SSI Small to Midsize Installer of the Year: Custom Alarm Supplies Superior Service
Mixing traditional values, value-adds and valuable new offerings locked Custom Alarm in as SSI’s 2020 Small to Midsize Installer of the Year.
Many historic things took place in the late 1960s, among them, from an alarm company perspective, was 1968’s founding of Custom Communications.
Launched by Leigh Johnson from his basement in Rochester, Minn., the fledgling business would eventually establish itself as Custom Alarm and five decades on grow into today’s 65-member strong company. One of the keys to its success is right there in its name — Custom, signifying the delivery of tailored solutions and care to each customer.
“We listen to what our customers say and create a custom system to fit their needs,” says COO Bob Boland. “We are a community-focused company that believes in giving back to the communities in the surrounding area. With 52 years of experience, Custom Alarm is a full-service security company from sales to install and service. We have created custom solutions for homes and businesses of all sizes; helping us to grow and develop into the very knowledgeable and versatile company we are today.”
That outlook, execution and success led to the firm being named Security Sales & Integration’s Installer of the Year (Small to Midsize Company).
Custom Alarm tends to more than 5,400 customers, with around a 60%-40% commercial vs. residential mix, and in 2019 amassed $10.5 million in revenues with an 8% growth rate. Its success formula blends lucrative legacy offerings with forward-thinking opportunities.
“We experienced growth in 2019 by focusing on RMR and access control, cameras and more interactive services,” says CFO Liz Hauger. “We hadn’t had as much success in prior years in the growth on the RMR side as it relates to cameras and access control, but had put a concentrated focus in 2019 and beyond offering new managed and hosted services. We saw tremendous growth in our fire alarm side of the business as well, accounting for over 50% of our installation revenue.”
Just ahead, joining Boland and Hauger in sharing Custom Alarm’s award-winning approach are CEO Melissa Brinkman, Marketing & Communications Manager Anna Brandt, HR Manager Dawn Rainey and Commercial Project Manager Craig Muenkel.
It all emanates from Custom Alarm’s five core values, paraphrased as doing the right thing; having a positive attitude; behaving professionally; having a customer service-orientated focus; and being a lifetime learner.
Custom Alarm is Customer-Centric at Its Core
Melissa Brinkman: Our core values are shared and practiced throughout the company. These are who we are and how we take care of our customers, both externally and internally. We also use these characteristics to make sure our manufacturers adhere to the same level of commitment to the customer. We are committed to taking care of our customers and solving their problems.
Craig Muenkel: As an example, we had a new residential customer that had a concern for her safety due to an ex-boyfriend. She called us one evening and spoke with one of our customer service reps who could tell there was genuine concern in her voice. So he called one of our security consultants who immediately reached out to her and set up a time to meet the next morning.
We had a system installed with cameras before the end of the week. She had some issues with the cameras going off too often due to the streetlights, so we made a couple trips back to make some adjustments to ensure she was happy with the system. She appreciated the attentiveness and commitment to making sure she was fully satisfied with the whole system, cameras and intrusion, and was reassured knowing that her home was safely protected.
Brinkman: That is the type of dedication and commitment to the customer and the company we are; it is our culture. In general, we are committed to taking care of our customers even beyond the initial installation with a 100% customer satisfaction guarantee. Generally, we contact our customers within the first 24 hours of a service request to schedule the work and/or complete it within the first 24 hours.
Our team is trained in the specific area they work with a focus on cross-training to optimize our ability to respond to our customers’ needs in the most efficient and effective way possible. We also offer free phone tech support for 15 minutes. We have someone actively engaged in live chat on our website, along with many different forms people can use to fill out and get a response ASAP.
We measure ourselves using the Net Promoter Score system and respond back to the customer and focus on process improvement. We send out surveys after interaction such as installation, service and inspection. We go above and beyond the job scope at times and assist the customer with things that are not directly related to the work we are onsite to perform. Our customers know they can count on us any time of day or night.
Excelling Thanks to EOS
Brinkman: Four years ago, we launched EOS [Entrepreneurial Operating System] company-wide, which helped us formalize our processes, expectations and goals, and introduced a new level of accountability to the organization as well as to individual team members. It took some time for everyone to get onboard and fully adopt it, but we have seen increases in overall employee satisfaction and engagement.
We have seen increases in profitability and growth, and our interactions with customers continue to be more intentional and meaningful. We meet annually with all employees and review our business plan for the year ahead. We discuss where we met, exceeded and missed on our goals from the previous year.
We have separate department meetings where the various members of that team create goals for the coming quarter and focus on how they can improve in an area or remove an obstacle. It has allowed us to have more intentional conversations and for everyone to know our expectations of them and how they fit into the success and future growth of the company.
Putting the Word Out
Anna Brandt: We continually look for ways to promote different areas of our business. We offer monthly specials geared toward the different seasons and needs that arise from the seasonal changes. We offer promos for new movers, realtor packages, first responders, veterans and more. We also are targeting specific vertical markets and engaging with partners through lunch-n-learns to discuss ways to improve their safety and security. We use social media, website, email blasts and newsletters to get the word out on our offerings, what’s new and what can help them.
