Training, Tech Support Help Tri-Ed/Northern Video Triumph
The distribution firm has aggressively expanded its market share and footprint since being acquired from Tyco Int’l in 2005. Helping its staunchly analog-centric dealer clientele transition to IP-based products is chief among its growth strategies.
Ask the brain trust of Tri-Ed/Northern Video Distribution to spell out their strategic mission today and you will receive a similar response given when the previous, much smaller incarnation of the firm was acquired from Tyco Int’l seven years ago. That is, targeting annual double-digit growth, expanding the footprint through acquisitions and organic means, ever-increasing product and brand availability, and providing top-notch training to its installing contractor clientele.
It is this steadfast formula, in part, that has served the company so well in its journey to grow and remain vital to its customers in this time of rapid change in the electronic security industry.
Understanding some of the company’s history can help put its rise, and struggles, into greater perspective. By the late 1990s, Tri-Ed Distribution had become the dominant distributor in Canada, primarily by way of the Digital Security Controls (DSC) line of intrusion products. Tri-Ed comprised 10 locations in major Canadian cities along with a handful of U.S.-based branches.
Despite a flourishing business in Canada, trouble was brewing all the while. For Tyco, operating a distribution division was all but happenstance anyway. The conglomerate came to own Tri-Ed when it acquired DSC, the distributor’s parent company. With several Tyco companies offering multiple lines of security and fire/life-safety products, along with ADT and Simplex in the Tyco portfolio, dual channel conflict raged.
By 2003 rumor had it that Tyco was looking to spinoff Tri-Ed as part of its efforts to jettison noncore businesses. A particular trio of distribution executives took notice. Former ADI President Steve Roth spearheaded an effort to acquire the company along with two of his longtime colleagues, Pat Comunale and James Rothstein, both also formerly of ADI. Their acquisitive efforts came to fruition on Jan. 30, 2005. With a strong conviction that vendors and dealers alike would welcome an alternative, branch-based distribution partner, Tri-Ed’s new ownership set course to become North America’s largest independent distributor.
Following an arduous six-month period during which the company launched a new operating platform to integrate its Canadian and U.S. operations, the time arrived to open new locations in earnest. And because the original business mainly focused on Tyco-centric companies, it was imperative to build out the Tri-Ed line card with a wider array of brands and product types.
In a little more than three years after spinning off from Tyco, Tri-Ed could boast its business had doubled in size. Still, the firm lacked key product brands and the IT/IP savvy that it would need to continue moving progressively forward and fend off increased competition.
In the summer of 2009 conversations involving private equity firms were initiated to explore merging Tri-Ed with Northern Video Systems, a highly specialized and successful distributor of IP-based technologies. The potential synergies tantalized.
Northern Video Systems operated a centralized business model, shipping mostly video surveillance products from a single location. Tri-Ed’s branch system would allow Northern Video to become a complete security solutions provider with a far greater reach. Northern Video’s IT/IP expertise and high-end integrated brands were exactly what Tri-Ed so badly lacked. A combined company could be leveraged to help Tri-Ed train its analog dealer clientele in the ways of IP and networked projects.
A merger was consummated in March 2010 after both distributors were acquired by Dallas-based Brazos Private Equity Partners. The deal combined Tri-Ed’s 38 branch offices with Northern Video’s three locations. Senior management at both firms took on new roles in the combined company. Among them, Roth is CEO; Comunale, president and COO; Rothstein, executive vice president; and Brian James, senior vice president.
In an exclusive and in-depth interview with Comunale, SSI discusses the company’s current state of affairs and strategic outlook, as well as the challenges and changes affecting the world of security products distribution.
What was the biggest challenge in merging the two disparate cultures of Tri-Ed and Northern Video?
Pat Comunale: The challenge of putting two businesses together is really making sure that your key people are comfortable and understand the long-term vision of the company. Once you have set goals for people and make commitments, and they believe in what you tell them and you deliver on what you say, the rest of it becomes pretty easy.
When I look back at the integration of the two businesses there is very little overlap from both the sales and manufacturing segments. We benefitted from not having a lot of customers that did business with the branch-based model and also with the high-end integration space. We had two distinctly different customer bases. Tri-Ed typically dealt with the smaller security dealer and Northern Video dealt with the high-end integrator. When we put the two businesses together, they became very complementary.
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