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The following article appeared on December 16, 1998 in the Business section of Chicago's Daily Herald newspaper:

Keeping quality workers
is Job One at United Visual

by Chrystal Caruthers
Daily Herald Business Writer

Itasca-based United Visual, Inc. is reminiscent of the fictional law firm in the John Grisham novel, "The Firm." It has a philosophy of attracting top people and expecting them to stay forever.

Though United Visual may not be as ominous as the law practice portrayed in Grisham's book, it doesn't believe in employee turn-over. In the past three years, only three people have left the company. It has a work force of 66 and counting.

"Maybe it's Neanderthal in my thinking, but when we're hiring people, I look at them to be here forever," said Dan McKevitt, vice president of sales and business development. Mr. McKevitt has been with the company 28 years.

"You can go as far as the numbers of openings allow you to and make a really good living being here," said sales manager Rick Nelson.

United Visual is not a glamorous business. It is, however, an $18-million-a-year, family owned company specializing in high technology video-conferencing equipment, sales and rental, along with a slew of other audio/visual offerings.

This is a company that makes clients like Motorola, Ameritech, United Airlines and ABN Amro look good during deal-breaking presentations.

United Visual is an authorized dealer for more than 75 equipment manufacturers including Sony, Epson, Panasonic, and others. It also rents, sells, services, and installs audio/visual equipment.

For this 49-year-old company, business keeps getting better. In its first attempt to expand outside the Chicago area, United Visual landed a long-term contract with Wisconsin's largest convention center, the Midwest Express Center in Milwaukee. It was the first of many steps to broaden United Visual's name outside the area.

With a 30 per cent annual growth rate and 10 vacant slots to fill next year, the company's top brass realizes such growth leaps may not always be possible. "This is not a bullet-proof business," Kreski said. "We're dependent on the economy."

"If we're going to keep growing at the rate we're growing, we have to leave Chicago," said marketing director Don Kreski, adding that 1999 "is the year to make those plans."

And with market jitters and gloomy analysts projecting an economic slowdown, United Visual seems prepared for hard times.

"If times get hard, companies may opt to rent rather than buy, to fix rather than replace equipment. We try to cover all these bases," said Earl M. Carlson, Jr., president of the company his father started with a friend in 1949.

Currently, videoconferencing is the big money-maker. If the economy were to start tanking, Nelson said he could see that area of the business growing. When people can't afford business trips, videoconferencing may be a less expensive solution.

"It used to cost $40,000 or so to do videoconferencing; it now costs about $8,000. That's more feasible to do than some business trips," Nelson said.

But the life span of profitable technology is getting shorter in the audio/visual business. Kreski said services that the company used to make money on are no longer viable.

"In our business, we do well with products that are new and hard to understand," he said.

For instance, everyone now has a VCR and most people can actually say they know how to program it. But there was a time when video was big business to United Visual. These days, however, the money comes in via LCD computer/video projectors.

In the near future, the company is hoping to make its Internet site a profit center.

Copyright 1998, Paddock Publications, Inc. Used by permission.