As equipment prices have decreased and technology has improved, more and more customers are considering outdoor security. Integrators who are active in this market sector say they can make some reasonable margins, provided that the job is quoted and installed correctly. There also are opportunities to generate recurring monthly revenue (RMR) from this kind of work.
For some integrators, sales of outdoor and perimeter security systems are nearly always from existing customers. Others also get some outdoor business from referrals or through manufacturers who have been contacted by the customer. But whoever the customer is, integrators agree the customers tend to have one thing in common: They recently experienced a problem with theft, vandalism or other crime.
“It would be a really tough sell to walk into a place and say ‘you need protection for the parking lot,’” comments Steve Sopkin, president of Mijac Alarm, a security dealer based in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. “It’s after the fact that people get started with it.”
Are Systems Bought Rather Than Sold?
What all of this adds up to is that the sales process for outdoor systems is largely about determining the best solution for the customer based on the customer’s individual needs — and convincing the customer that it’s the right solution and the right company to handle the installation.
Todd Brodrick, regional director of sales for Clovis, Calif.-based manufacturer Pelco by Schneider Electric, advises integrators to talk to potential customers about “deterring, detecting and documenting.” Mounting video cameras where they can be seen easily can help deter potential intruders, but intruders who disregard that warning can be detected by the cameras, which also can record and save images of the intruder.
If the area to be protected is relatively small, Fraser, Mich.-based dealer Audio Sentry generally recommends a combination of outdoor sensors and video, notes Mike Romano, a partner with the company. If a sensor trips, an alert can be sent to the home or business owner so that he or she can use a smartphone or browser to check in on the camera. If the area is so large that outdoor sensors would be impractical, the company uses photocell instead.
The company also stores video — and the best storage method depends on the climate. In the Midwest, where winters can be harsh, the company prefers to send video to a remote data center cloud, but in warmer climates it might be possible to use a camera with an on-board SD card for storage, Romano explains.
In determining the best solution for a customer, “the big things are topology and what kind of communications they have on site,” comments Al Lewis, vice president of Okeechobee, Fla.-based dealer, Gator Security.
Gator does a lot of systems for gated communities and prefers to use thermal imaging video cameras where possible because unlike traditional video cameras they can detect human intruders even when the intruder is behind a bush or other obstacle, Lewis observes. Walking the perimeter of the area to be protected is critical — and if securing the perimeter would require an inordinate amount of cameras, the company sometimes recommends photoelectric beams, which have considerably longer range.
Gated communities have security guards and as Lewis explains, “We’re being used as a force multiplier.” By using thermal imaging cameras to alert guards of potential breaches, the community may require fewer guards than it would without the cameras.
What type of equipment the customer needs also depends on the type of communications available. Some customers already have installed fiber, simplifying the task of networking the security equipment. In other cases Gator recommends that the customer use data connectivity from the local cable company, which often has network infrastructure in the community.
Lewis says Gator Security finds itself in a competitive bid situation for about 50 percent of outdoor installations and that the company is able to win business, in part, because he acts as project manager. If, for example, electricity needs to be brought to specific locations to support the installation, Gator will handle the task of working with the electricians — an option that decision-makers often welcome.
Mijac has many commercial customers that sometimes inquire about outdoor protection. Sopkin rattles off a range of questions that the company asks customers who make those inquiries.
“Lighting is a big issue,” Sopkin says. “We look at the neighbors and the neighborhood, which way the sun comes up, how many people are coming and going, if people come and go at odd hours and if we can contain them to one entry point.”
Considerations such as these impact system design in various ways. If, for example, a customer wants to secure an area in which trucks drive in and out, Mijac asks if the same trucks go in and out routinely — in which case transmitters might be installed in the trucks to gain entry through an electronic gate. If, instead, the company deals mostly with trucks that come and go only a single time, then the company more likely would assign temporary codes to each driver.
Mijac makes the sale by “putting customers at ease by the level of the design we put together,” Sopkin says. The company even goes as far as to develop spreadsheets that customers can use to keep track of security codes. Actions such as that differentiate the company and come from “a level of sophistication and professionalism,” Sopkin comments.
