First Alert icon hands over reigns

Saturday, February 1, 2003

SYOSSET, N.Y. - The early developer and driving force behind Honeywell’s First Alert Professional dealer program has officially handed over leadership of the group, one of the most significant changes in the company’s top management in the program’s decade-long history.

Ivan Scharer, former president of First Alert, officially announced late last year that he was retiring from the program and handing over the reigns to Kevin O’Connor, vice president of national accounts for Ademco. Although O’Connor, now president of First Alert, had already been operating in an executive role at the program since June, Scharer made his official announcement at the group’s annual convention in November in Orlando, Fla.

Known for its single station smoke detection units, flashlights, batteries and other safety products, First Alert formed the program more than 10 years ago to capitalize on its strong consumer brand and tie in professionally installed burglar and fire alarm systems.

“They had a terrific brand name and a marvelous product line that Ademco was producing but they needed marketing and sales on the consumer side,” Scharer said.

A former chief executive officer of Dictograph Security Systems, Scharer met in 1990 with officials at the Pittway Group, which was later purchased by Honeywell in late 1999, to consult for the program. That role grew and, in June 1992, he sold his New Jersey installation company to became president of the program.

Officials at First Alert said the changing of the guard at the dealer program, which encompasses 285 dealers and 450 locations in the U.S. and 26 dealers and 45 locations in Canada, will have little operational effect on the program and that the company’s philosophy of creating brand loyalty through a solid product and a strong relationship with its dealers remains at the core of its operations. The program also has 85 dealers in Latin America.

“The success of First Alert was partially because we were dealing with a quality dealer who wanted to stay in business and utilize our programs,” Scharer said. “The most successful ingredient in building any kind of dealer network is creating relationships and going far beyond what the product is or whatever your services are.”

Those relationships, O’Connor said, is what he will continue to work to foster and maintain, in areas such as assisting dealers in transitioning their businesses from a mass-marketing model into more high-end residential, for example.

“For the future, we are not trying to reinvent the wheel,” O’Connor said. “We’ve made it successful and as the market changes, we are working with the dealers.”

Recent developments have included the Forward All Prospects program, a mechanism designed to funnel leads from other companies in the program if a particular dealer is unable to service a customer because the customer has moved outside of a service area or other circumstance. Another new feature is the Dealer Development group, a council of First Alert dealers that collaborate on best practices and other guidelines for the program.

“It’s not so much the product as it still allows you to be your own alarm company, but then again you have the support of the manufacturer too,” said Mike Matson, vice president of Matson Alarm in Fresno, Calif.

Matson has been a member of the dealer program for about 10 years and said the program’s sales materials and training, along with access to co-op marketing dollars has been an invaluable tool.

“I see a lot of good things coming up in the future,” Matson said.