They say a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. So perhaps it was fortuitous that the founding partners of Stone Security — all members of the Edmunds family in Salt Lake City — had no background in security integration when they formed the company in 2006. Steve Edmunds, a retired Air Force captain and Delta Airlines pilot, started the business with his sons and son-in-law after a brief foray into residential security, which they quickly discovered wasn’t for them.
“In Utah, the door-to-door security world is very prominent,” says Joey Edmunds, co-founder and vice president. He had some experience in that world, while his brother Brent worked for the U.S. Secret Service from 2002-2006. Their brother-in-law Aaron Simpson — who had originally planned to go to veterinary school but worked summers doing residential security sales — and two other extended family members, Adam Heiner (Aaron’s brother) and Timm Tippetts (a cousin) rounded out the team who started out under the guidance and advice of Steve, who has since taken a backseat role and formed other businesses.
“My father-in-law was visiting my wife and I and we decided we wanted to start our own company in the residential security market,” Simpson, now president and chief technology officer, recalls, noting that the original company predated Stone Security. “That got us into something that was security related. None of us had any experience doing security. A few years later we decided it wasn’t the market we wanted to be in. We weren’t fans of that sales model and it became apparent that commercial was the better business model for us.”
Brent Edmunds, CEO, adds, “When we started in the commercial security industry we didn’t really have experience in that field. We had law enforcement backgrounds and some IT experience. We had a little bit of industry knowledge from Joey and Aaron and that was the extent of it. We started everything from scratch. We didn’t have a business plan for ‘this is how your run a security integration company.’ We started figuring that out together from the beginning.”
A big part of that figuring-it-out process was centered on a core set of values passed down from Steve, along with a business philosophy he instilled from the beginning — the concept of partnerships. More than most security companies, Stone Security relies on very selective partnerships, and only sells and supports one manufacturing partner for each of its core offerings — access control, video cameras and video management. This disciplined approach was born of necessity, but has paid off big time.
With this as the guiding star, Stone Security set on a path that would see them go from a three-person startup to a three-branch global integration company with almost 100 employees. Much of that growth has occurred just in the past seven years, during which time the company has risen on the SDM Top Systems Integrator’s list from No. 89 in 2014 to No 23. on the 2020 report.
Stone Security had its best year ever in 2019, growing 51 percent in annual revenue over the previous year and hiring more new employees in a single year than they had on staff in 2017. With this level of growth, the company also started maturing in its approach to business, moving into new offices designed to “weaponize” their space into an effective sales tool; implementing new backend software; and hiring a new COO to focus on operational efficiencies — all while refusing to compromise on their do-the-right-thing approach to both customers and employees. When COVID-19 hit, Stone stayed the course, keeping all of their employees working, with full benefits, and followed the lead of their customers to stay on track to achieve a smaller but still double-digit growth for 2020.
Stone Security calls itself “the biggest little integrator in the country,” and it is easy to see how they earn the loyalty of everyone they interact with — from the manufacturing partners who honor them year after year with awards, to the employees who almost never leave, to the customers that come to them by word of mouth and the recommendations of their partners. For all these reasons and more, Stone Security is SDM’s 2020 Systems Integrator of the Year.
From Green to Lean
The founding partners, Joey, Brent and Aaron, all agree that the first few years presented a steep learning curve. “A lot of companies starting up are a break-off [from another integration company] where they got trained and learned how the industry works,” Joey Edmunds says. “I can’t even tell you how green we were. We had an idea of what commercial security looked like, but didn’t know the ins and outs at all.”
From the beginning, Stone Security chose to limit the product lines they worked with to one manufacturer for each technology in order to make it easier to learn the ropes. “We didn’t want our technicians and engineers to have to learn two to three software programs because we didn’t want to put that burden on them,” Joey Edmunds adds.
