Keeping up with the Joneses

Michael and Nancy Jones, owners of Teleco, work on a phone and security system.

Michael and Nancy Jones got into the telecommunications business in the days before cellphones and the Internet, when they launched a company that sold hard-wired telephones, fax machines and cassette-tape answering machines from a store at Citadel Mall.

That was in 1983, when the Joneses were a soon-to-be-married couple, both in their early 20s. He was fresh out of the Navy, which trained him in telecommunications.

“I knew I wanted to do technology early on, and that was a springboard for me,” he said.

She was a public school teacher, working nights at the phone store.

Looking back, they had clearly started a business that would have to adapt to quickly changing technology, or die.

“That’s why I’m so proud of Mike,” said Nancy Jones. “It took a lot to keep up.”

Even in 1983, she said, Michael Jones saw that the residential side of the telecom business was declining while the commercial side was growing.

And the Internet and changes in communications technology soon would change everything.

“We went from analog everything to digital, and then the chips came out,” he said. “Even today, it’s a fast-paced world.”

In the mid-’80s the Joneses left the mall to run their business, Teleco, from a house on Dorchester Road. He handled sales and oversaw installation work, she handled the finances, and the business grew.

“Then came Hurricane Hugo,” he said. “We doubled our sales the year Hugo hit (in 1989).”

Teleco wires new buildings for customized communications and security systems, consults on the equipment and service providers and provides support services.

The company’s jobs range from luxury homes and professional offices to hotels, apartment buildings and schools.

Through the ups and downs of the economy, natural disasters and the changes in telecommunications, Teleco’s business has adapted.

Increasingly, the telecom business became an industry dealing with data, software and integrated systems.

“I can’t even tell you how many technical certifications I’ve done since 1983,” Michael Jones said.

Teleco’s employees also have to keep up, often with online courses that keep them up to speed on the latest technology.

The company, with offices on St. Andrew’s Boulevard, has grown over the years to 17 employees, several of whom specialize in different systems.

“In 29 years, I’ve never laid off an employee,” Michael Jones said. “We keep holding our own, and we try to be conservative in what we do and how we spend our money.”

The commercial real estate downturn during the recession took a toll on the business, but the ongoing rebound is keeping Teleco very busy now, he added.

“In the last six months, we had six hotels going in, all at the same time,” he said. “Government has picked up, and commercial real estate sure has.”

Teleco recently set up wireless networks for 37 schools in Horry County, and Michael Jones thinks more schools will take that route so that students and teachers can have wireless connections for their laptop and tablet computers.

“It costs less, it’s easier to install, and there are lots more applications for it,” he said. He thinks telecom technology has hit a plateau, with hardware having caught up to advances in software.

For an example, he points to surveillance systems, which are a growing part of Teleco’s business.

“The software, the ability to record, was there 10 years ago,” he said. “Now, the hardware has caught up.”

Small, inexpensive hard drives that can store terabits of data have driven down the prices of video surveillance.

Teleco, which sells, installs and services such systems, is finding that small businesses are embracing the technology now that it’s affordable

Next year, Teleco will mark its 30th year in a business that would hardly have been imaginable, standing amid the fax machines in a 1980s-era telephone store at the mall.

Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.