the top.”
For Beutler, doing business is about security. He wants his employees to feel secure in their jobs and he wants the company’s future to be safe. His devotion to security is evidenced by his approach to spending money.
“I have a strict rule where we don’t borrow money to run the business,” he says. “We own all of our equipment outright. We’ve been in business 10 years and we pay our bills religiously. That reputation and history gives us additional security.”
And his customers feel secure that they will continue to receive quality service at low rates – and that the boss isn’t taking the cream off of the top.
Eclipse Entrepreneur is brought to you by Eclipse Marketing Inc., a nationwide sales company specializing in providing summer jobs for college students since 1992. Eclipse, which is based in Provo, employs more than 300 people each summer.
At a Glance
POSITION: President of Bee Holdings; Manager and founder of BeeLine Long Distance
COMPANY START DATE: October 1993
EDUCATION: Bachelor’s Degree in Humanities, BYU; Associate’s Degree in Electronics, UVSC
NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: 16 (11 full-time, 5 part-time)