But there was a bigger reason for the unusual decision beyond just simplicity. “Our dad gets credit for having the mindset that you need to find partnerships and be loyal to them,” Brent Edmunds says. “At the same time, that was definitely something we had in mind and we wanted to be the type of business that built strong partnerships. Because we were so green and we were learning, those initial partnerships did help educate us and kept things simpler. Within two to three years we realized there was actually some power in keeping the business model simple and not taking additional partnerships, against the advice of most in the industry, including some of our own manufacturing partners. We realized pretty quickly there was a lot of power in a clean and simple message.”
While many companies might consider it a disadvantage, Stone Security attributes their outsider status as a large part of the team’s success. “There are benefits to not being from the industry,” Joey Edmunds says. “We brought a fresh, new outlook and no bad habits.”
Brent Edmunds adds, “It took us in a different direction than if we had had a lot of experience. The fact that we had little industry experience and reinvented the wheel as we went is part of the story. We went against industry norms that say you should have two or three product lines for each technology. That is something we probably wouldn’t have done if we had more experience.”
It seems to have worked for Stone. “We have 15 years of proof with a tremendous growth trajectory and very strong reputation,” Brent Edmunds says. “I think it is a winning model for any company that has the discipline to do it, and that is the trick.”
That discipline means being willing to turn down work, Joey Edmunds explains. “There have been so many times we have been called by companies to help support systems that we just didn’t know … where we could have easily said yes and figured it out over time. But I really do feel it takes a lot of discipline to say no and in the long run I think end users appreciate that and respect that. They know where we stand. When Stone installs a system, everybody on staff knows it inside and out.”
This is because Stone Security does intensive training both in-house and through their manufacturing partners, Simpson says. “Our goal is to train and certify everyone that touches the product.”
With just three primary product lines — Axis cameras, LenelS2 access control and Milestone video management software — it is possible to become experts, he explains. But there was also a fair amount of luck in choosing wisely to begin with. With some experience in the IT world, the founders wanted to go the IP route, even when it was a newer concept.
“Back when we started there were not a lot of IP products,” Simpson recalls. “When we looked for IP cameras, Axis had four or five models. We knew we wanted to stay cutting-edge IP. Milestone was there. S2 was fairly young. We were fortunate to pick them, because they have continued to lead the way.”
Initially, the focus was just on the video side, Brent Edmunds explains. “Our business was being driven by video almost exclusively for the first five years or so. That was our thing. We were not an experienced security integration team and we didn’t have access control on our radar. After a few years of getting a really good reputation for video, we realized we needed to do more access control as well.”
While Stone relies on its main manufacturing partners (along with a select few secondary lines for technologies not covered by the primary three), they also have a loyal partner on the distribution side — Anixter. It was that partner who introduced them to what was then S2 and has since become LenelS2. (See “The Evolution of Partnerships”).
“We truly see our distribution partner as very critical to our growth and success over the last 15 years,” Brent Edmunds says.
They were particularly helpful in the rapid growth phase that hit in the past couple years, Joey Edmunds adds. “Cash flow was our biggest challenge. Luckily we had a great partner in Anixter to help us out with that and we were able to get through it.”
Another aspect of growing the company meant hiring managers outside of the original family members and gradually solidifying the roles everyone would play in the organization.
Carly Maynes, director of administration and Brent’s sister-in-law, recalls the early days: “When I started we were a tiny little company operating out of one office. Everyone at the beginning had that central drive for success and put in 18-20-hour days, sometimes even sleeping at the office. That drive and value still exists today, but we are not just a family company anymore.”
Another employee who joined the company early on (and eventually the family when he and Carly got married) was Dave Maynes, director of inside sales. “It was a pretty small little company at that point and I have a similar story [to Carly’s] about starting it up and moving into different positions as it grew.”
Most of the employees in the early years wore many hats. In fact, for the first several years Brent was the only salesperson, until he hired Andy Schreyer (now chief sales and marketing officer) in 2012. “There were 12 employees when I came,” Schreyer says. “We doubled our efforts and Brent and I started to have a lot of fun.”
