With new construction starts way down, alarm dealers will need to put a greater focus on sales to pre-existing homes and on upgrades to pre-existing alarm systems. The good news is that new developments abound that are attractive to tech-savvy consumers. Internet or PDA connectivity, VoIP options, new aesthetically focused designs and advanced sensor options are a few of the new developments that can help pave the way for upgrades or tip the scale on a tough sell.
SELLING THE SIZZLEThere are many value-added alarm system capabilities available that can help seal the deal. Automation is one of them.
“The most interesting thing going on now is automation within the panel,” comments Fred Leonardo, president of Electronix Systems Central Station Alarms, a Huntington Station, N.Y.-based alarm dealer.
Leonardo’s company uses Total Connect alarm systems from Honeywell that, Leonardo explains, can be used to control thermostats or lights as well as to provide traditional security functionality. “We interface our alarm controls with HAI for automation and control outlets and lights and thermostats.”
Authorized users also can remotely control the panel via the Internet or from a wireless personal digital assistant (PDA) such as a Blackberry. “It helps people manage the system and save energy costs at the same time,” comments Leonardo.
Internet or PDA connectivity also can help customers by automatically sending notification when system status changes from armed to disarmed or vice versa. That capability appeals to residential customers such as parents wanting to know that their children arrived home, or to business owners wanting to know when employees opened or closed a retail location.
In some cases, automatic email notification of openings and closings can help end users save monitoring costs, notes David Sharp, regional sales manager for Digital Monitoring Products (DMP), an alarm equipment manufacturer based in Springfield, Mo. “Some control panels have the ability to deliver SMS or text messages without the involvement of a third-party central station,” he explains.
Most alarm dealers agree that end users are becoming more sophisticated about technologyâ€”and Leonardo notes that sophisticated users are also attracted to alarm systems that enable each sensor to be on a separate reporting zone, particularly when the system is programmed to intelligently process that information.
As they become more tech-savvy, more and more end users also are opting for alarm systems that use alternative forms of communication, says Bobby Hensley, president and chief executive officer of Quantum Alarm, an alarm dealer based in Austin, Texas. Hensley notes that “over the last two years, 20 percent of our installations have used cellular for primary communications.”
Cellular communications may be a requirement for customers that have shut off traditional phone service in favor of voice over the Internet protocol (VoIP). Other customers may want to use their cell phone as their only telephoneâ€”and cellular-based alarm systems can help make that a viable option.
Tom Mechler, product marketing manager for alarm equipment manufacturer Bosch Security Systems of Fairport, N.Y., advises alarm dealers to maximize the benefits of alternative communications by proactively marketing those options.
“Customers are at risk when they have to make the decision about getting rid of their phone,” notes Mechler. “When they realize the only thing they need it for is the alarm, they ask, ‘Do I really need the alarm?’ It’s important for dealers to say, ‘We have equipment to work with wireless or IP.’”
SAVVY SHOPPERSAnother sophisticated capability of today’s alarm systems that can help alarm dealers retain accounts is attrition detection. That feature tracks system usage over time and sends an advisory to the central station if a system has not been used for a certain period of time. Alarm dealers can then call the customer to ask if the customer needs help with the system.
“The end user says, ‘Wow, how cool is that?’ and they’re less likely to cut out their service,” notes Sharp.
As dealers focus more on existing homes where it may be more difficult to install wiring, the use of wireless equipment also could help seal the deal. Alarm equipment manufacturer Honeywell recently conducted market research that offers some insight on the types of consumers that make the best prospects for alarm systems. “People who buy alarm systems tend to be individuals who are more anxious to protect their family and more likely to invest in home décor,” notes Jonathan Klinger, the Melville, N.Y.-based director of marketing for Honeywell Security and Communications. “They’re more likely to value wireless systems, which are both more discreet than wired systems and which can be installed with much less impact to the fabric of their home.”
Keypads also can help sell a system. People are drawn to an offering from Napco Security Systems that has a built-in motion detector and siren, says Judy Jones, vice president of marketing for the Amityville, N.Y.-based equipment manufacturer. “When you enter, a voice comes over the speaker to prompt you to enter a code to disarm the system,” explains Jones. “And if it goes into alarm, you’re prompted to enter a code to disarm.”
Other purchasers like to have an alternative to a keypad. “Key fobs are a really big selling feature,” comments Hensley. “People like the flexibility. They can walk in the house and you can arm or disarm the system. It’s especially good for kids because they’re not having to go to the keypad and enter a code.”
PERIPHERALS CAN ADD PIZZAZZAlarm dealers shouldn’t overlook the role that contacts and sensors can play in selling an alarm system. Although basic contact technology has remained constant for many years, manufacturers are continually coming up with new form factors to address end user needs. Customers who are concerned about aesthetics may appreciate miniaturized contacts such as the “Pill” from New Hyde Park, N.Y.-based manufacturer Tane Alarm Products, so called because of its tiny size and shape.
“Miniature contacts go into the frames of the windows now so you don’t even know they’re contacted,” comments Leonardo.”
Although not a new concept, vent switches that work when a door or window is open also can help tailor an installation to meet a customer’s needs. “Vent switches are a nice add-on for bedrooms or sliding glass doors,” notes Scott McMurray, director of sales and marketing for GRI, a Kimball, Neb.-based manufacturer of contacts.
Motion detectors have been a mainstay of alarm systems for years, and the technology has come a long way. Traditionally there was a tradeoff between high security and false alarm immunity, but today’s end users can have both, notes Mechler.
Motion detectors also gain added flexibility through a remote adjustment option, notes David Sharp, regional sales manager for DMP. “There are products being manufactured today to allow the dealer to adjust the motion detector pulse count and sensitivity from the office without the need to send a technician to the site,” comments Sharp.
As the economy gets tougher, some companies are seeing an increase in a type of crime that previously was relatively uncommonâ€”vandalism of outdoor-located heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) units to obtain valuable copper contained inside. To help protect against this type of theft, at least one manufacturerâ€”GRIâ€”has released a new type of sensor. As McMurray explains, tilt sensors protect the cover and a resistor wire looped around the coils protects the copper, generating an alarm signal if the cover is moved or the wires are cut.
Specialty sensors, such as water and temperature sensors, have been around for many years but are gaining in popularity because they can now be coupled with alarm systems that can send alerts to a customer’s cell phone or PDA. Dealers who offer this capability can sell more installations and increase retention, notes Ralph Maniscalco, director of marketing communications for Honeywell.