Firing up residential security companies

Getting into commercial fire can carry lucrative benefits for security companies but they should know the liabilities too
 - 
Friday, December 20, 2013

CENTEREACH, N.Y.—Today’s security alarm dealers face tough competition from new players like telecoms and cablecos and DIY products sold by big box retailers. So it makes sense for dealers to expand into the lucrative fire alarm market—as long as they gain an understanding of the requirements and liabilities of that code-driven business.

That was the key message in a recent webinar presented by Briscoe Protective Systems, an engineered systems fire and security company based here that started as a residential alarm company back in the late 1970s.

“Traditional alarm companies should seek specialization, especially in fire, in order to insulate themselves from their competition,” Briscoe President Bob Williams said during the webinar, sponsored by the law firm of Kirschenbaum & Kirschenbaum. That Garden City, N.Y.-based firm specializes in security alarm law.

The Dec. 4 webinar focused not only on factors residential security alarm companies should consider before entering the world of commercial fire alarms, but also on hurdles they must overcome, such as gaining state and local licenses, the requirements of which can vary, depending on locale.

Williams outlined several reasons to get into the fire market.

He cited the “recurring revenue opportunities that are available in the fire alarm business.”

Williams said that’s because there are mandated inspections of fire alarm systems. “Usually, in security alarm systems, that’s not the case,” he said.

Also, he said, there’s “the central office communication income revenue stream.” Williams said that while security customers can more easily switch central stations, fire customers usually find that harder to do because such a move can involve a re-inspection of their fire system.

“A lot of times your customer will be playing two-strike baseball at least before they change a central station communication, so you have a lot more credibility with a customer and also you have service opportunities,” Williams said.

Also, he said, “The fire alarm industry is virtually recession proof. There’s a lot of perpetuity. I always say nobody takes a fire alarm system out of their building, even in a challenging economy.”

But he cautioned that it takes knowledge to navigate the fire alarm market.

“What the security alarm dealer must understand, however, is when you get into the fire alarm business, it takes a team approach. Either your team can be in house, like we have … or you can use outside consultants,” Williams said.
 
Briscoe functions as such a parts-and-smarts consultant for installers, he said. “We’re partners in protection with a lot of security alarm dealers,” he said.

He said that going into fire alarm, “your sales psychology and your state of mind have to change.”

While a dealer can design a residential alarm system based on a customer’s demands, Williams said, “that really doesn’t happen in a fire alarm scenario because a lot of the requirements are code mandated and you need a lot of other participants to make that system work,” such as a design engineer.

Also, Williams said, companies’ responsibilities increase when they get into the fire market. “You must make sure you do your homework before you start. Liability does definitely increase,” he said.

The webinar included discussion of such basics as AHJs (authorities having jurisdiction), the NFPA 72 National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, NICET training, state and local license requirements and liability insurance.

Williams said people sometimes ask him, “Why are you telling people how to get into the business you’re in?”

He said he explains: “It’s really a paying it forward king of thing. We do have a lot of security alarm companies that look to us for guidance. They may arrange for the central station monitoring and we would do the inspection, or they would do the inspection and we would do the service, depending on their qualifications and level of expertise. We’re all for keeping the security alarm installer involved, because it’s really their customer and we’re really their partners in protection.”