During my recent trip to Boca Raton, Fla., to attend the First Alert Professional Convention I conducted a 90-minute roundtable interview featuring Mike Ash, president of Garden State Fire & Security Alarm Co. in Aberdeen, N.J.; Larry and Mike Matson, principals of Matson Alarm, Fresno, Calif.; Mike Miller, vice president of Moon Security Services in Pasco, Wash.; and Bill Zeller, CEO of Mellon Security & Sound Systems in Lantana, Fla. In the January issue of SECURITY SALES & INTEGRATION I share their takes on what to expect business-wise in 2011.
The extended online version also features a discussion of the massive problem of transitioning customers from landline-based phone services, how difficult it is to recruit good employees and the necessity of supporting trade associations. One more facet of that conversation I wanted to share here was Zeller’s thoughtful and heartfelt account of how and why he got into the security business.
Bill, can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your company?
Bill Zeller: I’m from Mellon Security and Sound. Our company is out of Lantana, Fla., which is about 25 minutes north of Boca Raton. Our area goes up as far as Vero Beach and down as far south as Miami-Dade County. We have been doing alarms since 1977. We also call the company Mellon Security & Sound because it was really hard to sell an alarm down here in 1977. So, we’ve done both. Ninety-five percent of what we do is high-end homes. We do a lot of stereo in them now. We do camera systems and alarms, and just about everything you can ask for in low-voltage home systems.
What were the circumstances that lead you to pursue the path of a career in the security alarm business?
Zeller: I got into this business a little bit differently. I was in the boat business in New Jersey. I came down here and I didn’t know what I was going to do. Someone broke into my parents’ home. They had worked all their lives to buy this beautiful home, and my mother couldn’t wait to move out of it. Not only did she move to Florida, she spent all this time getting this house together and everything. This was their dream house. Once she was victimized, she couldn’t stand it. My father said to me, ‘You know what? You need to get into the burglar alarm business.’ That’s how I got into it.
I believe in what I’m doing; it’s right. I’m not in it just to make a difference, but I think I have. Last week, our girls got a call and a man said, ‘I would like for someone to come out and re-hook up a window on a sliding glass door.’ She said, ‘What happened?’ And he said, ‘I got broken into last night.’ She said, ‘It didn’t work out?’ And he said, ‘It worked out very well. We had the radio in it, they cut the phone line, they ripped the siren off the wall, but the police surrounded the house and caught them.’ So she said, ‘Well, that was good that we caught them, but it’s a shame that this had to happen.’ And he said, ‘There’s another part to this story. My son and my wife were out to dinner, and they got home five minutes after the police did. They weren’t harmed.’ Now that ought to tell you something about where we need to be, and this wasn’t a very expensive house at all.
That really is the essence of it all, isn’t it? Do you think that sometimes gets lost during the normal course of business or when companies rely on fear tactics to make the sale?
Zeller: It seems that we all — even our company — sometimes forget why we’re here. From the standpoint that when we go out to sell an alarm system, and people are interested in buying it, they have to be convinced that this is an investment they are making in their safety and their family’s safety. I have gone so far as when people say, ‘I don’t want to do the whole perimeter; I just want to do the front door and the back door,” I look at their child and say, ‘Your son, where does he sleep?’ I say, ‘Sir, you don’t care about him?’ And he says, ‘What do you mean I don’t care about him?!’ I mean, you’re talking about $40 to do a window. Have you read the newspapers lately? I have a very different feeling than most people do. We do not do anything that is not complete protection 10 feet and below. We walk away from it.
I had a situation recently where we were doing a $90,000 stereo system and the man didn’t want to do a window. So I called him and thanked him very much for his business and said to him, ‘I understand we’re putting an alarm system in and that’s great, and we’re doing a very nice stereo system for you. I need to talk to you about something.’ He said, ‘What’s that?’ And I said, ‘You’ve got to have the windows done.’ And he said, ‘No, you don’t understand. I don’t want the windows done.’ And I said, ‘Then we will put in a very nice sound system for you.’ And he said, ‘This is a package.’ And I said, ‘OK.’ And he said, ‘OK, what?’ I said, ‘We’re not doing either.’
So he said, ‘Now let me get this straight. You’re walking away from a $90,000 sound system because you believe that those windows must be done?’ And I said, ‘Yes. You’re not the expert. I am. When something happens to you and I’m sitting on the stand and you’re sitting in a multimillion-dollar house in Palm Beach and somebody asks what idiot didn’t do the window that they crawled in through, I do not want to be that person.’ So he said, ‘You’re willing to forego the sound system?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, but thank you very much for the call. We really appreciate it. I’m very sorry we can’t do business with you.’ He said, ‘Just do the window.’ But I didn’t care, you’re either doing it or you’re not.