12 Integrators Who Realized Their Entrepreneurial Dreams

For decades, scores of bold, enterprising individuals have poured their hearts and souls into building the electronic security industry into the vibrant business it is today. These very special people embody the entrepreneurial spirit. As shining examples of the American Dream, they are to be admired and studied.

This month, Security Sales & Integration profiles a dozen of the industry’s leading entrepreneurs – from security dealer and systems integration companies – to share their stories, successes and secrets. Their comments are filled with inspiration and rife with insight about what it takes to get ahead and, more importantly, how to stay there.

The business leaders and their companies that follow were selected for their outstanding reputations within and outside the industry. In addition, they were chosen to provide a broad sampling of experiential, geographic, size, background and specialization diversity.

Regardless of their differences, you will find these mavericks have many commonalities. They are all possess the chracteristics of tenacity, strong leadership ability and shrewdness, as well as the philosophies of stressing customer service; respecting and empowering employees; and viewing challenges as opportunities. SSI salutes its 2004 Entrepreneurs of the Year!


Peter Barry
Company Name: Barry Security Systems Inc.
Main Location: Tewksbury, Mass.

What does being an entrepreneur mean to you?
When I decided to strike out on my own, I was 40 years old with a new baby, a new house, no customers, no employees – and no money! Today, we have 30 employees, all of them as hardworking and driven to succeed as I was 16 years ago. I started with next to nothing and built a successful company that has a reputation for quality. That’s what being an entrepreneur means to me.

Would you say the installation business is entrepreneur-friendly?
No, it isn’t and never has been. There’s a lot of risk, and sometimes there’s not much money – especially at the low end of the market. In the more horizontal slices of the market, like residential, you see a lot of small players with meager organizations and thin support networks, and they’re all fighting over a pretty small pie. Years ago, we expanded away from residential and into our high-end markets because of that pressure. Since 9/11, people think it must be a fabulously wealthy industry, with business ripe for the plucking. It isn’t.


Shawn Benson
Company Name: Benson Security Systems Inc.
Main Location: Gilbert, Ariz.

What does being an entrepreneur mean to you?
It is someone willing to take chances; unstoppable at making their dreams come true. Also, an entrepreneur is someone who sees obstacles as opportunities and won’t take no for an answer.

What are the keys to your success?
In the beginning, it was a lot of hard work and not only believing in the industry itself, but also in our customers. I learned early on that you have to be a service company first, and then everything else follows naturally. Great service is critical to keeping loyal clients. Other keys to our company’s success are taking care of employees by giving them an environment they can prosper in, and valuing individual contributions.


Robert Bitton
Company Name: Supreme Security Systems Inc.
Main Location: Union, N.J.

What does being an entrepreneur mean to you?
I define it as ‘The buck stops here.’ The success or failure of the business is solely my responsibility. I chose to take the risks that resulted in our growth or lack thereof. Conversely, there is no one I have to report to. I am the master of my fate and I prefer it this way.

How did you get started in the industry?
I received an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering in 1960 and immediately entered my father’s burglar alarm company. My father, Sydney Bitton, started the business in 1929. I took over upon his death in 1964. At that time, we had four employees and two trucks. Today, we have 90 employees, 42 trucks and our own UL central station.

What guiding principles have helped your operation prosper?
I truly believe our success has been due to the quality of service, and our ability to keep on the leading edge of technology. We have a bank of customers who realize quality and bottom-of-the-barrel prices are incompatible.


Mike Fleenor
Company Name: Fleenor Security Systems
Main Location: Knoxville, Tenn.

What does being an entrepreneur mean to you?
An entrepreneur is someone who has an idea, couples it with a dream, develops a passion and doesn’t have enough sense to listen to those around him or her who explain why it will not work. Add a lot of faith and prayer, and you’ve got my story!

What have been the keys to making your business flourish?
I think fair treatment of our employees and their families, honest representation of our products and professional delivery of services, along with a genuine love for the business. From these core values come the drive to learn, improve, grow, design and exceed customers’ expectation.

How did your business find its footing?
Our major growth during the past eight years has been in commercial. I really enjoy the technical challenge of integrated systems and there seemed to be a void in this area as many of the ‘big guns’ were shifting their marketing and support to mass-market sales.


Ken Gill
Company Name: CPI Security Systems Inc.
Main Location: Charlotte, N.C.

To what do you owe your company’s winning track record?
Our dedicated staff. Our entire staff is the most caring group of people I have ever had the privilege to work with. Because everyone cares so much, it reflects in our business.

What is your secret to populating your business with such a high caliber of individuals? We offer a goal-based compensation plan, very attractive health and dental and extended education opportunities. We keep our staff motivated through company-planned functions, such as our Black Tie Holiday Gala. We are the official security company of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and have season tickets that are available to employees, as well as tickets to NBA games and concerts in our area.

