This year’s Dealer of the Year is headquartered in the heart of the California redwoods — an area known for its natural beauty and, in the words of company President and CEO Chuck Petrusha, “a region where there are more trees and fish than people.”
Advanced Security Systems has operated a successful business in the area since 1971. This year marks the company’s 50th anniversary, and the 42nd year the Petrusha family has owned and run the business. Originally founded by Bob and Lois Bestor as a Dictograph franchise serving Humboldt County, Calif., the company was purchased in 1979 by Chuck’s mother and father, Rose and John, who took it more in the general physical security direction. Chuck and his brother Rick worked with their parents from the beginning to turn the company into a successful enterprise, and have followed the business philosophy first set out by their dad.
2021 Dealer of the Year: At a Glance
Advanced Security Systems:
Chuck and Rick Petrusha
$9.98 million (estimated)
2021 SDM Rank:
“Dad was great at whatever he did, but he was truly an amazing operations/systems person who lived under the philosophy of ‘friends doing business with friends,’” Chuck Petrusha recalls. “In addition, he taught us the value of doing it the right way the first time, not only in business but in everything you do. Mom and Dad also engaged in annual strategic planning sessions each year with goals and milestones and typically a celebration for the year we just had.”
These ideals formed the foundation for growth. But Chuck and Rick realized they needed to branch out to continue growing. Advanced Security has completed several acquisitions — the most recent in 2019 — but paused during the pandemic to focus on COVID’s unique challenges and on upgrading customers from 3G. Today the company operates three branches that serve the geographic region from the Golden Gate of California north along the coast into Southern Oregon, from the wine country to the coastal redwoods, for both residential and commercial customers.
Beyond the physical expansion, the Petrushas are equally proud of their company’s cultural growth. They utilize the Ritz-Carlton training program for all employees, and credit their company’s strong culture with retaining both customers and employees.
PHOTO BY MORGAN ROSE PHOTOGRAPHY FOR SDM2021 is the 50th anniversary of Advanced Security, originally founded as a Dictograph franchise in 1971.
“Through education we realized the importance of a culture in any business, and ultimately the makeup of our company and the way we put it together was strategic,” Chuck Petrusha says. “We are not trying to take over America. … We had to be a company for everyone. We have installed life safety our entire career, surveillance since technology allowed us to, and access control since the late 1980s. Serving a region of rural California, we needed to be everything for everyone. Building the structure necessary for that to happen was one step at a time and grew to what we have today.”
The years have not been without their challenges. Besides the many changes in security technology, California has been hit in recent years by a series of devastating wildfires, many of which have directly impacted Advanced Security staff and customers; rolling blackouts to combat these natural disasters; and a pandemic. Through it all, Petrusha and his team have relied on their company’s deeply rooted culture, community ties, and business philosophy to not only survive but thrive — and continue to grow.
Like many similar companies, Advanced Security took a financial hit from the 2020 pandemic and its ongoing impacts, incurring approximately $57,000 in additional costs to do business. That, along with unusual attrition from customers who permanently closed due to either the pandemic or the wildfires, slowed growth. But the company stayed positive, with a 1 percent gross revenue growth in 2020 and estimated 3 percent growth in 2021. In RMR, numbers slipped from 7 percent growth to 2 percent in 2020, but are on track to be back to 7 percent this year.
Advanced Security used the past two years to revamp several internal business processes, including migrating its in-house remote monitoring center to AvantGuard; implementing a new CRM tool, Salesforce; and adding a new marketing communications platform, Pardot. All these efforts have put the company on track to project double-digit 10 percent growth in 2022.
The first company mantra, “Our Family Serving Yours,” has undergone a few revisions over the years, but remains essentially the same in spirit, reflecting Advanced Security’s commitment to serve each person, customer, and employee with the dignity and respect it offers to all of its neighbors and community. Today, the mantra is, ‘People Serving People,’ something Chuck Petrusha says is, “more than a phrase to us; it IS who we are.”
Clear Vision Leads Company Culture
Many successful companies tout their culture as a major factor of their success, but not many of them have a “culture card” to back it up. At Advanced Security, the culture card is literal, and serious business. From reviewing it in the initial job interview, to pulling it out at every meeting, employees are expected to carry this card with them at all times as a reminder of who they are and what they stand for. The card features the company motto, “Delivering Peace of Mind,” and a statement of values on the back cover; on the inside are listed six service values and six steps of service.
From the beginning of the hiring process, Advanced Security focuses on recruiting employees who embody the motto of people serving people, something they got from the Ritz-Carlton training, Chuck Petrusha says. “We found after all these years in business that is a skill set you can’t always teach: how to be cordial and helpful and thankful. … It is easier to teach the technical aspects of our business than the service side. People who want to serve people has been our mantra for about eight years. That culture card is introduced at the first interview. They have read it back to us by the time they have been hired. Every time we meet with a new candidate, we go over that card. ‘A’ players will tolerate a ‘B’ player, but they won’t tolerate a ‘C’ player. We owe it to our staff to hire A players for the benefit of all our employees.”
