John Knox, proprietor of Knoxville, Tenn.-based Life & Property Security Systems, will be installed as president of the Electronic Security Association (ESA) during the Electronic Security Expo (ESX) in Nashville this month. SSI caught up with Knox to discuss his goals for ESA and other industry topics.
Part of your responsibility as president of ESA will be to collaborate with other industry associations. Explain the work that needs to be accomplished in that area.
We’re duplicating too many of our efforts. To me the important thing is to work together to focus on what we’re each good at. I have no problem saying that ESA is a leader in training on the installation side of the business. CSAA [Central Station Alarm Association] is a leader on the monitoring side, and SIA [Security Industry Association] is the leader in the manufacturing and the vendor part of the business.
All these groups are going to overlap in some ways, and in a lot of ways we overlap too much. We have to look at the particular issues we deal with and let one of the associations take a lead in it, even though we stand arm-in-arm. We have to look at more of who is going to take a lead in what so we don’t have different people working on the same things at the same time. That wastes resources and time. There is way too much duplication in what the three organizations are doing, and we need to agree to focus more on what we’re about individually and use that to work together as a group.
What do you see as one of the industry’s most urgent challenges right now?
Not a day goes by at our company, and I’m pretty sure it’s the same for everybody else, that we don’t get a call from a customer saying their system is not communicating. There are so many various reasons. They switch providers, switched technology, just got rid of the phone line all together, and they didn’t even think about it disabling their alarm. That to me is our most urgent customer issue — not only letting our customers know there are radios and other means of transmission, but educating them on making sure they let us know when they change or drop their phone line.
They contact us and the first thing they say is, “I set my alarm off and you didn’t call us.” It’s usually the customer changing the technology they have so we have to stay on top of that. It’s not going to change. The 20-year [technology] cycle is gone. It’s not coming back. We should start thinking more about two- and three-year cycles. Where it could be devastating is if a technology comes out that makes us obsolete and all of a sudden the IT guys have an advantage over the electronic security guys or low-voltage guys. Where once we tried to drive people to technology, now it’s driving us.
When you draft industry policies, can it be difficult to strike a balance between what’s good for the small alarm company versus what’s good for large regional or even national players?
Everybody knows I’m a small business owner and they think I’m either going to sell out to the nationwide companies or I’m going to unfairly represent the small guys and say heck with the big guys. My answer to that is, if we sat down and looked at what’s truly right for the end user, the customer, for the people we’re trying to protect, there’s no big or small to that. We’re all in this together and the consumer is the one that’s going to lose if we don’t do it right. If we get out of bed every morning and just focus on protecting the people and property, then we’re going to make the mark on bridging the association and bridging the gap between big and little because we’re all going after the same thing.
But as president of ESA, you can very well expect to butt heads with stakeholders that will be willing to fight turf battles.
Yes and that’s why I always point back to the consumer. We really should be advocates for them, and everything else will take care of itself. If I start looking at big versus little and one-man companies versus nationwide companies, I’m going to fall flat on my face and there won’t be any right answers. But if I totally focus on the consumer and how we can help them as an industry, then I have a lot better chance of being successful.
With all of the emphasis on creating recurring revenue, do you see any negatives with the business model?
I was jotting down some thoughts one day and wrote, ‘RMR is our king, but it's definitely not our God.’ My thinking on that was we're so entwined with RMR nowadays, our businesses have no value unless it has that. The customers we go out and search for, it’s all about the RMR. I don’t want us to get to the point where we're not interested in protecting their houses and properties any longer.
It can’t be just about getting them to sign a contract. It seems like that's too much of what we do. I want us to get more back into what we should be doing, and that's protecting the people of this country, their lives and their property. Sure, RMR is our king, we have to have it. I didn't sit and make up the model for the way we do business nowadays but I sure as heck have to live in it. At some point we can't sell our whole self to that concept. We constantly have to stop every now and then and keep it all in perspective. We can’t lose sight of what our real purpose is to help protect our customers.