“We are basically entrepreneurs at heart. We’ve done other things through the years but the cable industry has always been our first love.”
Ty Garrett, president of Semo Communications, is looking back on the legacy he and his family have created in the cable industry at a particularly poignant time. The company, which at one time operated clusters around the Midwest, was acquired by Charter in December. The transition to new ownership was completed this June.
That means, as Garrett jokes, he’ll now have the opportunity to find out what he wants to do when he “grows up” for the first time in his adult life. He began working part-time at Semo, founded in 1976 by his father, cable Pioneer Travis E. Garrett, while he was still in high school and college. His tasks then mostly comprised knocking on doors with sales and marketing calls. He went full-time upon graduating in 1984 and has been an integral part of Semo’s executive team ever since.
The origins of the company are steeped in rural America. “We focused on smaller rural communities,” he says. “The franchise wars were going on at the time and most of the towns we ended up owning in the early days, there was not a lot of attention to those towns, but we felt like they needed to have the kind of services cable could bring.”
An early jump on its franchises led to system build-outs and operations of cable and communications systems primarily in Missouri and parts of Kansas and Indiana. In the mid-’80s, prices reached a point where the Garrett family thought it a good time to sell, which it did for all businesses except the one around the family’s home town of Sikeston, MO.
“We kept a small cluster around our home base in Southwest Missouri and expanded through the years,” he says. “We watched the industry grow and evolve, and we expanded and transitioned over the years from video to internet, phone and all the different possibilities the cable industry has to offer.”
Jim Gleason, president/CEO of Vast Broadband and a neighbor of Garrett’s in Sikeston, was inspired by his colleague’s work representing smaller operators when he was a member of the NCTC board, as well as his keen business sense and collaborative nature.
“Whether it be programming-related or technology, they’ve done a really good job of recognizing when they needed to upgrade their physical plant and launch new products,” Gleason says of Semo. “For them being a small cable operator, they’ve always been a lot more advanced than people in their same situation, and ran a really good operation.”
At the time of the Charter bid, Semo counted 4,500-plus customers in Missouri, the majority of them internet subs. The decision to sell was part business, part personal, Garrett says. His father had retired several years back, and as he and his brother considered next steps for the company, a change in ownership, particularly to Charter, made a lot of sense.
“We are a family-owned business… We were hoping we’d have a succession plan where some of our family members wanted to come along and take it to the next level, but they all had other callings,” he says.
Additionally, the Semo-Charter relationship dated back to “before Charter was Charter,” Garrett says. “They were pretty familiar with us, and we interconnected so well with their existing network. It’s been a pretty seamless transition.”
Back to the Garrett family legacy, he says he learned many business insights from his father but one stands above the rest. “The number one thing is we always wanted to treat our customers the way we wanted to be treated. In today’s world, that gets a little lost, but we’ve bent over backwards to give them the service we wanted them to have even if it didn’t necessarily make financial sense—we always tried to go the extra mile.”
And when you focus on customers first, they take note. “We’ve had a lot of people while the transition was going on who called in and talked to our customer service representatives, and some of them were crying that we weren’t going to be their provider any more,” Garrett says. “That made me feel like, ‘Hey, we did the job we set out to do.’”
– Cathy Applefeld Olson
- Ty’s father, Cable Pioneer Travis E. Garrett, founded Semo in 1976.
- Semo completed its sale to Charter Spectrum on December 1, 2017 and finished the transition period on June 15, 2018.
- At the time of sale, Semo had 4,500 revenue generating units.