I had a chance today to talk to Mike Barnes about last week's Barnes Buchanan Conference. Below are some highlights of our conversation.
Interested in more insight on RMR and related growth? Check out the April issue of SSN for the 3rd annual Special Report of the SSN/Barnes Associates Wholesale Monitoring study. The study will also be available online on www.securitysystemsnews.com, and featured in a future Thursday morning newswire
The SSN/Barnes Associates Wholesale Monitoring study tracks the number of accounts monitored by the wholesale monitoring segment. As Barnes says, "There has always been great clarity on the performance of the top players, which on a combined basis have an approximate 51 percent market share." The challenge has always been to determine what is happening with the many thousands of smaller alarm companies that comprise the other half of the industry—this survey sheds light on that question. This year the response rate was even greater, thanks in part to the CSAA Contract Monitoring Council, which is a new co-sponsor of the survey.
Martha: What's the Barnes outlook for 2013?
Mike: We are bullish on 2013. Even with the economy still sputtering and some remaining challenges in the commercial segment, I think 2013 is likely to be better than most people are predicting.
Martha: What highlights can you share about the categories you generally hit on: growth, structure, operating metrics, market values?
Mike: The big surprise for 2012 was how much the industry grew RMR and related revenues. Our research indicates that these revenues grew by an astounding 8 percent. Quite a bit higher than expected. Overall industry revenues were flat, due to the decline in installation revenues. That is, installation revenues were down and RMR was up. This dynamic appears to be a combination of price shifting, where lower average-installation fees are exchanged for higher ongoing service charges, and continued shrinking revenues in the large commercial systems segment.
Martha: What was the most surprising metric this year?
Mike: By far the growth in industry RMR was the surprise metric. Additionally, it appears that this growth had a nice balance, with about half coming from higher average RMR per system, and the other half from a net increase in the number of systems.
Martha: Your bubble charts are always an interesting part of your Industry and Market Overview presentation. I heard there are now green bubbles on the bubble chart? What can you tell me about that? What new information do the new greeen bubbles bring to light?
Mike: Our bubble charts are a great way to graphically view acquisition activity. Each bubble denotes a transaction on a time-and-valuation multiple basis, with the size of the bubble indicating the amount of RMR involved. Basically you see three variables in a simple graphic. HIstorically, we have also added a fourth variable by shading the bubbles one of two colors to indicate the type of buyer, either an existing industry player or a new player buying a platform company. This illustrates how active each type of buyer is, and highlights the fact that new players entering the industry typically pay higher relative prices due to a combination of their selecting the better performers and paying a premium for their highly selective requirements.
This year we introduced a third color (green) which reflected transactions where only accounts were sold. Take the recent sale of a block of accounts by Pinnacle to Monitronics: As one would expect, the pattern becomes clear that accounts and their associated RMR have a finite value and trade within a relatively tight range, which is, of course, supported by the activity in the dealer program market. It also highlights that fact that when the market trades security alarm companies above this range, it is typically because of the account-origination capability. That is, the ability of the company to originate new customer accounts and related RMR at a cost and volume that is accretive to value.
It is often overlooked that when a company trades for a high multiple, say 45 times RMR, this is usually not an indication that the RMR sold was worth that amount. Rather, it is probably the case that the existing account base was valued at something in the 30s as a multiple of RMR, and the difference is predominantly reflecting the value of the account generation engine. This helps bring better clarity to the valuations realized by Vivint and other higher growth companies, and ultimately help buyers and sellers have a more productive conversation when referencing market transactions in their negotiations.
Martha: Other than the "must attend" Barnes' Industry and Market Overview, were there any notable educational sessions or talks?
Mike: We were extremely proud of this year’s conference, both because we had both the right attendees and great content. Our company presentations provided great insight into several players that are using new and innovative business models. Protect America is a great example. They are using a “direct to consumer” model that allows them to close the sale over the phone or internet, and to ship pre-programed and configured systems which are then installed by the consumer. It was amazing to hear how successful and large the company has become. Our C-Suite Roundtable was also notable with 4 of the top executives of major companies, including ADT, discussing trends and issues associated with the industry. These segments, combined with ones focusing exclusively on the capital markets and the largest deals that occurred in 2012…and, of course our industry overview…really gave our attendees a great conference.