Battlefield PERS: Readers break down outlook for security

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

YARMOUTH, Maine—The market for personal emergency response systems is rapidly expanding, but can security companies looking for a share expect to compete with home health-care providers?

Thirty-five percent of respondents to SSN’s April News Poll said yes, giving the edge to security companies on PERS because they already have expertise in monitoring. But 42 percent said no, pointing to a tool that could give home-health companies significant leverage in the future: existing databases of potential PERS users.

Many of the readers who commented said that gaining market share would require looking beyond senior citizens, who have been the traditional PERS demographic.

“Cellphones have now siphoned off much of the original PERS business of 30 years ago when pendants had a short range of about 50 feet from the two-way voice controller and [the phones] were very expensive,” wrote Lee Jones, owner of Support Services Group of San Clemente, Calif. “Much of that outdated PERS technology is still offered today to reach a very narrow market of ‘infirmed’ that could be captured by professional health-care providers. We believe other markets for the short-range pendant could include younger stay-at-home families where accidents happen with children.”

Jones said long-range cell pendants offer “threat mitigation for anyone of any age, including schoolchildren … away from their safe haven. [There is] a big market for PERS when not focusing on the elderly.”

That thought was echoed by Blane Comeaux, vice president of Acadian Monitoring Services of Lafayette, La. He said that in addition to “traditional” PERS clientele, his company caters to “an extremely vibrant group of PERS customers [who] are younger, very active, technology-savvy and carry a mobile PERS with a GPS.”

Forty-five percent of respondents said their companies have added EMT-trained operators or other specialized training in a bid to gain PERS market share. Many readers said security companies also needed to show flexibility on pricing if they hoped to compete with their home-health rivals.

“Security companies have the edge in technology, but not leads,” a reader wrote. “Most security companies will not designate a sales force to this space, and that, unfortunately, is the reason that home health-care companies have the advantage for the time being.”

“The only advantages that a security company has are the protocols and trained people for emergency contact,” another reader said. “From a marketing standpoint, home health definitely has the edge. Companies need to foster relationships with clinicians in specialties that generate PERS requirements (geriatrics, heart, oncology, etc.). Rather than allow home health to drive the competition, security needs to give up a little margin in exchange for much higher volume.”

Security companies that already are doing business with hospitals will have an advantage in marketing PERS to that sector, another poll respondent said, but the direct-to-consumer market presents more of a challenge.

“First, security companies must learn to distinguish between PERS and conventional security systems,” the reader wrote. “They must reconcile with and learn the value of month-to-month contracts versus the three- or five-year contracts with which they are familiar, and they must embrace the concept of recyclable equipment.”