Jennifer Van Buskirk
with Jennifer Van Buskirk, president of AT&T's Cricket Wireless
Earlier this month, AT&T Mobility unveiled its revamped Cricket prepaid service with a new tagline, price plans and store design. AT&T, which purchased Leap Wireless' Cricket service for $1.2 billion in a deal that closed earlier this year, will now offer Cricket's prepaid service over its nationwide network and phase out Leap's legacy CDMA network, giving customers a better network experience as well as a larger selection of handsets.
At a recent launch event held in a model Cricket store in suburban Atlanta, Sue Marek, FierceWireless editor in chief, talked with Jennifer Van Buskirk, president of Cricket Wireless, about the company's revamped service. Buskirk previously was the head of AT&T's prepaid brand, Aio Wireless, which offered service in 28 markets across the country and is now being combined with the Cricket brand. Buskirk talked about her plans for the "new" Cricket, the future of Muve Music and how she plans to overcome any negative perceptions of the brand in the marketplace.
FierceWireless: For many consumers, the Cricket brand is considered a cheap service with cheap phones and a not-so-great network. How are you going to overcome that perception in the market?
Van Buskirk: That's the whole point behind the "new" Cricket launch. We have a new network and will make our mark in the marketplace.
FierceWireless: Do you think consumers will understand this change?
Van Buskirk: It's our job to make them understand this. It's all about the network and the network is a huge differentiator for Cricket, and launching as the "new" Cricket. The network has been the biggest challenge that customers have had. Customers like the price but they didn't always like the network experience. We have unshackled that. We are launching "new" Cricket on an amazing nationwide network. And that's our job to educate people on why it is different and why you need to think about Cricket.
FierceWireless: Why did you decide to keep the Cricket brand? Why not choose Aio Wireless instead? Aio was new in the market but it didn't have the negative perception.
Van Buskirk: It's all about brand awareness. When you start a wireless company you want people to know you are a wireless company. And then you can shift perception and great attributes like a great network over time. It's easier than starting from scratch.
FierceWireless: What about existing Cricket dealers? Are you going to keep them?
Van Buskirk: Before the acquisition, Leap had done a lot to improve distribution and quality of distribution. I think we are in a good place now. We have about 3,000 total stores, combining Aio stores and legacy Cricket stores. We are going to keep growing. We will find ways to grow our top performers and expand that presence. We will continue to tweak this and grow like any retail business.
FierceWireless: Some of the Cricket dealers sold other things as well. Will that continue?
Van Buskirk: No. That will not continue. They will be exclusive Cricket dealers.
FierceWireless: What about AT&T's GoPhone, the prepaid service that AT&T has been selling for some time. Will this go away?
Van Buskirk: It will stay. It's an AT&T-branded product and sold in AT&T distribution. There's a need for that product as well. It's a big wireless market. There are different brands to serve different needs, and I think there's room for all of us. GoPhone is going to continue to serve a purpose.
FierceWireless: What about Cricket's Muve Music service? They have had quite a bit of success with that product. Will you continue to support it?
Van Buskirk: Customers love music. That's something that we are going to explore our options on how to do music going forward. We are going to look at all our options going forward. More to come. We are looking at different ways to do music.
FierceWireless: Leap launched a service for RadioShack before being acquired by AT&T. Will you still work with them?
Van Buskirk: We are still working with them.
FierceWireless: This model store that you have created here in Alpharetta seems to be in an upscale shopping area, which is quite different from the locations of most traditional Cricket stores. Are you going upscale? How are you differentiating yourself?
Van Buskirk: This is just a model and not an actual retail store. But we will have stores in all types of areas. We will have stores in more urban areas and lower income parts of town and higher income parts of town as well. It's about expanding the target customer base for Cricket and to do that we have distribution that spans that. You will find some in more upscale areas and in more urban cores as well.
FierceWireless: You are also entering new markets where the Cricket brand previously did not exist. What is your time frame? That's a lot of new distribution channels.
Van Buskirk: We do have legacy Aio stores that are being converted to Cricket and many of those are in new markets, so we will have those new markets right out of the gate. Aio was in 28 markets. And we will continue to expand and fill in those markets and expand to new markets. We aim to be a nationwide carrier and fill in distribution across the country. This is the start.
FierceWireless: So the 3,000 retail stores you have now are just the start. Are you looking at other retailers as well, like big box retailers?
Van Buskirk: Yes we are looking at all options. I have nothing to share with you at this point. We also have a new online presence as well so we can sell nationwide. And we are advertising nationwide now. You will see TV spots and print advertisements.
FierceWireless: How much are you spending on marketing and advertising?
Van Buskirk: I'm not going to tell you. But I will say that we are spending enough.