Hiring for service, not skills, has helped Advanced Security stay fully staffed throughout the pandemic, and continue hiring today. “We couldn’t hire alarm technicians anywhere, so we hired roofers and fence builders,” Chuck Petrusha says. “It made it easier and still does. We have hired plenty since the pandemic began and the majority have been from outside the industry.”
When Naomi Withers, company controller, was hired in 2016, the culture card hadn’t yet been rolled out. But she recalls being most impressed about Chuck and Rick’s vision for the future of the company — something they have carried forward from their parents’ business philosophy and the one thing missing from her previous employment at a building materials and installation company, coincidentally owned by three brothers.
From one brother-owned company to this one, Withers is happy she made the change. “I was impressed because they actually had a vision for the future,” she says. “I have worked for a lot of small businesses and it didn’t feel like any of them had a real plan for their business. I always wanted to see a business grow, and Chuck was able to share his strategy right in the interview.”
Ian Schatz, operations manager, who joined the company in 2008, had a similar experience. “I wasn’t looking; I had been in low voltage consulting and integration for about 16 years,” he says. “The company I was working with, there was no clear future path there. We had a brief discussion, Chuck, Rick and I, and they laid out this strategic plan with a one-, three-, and five-year outlook on where they want to be and it impressed the heck out of me, so I gave it a try.”
In his time with Advanced Security, Schatz has seen the monitoring center grow in-house, and was instrumental in helping choose a third-party monitoring center when the company decided to outsource. He credits the owners’ clear vision with steering a course through all of it. “Like any ship’s captain you chart a course, but there are many ways to get there. It has been clear the direction we are headed but we needed flexibility in adapting.”
Setting the course has been the biggest difference Schatz sees in working at Advanced Security. “We don’t have infighting. We really work in the same direction, and having that strategic plan and clear purpose really helps. With other companies it was day-to-day and let’s make the next dollar. Here there is a larger goal and the only way to reach it is to take care of our customers each and every time. There is no question what we need to do day to day: It is all toward the purpose of growing the RMR and the business and making partners with our customers for life.”
For Withers, company culture comes from the top down. “Leadership is something we take seriously, and good leadership can go a long way toward hiring and retaining quality employees,” she says. “We work on our leadership skills and do our best to see that our key employees remain happy. Part of our retention strategy for great employees is the daily application of our desired company culture, which we do our best to incorporate into everything we do.”
Advanced Security Management Team
President & CEO
Vice President & General Manager
Life Safety Services Manager
General Manager - Santa Rosa
General Manager - Crescent City
This includes training starting on day one. New technicians complete their ESA level 1 in the first 90 days and are also offered enrollment in the California Fire/Life Safety apprenticeship program or the Oregon Limited Energy-A license soon after. The company pays 100 percent of health insurance and contributes 3 percent of an employee’s annual salary to retirement, regardless of employee contribution.
“The construction trades are traditionally behind other jobs in retirement savings, and we feel it is important to not only plan for today and tomorrow, but well into the future,” Withers says. “For as long as we can remember, we have offered a health plan option that is 100 percent free to the employee. Most employers in our area moved away from that when health insurance costs started increasing, but we felt it was important to offer that option to our employees.”
All staff participate in the Ritz-Carlton leadership program every two years, and the company also offers a mentor/mentee program for its technicians, Schatz explains.
“We expect all managers to be mentors to their direct reports,” Schatz says. “We try to foster the idea that everyone should always be learning something new every day. Otherwise people go stagnant and bored and don’t progress.”
All these factors have contributed to a phenomenon that Withers says she hasn’t seen at many other places. “From an HR perspective, you know there is turnover for every business; this is the first one I have worked for where a lot of those employees come back,” she says. “I think that speaks to the management and is unique to this company.”
IMAGE COURTESY OF ADVANCED SECURITY
The culture card is something every employee carries with them daily. It is pulled out at the first interview and frequently reviewed in meetings throughout the year";
*Click the image for greater detail
The Human Side of Security
On the front of the culture card, the credo states: “At Advanced Security Systems our people are the most important resource in our service commitment to our communities. It takes professionals to deliver peace of mind to our clients and we strive to offer and be only the best. Our pledge is to nurture a culture of honesty, respect, integrity, learning and service in all that we do.”
The culture card embodies the company’s philosophy on customer relations, customer service, and its role in the community. The idea behind the card came from the Ritz-Carlton leadership program, Schatz says. “The first time we went through, it became very clear to us that our employees had a lot of great things to say about what customer care looks like and what it means to us. That is where the six steps of service came from. … The grounding that the Ritz program provides is that we are here to serve people. It is about being a good human to the person whose problem you are trying to solve.”
