Beverly Parker shakes her golden Chanel earrings at the image of herself in leaner times: sitting on the living room floor, counting out change to pay for a delivery pizza.
That was more than a decade ago, after she and her husband had quit their high-paying jobs at Xerox Corp. to strike out on their own to start Washington Cable Supply Inc. in Lanham.
Times are much better now for William and Beverly Parker, the president and executive vice president, respectively, and sole owners of the wire- and cable-distribution company, which has doubled its revenue each of the last four years to a projected $200 million-plus in 1999.
They watch their firm rise in rankings compiled by magazines such as Black Enterprise and Electrical Wholesaling, which are among the barometers that measure success in their industry. Last year, Black Enterprise ranked Washington Cable No. 48 in its list of the top 100 black-owned companies. This year, Washington Cable Supply ranked 31st. "And next year . . ." William Parker says, gesturing to one of his employees to complete his sentence. ". . . we'll be in the top 10," she answers. "That's what I like to hear," he responds approvingly.
To keep pace with expansion, Washington Cable opened a new, 50,000-square-foot warehouse in Haverhill, N.J., two months ago. There, as in its 110,000-square-foot Bessemer, Ala., warehouse, the company stores millions of feet of colorful cables -- some as thick as pipes -- on wooden spools, ready for shipment.
When the Parkers chose to go into business servicing the telecommunications market, they caught a wave. Washington Cable Supply has landed contracts with a who's who of telecommunications, utilities and cable networks in the country -- Lucent Technologies Inc., AT&T Corp., Bell Atlantic Corp., Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. and Tele-Communications Inc., to name a few.
That virtually ensures that every cable, telephone and utility guy coming to your home or office carries the hooks, wires, cables and splinters that Washington Cable supplies.
But the risks can be equal to the growth, especially in the gyrating telecom market. The mega-merger of a couple of the company's customers could produce more business for Washington Cable, or make it all go away. "You never know," William Parker says.
How does a small start-up, whose founders had to work without salary for 2 1/2 years, make its way into the big leagues? By staying ahead of the trends.
The original idea to jump into the cable business in 1984 came to the Parkers when they were talking across the table about how Washington was going to be one of the last markets to get cable, Beverly Parker recalls. " `They're going to need supplies from somewhere, so they might as well get it from a local company,' " she remembers William saying.
Later, as the number of homes and businesses needing cable wiring declined, they repositioned themselves in the telecommunications market, supplying copper and fiber-optic cable to phone companies. Telecommunications cables account for 70 percent of their business now, and they've diversified to supply utility cables as well.
As the marketplace consolidates, deregulates and responds to changes in the economy, they have to be poised to respond. The couple, both 44, stay on top of the news, keep track of the political scene and, above all, build and maintain relationships, William Parker says.
"Business going forward is going to be based heavily on relationships and cost," he predicts, which is why he spends 60 percent of his time on the road, securing deals, meeting with customers and making sure their needs are met, he says.
It helps that this husband-and-wife team is in constant communication, enabling spur-of-the-moment business decisions.
"I am more the visionary of the company," says William Parker, who held various positions at Potomac Electric Power Co. and saw that operation from top to bottom. Beverly, on the other hand, "is the best financial manager that I've ever seen," he says.
And because they share an office, they stay on top of what is going on in each other's realm, he says. "Today, everything is speed, speed, speed," so it helps to be able to call a two-person business meeting on a moment's notice.
From the beginning, Washington Cable's founders wanted to do business with "the big boys," Beverly Parker says. That's why they didn't market themselves as a minority company, even though they and 85 percent of their staff are minorities. Set-aside programs don't necessarily get companies started on the right foot, and when they graduate, they fail, she says. "Programs come and go. When a program's champion is gone, so is the program. You're not going to stay unless you're good."
Some of their customers say they are. "You don't want to have a construction crew come to a screeching halt" because an order is late or inaccurate, says David Johnson, spokesman for AT&T. "Their record is excellent."
Washington Cable's office is decorated with awards from Lucent, AT&T and chambers of commerce for excellence in business and on-time customer service.
The company is not unionized, but does offer benefits like a profit-sharing plan, performance-based bonuses, and training programs for employees at all levels, William Parker says.
Two years ago, when Washington Cable met its sales goals, the Parkers took their employees on a vacation to the Bahamas for four days. This year, they're taking the entire staff of 100 to Disney World for a weekend.
"It would be cocky of me to say that we could continue to double," he says. But "we hope and pray it does."
A Look at . . .
Washington Cable Supply Inc.
President: William H. Parker Jr.
Executive vice president: Beverly Parker
Revenue : More than $200 million projected in 1999
Founded: 1984 in Washington
Warehouse locations: Bessemer, Ala.; Haverhill, Mass.