CEOs Promote New Paths to Prosperity

If there is solace to be found in the current recession it is the sense of camaraderie everyone shares about being in it together. Unified in commiseration, there is a newfound openness to share experiences and ideas while holding on for light to appear at the end of the tunnel.

As a security systems contractor, you could not ask for better guides to help lead your company from the dark caverns of economic gloom to the bright vistas of business growth than CEOs Tim Feury (Altec Systems, Marietta, Ga.), Jim Henry (Henry Bros. Electronics, Fair Lawn, N.J.), Chuck Lesnewski (Cam Connections, Lakeland, Fla.) and Gary Venable (All Systems, Kansas City, Kan.).

As heads of four of the industry’s most successful installing security integration operations, these savvy veterans know just how to play any hand that’s dealt. That’s why SSI recently gathered them during this year’s PSA-TEC event in St. Charles, Ill., for a no-holds-barred roundtable discussion. Together, Feury, Henry, Lesnewski and Venable share your pain but also offer optimism, solutions and a little controversy.

How has the recession impacted your business?

Chuck Lesnewski: Actually revenue is up 16 percent. We’re kind of in a unique situation in Florida as the recession has not hit as hard as some markets. We work in the medical environment, in retail. We’re not into the Fortune 500 companies; we don’t have that type of business base. We have focused hard on certain verticals, building the relationships, building the communication with our customers so that we’re in a position with some of them where we’re looking three years out to satisfy their plans.

By really focusing on core businesses and building relationships we’re finding that customers are coming to us. And we’re expanding our line card, if you will, not by vendor, but by going into other areas we haven’t played in.

Do I see the recession? Yeah, I do. I have other integrators in the area calling to get us involved financially in projects. We’re just happy as anything as I don’t think there are many guys who are ahead of last year at this point.

Gary Venable: Health care is down. But it all depends on what happens in the latter part of the year. We started out thinking it’d be down 10-20 percent, but right now we’re getting more optimistic and hoping it will be at or above last year’s sales. Commercial/industrial is down. The bid market, of course, which is maybe 10 percent of our business, is way down.

Our service department, however, is actually up 20 percent and we’re hiring people to increase that market. When there’s a recession, people obviously put more time and maintenance into keeping what they’ve got. So we’re going to invest in that portion of our business. We’ll finish the year with more sales than we had last year, but that was from backlog. We’re concentrating right now on the long-range and how we position ourselves.

Our communications group has some new products and network-based things we think will actually increase our sales into next year. In the commercial/industrial area, everybody says things will turn around in the next quarter, but they have been saying that for a couple of quarters now. Whenever the CFOs release the money, we think there’s some good business there. But most of our clients are at least postponing projects in that arena.

Jim Henry: Even before the bubble burst we were making a big push for selling managed services and leveraging the services side of our business as a differentiating factor. There’s a great opportunity for those of us in this business that really have people, really have service trucks and really maintain systems.

We’re actually hiring people. I doubled the sales force from January 2008 to January 2009. This is a time to get proactive; it’s the time to find that kind of talent out there. For every disaster we’ve been through, whether it was in our own company or an industry or economic calamity, we’ve always found opportunity. This one’s a little deeper than most, which means the opportunities are greater than most, because it all equals out. You certainly can’t take your eye off the ball. You have to surgically watch where your backlog is and monitor your sales guys more.

We haven’t lost any significant jobs to competition. Where we’ve lost them is they’re delayed, or the budget’s not there. So we see that business as not having gone away, it’s just pushed further out. Some of the verticals we’re in are slower. So we’ve focused our efforts on the collateral businesses that are still strong, the vertical markets that are strong. Our public sector, transportation and military work is what’s seeing us through to be able to still look at growth in 2009 over 2008.

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About the Author


Scott Goldfine is the marketing director for Elite Interactive Solutions. He is the former editor-in-chief and associate publisher of Security Sales & Integration. He can be reached at [email protected].

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