Execs of Fast-Rising Integrator Preventia Share Secrets to Success
Preventia Security went from zero to $7.5 million worth of annual revenues in less than 10 years and made the Inc. 5000 fastest growing privately held companies list.
Not more than a stone’s throw from the world-famous Grand Ole Opry you’ll find another exceedingly hospitable enterprise that has become renowned for putting smiles on patrons’ faces.
Founded nearly a century apart, the Nashville country music landmark and Middle Tennessee security systems provider Preventia practice the timeless tenet of bending over backwards to delight customers. As a consequence, both organizations have engendered faithful followers who sing their praises.
We believe in earning your business every day. In an industry flooded with misleading sales contracts and inferior monitoring services, Preventia operates under a different approach: Treat each customer as if they’re family and take exceptional care of our customers, then let word-of-mouth do the rest! reads Preventia’s About Us webpage.
The execution of this mentality has helped the business zip from zero to $7.5 million worth of annual revenues in less than 10 years and make the Inc. 5000 fastest growing privately held companies list.
Having no market experience coming in, Preventia Founder/Owner and Tennessee native Aaron Whitaker applied the academic knowledge of a business degree and the sales and service know-how from working in pest control to the security industry.
“The alarm industry ended up being a good fit to the things that I had learned about home services, about recurring revenue, having a technician, having a vehicle, having a person go into people’s homes and businesses,” he says. “There were a lot of complementary things about it.”
Early on in the journey, General Manager Brad Slaughter came into the fold as the technical yin to Whitaker’s entrepreneurial yang. Just ahead the pair explains how the company and its staff is continuing to fine tune and hit the right notes amid a rising crescendo of smart home and Cloud-based commercial opportunities.
Looking at the nearly 10 years of Preventia’s existence, can you pinpoint turning points that steered you on the right path?
AARON WHITAKER: It’s hard to narrow that down as there’s been a series of significant events that in some way has changed our trajectory. Each time, quite honestly, it has changed our trajectory upward; they’ve all been positive. I had a business partner when I first started, for almost two years. We were operating together through the start-up and then the first acquisition.
There’s lots of challenges having a business partner, and it culminated in us having a business divorce. That put the full responsibility on my shoulders with a small team of a couple employees, and I had to make the decisions. With that singular focus and responsibility, we started to move forward quickly and make tremendous progress. Our trajectory climbed upwards from that point.
Another incident that stands out was around 2014 when I was trying to figure out how to be a better leader, how to grow, how to take our business to a different level. Having heard about a very expensive, yearlong leadership course from high-level CEOs on podcasts, I enrolled in it. I spent more money than I had, but invested in myself, and that changed everything. We soon started to double in business, double in size, customers, revenue and employees. I learned some important lessons that I was able to come back and apply.
It also taught me that if I’m going to invest in myself, we better also invest in our team members. Brad [Slaughter], for example, was our first person to make a significant investment of his time, using our financial resources, to also go through a yearlong leadership course that allowed him to grow from field to management to truly being a leader in the company. Brad would come to me and say, “Hey, I want to grow. I want to do more.” Those are things that stand out to me.
BRAD SLAUGHTER: I’m passionate about helping people, and being a technician in this industry gives me that opportunity. I started to see the business grow and I wanted to grow with it. So I approached Aaron when we were four employees total. He then gave me the opportunity to go through the yearlong leadership program, which was a tremendous benefit. From there, I have just continued to grow with it, continued to keep learning and step up, and passed that on to now leaders I’m managing below us.
WHITAKER: We began as what I consider a startup. Fall 2010, we had zero dollars in revenue. We’ll finish 2019 somewhere around $7.5 million. We’ll be over 50 people by the end of the year. We’re really good at organic growth. We’ve also had a few opportunities where perhaps an owner with 50, 60, 70 or 80 customers was retiring, and we were able to purchase those customers and continue servicing them.
But most has been organic growth by providing great service for our customers, and onboarding really sharp intelligent team members. We’ve found amazing people with the right attitude. In fact, a large part of our company is people who have no industry experience but they had the right attitudes and were a good cultural fit for us. We’re able to teach them the skills they need. That has been very successful for us. We’ve successfully integrated culture and people, and really have our groove in place.
How did you come up with the name of the business?
WHITAKER: That’s the best thing I got from having that business partner; he came up with the name and logo. Ever since the beginning, we’ve received compliments on our brand from customers and the community. It’s been very beneficial to us for them to always think we were bigger than we were. Whether it was our website or the way we answered our phones or the graphics on our vehicles, we always just acted bigger, more professional and more successful than we actually were. People appreciated that and how we treated them.
I remember having like three vans and people would say, “Man, your vans are everywhere!” There were only three of them but they really stood out and looked good. We continue to remain committed to providing a very professional experience for customers. If someone from Preventia is going to come into your home or business, you’re going to trust us to install the equipment and provide that service. We want you to be unbelievably comfortable with the individuals coming into your home. It’s a big, big focus for us.
What’s your current breakdown of residential versus commercial customers? What are the top commercial markets right now?
WHITAKER: We’re roughly 60% residential when you look at recurring monitoring services. The past two years we decided intentionally to build up the commercial side and find some of the best offerings out there for Cloud services. We embrace some Cloud access control and video surveillance offerings; it’s actually growing at a much faster pace on the commercial side now for the recurring revenue. And for installation revenue, it has probably flipped to where 60% to 70% of that is now coming from our commercial side.
We’ve got a couple of commercial markets that we do really well in, and like to pursue. We got in with art schools and have had tremendous success working with local schools. We service from installation to monitoring and service, maybe six to eight counties here in Middle Tennessee.
We also are working in the multifamily market, so the apartment complexes and then we have also gone into the hotel market. All three of those together have really helped our commercial department. A fourth that may be a little more unique to Nashville is the healthcare market. I think this is the healthcare capital of the world as far as companies that are involved in it.
Do you get many commercial leads from residential customers that either work for or run a business, vice versa?
SLAUGHTER: Yes, for sure. That’s a big piece of pushing to be the most accommodating provider and having a solution for every situation. Through residential we’ve been able to add commercial, and through commercial we’ve been able to reach out and grow our residential business. In the beginning, we were maybe 90% residential. But we’ve experienced such quick growth the past couple of years to completely flip revenue the other way.
WHITAKER: It bears mentioning that we follow a process for scaling up based on Rockefeller Habits, called setting a Big Hairy Audacious Goal, or BHAG. You think 10 years from now, what is that big hairy audacious goal that we could accomplish as a team if we keep moving forward? We looked at our name and logo with it’s big red shield and discussed how our core purpose is to help people sleep at night and get the most out of their day.
When we do that, we’re shielding them. So we said, “Our BHAG is to shield one million people.” When we install a new system and provide protection for a home where four people live, we count that as four people shielded. With all the excellent team members and the success we have had, we actually need to change our BHAG because one million is too low when you think about hotels, apartments, schools, all the homes, the businesses. We’re moving at a very fast pace, and our team members take a lot of pride in that.
What percentage of your residential accounts include professional monitoring?
WHITAKER: The vast majority, probably 99%. We’re over 10,000 customers, monitored active customers that we take care of through our monitoring partner, AvantGuard. Our goal is to provide that ongoing service for them as it’s the lifeblood of our company, that recurring revenue. That’s what allows me to be very confident of a new team member coming on board and saying, “Hey, you work hard, you learn the skills, you fit into the culture, you’re going to have a great career opportunity here. We’re going to continue to grow and offer the stability you’re looking for.”
NEXT PAGE: The execs give their take on the smart home and DIY
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