Phone Rental Firm Set for Record Score Sunday

Times Staff Writer

Super Bowl Sunday will be the biggest day ever for National Cellular Rentals in Costa Mesa, which has rented more than 70 portable cellular telephones in connection with the event. It will top even the business generated by last summer's papal visit.

During the past week, managers of the Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins have been using National Cellular Rentals' phones all around San Diego.

Sunday, crews from ABC Television will be on rented phones aboard the aircraft carrier Stars & Stripes to coordinate remote broadcasts, while caterers inside Jack Murphy Stadium will have National Cellular's phones handy to make sure their big party comes off as planned.

Sales Topped $500,000

Dozens of businesses sell or lease cellular phones, but National Cellular Rentals President John Sterling says his short-term rental business is a niche within a niche in the telephone market.

"You tell someone you want a phone for the day, and they don't understand," said Sterling, who was an owner of Cellular Communications, a maker of emergency roadside call boxes, before starting National Cellular Rentals in 1985.

Business began with 50 phones. Last year, as the number of phones in his inventory hit 125, sales topped $500,000, said Sterling.

National Cellular's phones retail for about $2,000. They rent for $25 a day and 95 cents for each minute of use.

Sterling said his stock also was depleted for last year's Super Bowl at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena when he rented about 40 phones. And about 60 phones were rented last summer by broadcasters, journalists and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for use during Pope John Paul II's tour of California.

Blockbuster events obviously are great for business, but Sterling said he does well year-round.

Building contractors, oil producers and movie production companies are some of the biggest regular customers. "You name the firm, and they've had our phones," said Sterling, who mentioned Fluor, Texaco and MGM as customers.

Sterling, who said there are "no more than a few dozen firms" in the short-term cellular phone rental market, plans to franchise the business and expects the first deal to be signed for the San Diego market.

San Diego is probably where Sterling and many of his employees will be during Sunday's game, in case any customers need service help. "We've never had a day this big. We can't just rent the phones and go home."

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