When you own the company that sells all the products a business needs for home offices — the Zoom-ready webcams, headsets and more — there are two potential outcomes when a global pandemic forces everyone, everywhere to work from home …
You can misjudge early on how much these devices would be in demand — and you’d be forgiven for not knowing how much COVID-19 would unalterably change daily life — and, so, miss out on having the inventory when it mattered. Alternatively, you can make money.
Jennifer Frey’s company made money.
The Randolph-based Macondo Networks, where she’s co-founder and managing director, had trucks with pallets piled high, full of remote work equipment, arriving regularly in early March.
“Somehow, we saw it coming,” she said. “We’ve been doing it long enough to say: ‘Hey, something is happening out there. People are going to need these devices and services.’ As a result, we went out there and stocked up all the inventory we could for our clients.”
Unlike some competitors, this New Jersey small business didn’t hold back or worry about having a surplus of inventory when there was still some uncertainty about the duration or effect of the pandemic, according to Frey.
Then, when others in her industry eventually became desperate to restock in-demand technology as more state shelter-in-place orders went into effect, her company was worry-free.
“We had gone out to our suppliers and manufacturers and said, ‘What do we need to do to have the tools available?’” she said “Did we have some back orders when we were getting bombarded with businesses saying they were sending people home? Sure, we had some. But, when it came to our valued customers, it just wasn’t an issue.”
Macondo Networks sells communication software services and related hardware products, such as conference call units, on a business-to-business basis. It also has a refurbishing center in Wharton.
The woman-owned business, which brings in about $10 million annually, was started about four years ago. The impetus for it was a series of acquisitions of telecommunications divisions Frey worked in, first at Quagga before it was acquired by New York-based PAETEC, and then by Windstream Holdings Inc.
Along the way, Frey said more red tape got in the way of relationships with customers — so she struck out on her own. She purchased the division she led at Windstream with the help of some investors from that organization (who Frey and her husband have since bought out).
“We wanted to keep it nimble as a small, boutique business,” she said. “In order to keep a service level we were happy with, that’s what we decided to do.”
Frey’s inspiration also runs a little deeper than that.
“My mom was a teacher who specialized in special ed, and she always wanted to open a school,” she said. “She regretted not being able to do that. So, it was always my life’s goal to follow my passion, which meant opening my own business and working for myself.”
Besides raking in extra business this year, the enterprise recently earned recognition — and a prize worth about $100,000 — in the Movers & Shakers Small Business Competition, which is sponsored by Investors Bank, the New Jersey Devils and a local radio station.
The pandemic acting as fuel for telecommunications technology demand isn’t something Frey expects — or would ever herself hope — to last.
But, judging by her fast-acting decisions at the pandemic’s start, she’ll be dialed into what comes next in the market regardless.
“I don’t think it’ll remain as busy as it is today,” she said. “But people are absolutely thinking differently about work-from-home arrangements, and so have different equipment needs than they did before.”