Who are we?

What’s in a name? After all, a rose by any other name is still a rose, right? Philosophically, that may be true, but in business, it’s a whole other ballgame. Selecting an appealing and accurate moniker is one of the most crucial marketing decisions a company or industry can make.

Which brings me to the point of this month’s column—the electronic security industry has an identity crisis. Let’s take a closer look.

Our industry is made up of a diverse group of individuals and companies that go by many different titles. We call ourselves electronic security consultants, low-voltage contractors, systems integrators, design/build contractors, and engineered fire systems distributors, among many other names.

You may have noticed that I did not include the title traditionally and most commonly used in our industry—alarm or security dealers. That’s because the word dealer has lost its panache. In fact, some say calling someone a security dealer indicates an individual at the low end of the spectrum. By definition, the word dealer—merchant, jobber, retailer or wholesaler—does not begin to fully explain our business.

Calling ourselves systems integrators seems to be the most popular choice right now. However, as you can evidently see, we lack a universal term that completely encompasses and effectively markets all that we do.

Many people ask me if Security Sales & Integration is primarily targeted to security dealers or systems integrators. The fact of the matter is that it depends on how that individual or company views themselves. There are no standard criteria.

If a small burglar alarm company installs a CCTV camera at a fast-food joint, then should it be considered a commercial systems integrator? Depends on if you ask the owner of the company. Many say that the true definition of a systems integrator is one who depends on profits from the installation rather than the subsequent monitoring of the system.

What about the company that started as a small burglar alarm dealer and now has grown into a large regional or national company that installs large multimillion-dollar projects? What about the small three-person company that is made up of professionally educated electronic or civil engineers that design sophisticated commercial access and CCTV systems? Does a systems integrator only install commercial? Isn’t there such a thing as a residential systems integrator?

Our industry is comprised of companies that specialize in the commercial, residential, governmental, educational and industrial markets. We design, consult, install, monitor and service all types of low-voltage systems. Considering that the work we do is so expansive, it admittedly makes it extremely challenging to create a comprehensive name. Still, it needs to be addressed.

The term system integrator is too generic; it could mean anything. Most state licensing boards consider us low-voltage contractors. However, that includes all telecommunication companies, audio/ video, computer networking, security, central vac, etc., which is still too broad. If we call ourselves electronic security contractors, then we’re too focused and pigeonholed into a certain niche.

If you consider most building trades, they call themselves contractors. The public is able to identify with this. Thus, whatever we call ourselves, I believe we should include the term contractor as well. After all, we are building subcontractors with a specialized craft.

As I said, we need to be very concerned about what the outside world thinks of us. This not only affects our sales, but also how likely young people who are contemplating their career paths will be attracted to our industry.

I would like to see our industry’s associations put their heads and efforts together to come up with a suitable name and an effective marketing campaign. Look at what the dairy organizations did for dairy farmers. Why can’t we do something like Got Milk?

Hey, I don’t have all the answers, but I do know we are at a disadvantage in this area. Please let me know your thoughts on this topic and what name you believe should be adopted and promoted by our industry.

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