Knowing about necessary documentation and governmental procedures will go a long way to convince a client they really need you to see them through the complicated permit and plans examination process. ©iStockphoto.com/Ben Conlan
The sales and installation of fire alarm systems is fraught with twists and turns that can confuse and befuddle the average security dealer whose forte has always been security. And yet these companies install fire alarms without the necessary knowledge to 1) select the right system for the job, and 2) the necessary certifications and installation/testing tools to comply with local and national fire codes.
The experienced low-voltage installation company that specializes in fire alarm systems has come to know how to navigate the convolutions associated with this sometimes complicated process. While many of these learned professionals had the benefit of others in their respective organizations who already knew the ropes, some did not.
The fact is anyone can learn the technology and the process if they want to bad enough. But they must study, derive the necessary state and local credentials, and make an effort to learn the requirements and procedures set forth by the local building authority. Those brave and persistent enough to stay the course will naturally attain a heightened degree of professionalism and respect, in addition to a fist full of cash.
Establishing Need for Protection
Chances are when a client calls for help it's because he/she is responding to an order issued by a building inspector, fire marshal or code compliance officer. In one case in the state of Ohio, an inspector conducted a surprise visit at a nursing home. A problem was quickly discovered that resulted in a citation that carried a $10,000 a day fine until the issue was corrected. The fire alarm company on record responded, correcting the problem within 48 hours.
All too often pricing is the deciding issue in a prospect's decision to buy. But there are things you can do to convince the person that your firm is right for their situation. Give them compelling reasons why they should purchase from your firm, even if it involves a few dollars more than others whom also took the time to bid on the project.
Demonstrate your knowledge with regard to what it takes to navigate the permit and plans examination process. What you know about the necessary documentation and governmental procedures will go a long way to convince the client that they really need you to see them through this complicated, sometimes drawn-out process.
Not all alarm dealers are familiar with assembling a submittal package for local government. The objective is to adequately prepare for a thorough plans examination. If you do not know the process, and if you intend to sell fire alarm systems, you must take time to learn how this is done.
It's also necessary to know how to obtain a permit so your crew(s) can perform the work. This includes the cost and necessary forms that you, as the fire alarm company, must install. On your initial meeting with a prospective client, do not quote prices, but do understand the plans examination and permit process. This will show the client you know your business, and that's important if you're to make a sale.
For an in-depth discussion on the typical procedures used when submitting paperwork for plans examination with the goal of obtaining a permit, see "How to Sell Code-Compliant Fire/Life Safety," published in SSI's "Fire Side Chat," August 2010.
Because the procedures may vary between local jurisdictions, it's important you contact the local fire authority and/or building department for further information. Once you learn this process and you've navigated the system a few times, you will be able to recite it verbatim to your potential clients with full confidence.
Forging New Partnerships
In most states a licensed architect, professional engineer (PE) and/or NICET certified professional must be enlisted to assist with the creation and validation of blueprints and other required information. In some states, unless they have their own licensing system, NICET installers are mandatory.
Ohio is an example of a state with its own licensing system that qualifies technicians to work on fire alarm equipment. Here installers and technicians must take a lengthy test in order to gain certification so they can install and service fire alarm systems. Also in Ohio, only an architect or PE can sign off on a set of blueprints. An unlicensed individual with the proper knowledge may engineer the job, but a licensed architect or PE must examine, stamp and sign off on the project.
Of course, companies large enough to afford it may hire the necessary people to do the work, but where this is impractical you need to establish a working relationship with other licensed individuals in your locale.
Because of this need, a cottage industry has developed where architects and PEs provide this service for a fee to any electrical contractor or other alarm company that needs it. Typically, in the beginnings of such a business arrangement the skilled men and women who offer these services will closely examine the work of unlicensed designers to assure accuracy. In due time, they may elect to stamp these blueprints without the same high-level of oversight once they come to know you and your work.