SANTA ROSA -- Tweets, texts and Facebook encounters may be hogging the conversation, but the lines are still buzzing at old-fashioned phone answering services.
Longtime Santa Rosa company Hartley and Associates -- Hartley's Answering Service -- has grown about 25 percent in the last five years, expanding its market into tech support and other areas, according to owner and president Cheri Tamo.
"Our growth is an interesting phenomenon. It's been steady despite the economic fall-off," she said. "While some of our market segments flattened out, we gained others, and our revenues grew."
The former Agilent technician moved Hartley's operations onto a mainframe computer and the latest customer management technology, allowing its technical team to script sophisticated answering protocols.
Sixteen-employee Hartley serves 300 clients in Sonoma, Marin and Napa counties, including physicians, catalog companies, trucking companies, wineries and high-tech firms.
Its 24-hour, seven-day service is a boon to small companies who want to save money on reception staff, and to companies that deal with customers in different time zones.
"We can do first-line tech support now, taking inquiries directly from websites and working triage with our questions. It makes the second support team much more efficient," she said.
Now 30 years old, Hartley was close to being shut down five years ago when its owner Tammy Hartley wanted to retire. An out-of-area buyer was interested in the customer list but not the 12 local, loyal employees.
To save their jobs and keep the operation local, she held the note that allowed a group of local investors – including Ms. Tamo – to acquire the company.
It's been growing, albeit slowly, since the new owners took over.
Recently, Hartley even brought on longtime local entrepreneur George Demiris as sales executive.
"Answering the phone, live, is one of the most important things a business of any size can do," said Mr. Demiris.
"If potential customers get a message machine, chances are good they'll dial another company."
Most recently the founder of Wraps N Rolls restaurant in Montgomery Village, Mr. Demiris has coined a new slogan for Hartley, which he intends to debut at the upcoming Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce Business Expo: "Buy Local, Stay Local, Eat Local, Play Local and Answer the Phone Live and Local!"