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Duluth-based Citon Computer expands its market reach with purchase

Pedestrians pass by Citon Computer Corp. headquarters on West First Street in downtown Duluth. The company last week acquired the technology divisions of a similar company in Eau Claire, Wis., allowing Citon to expand its business offerings, its service area and nearly double its workforce. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)1 / 2
Steven Dastoor, Citon’s CEO2 / 2

With its cutting-edge approach, Citon Computer Corp. in Duluth grew rapidly in its first two decades.

Last week, in the midst of its 20th year, it got a whole lot bigger.

Citon, which builds custom information technology systems, purchased Invisible Inc., a similar technology business in Eau Claire, Wis., with five divisions and a 30-year track record.

In one fell swoop, Citon added two technology divisions to its operations, gave its sister company TLX Communications another division and gained another sister company. Its staff nearly doubled to 80 employees. And the company’s geographic reach expanded from Duluth and Minneapolis to also include Eau Claire.

“It’s another growing market,” Steven Dastoor, Citon’s CEO, said. And the geographical triangle formed by Duluth, Minneapolis and Eau Claire creates a corridor of potential business growth.

“Citon is positioning itself as a technology leader capable of providing customers with a deeper pool of knowledge and expertise,” he said.

The two companies were similar, but Invisible Inc. had some services Citon

didn’t. By joining forces, Citon’s scope of services expands for its customers that include businesses, schools, financial institutions, health care providers, municipalities and nonprofits.

For Citon, those added services include security  and surveillance systems and structured cabling installed behind walls for computers, telephones, and conferencing systems.

“We’re incredibly excited about the increased service we can offer,” said Dastoor, who founded and owns the company with his business partner, Sean Dean.

While Dastoor declined to reveal Invisible Inc.’s purchase price, he said it was “substantial” and is Citon’s biggest investment in a merger or acquisition to date.

Citon began operating in Duluth in the mid-1990s, building custom computers. Since then, it has expanded its computer hardware business to include managed services, helpdesk assistance and hosted data services. Its gross sales surpassed $1 million by its seventh year and have been growing ever since.

People-oriented, customer-focused

John Kratz, a marketing instructor at the University of Minnesota Duluth, has known Dastoor since Kratz bought a laptop from him in 1996.

“I was impressed by their product and service,” he said.

He also was impressed by Dastoor, who was in his mid-20s then.

“He’s smart,” Kratz said. “He’s extremely knowledgeable and has a unique ability to make it understandable.”

Staying in touch with Dastoor and his staff over the years, Kratz sees a lot of reasons for the company’s success: The company is progressive; the owners have methodically taken a slow-but-steady-approach to the firm’s growth; and the owners have made good strategic moves, including diversifying their revenue stream, he said.

“It’s a top-down company,” he said. “They are a very people-oriented culture, and they empower their employees to make decisions and figure out how to get the job done.”

They also are very customer-focused with a knack for building trust with their customers, Kratz noted.

“They stand by what they do, and it’s about helping the customer improve their operations,” he said.

While a lot of people in information technology overpromise and underdeliver, Citon underpromises and overdelivers, he said.

Duluth, Eau Claire offices

With Citon’s purchase of Invisible Inc., which closed on Jan. 5, that company ceased to exist.

But its five divisions live on.

Its Corporate Technologies division and its Business Internet Services LLC now operate under Citon. Its NetTel Communications, a networking cabling company, became part of its NetGuard Security Solutions, a surveillance and card access company. It’s now a new Citon sister company.

Invisible Inc.’s fifth division, Network Alchemist, will become part of Citon’s sister company, TLX Communications, which sells business communications and phone systems.

Those former Invisible Inc. divisions will continue to operate out of their Eau Claire offices, with the same staff and commercial and institutional customer base.

While the deal was in the works for a year, Invisible Inc. staff members were told three weeks ago that a good match was being sought, then learned a week ago that the sale had closed, Dastoor said. So far, 33 employees — nearly all of Invisible’s staff — are staying on. Former owner Robert Krause has left and an assistant of his also may leave, Dastoor said.

The acquisition of the 35-year-old company comes as Citon celebrates its 20 years in business. It follows Dastoor and Dean’s purchase of 209 W. First St., a two-story office building in downtown Duluth that they transformed into hip, modern offices. More recently they purchased the four-storefront building next door with an eye to future expansion. It currently houses three retailers and Citon’s sister company, TLX Communications.

Dastoor said their goal is to become one of the most advanced and world-class IT solution companies in the United States.

“So we’re thinking big,” he said.

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