Dealers also can add value by helping the customer define a security plan, observes John Romanowich, CEO of Princeton, N.J.-based manufacturer SightLogix. “For instance, if an intruder is detected, should an audio announcement be broadcast to alert and possibly deter the intruder, or does the level of protection require the police to be immediately notified?”
Schaumburg, Ill.-based integrator, Convergint Technologies, puts formal proposals together for outdoor systems — and according to Convergint Regional Business Development Manager, Jack Sigler, a good executive summary can help seal the deal. In preparing proposals, integrators should recognize that customers may be most interested in the total cost of ownership rather than the initial upfront cost, he advises.
Residential on the Rise
Dealers who do a lot of residential work say they’ve seen rising interest in outdoor security on the part of those customers. Recognizing this, some salespeople take the time to ask about outdoor protection when they make a sales call for an indoor system. “It bears mention on the initial site survey,” Romano says. “We’ve done more residential work in the last two years than in the previous five.”
A large part of making outdoor sales is about letting end users know the options available to them, comments Jason Quam, vice president of Elk Point, S.D.-based manufacturer Dakota Alert. He advises dealers to ask everyone about whether they would like a camera outside or if they would like to know if someone is coming up the driveway.
Customers also might be interested in installing a garage door tilt sensor or using wireless outdoor contacts on gates or sheds, but might not know these options exist unless the dealer mentions them, observes Kevin Piel, senior product marketing manager for Melville, N.Y.-based Honeywell Security.
Don’t Forget RMR
Outdoor system sales can be an excellent source of recurring monthly revenue. Many customers will welcome the option of being able to check in on cameras from their smartphone and will be willing to pay a monthly fee for that capability.
Some dealers, including Mijac, also sell monthly service contracts that include regular maintenance calls from technicians who perform tasks such as wiping off photoelectric beams.
Selling outdoor security is largely a matter of making customers aware of the options and tailoring the right solution to fit their individual needs. And although sorting out the best solution can be somewhat challenging, there may be a big payoff for getting it right — and not just in the form of upfront fees and RMR.
George Natale, general manager of Huntington Station, N.Y.-based dealer Electronix Systems Central Station Alarms, sums it up. “When you solve a problem for a customer, they want you for their home and for their brother,” he observes. “You’re like their armed soldier at night.” n
End User Concerns
Electronix Systems Central Station Alarms likes to offer video verification for outdoor security. As George Natale explains, one of the reasons for that choice is that it addresses a concern often expressed by customers with other types of outdoor protection.
In the past, Natale says, an outdoor system would generate an alert and the owner would go to the site, only to find nothing out of the ordinary. “Unless you catch someone red handed, which is never, they’ll think the system is falsing,” Natale observes.
Electronix uses a combination video camera/motion sensor that sends an alert and several snapshots to the central station when motion is detected. “If it’s a dog we ignore it,” Natale says. “If it’s a man we have evidence that someone was there. We can send the police and they can roll up on them.” In either case, the company has evidence of what caused the alarm, thereby easing customer concerns about how well the system works.
While customers may be unaware of some outdoor security options, dealers and integrators agree that the word is out about systems that can be viewed through the owner’s smartphone.
“Customers want interoperability — the ability to go to a cellphone and see what’s going on,” comments Jack Sigler at Convergint Technologies.
Another concern that customers may raise is how many days of video a system stores, observes Tom Larson, director of sales and engineering for manufacturer BCDVideo of Northbrook, Ill. Concerned about defending themselves against liability suits, corporate customers are asking for longer and longer video retention periods, Larson says.
Fortunately, higher-capacity SD storage cards and cloud-based storage solutions are now available to address those needs.
When devising the right outdoor security system for a customer, a little creativity can go a long way.
Mijac Alarm came up with a great solution for a customer that had problems with graffiti on a wall. As Mijac’s Steve Sopkin explains, the company installed photoelectric beams that activated a sprinkler system when tripped. The customer’s problem was solved because, as Sopkin puts it, taggers “don’t want to spray on a wet wall.”