Custom Alarm, based in Rochester, Minn., is on a winning streak. Observant readers may have noticed that a few of this month’s cover subjects look familiar, and that is because Custom Alarm also won our inaugural Project of the Year in August. But once it came time to review submissions for this year’s Dealer of the Year, the clear winner was Custom Alarm, once again.
Whenever I write these award articles — which are two of my favorite stories of the year — I am always fascinated to dig into what it is really like to be an employee or a customer of that company. In Custom Alarm’s case I would be lucky to be either one.
Many security dealers started off as family businesses, and Custom Alarm is no exception. CEO Melissa Brinkman’s father started the business in his basement in 1968 and is still a major shareholder. Brinkman credits many of his business philosophies and beliefs with the company culture that still exists today. But her employees also say she has gone above and beyond to take these ideas and make them “extra” in a very positive way.
Just a few of many examples I learned of in my interviews include how employees are treated to frequent food treats such as pizza, tacos and healthy fruit and encouraged to gather together and socialize informally; giving techs a surprise bonus when they came in significantly under the estimated hours instead of absorbing all the profit; and going out of the way to buy local goods and services from customers, even when it costs more to do so.
“[My dad] always treated his employees like family, while still expecting them to do their job,” Brinkman explains. “He was always very involved in the community through different boards and also giving back — what he called his ‘community taxes.’ He was really focused on supporting local businesses and customers, and I have continued to do that and take it to another level.”
So when we were discussing where to take the cover images, it was a natural for Custom Alarm to ask to have them taken at a local children’s museum, a customer and a favorite spot to host company outings for employees and their families.
Brinkman also says she views her employees as her “customers,” who she takes very good care of because when they are happy and fulfilled they in turn will treat their customers in the same way. This approach has really paid off in an era where many companies struggle to keep good employees. While it is still a challenge to get them, Custom Alarm finds it much less challenging than some others to keep their employees.
On the customer side, stressing local has brought in extra business in the form of referrals and a lot of good will.
“We focus on doing business with our customers, whether it is banking, food or clothing,” Brinkman says. “I feel like that is just good business. If someone is doing business with us, I try to do business with them.”
Judging from the double-digit growth Custom Alarm was able to realize during the height of the pandemic and through a supply chain crisis, it seems that going the extra mile is a good way to ensure your business stays strong, even in challenging times.