Ring Ring from scratch

1-800-DENTIST.
1-800-FLOWERS. 1-900-MIX-A-LOT. It’s pretty obvious what they’re
selling you. Well, okay, maybe not the last one, but you get the point.

And 26 year-old Aaron Beals, president of West Bloomfield-based Ring Ring, hopes to become the connection for vanity phone numbers.

Beals started
the company in 2005, because he says he knew people that owned high
profile vanity phone numbers — numbers that spell recognizable words —
and were paying a lot of money for them. The now 26-year-old had no
experience in the telecom business, but he had been working in
advertising for several years.

“I really just
approached it from a basic approach that says, okay, this is just
common sense,” Beals says. “You can run an ad with 989-3738 or
1-888-FLOWERS. … It would be just the same as someone putting an IP
address for a web site. No one would say, ‘Visit us at 24.244.56.75.”

So he started
“playing around with the numbers” in 2000, finding available numbers
and creating a database of how to get them. Essentially, he made
himself into a number broker. And when that database got big enough, he
started Ring Ring.

Now he has over
100 clients across the U.S., and some of his biggest customers are in
automotive sales or service, such as 888-GO-MAZDA. A phone number can
be used nationwide or regionally, with calls automatically routing to
the correct call center for that area, which means that Ring Ring can
get a lot of mileage out of 10 digits. And, although he hires contract
workers on an occasional basis, Beals is pretty much the entire
operation. 

His
company offers services beyond the phone number, providing clients with
detailed caller information and tracking for marketing purposes.

“With every
phone call, when I hang up I can track everything on the computer,”
says Ring Ring client Ken Locklear, president of American Baro
Medical, which runs 1-800-WOUND-CENTER. “As a marketing tool, I can know everything
about everybody that calls this phone number. … Most people, when they
market, you never know what you’re going to get out of it. I know
exactly.”

1-800-WOUND-CENTER is a service that connects patients with serious wounds to clinics that specialize in caring for them. It is a specialized market,
Locklear said, and the vanity number is a big part of reaching them. It
helps that it’s plastered on billboards around Metro Detro
it.

“Nobody knows
who to call,” Locklear says, “wound centers are not in the mind set of
your average person’s vocabulary. They don’t know that they exist, and
I’m trying to change that. … You will not see that billboard and forget
it. To me, it was logical: The idea is that, if you have a wound, you
will call that number if for no other reason than to find out if you
can get any help.”

Locklear’s
company is actually based out of West Palm Beach, Fla., and Beals found
them because he had already purchased the number and was calling
companies that might be interested. The two now co-own that phone
number and split the profits, with Locklear running the business end
and Beals handling the telecommunications side.

A local calling

“In my mind I’ve always been an entrepreneur. I always wanted my own business,” Beal explains.

During high school in West Bloomfield and Walled Lake, Beals and several of his friends started a successful lawn care business. He graduated from Western Michigan University in 2004 with a bachelor’s of business administration with a marketing focus, and worked at Audi and Volkswagen America, as a media planner at General Motors, and wrote television shows in Detroit.

The reason Beals, who was raised mostly in Southfield, chose to stay in Michigan after college was simple, he says: “I stayed here because I grew up here.”

With phones and computers, he says, you can conduct business anywhere in the world. And he’d rather do it here.

“Why not? In New York, no on would ever ask, why’d you choose to stay in New York,” Beals says,
“I see where Detroit’s going, I like downtown, my whole family is here.
I think it’s a great place to conduct business. … Since I started my
business in ’05, the economy wasn’t in the best shape at that time
anyway, so it’s the only way I know.”

Phoning it in

Beals used his
own technology to attract Aries Plumbing and Heating owner Dennis
Jackson. Last year, Jackson was looking for a vanity number for his
company, which has been in business in Detroit since 1989.

He called
1-877-SNAKE-IT, but when someone answered, Jackson figured the number
was taken, said that he had a wrong number, and hung up. The man on the
other end called back 20 minutes later, and Jackson again told him that
he had misdialed. When the man called back a third time, Jackson told
him that he was looking for a vanity number.

“And he said, ‘Well, that’s what I do,'” Jackson says.

Beals was the
man on the other end, and Jackson has been a Ring Ring customer since.
He pays monthly for the use of the phone number and the
calling tracking information.

That kind of work is often necessary to get clients at this point because, Beals says, a lot of people don’t know companies like his exist.

“I have to sell it on an awareness level,” he says. “People try the phone companies and they have no luck.”

Dennis Jackson says the new number has been good for business.

“I
think it’s made a big difference,” he says, “because in conversations
with customers or friends, they talk about this number, 1-800-SNAKE-IT.
So it’s made a big difference.”


Jordan Miller
is an Ann Arbor-based copywriter, freelance reporter, and bonne
vivante. Her work has appeared in USA Today, Newsday, The Ann Arbor
News, and on This American Life.