How have you established your market position through the years? What is your niche?
In the mid-1990s, our systems were sold for an average of $3,000 each. As mass marketing arrived on the scene, we secured financing to remain competitive. We do not have a niche market. Rather, we simply provide service to credit-worthy, single-family homeowners and also have very strong regional builder and developer relationships.


Michael Karch


Company Name: Floyd Total Security; Hannon Security Services; Security Response Services; and Nob Hill Decorative Hardware

What does being an entrepreneur mean to you?

It means someone who thinks out of the box, tries to track trends and realizes he or she must surround themselves with people who

have different skill sets than they do. An entrepreneur is also willing to tak
e risks and put his or her name on the line while working toward a goal, a dream and a profitable market share.

To what do you attribute your success?

The key is to understand you are in the service business, and to be fortunate enough to hire, develop and retain the right people.

What has your company kept up with changing times?

Our market has changed dramatically. In our case, we started as locksmiths. In the 1990s, we were in the mass-marketing home alarm business. Then, in the late 1990s, even though we were in the CCTV and access business, we knew we had to improve and become true integrators. We revamped the existing sales departments, brought in a sales manager, dropped our mass-marketing program and brought in new expertise to focus on commercial systems. Three years later, it is paying off. It is a long process and you need to have the fortitude to stick it out.

How do you minimize costs and maximize profits?

So far this year, we have reduced our G&A six percent, increased sales and have earned better pricing with our suppliers. One of the areas that is really working well is partnering with our suppliers. We are good at service; they are good at warehousing. I do not want to be in the warehousing business. It is too expensive from both an inventory standpoint and staffing to manage it. We have changed the way we do business so our product supply is better than ever with a lot less product on our site.


Leigh Johnson


Company Name: Custom Alarm/CCi

What does being an entrepreneur mean to you?

Recognizing opportunity and seizing it, then working like heck to get the dream fulfilled.

To what do you attribute your success?

I never considered failure. When I told my parents back in 1968 I was leaving 3M and starting my own business, my mother said if I failed

I could come home with my wife and live in the basement! Failure was not an option.

What is your niche and how did you establish it?

Our niche is that we do the best in what we do. Our company is based in a community with extremely high standards for delivery of service. If we weren’t the best, we just would not survive in this area. We specialize in custom designing a product/solution that works for our customer. We don’t sell a box of parts or standard systems across the board.

How have you managed to acquire, cultivate and retain quality employees?

We are in the second year of the ‘Fish Philosophy,’ which is based on the activities of Pikes Fish Market in Seattle. That involves four principles: Have fun at work; be there; make people’s day; and choose your attitude! We have eight people who have been with us more than 20 years and the average length of time is 8 1⁄2 years. Our people are really involved in the whole process and organization. They really feel like a part of the company.

How difficult is it to launch a security firm today?

It would be easier today. There is a tremendous amount of help available, both technologically and on the Internet. The manufacturers are readily available for training and distributors are there to meet your needs. Great opportunities still exist today if one wants to work hard.


Bob Meeks


Company Name: Video Master, Inc.

What does being an entrepreneur mean to you?

My definition of an entrepreneur is someone who is motivated by the feeling of ownership and who needs control over his or her means of living. There is no security in working for someone else, but you must have great faith in yourself and your abilities and be able to endure risk.

What elements have allowed your company to thrive?

Our success can be attributed to our stubborn persistence not to fail. Positive thinking and blind luck got us through many difficult times. Salesmanship and the ability to motivate and manage people are essential traits. The key to making our business flourish is our people: dedicated family partners and good, loyal employees.

What challenges are you currently wrestling with?

One of the biggest challenges is the high cost of skilled labor. A second large challenge is the ever-changing technology. We must keep our salespeople, engineers and installers informed on the best, new equipment while avoiding being manufacturers’ guinea pig for equipment that really is not ready to go to market.

What would you most be concerned about if you started from scratch today?

If I were starting out again, I would focus on the thing I do best so that I become known for that specialty rather than trying to be everything to everybody. I would concentrate on tight supervision for field technicians’ use of time and finding people with computer networking expertise.


William Monroe


Company Name: Dallas Security Systems/DSS Fire

How did you get started in this business?

I worked as an alarm installer while I was in college in my hometown of Shreveport, La. After I graduated, I moved and joined the Dallas Police. I was a crime scene investigator and was often asked by burglary victims how to secure premises better. My future partner was Dale Meadows, another Dallas cop. We then began installing alarm systems in our spare time. Business became so good that we did security full-time.

How has your business changed through the years?

We started off as strictly a residential company. The homeowners we dealt with were corporate executives who wanted us to do work in their businesses. Now, we are about 95-percent commercial and 5-percent residential. Some of the companies that specialized in commercial when we first started are now into the residential market. We don’t do the mass-marketed system. We have always believed in doing custom work.

How entrepreneur-friendly is it to be an installer of electronic security systems today?

It is not as friendly today as it was in 1978. The building codes have become much tougher to deal with and the competition in our business is much quicker to cut their prices – and quality – to make a sale.