Chuck was first introduced to the Ritz-Carlton leadership offering in 2007 when he was a board member for a local bank. “I knew instantly that the distinctions and processes offered would help transform our tech company into a customer-focused service organization,” he recalls.
It appears to have done exactly that. Advanced Security employees are involved in a variety of charitable organizations and sponsorships of local groups.
“Our offices are full of Rotary members, Kiwanians, kids’ youth sports coaches, homeless advocates, and others volunteering where we can make a difference,” Chuck Petrusha says. “We are members of 11 Chambers of Commerce to help in supporting local businesses. I currently serve as president of our local homeless foundation, finance committee at Sacred Heart Church, and school board member of a proposed charter school for a high school trade academy,” he adds.
“I really appreciate that the company gives so much back to our community,” Withers says. “It’s the little things, like when my car broke down the day before Thanksgiving and officers pulled over to see if I was OK. I told him where I worked. He said, ‘I think you guys sponsor my kid’s Little League.’”
This deeply embedded local commitment also led Chuck Petrusha to recognize a need for more representation for his community within the local alarm associations. So in 2008, he and a colleague founded the Redwood Alarm Association, where he served as president for three terms and currently serves as secretary.
The community approach extends to marketing as well. In addition to sponsoring sports teams, Advanced Security gets the word out with yard signs, stickers, community banners, and other advertising efforts that Marketing Coordinator TC Adams calls the “social side” of marketing. “This is how we primarily consider customer engagement with our brand,” she adds. “Advanced Security works for the community as a part of the community. This is why our marketing plan is focused more heavily on the social side of the business rather than the product side of the business. With this in mind, our customers tend to be most engaged with us and our social media when our content is people-based.”
Some examples of this are photos, write-ups on staff accomplishments, how they give back to their community, and when they are with their families. “Our communities are small and our staff are often our customers’ neighbors, which is why our social-based content does best,” Adams says.
Advanced Security also leveraged its 50th anniversary to promote that in 2021. “Fifty years is a long time,” Adams says. “The Petrusha family have owned Advanced Security for 42 years and Chuck Petrusha has worked here for the whole 42 years.
“What does that mean? That the company has plenty of memories to reminisce on. This historical approach has been our greatest tool in celebrating the monumental anniversary. We most enjoy highlighting the customers and staff that have supported us along the way.”
The company also makes a concerted effort to buy local whenever possible. “Purchasing locally is incredibly important to us as a community-focused company,” Adams explains. “Throughout the year we advertise through television, newspapers, and community events. We choose to work with local TV and radio stations who provide production, editing, and digital support. By outsourcing the production and editing and digital support, we are able to support their entire staff. Our printed materials are also locally sourced. From our yard signs and stickers to our business cards and statement stuffers, each of these items are printed from mom and pop shops within 200 miles of our Eureka headquarters.”
Even with this year’s supply chain shortages, the company continued to source locally, only temporarily challenged on apparel when some local screen printing companies shut down, forcing Advanced Security to order from big-box companies. As soon as these local companies were back up and running, Advanced Security was happy to return to their local printers, Adams says.
Technology Helps With Customer Care During the Pandemic & Beyond
Of course, Advanced Security is also a technology-focused company, serving a customer base that is 73 percent commercial and the rest residential. Part of the customer-focused approach involves listening to customers’ problems and needs and forging long-term relationships. The other part involves staying abreast of the latest technology trends to bring customers the best technology options available. The company has made some strategic choices that helped sustain them and their customers during the pandemic and setting them up for future goals.
“For the past two or three years we have been adding cloud-based video and access control offerings to our portfolio of options,” Schatz says. “More and more over time, our clients expect certain services to be available in the cloud on a subscription basis rather than an up-front purchase basis. Our sales for these types of services are growing incrementally and are part of our strategic plans for growth.”
In 2021, Advanced Security partnered with Open Eye Surveillance for cloud-based verification and video. The company also offers cloud-based video from Eagle Eye and cloud-based access control solutions from Sielox and DMP.
PHOTO BY MORGAN ROSE PHOTOGRAPHY FOR SDM
Ian Schatz demonstrates the “Zoom room,” fortuitously designed just before the pandemic hit.
Another big focus this year has been upgrading customers from 3G — a challenge in any sunset year, but especially difficult this time around due to the pandemic and supply chain issues. Beginning the daunting task just as the pandemic hit, the company started by designating technician time and purchasing resources specifically for the project.
