Brandt Phillips is commercial fire and security director of sales for Napco Security Technologies. He joins the conversation to discuss the current trends, challenges
and opportunities in the business of fire/life safety.
In the commercial building market, which sectors remain challenged? Which are performing better?
The fire alarm industry certainly felt a wake-up call during the recession; new construction and remodeling slowed dramatically, and many future project plans were put on hold. As a general rule, the industry has changed following the recession; we have all gotten more creative in how we create new business.
Most areas of the country and the market seem to be recovering nicely, though I have seen a few areas where progress has been slower than others. I am seeing a lot of new commercial construction but even more existing facilities being remodeled. The public sector is by far the strongest market right now with public works projects booming nationwide; K-12 schools and municipal buildings. New retail projects seem to be the slower market right now.
And the private sector?
The private sector is not quite as strong as the public sector right now, but it continues to show growth.
Office buildings, operations centers and other spaces are being expanded and remodeled. The public sector is looking for the most effective use of their growth capital and is cautiously approaching these investments. This sector may have been the strongest hit during the recession and many entities simply stopped spending money on upgrades, expansion and repairs. Since then, the purse strings have loosened somewhat and I am seeing many overdue projects including system upgrades, additional buildings, and general expansion. The most important factor in the private sector today is showing value to justify their investment, and when possible, show a payback.
Are there code-related projects that smaller fire system contractors can look to for winning business?
The easiest and most effective projects to address for smaller contractors are communications and water-flow systems, both of which are code driven. As a general rule, most buildings that are not occupied 24/7 have monitored fire alarms and they need a UL- and NFPA-approved communication path. Knowing that most businesses have moved to digital phone lines creates an opportunity for dealers; many of these businesses continue to maintain expensive POTS lines simply for the fire alarm or they may be noncompliant.
Those POTS lines are typically costing the end user anywhere from $80 to $150 per month. I would begin approaching these applications with the intent of installing a sole path fire cell communicator like the Starlink SLe Fire. These communicators will enable the user to eliminate both POTS lines and pay back the investment within a few months. These are easy to install and offer selectable supervision levels to meet UL864, NFPA 2007, NFPA 2010, and even NFPA 2013.
Water-flow systems still remain a high volume system today. Depending upon the location, there are masses of buildings that have sprinkler systems but still do not have a water-flow system installed and are relying on a riser being chained in the open position. Fortunately, many jurisdictions are vigilant of this today are forcing the issue. This is another excellent project class for smaller dealers.
Are too many low-voltage contractors scared of fire/life safety?
That really depends upon the contractor. While I love life-safety systems and think most dealers should embrace it, there are many dealers that are legitimately scared of the potential liability and keeping up with changing codes and requirements. Contractors should be scared to “dabble” in life safety. Life safety requires commitments; commitment to continuing education, commitment to investment in tools and personnel, commitment to understanding and working with AHJs, etc. If a dealer commits to life safety, he has little to be scared of; either the system is installed per code, per the manufacturer’s instructions, and inspected by the local AHJ or it isn’t. Codes mandate what protection levels are required, where devices are installed, and how the system operates. Dealers do not have to worry about trying to level the playing field like they do in the security industry because code is code; personal preference and interpretation of the customer’s need is lessened.
To me, the bottom line is that if you are committed to life safety there is nothing to be scared of.