How can independents thwart competing national or regional operators?

By offering better service than they do. Fortunately, this is not difficult to do!

Do you have any tips for reducing cost and maximizing profits?

Pay attention to your work on a job-byjob basis. See if any bad trends develop. When they do, fix them quickly. Stay on top of your collections! This is very important.


Jeffrey Prough


Company Names: Guardian Alarm; Guardian Guard Services; Guardian Armored Services; and Guardian Medical Monitoring

What does being an entrepreneur mean to you?

At the end of the day, the definition of an entrepreneur is someone willing to take risks – big risks – reinvent themselves over and over again and, lastly, be a slave to performance. Our company was founded by one of the industry’s true pioneers, Milton Pierce, in 1930. He, along with his two sons Douglas and Richard, are all very active in the company. I am the benefactor of strong ownership as since I have arrived we have more than doubled in size.

How do you continue to locate and hold on to quality employees?< /strong>

We have numerous and aggressive training programs that we maintain internally. We have recently been voted one of the 10 best places to work, and we maintain and evaluate all employees on a standard I published when I arrived at Guardian known as the Guardian Minimum. It is as follows: 1. Provide outstanding customer service, ensuring 100-percent customer satisfaction 2. Be an ambassador for your company 3. Perform first for the customer, then the team, and yourself (in that order) 4. Be a professional at all times and 5. Put forth a minimum of 100-percent effort each day to produce the results expected from our customers and the team.

How would you describe the installation business environment in electronic security today?

The concern today is the shrinking margins on the installation side of the business. Customers are utilizing aggressive RFP tactics to drive pricing down when, at the same time, service demands, especially in the ‘high-end’ applications, increase. Additionally, with so few innovative manufacturers to choose products from, more companies hit the street today selling the same things, which makes product advantages virtually nonexistent.


Barry Simmons


Company Name: Security Solutions, Inc.

What does being an entrepreneur mean to you?

Being someone who recognizes a business opportunity and is willing to take a financial risk. My wife and I were expecting our first child when I started Security Solutions, so failure did not seem like an option. We have already exceeded my original goal for the company.

Can you identify the main contributing factors of your success?

The keys to the initial success of Security Solutions was its ability to identify a fundamental change in the way security systems were going to be marketed in the United States and to get in on the ground floor. Its continued success has come from its ability to attract and retain quality individuals, as well as its ability to set up an organization capable of providing security services across the broad spectrum.

What is the climate today in terms of security business start-ups?

I believe it would be extremely difficult to launch a systems integration business today unless you were doing it as a result of an acquisition. The resources and knowledge necessary to compete in today’s market is only available if you have been in the business awhile. The residential market, however, remains open to individuals who are better at marketing than the traditional alarm company, which has struggled to maintain a foothold in a rapidly changing market.

What do you see in store for the industry down the line?

I think the industry will respond to the false alarm problem with alternative monitoring solutions, including cost-effective video monitoring becoming the norm in a few years.


Bud Wulforst


Company Name: A-1 Security

What does being an entrepreneur mean to you?

The devil is in the details – buying and receiving product; motivating and organizing personnel; vehicle maintenance; collections; managing attrition; there are an infinite number of details that need attention.

How do you define success?

I guess success in this, and every business, boils down to customer satisfaction. I think we strive to market and deliver a product that is custom designed for each of our clients. Naturally, this focus excludes us from the low-cost volume market. That is not to say we are trading exclusively in the upscale market, most of our customers are middle market. We just don’t compete at the free or very low installation price level. Another key is being smart when it comes to acquisitions by buying companies right. That means not paying too much, and assimilating customers and employees like they are family.

How have you kept your business growing?

A-1 has grown primarily through acquisition. Our focus has been on the commercial installation and monitoring market. In the past year-and-a-half, we have moved into the new home, tract and custom markets. This, too, has occurred through acquisition.

What advice would you give those just starting out in this business?

I believe successfully running an organization in today’s market requires accountability. The U.S Army uses the terms command and control. Command is the ability of the leader or the individual to make a decision. Control is having a process that limits decisions and facilitates outcomes. The challenge is to keep these concepts in balance and empower people to make good choices.


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About the Author


Scott Goldfine is Editor-in-Chief and Associate Publisher of Security Sales & Integration. Well-versed in the technical and business aspects of electronic security (video surveillance, access control, systems integration, intrusion detection, fire/life safety), Goldfine is nationally recognized as an industry expert and speaker. Goldfine is involved in several security events and organizations, including the Electronic Security Association (ESA), Security Industry Association (SIA), Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC), False Alarm Reduction Association (FARA), ASIS Int'l and more. Goldfine also serves on several boards, including the SIA Marketing Committee, CSAA Marketing and Communications Committee, PSA Cybersecurity Advisory Council and Robolliance. He is a certified alarm technician, former cable-TV tech, audio company entrepreneur, and lifelong electronics and computers enthusiast. Goldfine joined Security Sales & Integration in 1998.

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