Inside a Lasting Customer Relationship

In an era of mergers, acquisitions and other agents of change in the electronic security industry, maintaining customer longevity has become increasingly more complicated. To a greater extent, long-term relationships — say, more than two decades — are by far the exception.

Case in point: Wilsonville, Ore.-based integrator Selectron and its enduring association with Mentor Graphics, a supplier of electronic design automation (EDA) software and hardware solutions. The pair began their relationship in the mid-1980s when each was fledgling and primed to grow. Mentor sought a capable security contractor to service its access control system, and Selectron fit the bill. Today, Mentor is a multinational corporation and Selectron remains its sole access control provider.

Selectron’s acuity in sustaining its customer for more than 20 years is a story about hyper diligence in providing for all its service needs, a business model that emphasizes partnering with the customer, and having the resources to keep up with an ever-increasing national footprint.

A Relationship Is Born, Nurtured

A pioneer and global player in the EDA industry, Mentor Graphics first blossomed in the high-tech hub of Oregon’s “Silicon Forest.” Founded in the early 1980s, the company eventually purchased a Westinghouse proximity access control solution through a local lock shop, which contracted with a father-son security company to install it at Mentor’s three-building office park in Beaverton, Ore.

Unable to meet Mentor’s service expectations and growing needs, the lock shop soon fell out of favor. Mentor sought advice from Westinghouse, asking if they knew of a security company with the expertise and wherewithal to maintain and expand the system.

“That’s when they put Mentor in touch with us and we came onboard,” says Mike Kobelin, vice president of sales and marketing at Selectron. “Mentor started off as a small installation by the lock company. We took it over and grew it dramatically.”

In the mid-1980s when Selectron signed on with Mentor, it had 15 employees and was astutely executing a plan to land clients with growth potential. Indeed Selectron was a ready partner, but could it have known the demands of providing for a company that was among the first shining stars of the high-tech explosion? “We knew they had lots of potential, but I didn’t know it would grow into an account that has so many offices across the country and internationally,” Kobelin says.

Looking back, during the 20-plus years Selectron has served as a vendor for Mentor, the reasons explaining the uniqueness of this flourishing client-customer partnership become quite evident. While Selectron remains a regional provider in the Northwest, it has been able to keep pace with Mentor Graphics’ vigorous growth across the United States largely thanks to membership in the PSA Security Network — the nation’s largest co-op of security systems integrators — and, more specifically, its National Accounts Program (see sidebar).

Stability within Selectron’s ranks has also been instrumental to sustaining personal business relationships at Mentor.

Don Engen, assigned as the very first technician to the Mentor account, continues to play an integral role in the relationship between the two companies. It was Brad Kenyon, who along with his father-business partner, pulled cable and installed the original proximity card readers at Mentor’s Beaverton office park. Kenyon came to Selectron more than 15 years ago after a six-year hiatus from the security installation business. Both men remain intimately involved with the Mentor account and played a key role in swapping out the old Westinghouse system this past year for a state-of-the-art networked solution by Lenel.

“What Selectron offers with somebody like me who has been around for 17 years is continuity,” Kenyon says. While personnel changes at Mentor Graphics are inevitable, Selectron’s understanding of the client’s particular needs and the inner-workings of its system remains constant. “Those kinds of customer relationships are not very common,” Kenyon says. “The continuity isn’t tied to an individual person; it’s more tied to the actual service we’re providing for the company.”

‘Path to Value’ Business Model

Beyond fulfilling Mentor’s national service needs with veteran staffers and its PSA affiliation, Selectron goes about sustaining its worth as a trusted vendor by committing to what Kobelin refers to as a “path to value.” In this business model cum philosophy, the customer, e.g. Mentor, has an equal part to play in nurturing the relationship as well.

“The ‘path to value’ is a two-way deal. If we do something to help the customer maximize their investment then we are looking to them to be our partner,” Kobelin says. “They bring us the opportunity to do business and they bring us their loyalty and trust. Then it’s our job to deliver on what we say we’re going to deliver.”

Nobody understands the loyalty each partner has committed to the relationship more than Engen, who is fondly recognized by several veteran employees at Mentor headquarters in his long-time role as a start-up and training engineer.

“When you have a good relationship with a customer, you don’t have to bid for everything or put a proposal together,” Engen says. “There is trust there that you aren’t going to jack up the price. That is truly a partner. It’s about keeping the customer happy.” Mentor has about 4,200 employees, staffing 28 engineering sites and 48 sales offices around the world. Its torrid growth has included a relocation of its worldwide headquarters from Beaverton to Wilsonville, the construction of a similar multifacility campus in San Jose, Calif., and numerous field offices scattered across the U.S. Selectron, solely, has played its access control part at each site. Even the overseas locations do not bring their access control system online without Selectron first programming and validating the installation.

For Selectron, its reputation as a VAR that can deliver what it promises has meant keeping its employees ahead of the technology curve. The extensive and constant training demanded of its technicians and engineers has been a differentiator for the company, which currently staffs about 40 employees.

“It is a horrendous challenge to keep our staffs trained, but that is one thing we have to do,” says Kobelin. “And then our salespeople have to be able to sell that benefit to our customers because it raises our price. Our price is a little higher than some of the other operators because they aren’t making that same commitment.”

Here again Selectron utilizes its PSA membership to its advantage, sending its technical staffs to the network’s training seminars, along with other educational avenues.

“It’s really an obligation we have as a VAR to be versed in new versions of the software, new products being deployed,” Kenyon says. “But we owe it to our customers as well so that we’re smart enough to be able to take advantage of those features. So when the client has a question we can speak intelligently to them about it and help steer them in the proper use of their system.”

About the Author

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Although Bosch’s name is quite familiar to those in the security industry, his previous experience has been in daily newspaper journalism. Prior to joining SECURITY SALES & INTEGRATION in 2006, he spent 15 years with the Los Angeles Times, where he performed a wide assortment of editorial responsibilities, including feature and metro department assignments as well as content producing for latimes.com. Bosch is a graduate of California State University, Fresno with a degree in Mass Communication & Journalism. In 2007, he successfully completed the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association’s National Training School coursework to become a Certified Level I Alarm Technician.

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