In 2011, the First Alert Professional premier dealer network will celebrate 22 years since it first began its quest to create exceptional partnerships to help dealers manage their businesses. Even after nearly 22 years, the ideology behind the program stands fast: to create a network that facilitates the exchange of successful business practices and comprehensive product support. SDM eNews looks back at the inception of the program, the origin of its successes and the legacy it continues to build.

Kenneth Weinstein, senior vice president of program marketing, Honeywell Security & Communications, Melville, N.Y., who has been a part of First Alert Professional since the program’s beginnings in 1989, recalls that at a time when the concept of “branding” was all but nonexistent in the security industry, a mall intercept survey was conducted on company recognition. Among other questions, respondents were given several company names and asked which companies they recognized and which they would expect to make security systems. The overwhelming majority selected First Alert as the most recognizable security systems provider — an ironic response given that First Alert had yet to produce a single security system at the time. “We figured there was something to it,” Weinstein says, and the dealer program concept introduced by Andreas Kramvis, a long-time Honeywell leader, became First Alert Professional.

With a powerful branding strategy and a core mission to provide technical and business support to member companies, the First Alert Professional dealer network has seen tremendous growth. From its first gathering in 1991, which was held in Chicago, Ill. and hosted just a handful of dealers, to the most recent 2010 convention in Boca Raton, Fla. that was attended by nearly 800 individuals, the program has grown to include 350 dealer partners.

Among that “handful” of dealers at the first meeting, the very first to officially come on board as a First Alert Professional dealer was John Bourque, chief executive officer of HB Alarm in Warwick, R.I., relates Joe Sausa, president of First Alert Professional premier dealer network. “[Bourque] is still in the program today and was honored at last year’s convention,” Sausa continues. “There are many, many other dealers who have been with us for a dozen years or more.

“Each year we strive to deliver relevant information that dealers can apply to their businesses the day they get home,” Sausa comments. “Much of this information is communicated during our educational seminars. Many of these seminars are led by these very dealers who share best practices from their businesses.”

Dealers who have been with program for twenty, ten and five years all agree that the tools they receive as First Alert dealers, especially the ability to network and exchange ideas and experiences with other dealers, are a significant aid to their businesses. David Foster, sales and marketing manager for Holmes Security Systems, Fayetteville, N.C., who attended the 2010 First Alert Professional convention and gave a presentation during a marketing session, comments that being able to attend sessions and share information — as well as receive feedback — is a large part of the program’s success.

In turn, much of the success of First Alert Professional dealers, Sausa says, “is attributable to our strong marketing support and our training programs that are developed by our DDG (Dealer Development Group) who train our dealers on all facets of the business.” This focus on a marketing support department training development group has grown with the program. One of the most quoted concerns for dealers attending the 2010 convention was marketing strategies, including website redesigns and advertisement delivery formats. During the marketing and DDG update session — one of the best attended — dealers and program leaders discussed proprietary research and resulting applications as well as results.

“Joe Sausa always says, ‘I want you to leave here with two ideas you can implement,’ and that is what we try to do when we go to First Alert,” Foster says. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel, we just have to borrow somebody else’s wheels.” Foster shares that his company most recently was able to adapt and successfully implement a takeover plan they learned from a non-competitive company at a First Alert Professional convention.

Weinstein points out that it was key while developing the program to create tools and support that were dealer-oriented and approached challenges from a dealer perspective. “You have to take your Honeywell hat off and put dealer hat on,” Weinstein says. “Does this make sense as a dealer? As a customer?” In the case of First Alert Professional’s annual sales contests, for example, it was important to make the competition fair and meaningful by devising different categories and criteria.

“We are always watching our for the dealer side of the business,” Weinstein continues. “There are two things that drive loyalty: providing exceptional business tools and camaraderie to share business practices. The No. 1 reason to attend a First Alert convention is best practice sharing.”

Sausa says that another thing the First Alert Professional program is always watching for are promising dealers to partner with. “We look for aggressive, marketing-oriented industry leaders who are always willing take it to the next level to differentiate themselves. We are always looking for dealers who are focused on growth and who want to take their business to the next level.”

As the program continues to expand, Sausa adds, “There are exclusive territories that are clearly defined and allow for further expansion and growth.” This is another feature of the program that is highly valued by dealers, Weinstein notes. “From a dealer's perspective, having a protected territory in writing is a big advantage.”

Over the past 22 years, the First Alert Professional dealer program has marked the security industry by bringing together and cultivating a large number of successful companies and individuals. Sausa explains that through a shared understanding of the indispensability of innovation between program directors and dealers, this group has made a significant impact on the security business.

“We’ve shown the industry that there really is a place for leading-edge marketing, especially when it’s combined with exceptional product offerings,” Sausa says. “Our dealers are willing to embrace new ideas and the benefits of the First Alert Professional program to drive their businesses to new heights, and these ideas and the dealers’ success with them is clearly being felt across the industry every day.”