Greater Alarm continues quest for perfectly integrated systems
Greater Alarm continues quest for perfectly integrated systems

May 1, 2000 12:00 PM
Roxanna Guilford

The future of the security industry, according to Greater Alarm Co., depends on embracing the technology revolution and developing fully integrated applications.

Part of this vision may be fueled by Greater Alarm's proximity to Silicon Valley. After nearly 20 years in Southern California, the company expanded northward last year to Loomis, Calif., to continue fostering relationships with many of its clients who have moved to the Silicon Valley area near San Francisco. The company still has its headquarters in Irvine, Calif.

Despite its grounding in - and advocacy of - cutting-edge applications, Greater Alarm still focuses on the basics: fire-alarm, intrusion, CCTV and access control systems for the commercial market, as well as the high-end residential market.

Recent installations range from a small commercial installation for Jiffy Lube to a large commercial/industrial application for Toyota's North American Parts Logistics Division in Ontario, Calif.

Many of Greater Alarm's clients are looking for a basic commercial security system - door and window sensors, perimeter security, glass-break and interior motion detectors. But as crime rates increase, clients more frequently want to integrate access control and CCTV.

In this climate Greater Alarm is hoping to position itself as a consultant as well as a dealer.

Not just "alarm guys" Developing a reputation for the company beyond "alarm guys" is important to Doug Cuthbert, the company's vice president and head of the northern California region. He's dismayed at what he perceives as the security industry's low esteem in the eyes of the public.

"I see it every day," he says. No matter how skilled a technician is, alarm companies are referred to as the "alarm guys."

Cuthbert doesn't agree with the image, but he understands why it seems to stick. The industry, Cuthbert maintains, needs to work to enhance its public image. He is particularly adamant about embracing the IT revolution.

The industry has fallen behind the technology curve, he warns. Few products take advantage of state-of-the-art technology - something he attributes to how the industry is driven.

"Higher volumes lead manufacturers toward very low-cost components," he says. This means that too many manufacturers - and thus, dealers, focus on quantity, not on incorporating the best available technology. This may guarantee short-term success, but it can hurt those in business for the long haul.

Cuthbert finds the current approach frustrating for several reasons - not least of which is because Greater Alarm is focusing on fully integrated systems.

Part of his mission is to keep the company on the cutting edge of technological advancements, while encouraging vendors and potential vendors to do the same. "Greater Alarm is working with a few manufacturers to help them design products that will take the alarm industry to the next level."

The technology exists to allow various products from different manufacturers to communicate on the same platforms. "We would like to see products in the alarm industry work on a common communications platform," Cuthbert says. "We know the technology is available, and we are pushing manufacturers to do it."

Theoretically, networking different brands of control equipment should be as easy as connecting a HP printer to a Toshiba laptop. But the industry has yet to embrace such plug-and-play features, he says. Cuthbert complains that manufacturers continue to compete against each other, instead of working together to provide truly seamless system design. Dealers end up with individual proprietary platforms that do not communicate. Dealers then must use simple unsupervised relays connected by large amounts of wires and conduits, which drives up labor costs.

Dire predictions If the industry doesn't catch up to the IT revolution, security manufacturers and dealers could face a bleak future says Cuthbert.

Consider the following scenario: A successful high-tech company sets its sights on the security business, with catastrophic results. "The alarm industry, as we know it could be drastically damaged," he warns. "They could reconfigure the industry, essentially, wiping out the current security manufacturers as well as the dealer networks. We believe that by embracing the highest technology, Greater Alarm will be less susceptible to an industry takeover."

Labor woes Like most employers in today's market, Greater Alarm is having trouble finding enough skilled workers.

"It's difficult to find high-quality low-voltage technicians. This industry is not known for high technology," he says. "Technicians are enticed by the flashy dot-com computer companies and not as excited to work on alarm systems."

The company's location poses additional challenges in terms of finding workers. "How do you compete with Silicon Valley? With any sort of low-voltage experience, technicians opt to take the IT path," says Cuthbert.

Greater Alarm still manages to find high quality technicians, and shares its business plan and marketing strategy with new recruits.

"We have created an atmosphere where technicians look at Greater Alarm as being a career opportunity," says Cuthbert.

The company doesn't just look for "alarm guys." Greater Alarm hires electricians, phone system technicians, as well as traditional security system technicians. By bringing various specialties together, the company gets to take advantage of different perspectives.

"Electricians look at buildings differently than alarm technicians. Typically, an electrician has had to work on the entire building and not just a single unit. On the other hand, alarm technicians might lay out a project by unit, rather than by the entire building," says Cuthbert. By working together, Cuthbert says, "both become better technicians, project managers and supervisors.

Marketing strategies Hiring professional electricians has also given the company an edge in the northern California marketplace.

"Before we established this office, we looked at the market and at low-voltage providers in the area." Cuthbert says. "This niche would give us the biggest leap up."