“We worked with our service ticketing software provider to flag accounts needing upgrade so that any time we opened a work order, we would know the upgrade was needed,” Schatz explains. “Along the way, our relationships with our manufacturer and supplier partners allowed us to stay ahead of the inevitable supply chain issues that came along with so many dealers realizing the urgency of the transition to LTE communicators and those imposed on the supply chain by the larger global issues of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because we used the vendor tools available to us to identify our supply needs very early on, we were able to order and receive larger than normal supply orders so that every technician would always have every LTE radio offering in their service vehicles, ensuring that all upgrades were possible to complete during the first site visit.”
As a result, Advanced Security is approaching the end of the year with just 100 transmitters to go and is on track to finish the conversion on time.
Another fortuitous technology addition Advanced Security was lucky to have during the pandemic was an in-house “Zoom room,” constructed shortly before the pandemic began.
“We had a property next door that needed to be remodeled and Chuck wanted to do a conference room for our all-staff meetings once a month,” Schatz recalls. “At the time we were cramming into one room, and Chuck asked me, with my AV background, to design a room where we could do in-person and remote at the same time for both meetings and training purposes.” The original idea was to allow all three branches to meet in a hybrid environment that would be interactive. It would also help for sales rep meetings to save on travel costs and be useful for training.
“We were already utilizing this space to increase our ability to host remotely located training resources when the pandemic began,” Schatz says. “So we were in a great position to continue bringing trainers to our employees throughout the pandemic.” It also helped with frequent meetings to socially distance, with Chuck in the Zoom room and employees at their desks.
Another planned project Advanced Security first began pre-pandemic — as a result of the wildfires and ensuing rolling blackouts — was to move to a third-party monitoring center.
“The combination of risk factors in our service region, including fire events, PSPS power outage events, the real potential for major earthquake and/or tsunami events, the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in the end, newly implemented AHJ requirements for UL central station monitoring for commercial fire alarm systems helped us decide to move our most critical operational function into a multi-location, fully redundant central station with AvantGuard Monitoring,” Schatz says.
The company had been in the evaluation and operational preparation phase of that change for nearly a year when the pandemic hit, he explains. “The onset of the pandemic provided further affirmation that moving our monitoring services into a third-party UL central station was right choice for our company’s operations,” he says.
Ultimately, it will also open up technology possibilities for Advanced Security customers, including mPERS, video alarm verification, and eventually Watson AI, an integration option from IBM that AvantGuard is working on in hopes of further automating integration into their operations and further reducing response times and false alarms on a situational-context basis.
Going forward, the Advanced Security management team is anticipating the full implementation of a new back-end software and customer communication platform that was the result of an intensive search.
“We chose to look at customer relationship management (CRM) programs because we wanted to ensure that our security consultants had the latest and greatest tools to manage and complete the sales processes, making their job functions most efficient,” Chuck Petrusha says. “Choosing the right CRM to go with was no easy task and a decision not taken lightly. … Finally we came to the decision that Salesforce was the right match for us.”
PHOTO BY MORGAN ROSE PHOTOGRAPHY FOR SDM
Rick Petrusha (left), Tim Cherms, life safety services manager (center), and Blaine Bermers, security consultant/strategist meet to discuss a project.
In addition to the benefits Salesforce brings, the company also provides a marketing tool called Pardot, which Advanced Security is also using.
“With the implementation of Pardot, we plan to transition all communication to electronic means,” Adams says. “Pardot offers the ability to curate individualized experiences for our customers by location, industry and product type.”
All of these new solutions will be put to immediate use to help Advanced Security meet one of its future goals: getting under 10 percent attrition. With events out of their control shutting down or destroying customer businesses in recent years, the 2021 goal had to be pushed off a bit, but now is in reach, Schatz says. “We are averaging between 10 percent and 11 percent. A consistent reduction of just 1.5 percent will put us into a single-digit attrition rate, and we believe this to be attainable.”
The company also is committed to a new three-year strategy for growth, and with the 3G project behind them, the pandemic — hopefully — under control, and a new CRM platform, management is confident the company will grow at a faster rate than pre-pandemic. While most of the company’s recent growth has been organic, Chuck Petrusha doesn’t rule out future acquisitions. “We put our acquisition strategy on hold not only because of the pandemic but also because of the task of updating the 3G accounts to LTE. … That is off hold at this point and we are actively pursuing acquisitions that are in our footprint.”
While Chuck and Rick Petrusha have been in this business for a long time, they have no imminent plans to retire. “We are having a good time right now with new challenges every day,” Chuck Petrusha says. “I tell my staff at just about every meeting that we are in the right business at the right time. The opportunity seems to be growing, not only with what we currently offer, but what is coming at us, including cloud video and access. We are well positioned as a technology company to offer that.”
Withers, agrees, adding, “I’m looking forward to what the future brings for this company. It is fun to see the company grow and change. I feel like we have come a long way.”