As a small independent CATV operator, it has always been tough, and continues to be so, to keep up with the big boys. Improvements are costly, and much more difficult to keep up with, with a small customer base. With the pace of technology ever increasing, that has only gotten more difficult.
One of ZCorum’s oldest customers, Sweetwater Cable, provides cable TV, digital phone and high speed internet services in Sweetwater County, Wyoming. We recently visited with Marty Carollo, Network Manager at the company, to find out what makes Sweetwater/Green River Cable such a successful family business.
Z: Founded in 1956, how did Sweetwater Cable come into being? Are your father and uncles the founders?
Marty: In 1954, Rock Springs had a community based antennae system, which was unreliable. My grandpa, Al Senior, who only had an eighth grade education, started our company to bring the Salt Lake City Broadcast channels to our town in a reliable, constant way. He felt that people would be willing to pay $5.50 per month (with a $0.50 discount if they paid by the 10th of the month,) for a reliable service.
Z: Was the company always called Sweetwater Cable?
Marty: We’ve always called ourselves Sweetwater Cable here in Rock Springs. Because we had a separate head end in Green River, up until 2004, Green River had to have its own moniker.
Z: When/How does Green River Cable come into the picture?
Marty: 1958, Green River, a town 15 miles west of Rock Springs, showed interest in TV for its community. My dad, who had just married a Green River girl took on the challenge to bring TV to Green River, and in fact, chose to live there, and raise his family. It’s also where I live and am raising my family.
Z: What’s been the biggest challenge in running a cable TV company?
Marty: As a small independent CATV operator, it has always been tough, and continues to be so, to keep up with the big boys. Improvements are costly, and much more difficult to keep up with, with a small customer base. With the pace of technology ever increasing, that has only gotten more difficult.
Z: What do you like best about being at Sweetwater Cable?
Marty: It is really rewarding, especially on the data side, to give our customers similar service to what they can get anywhere in the country. Being able to look a small business owner in the eye, and tell them you can give them the tools they need to compete and succeed, is very rewarding. From The CATV side, our channel lineup stacks up pretty well with anyone in the country, and is significantly less costly than 80% of the nation’s operators. In June of 2011, we went fully digital, so now all our pictures look fantastic, and with HD, a real value.
Z: What do you like least?
Marty: On the data side, sometimes things happen that we cannot resolve immediately. We know our customers rely on our service, and are negatively impacted with it down. On the CATV side, now that we are fully digital (we went full digital in June 2011), sometimes it’s hard to explain why the channels look and act like they do. Explaining why the channel is now 3.1 and not 3 can be a challenge.
Bundle, a data driven rating company that scores businesses by comparing overall popularity, customer loyalty, and other statistics derived from real spending data, to those of other Communications in the Rock Springs, WY area has data that shows Sweetwater’s loyalty rating is an 82, (Green River has a 92). These are very high ratings for a cable company in this age of cable and telephone companies having some of the lowest customer loyalty ratings. So…
Z: What does Sweetwater/Green River do that’s different from other cable providers that don’t get such high loyalty ratings?
Marty: We like to think that our customers stick with us, because they know us, and know that if they have a problem, they can always talk to the owners. Our employees live here, raise their families here and support our community. Mostly, our customers know we are providing a good product, at a fair price (though sometimes they have to switch to a dish service to fully appreciate what we do…)
Z: If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about your business overnight, what would it be?
Marty: Change the FCC’s rules to create a level playing field with the dish providers. There is no reason we shouldn’t be able to offer our customers NFL’s Sunday Ticket for example. Being forced to use m-card enabled enhanced converters is also an expensive and unwarranted FCC mandate.
Z: What is a tool that you wish you had, but don’t?
Marty: Ingress is our biggest continual battle. I would love a tool that precisely identified the locations of it, so we could quickly isolate and repair those sites.
Z: Do you have any thoughts or predictions about the cable/internet industry in 2013?
Marty: I predict that data usage will continue to rise, and customer desire for TV Everywhere will continue to increase unabated. I see this as the “elephant in the room” and one that will define our future business.
And now some questions about you…
Z: Did you grow up in Sweetwater County? If so what was it like as a child in a part of the country that people still think of as the land of cowboys, cattle and wide open spaces?
Marty: I am 3rd generation (on both sides) Sweetwater County. I tell people I have more dirt in my blood than water. Open and vast space defines us. You either thrive in it or it drives you away. Wyoming is the land of cowboys. We believe in the power of individualism yet the strength of community. Being a cowboy isn’t about what you wear or running a ranch, it is about who you are and how you represent yourself and your family.
Z: How would you describe yourself and lifestyle? Family man? Outdoorsman? One of those cowboys?
Marty: Personally, I am a family man; family always has and will always be the core of who I am. I’m proud of my roots and strive to live to the standards of my forbearers. Really, we’ve got it pretty easy; my Great-great grandmother pulled a cart across Wyoming on the Mormon trail. That’s a spirit for life you hope you can live up to. The outdoors defines Wyomingites. From our doorsteps in town, nature is always near, and wild country is a short 3 mile ride out of town. While not a cowboy in the traditional sense, (I don’t own a cowboy hat or have a horse) I think everyone in Wyoming is a cowboy at heart.
Z: What do you do for fun? Hobbies? Are you the photographer of those beautiful photos on the Sweetwater Cable website?
Marty: Like most Wyomingites, fun involves the outdoors. Hunting, fishing, hiking, boating are all activities to be enjoyed. I’ve met photographers, and know enough to know I am not one. I was lucky enough to snap the photos for our website, just a couple of miles outside our town.
Z: What books have you recently read? Which blogs do you read regularly?
Marty: Right now, books are a luxury I don’t have much time for. Mostly I look at industry blogs, with those from ZCorum, ACA, NCTC and NCTA on the list. Pretty boring…
Z: What are your favorite cable TV shows?
Marty: Surprisingly, I don’t watch many show series. Seems I glance at a lot of channels as I test them regularly to ensure they are on. I wear out many remotes, much to my wife’s displeasure.
Z: Do you have horses? Live on a ranch or in town?
Marty: While I know how to ride, owning horses is more than a passion, it’s a lifestyle. I don’t own any, but probably would if we lived on a ranch. Life in Green River or Rock Springs is pretty much like anyone else in the country (except of course, our wide open spaces)
Z: How does social media play into your daily routine? Into it at all?
Marty: I consume a lot of social media, as it keeps me in touch with many facets of our world. I believe it is healthy to be well informed as that helps me help plot our future. It can be a challenge to find the useful nuggets in the vast ocean of chatter.
Z: Any advice or last words for your fellow CATV company owners?
Marty: Keep in touch with your peers. It is easy to feel isolated as independent operators, with the big guys trying to crush us. We have a great product, and our customers rely on us to give them the tools they need to do their job. Use the available resources at hand, Zcorum has many tools that used wisely, will give you an edge. Mostly, be proud of your product and create an environment that allows your employees to give you their best.
For more information about Sweetwater Cable, visit http://www.sweetwaterhsa.com