It wasn't easy to create these partnerships. At first, the electrical contractors "were a bit standoffish," he acknowledges. But that began to change.

Because of Greater Alarm's strong electrical engineering element, its technicians speak the same language as the contractors. "We understand the terminology of the electrical contractor. We are actually low-voltage electrical contractors holding a valid C-10 license, which is a huge help. It gains us a lot of respect, instantly," says Cuthbert.

Greater Alarm approaches higher-quality electrical contractors to help them provide bids for low-voltage systems.

In short, Greater Alarm becomes a subcontractor rather than a competitor for the construction dollar. "We also assist them to include intrusion, access control and CCTV systems in their electrical bid. It becomes a true partnership, because we work to increase their business by including our expertise in designing other low-voltage systems that they may not have had the chance to bid. Once they get the job, we both win," says Cuthbert.

Such partnerships give Greater Alarm a competitive edge, allowing the company to enter the construction process far earlier than it would otherwise. "It's been fairly successful so far."

Looking at crime rates is another inexpensive and easy way for the company to target its marketing, allowing Greater Alarm to offer clients a package customized to their needs. "It may seem like an obvious marketing tool, but it's often overlooked," says Don Meadows, marketing director of Greater Alarm. "Reviewing crime statistics can yield a gold mine of information for marketing purposes."

Meadows also stresses the marketing side of customers service. The company cultivates long-term relationships with its clients. "We don't go in, sell a system and walk out," Meadows says. "Cookie-cutter systems are just poor marketing strategy. " The basic and typical types of systems are designed and installed individually for each customer.

Cuthbert agrees. "We'll design a system for their needs - not just to meet sales numbers," he says. "The alarm industry needs more of that. If you do that, the business will come back three-and four-fold."

The future: consolidation and fresh faces Personalized customer service is more important than ever, given current industry direction. Cuthbert points to industry consolidation and acquisition as one of the major ongoing trends.

It's a cyclical trend, however, and Cuthbert predicts that new companies will begin to step into the spaces left by these changes. New start-up manufacturing companies will be born in the wake of overwhelming acquisitions by large conglomerates, he says. "Dealers want diversity in product, yet we would like to see commonality among communication platforms. I believe that there will be many hardware companies popping up, while a couple of software companies will begin sparring off to becoming the winning operating-software provider."

Greater Alarm will continue its advocacy for such systems, but it's also focused on its growth. The company plans to continue to expand within the northern California region with a San Jose-area office in the near future.

Headquarters: 17992 Cowan

Irvine, CA 92614

Phone: (949) 474-0555

Fax: (949) 474-5511


Founded: 1981

Territory: California

Officers: George DeMarco, president

Jim DeMarco, executive vice president

Northern California Division: Doug Cuthbert, vice president

Curtis Hall, director of operations

Employees: 145

Markets served: California * Residential master planned communities (Irvine Apartment Communities)

* Small commercial installations (Jiffy Lube)

* Large commercial/industrial applications (Toyota North American Parts Logistics Division, Ontario, CA)

* Campus-wide systems (California State Univ. Long Beach)

* Private park-wide integrated systems (Fashion Island, Newport Beach)

* High-rise (25 story Harbor Place Tower, Long Beach).

Products used: Fire/Life Safety Control panels * Fire-Lite

* Radionics

* Silent Knight

* Gamewell

Peripherals * Fire-Lite

* Radionics

* Silent Knight

* System Sensor

* Wheelock

* Gentex

* Edwards


* Potter

Intrusion Control panels: * Radionics

Peripherals: * Radionics

* Aritech

* Optex

* Sentrol

* System Sensor

* Altronix

Access control panels * Lenel

* Radionics Readykey

* Linear

* Sentex

Peripherals: * HID


* Altronix

CCTV * Pelco

* Sony

* Panasonic

Telephone * Panasonic

Communications * Fiber Options

The business: Greater Alarm designs, installs, monitors and services electronic security systems, including: fire/life safety systems; intrusion alarms; access control; integrated systems; camera surveillance; fire-systems testing; fire-sprinkler monitoring; system design and engineering; central-station monitoring; audio/video; maintenance programs.

Professional Organizations: * California Alarm Association (George De Marco, Board Member)

* Orange County Alarm Association (George De Marco, Past President)

* International Association of Electrical Inspectors (IAEI)

* California Automatic Fire Alarm Association (CAFAA)

* Fire Prevention Officers Association (FPOA)

* National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)

* UL 864 (Fire Alarm Control Panel Listing) Advisory Committee

* Fire Suppression System Association (FSSA)

Awards: * Three-time INC 500 "Fastest Growing Companies" award winner

* Security Distributing and Marketing's "Dealer of the Year"

* "Top Gun" awarded by The Irvine Company for excellence in vendor achievement

* Vendor achievement award by Insignia/ESG

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