Like the founding partners, Schreyer also credits the company’s growth and success to the unusually strong partnership model Stone created from the start. “There is a Leonardo DaVinci quote that is almost a motto between me and Brent: ‘Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.’ We aren’t the biggest integrator. We have fewer than 100 people with three branches, but we have been awarded [by our partners] more often than any of our competition. When we present our story to an end user they understand that we know these products really well. If they are not wanting the products we support, we are not a good fit for them.”
The partnership approach is also a two-way street, Dave Maynes adds. “Our whole concept is partnering with the best manufacturers and knowing those products better than anybody else, and that makes us install and support them better than anybody else. When we have these strong partnerships, we are giving them tons of business because we are only pushing them. In turn, they know we are loyal and they provide us with new opportunities and clients.”
Humble, Hungry & Happy
There is another motto Schreyer says they often include at the end of text strings between the leadership team — #HHH, which stands for humble, hungry and happy. “When you are winning you have to stay humble; when you are struggling you have to stay hungry; and if you are not happy the clients don’t get the feeling of success,” Schreyer explains, adding that it pretty well sums up the secret to their success. It also explains a lot about the company culture.
As a business that started as family, the feel and atmosphere is still very close and family oriented. It is infused with the values passed down from Steve to his sons and comes from an always-do-the-right-thing mentality.
For example, the company benefits go beyond the typical. Stone picks up 100 percent of the cost of every employee’s healthcare. They also provide every employee with “Stone Cash,” which amounts to $10 per day pre-loaded onto a Visa card (with the company logo), which they can spend on lunch or whatever they want to do with it.
One of the main supporters of the healthcare plan was the company’s now chief financial officer, Enrique Melena, who has been working for Stone for 12 years. “I was HR manager for a while and implemented the company handbook and several of the policies,” he says. At his previous job, he had seen a lot of turnover. “I thought one of the reasons why employees were leaving companies was because they were really worried about medical insurance for their families.”
The Stone owners were very supportive of the plan, he recalls. “They knew it would cost a lot of money, but decided to cover 100 percent of the premiums for everybody. In the long run employees will stay with you if you have a good environment; and providing them these kinds of benefits, they won’t want to go anywhere.”
Joey Edmunds gives the credit for that decision to his dad Steve. “Honestly, a lot of the values we have came from our dad. We had 10 employees and he said, ‘If you treat them right they will work harder, be more honest and give you a better effort.’ Do you know how difficult it was to give those benefits to employees when we were just breaking even? I look back and say, ‘Whoa, why did we do that?’ But we have seen the dividends.
“I really hope our employees have seen the sacrifices the company has made for them over the years. I hope and pray they have. We will continue to be loyal to our employees. When you have solid people working for you, growth becomes natural.”
The Stone employees SDM spoke with for this article definitely seemed to appreciate those efforts, pointing not only to the extensive benefits but the family atmosphere and flat hierarchy that makes everyone feel like a true partner.
“When I was hired on, everyone was related at that point,” recalls Mark Monfredi, director of operations. “It had that family feel where you were taken care of, you had a voice and it was like nowhere else I had ever worked before. I have worked for three or four other companies in the integration realm and never did I feel like I mattered so much. They really go above and beyond what they need to in order to make their employees feel like this is something they can do long-term.”
This attitude is self-propagating, as the employees manage others. “Never do I want my project guys to feel like they are just there to work,” Monfredi explains. “I want to make sure they feel like there is meaning to this. If they feel like they are invested in it, they will return the favor.”
Even the pay structure is set up to support this attitude, Schreyer explains. “No one is paid commission. Everyone is a salaried employee and all the motivation is intrinsic. Everyone is working because we are a team and we love success.”
One of Stone’s greatest challenges in 2019 was the hiring of 30 new employees to handle their rapid growth — more people than they had in the entire company just two years before — while keeping their benefits and employee culture intact.
“With the growth we have seen, to keep the culture and the amazing benefits they offer could be a challenge for a lot of companies,” says Cliff Reichert, Colorado branch manager, who joined Stone five years ago. “Instead of taking profit and keeping it, they invest a lot of it back into the employees. Even with the big growth they have had, they needed to make tough decisions and those decisions have reflected what they have said all along.”