We also write blogs to give helpful information on different topics throughout the year. Another large part is our sponsorship of area events, allowing us to get our name out there along with showcase what we offer at these different events. It gives us an opportunity to interact with homeowners and businesses one on one.
Tracking is a huge part of measuring how our promotions are going. Although not always easy as there are many initiatives going on and different ways people can hear about us, we work hard at tracking specific promos, website leads and any marketing efforts. We monitor from initial lead to whether it results in a sales, quote or becomes a dead lead.
If a specific promo didn’t do well, we look at why and determine whether it was that item or how we approached it, and make changes. We meet monthly among myself as marketing & communications manager along with our CEO, COO and sales manager to review and discuss ideas.
An Engaging Environment
Dawn Rainey: Custom Alarm recruits new employees by posting open positions with recruitment resources, colleges, networking organizations, workforce agencies and social media outlets. We also post openings internally so employees can apply for new positions and potential growth opportunities, or help spread the word among their acquaintances.
Each potential new employee receives a copy of our core values in advance of the interview process, as several questions relate specifically to them and we give a great amount of consideration to how they answer those. It is extremely important to us to hire people who are not only qualified but align with our core values.
Once someone is part of our team, their training level is evaluated based on attaining the knowledge, confidence, certifications and licenses to perform their jobs and advance in their careers. From Day 1, new employees spend 30-90 days undergoing initial training to learn the basics of a position and be able to work independently.
Some positions then require attainment of specific certifications and licenses, especially for our installation and service technicians. Custom Alarm partners with our suppliers and security industry organizations to either bring training in-house or send technicians and salespeople offsite.
Field personnel job descriptions include prescribed advancement levels and increasing pay ranges associated with achieving and maintaining specified training, certifications and licenses. The company pays for employees’ continuing education and training. We feel it not only provides valuable benefits for them and the company, but also helps us retain competent employees.
Brinkman: We also have several programs and practices in place to help keep our employees engaged. We believe employees perform better, take better care of customers and overall enjoy work more if they enjoy the people they work with.
Our monthly incentive program, Core Values Call Out!, allows employees to call out an associate for going above and beyond in taking care of a customer or helping make that employee’s day a little better. Each month, a drawing is held to award a $25 gift card to one giver and one receiver. Our technicians also have a monthly contest based on truck inventory management, with a gift card that increases in value for maintaining a low margin of error for several consecutive months.
We also do a lot of company organized functions to promote working and having fun together. This includes company lunches, outings, volunteering, employee appreciation celebrations, potlucks and other team-building department events.
We have been named one of the Best Places to Work in SE Minnesota for three years straight. The criteria included turnover, rate of growth, promotion rates, employee evaluations and feedback, percentage of employee injured, diversity of management, benefits offered, training expenditures, paid days off, and pay increases.
Custom Alarm Ensures Local Presence
Brinkman: Custom Alarm contributes to the various communities we serve in a number of ways that span the course of the entire year. We are committed to giving back and immersing ourselves in the communities where we work and live. Last year, our 65 employees volunteered more than 300 hours through work-sponsored events and personal projects.
In February, we host a “Souper Bowl” challenge where employee-made soup or chili is voted on as being best and everyone donates nonperishables to our local food bank. In April, we participate as a company in a community-wide street cleanup project. It’s very rewarding to see the difference a group of people can make on our roads, parks and neighborhoods.
Each August, we are the main sponsor of National Night Out, a neighborhood community event in which we partner with local law enforcement. Last year there was a new summer-long initiative called “Safe City Nights,” where we sponsored six events throughout the neighborhoods in Rochester to promote law enforcement and community engagement.
Every Christmas we adopt a family. In recent years we expanded that to include the local charity Brighter Tomorrows that helps children facing cancer. Custom Alarm has “adopted” these kids and our employees give generously to buy gifts for them. We hosted a gift-wrapping party at our office and our Custom Alarm elves delivered 164 gifts.
Every fall two rotating employees volunteer to lead our annual United Way campaign. This is always filled with creative ways to raise money, such as a bake or craft sale, penny wars or guessing games. We have a big launch and wrap-up complete with pies in the face to managers and supervisors.
We participate in and donate to a number of other events and charities throughout the year, including the local Ronald McDonald House. Additionally, several employees volunteer on a variety of community boards ranging economic development to builders to the Children’s Museum to schools to the City Charter Commission.
We are also active with fire departments, police and sheriffs throughout the year. We also look to help and partner with other local businesses that are invested in the community. That mentality extends outwardly to the entire security community as well.
Custom Alarm’s contributions to the security industry dates back to our founder, Leigh Johnson, who was actively involved in the NBFAA [now ESA] as well as the local Minnesota chapter. More recently, we have helped ESA through the ESX event and support SIAC’s work. We are also active members of NFPA and AFAA, and participate as guest speakers with a number of our manufacturer partners.
As a 50-year-old company we have believed in and supported the security industry throughout our history. We encourage our staff to participate in various ways, and remain vested in the security industry today and tomorrow.
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