Husband-Wife Contractor Team Thrive on Customer Demand Where Others Fail
HENDERSON, Nev. — The husband-and-wife team Don and Vanessa Blunt, who own and operate Southern Nevada Fire Protection (SNFP), have a knack for seizing entrepreneurial opportunity when it knocks.
After customers of the security and fire/life-safety contractor regularly voiced complaints about the service they were receiving from a third-party monitoring provider, the Blunts decided it was high time to open their own central station.
Enter 1 Time Alarms and Security Inc. Following two years of construction, the facility launched in July 2011 and today monitors about 5,000 accounts across the western United States, 1 Time President Vanessa Blunt tells SSI.
“We decided to invest in this amazing venture after hearing a lot of complaints from disgruntled customers,” she says. “It was a sensational undertaking to get this started, which is why there are not that many central stations being born from the ground up.”
Blunt, along with her husband Don, who serves as CEO of SNFP, traveled to Canada to choose the type of equipment and software to deploy at the new central station. In the end, the Blunts chose the Surgard System III AES-Intellinet receivers and Bold Technologies’ Manitou Alarm Automation software for the monitoring center.
Because 1 Time also monitors fire alarms, the Blunts took additional steps to pursue a UL-Listing, which can be an demanding process.
“The criteria for the inspection are tough,” Vanessa Blunt explains. “Everything had to be redundant, and everything had to be backed up. We had to have a backup generator, UPS backup power and redundant receivers. Everything is pretty much in lockdown mode. The operators are in an enclosed, very secure area that is only opened through access control.”
The Blunts would eventually hire Mary Jo Vance, a 10-year industry veteran who earned CSAA Alarm Manager of the Year in 2007, to serve as central station manager. Under Vance’s leadership, each the facility’s 10-member staff have completed CSAA’s Central Station Operator’s Level I training and will soon begin Level II training. Eventually, 1 Time hopes to receive Five Diamond certification.
As it turns out, taking a leap of faith to launch a new central station based on customer demand wasn’t exactly unfamiliar territory for the Blunts. When SNFP began in 1996, the firm only provided fire alarms. However, after hearing clients express unhappiness with their electronic security contractors, SNFP earned a low voltage license to install security systems as well. The company currently is a dealer for FCI-Gamewell and Digiop.
With offices in Henderson, Nev., Reno, Nev., and Sacramento, today the company operates five divisions, including fire alarms, fire extinguishers, fire sprinklers, security and monitoring, with service and maintenance on all divisions 24/7. Its clientele comprise a 50/50 split of commercial and residential customers. Given that Nevada especially has suffered prolonged economic turmoil following a housing market crash, how does SNFP continue to thrive?
As Vanessa Blunt explains, the company relies heavily on superior customer service, referrals and its Web site to help spread the word. Also, instead of focusing on new construction, SNFP decided to extend its fire protection services to its clients, which helped the company land lucrative service contracts throughout the southwest.
“We install sprinklers, extinguishers and hydrants, and all the equipment needs requires service,” she says. “While other competitors did not want to be bothered by the small contracts of those services, we did. We already had a good base of customers, and we’ve been able to expand on that.”
So what’s next for the Blunts on the entrepreneurial horizon? Alarm monitoring in Belize, located on the northeastern coast of Central America, to be exact.
“We have a vacation home there, and the word in town is that we have an alarm company in the States,” Vanessa Blunt says. “There have been several burglaries in the area, and the current systems they have in place in Belize are not very effective. If there is a break-in, the system just notifies the alarm user through their cell phone — that’s it. There is very little response down there, much of it being volunteers.”
It has not been an easy road to get the central station off the ground, however. First, the company had to get a certificate of incorporation, which took about a year to process. Because there is little to no alarm response time in Belize, 1 Time decided it would be beneficial to offer armed guard services along with the central station. However, the Belizean government must approve arming the officers with weapons, Don Blunt tells SSI.
“We had to set up meetings with government officials, and a lot of them got cancelled,” he says. “It’s been very frustrating working with them, but we have to work at their pace. We actually have a Belizean partner who lives in Belize City and has an alarm company he’s been operating for 20 years. We’re very close to getting the guard services approved and the central station opened. We hope to open it within the next couple of months. It’s been quite an experience, but we truly love this business and enjoy contributing to the community anywhere we can.”
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