Founded in 1977, Chess Inc. was established by two sales representatives, Lloyd Wilcox and Bob Willmann — employed at the time by Data Systems Marketing, a sales representative firm. The company provided communication products from companies such as Timeplex LLC, General Data Company Inc., Codex and Ventura Telephone (VenTel), as well as CRTs from Lear Siegler and ADDS and televideo and line printers from Printronix, Dataproducts and TallyGenicom. This was before distributors like Ingram Micro, SYNNEX and Tech Data had been formed and manufacturers sold their products directly to companies through representative firms.
Wilcox and Willmann recognized a lack of sufficient rental options and reliable service for these products. With these two goals in mind, they formed Chess. With Wilcox’s background in service and Willmann’s experience in marketing, the capable partners channeled their talents into a growing business. DSM felt that their idea complemented the products the company provided and the partners established Chess with the blessing of their former employer.
After a couple of years of success with rental and service, Wilcox was carrying one of the new CRT terminals out to a customer and it dawned on him that it was small and light enough that if there was a case designed with enough room to place an acoustic coupler (a device used for dialing into a computer) inside, it could be used as a portable terminal — which in those days were available for between $3,000 and $4,000 with a 6-inch screen.
With the price of the new terminals (boasting a significant 12-inch screen) being $1,500, an acoustic coupler at $300 and a carrying case for $250, a new business product was formed. Wilcox designed a case, took the design to an extruder of plastic, had a prototype made and with Willmann’s background in advertising, made some advertisements for Computer World, a popular technology magazine of the time. The orders started rolling in and the business grew, ultimately making several cases for different devices that remained popular for several years.
Although this new product worked very well, ultimately, the printer service division of Chess proved to be the largest growing revenue source. As time went on and printer service became more lucrative, Chess added more product lines for service and continued to enjoy many years of growth servicing a wide range of printing devices.
As technology evolved and the concept of the paperless society began to take hold, Chess pivoted once again, making the logical expansion into information technology (IT) solutions. “The writing was on the wall that people were trying to do less printing, but it was also clear that computers and networking in general were becoming a huge part of the office space,” says Adam Wilcox, Lloyd Wilcox’s son and account manager at Chess.
For Chess, this expansion was a logical extension of the company’s roots in printer and copier sales and service. “So many problems and issues with printers reside not with a failure of hardware, but something in the network, firmware or some ancillary item that is not covered by normal printer contracts,” Adam explains.
An area leader
Chess started small in the IT space: managing networks, selling servers and switches for Hewlett-Packard and reselling computers. Today the Denver-based company offers a full slate of IT services aimed at the commercial and educational markets in addition to flat-rate managed print solutions (MPS), cloud services, technology planning, security and an IT help desk.
From repairing copiers and printers to providing fully managed IT implementation, the family-owned and -operated company serves clients throughout Colorado’s Front Range. As major manufacturers such as Xerox expand into the resale market and buy up local companies, Chess has redoubled its focus on the IT side. “Although printer and copier sales and service is still Chess’ primary business, IT services and solutions is where there is a huge potential for growth,” Wilcox says.
As a medium-size IT company, Chess is large enough to deliver consistent service to a large number of clients while remaining small enough to maintain vital personal relationships. With nearly 40 years in the industry, Chess’s history and status in the Denver business community allows the company to distinguish itself from the area’s myriad IT operations.
“It’s extremely competitive on both the IT and printer side,” says Wilcox. “We have several large players in the market and every day it feels like I run across five or 10 new IT service providers that are mostly one or two-man shops managing a small customer base.”
While some of these smaller outfits have less overhead than an established company like Chess, they don’t have the manpower to offer the same quality of service. “That actually works to our benefit and it’s why customers will come to us,” Wilcox notes.
Success in the classroom
Chess has found success in the education market, managing IT networks for a number of high schools in Colorado and selling IT solutions to more than 15 schools. As IT continues to become a larger part of Chess’ business model, the company is looking to that market as a potential growth area.
Wilcox says in-school IT service has long been based on a model where the school district itself would hire a single IT person to oversee the institution’s needs. These IT professionals often commanded salaries upward of six figures, but would still be forced to subcontract a number of duties, such as installing cables.
“When you add up the employee’s salary, benefits and cost of outside vendors, there is a tremendous amount of cost that goes into supporting IT in schools,” he says. “We can do that for a lower cost because we provide on-site technicians at the school and our technicians can handle projects that are typically outsourced.”
Wilcox sees resistance to change as the only real impediment to growth in the educational sector, and one that will likely be overcome when the costs start to outstrip the comfort of the familiar. “Principals and administrators can be kind of slow to adapt a lot of the time and for them, not having one IT person on staff tends to make them nervous,” he says.
As experienced IT providers, the team at Chess knows that not every tech solution is right for every application. In the educational market, Wilcox has become a proponent of wireless equipment manufacturer Ruckus Wireless.
“They’ve put a lot of money into the research and development and they sit on the standardization board for wireless communications, so they have a lot of input,” says Wilcox. Ruckus technology is particularly well-suited to deliver wireless network access to a large number of users in a small area, making it the ideal solution for schools.
While Wilcox has seen the company weather several difficult financial periods and technology trends, it’s the family atmosphere and employee satisfaction at Chess that give him the biggest sense of pride.
The family-owned company has several employees with more than 20 years of experience, including the founder Lloyd Wilcox, who still serves as sales manager and president of the company; Wilcox’s mother Jody, who owns Chess; and his brother Jason, the company’s senior IT technician. “The feedback you get from customers when things go well also makes it worth it,” he says.
A strong reputation throughout Colorado and a growing niche in the educational market will see Chess Inc. continue to serve clients across the state as a one-stop shop for all of a customers’ printer, copier and IT needs.