Are you in the habit of walking away from money? Then why is it the chances are better than 50-50 you are not involved in the fire/life-safety side of the low-voltage contracting business? That’s according to the most recent SSI Installation Business Report where 56% of respondents indicated they refrain from fire systems work. Are you so fattened up with intrusion, access and video, among other systems types, so as to shun one of the largest markets of them all? It’s a market in which codes and solutions are combining to reduce injuries and deaths, and one that has seen the average number of annual installations rise 72% since 2011. What’s more, SSI’s 2013 Operations & Opportunities Report placed fire alarm inspections as the second-leading service to generate more recurring revenue. Are you ready to save more lives and save more money for your business? Sounds like the ultimate win-win to me.
Welcome to SSI’s annual May Fire Issue in which we drill down into the trends, technologies, codes and opportunities swirling around this mission-critical segment of the industry. In keeping with that, I turned to a pair of life-safety authorities and posed several key questions, the answers from five of which you can use as takeaways to begin offering or provide better fire systems and service. Our experts: David Ringenberger, president of Dallas-based Protection Systems, and Ken Volkening, president of Fox Valley Fire & Safety in Elgin, Ill.
What are today’s most active fire/life-safety vertical markets?
Ringenberger: Heathcare and its “peripheral” markets such as standalone ERs, medical office buildings and specialty surgical centers are the most active. The datacenter market is also huge as companies find it more effective to modernize their data operations through third-party service providers, and opt more to lease pre-engineered data halls rather than expend huge capital outlays to upgrade their own equipment.
Volkening: I see the most active market as senior living expanding with multiple phases from independent living, assisted living and then nursing facilities. Providing solutions for each phase of senior years, from the time they leave their single-family homes to when they eventually need full care is vital. Multifamily is another big active vertical market. It has developed nicely since the housing situation [changed] in the last 5- to 10-year period as the economy started dragging down.
What is a leading fire/life-safety recurring revenue service right now?
Ringenberger: Fire alarm inspections and maintenance is a very traditional business model. Customers are looking more and more to a single solutions provider that can test all of their life-safety equipment, such as fire alarm, sprinkler, fire extinguishers, hood systems, etc.
Are you so fattened up with intrusion, access and video, among other systems types, so as to shun one of the largest markets of them all?
What are some tips for pleasing AHJs?
Volkening: It’s very easy to please the AHJ, and that’s to do your job right. Treat them with the same respect that you want them to treat you with, the Golden Rule. Sometimes there are issues with AHJs but you have to understand, you have to put yourselves in their shoes.
Does code compliance make your business more difficult or create more opportunities?
Ringenberger: They create more opportunities. Newer codes involving low-frequency sounders, the understanding of intelligibility, and owners’ awareness of the need for better in-building communications are starting to boost the size and scope of specific types of fire alarm projects.
Is the fire/life-safety systems business becoming more or less competitive? How can you differentiate yourself?
Ringenberger: It’s more competitive. The industry has gone years without significant technological enhancements. As a result, the availability of technically trained people and the overall flat cost of technology have lowered the obstacles for anyone wishing to enter the market as a fire alarm contractor.
Volkening: Coming out of the economic downturn there are more competitors because some of the people who were working for others formed their own companies. They are very competitive because they don’t have the overhead of an established company. We are a leader not a follower and we formed a marketing committee seven years ago to help us stay out in front of the curve. You can’t become complacent.