One of the company’s newest employees is Chris Grayson, who was hired to be the company’s official COO (a job Brent and Aaron had shared previously) in March of 2020. “You hear the term ‘Company Man’ and that often has negative connotations,” Grayson says. “But here, being a Stone employee is a positive thing. You are building a great company to benefit you and your family. It’s not about making a profit so much as building a great company and taking care of the employees. It is fun. Every morning I come to work and build something that is benefitting everyone and working as a team to do it.”
The partnership approach extends naturally from the employees to the end customers, Monfredi says. “Being a partner, as an employee I feel like I have that voice and notion that I can speak up and say something or voice an opinion or change something.” In fact, those who deal with customers are frequently empowered to make decisions or concessions that benefit the customer, even if they might hurt the bottom line — if it is the right thing to do.
“In every aspect of our company we have tried to adopt that partnership feel,” he adds. “We make sure our customers are taken care of like a partner. In other companies I have worked for you always had the feeling that when you go out to do a job, you do the work, then pray you don’t hear from that customer again because if you do that is a negative or you did something wrong. At Stone we have flipped that attitude. If we mess up, please let us know. We will definitely make it right. If we don’t know about it, that is when it becomes a problem. If the customer is a partner they have a voice to tell us the good or bad and we will make sure we make it correct for them.”
This partnership with customers is not dependent on how much money they are spending, Reichert adds. “When we get a project with a company, we truly treat it like a partnership, not a project. Even if a customer doesn’t have the budget for the next year, we will still visit them, show them new technology and new ways to use their software. The customers know we will always be there for them, even if they don’t have any money to spend right now.”
The ‘Biggest Little Integrator’
The Stone Security approach to customers and business has seen the company grow from a startup to a global presence. But they also had a little help along the way from one of the more unique aspects of the company culture and location. Located in Utah, the founding family and many of its employees are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints — and the church is one of their customers. It was this relationship that pushed Stone, as a relatively small integrator, into the international sphere, Brent Edmunds explains.
“The global part started with the church, which helped us cut our teeth on managing a global system. We have done projects from Japan and the Philippines to all over the U.S, Africa and Europe.” Unlike many integrators of their size, Stone Security had a built-in pool of employees who not only spoke a variety of languages, but were willing and able to work anywhere in the world. “We had a good group that spoke a lot of languages due to going on church missions,” he explains. “We had it in our DNA that we could go anywhere and do a project, and we started getting connected to larger opportunities.”
Joey Edmunds adds, “Once other companies saw how we were supporting the church and how we weren’t afraid to do projects anywhere in the world, they were excited because now they had a company they could trust to take care of end users [anywhere]. Once they started introducing us to national and global accounts, they were blown away. … And that is where we are gaining so much momentum, especially with Anixter. They are comfortable giving us leads and opportunities and that has been a major part of our business.”
Getting the opportunity is only half of the equation, however. Brent Edmunds says Stone approaches national and global accounts with a “lighter touch” than some of their larger competitors. “It is a more modern approach to managing larger accounts. We are filling in gaps and not trying to take over and control everything. It is very, very effective.”
In early 2020, Stone rolled out a Global Accounts division, headed by Monfredi, to continue fostering this growth.
Stone also takes a different approach to the service, engineering and technology side of the business, says Brandon Fleming, director of support and engineering. “We lean towards the traditional IT-type support. Every other company I have worked for involved scheduling to go onsite. Here we are working together in a partnership and maybe we are remoting in and fixing issues with them, so they are more aware of their system.” He compares it to a help desk for security systems.
“We want to train you in-depth on all of your products,” Simpson says of the customers. “If you can fix something simply, we want you to. We will remote when we can. We don’t want to roll a truck if we don’t have to. Having a very limited product offering has allowed us to do this. No customer wants to feel like they are nickel and dimed. Usually we know how to fix something because we have seen it with other customers. In the end, customers just want it to work, and that is what we want, too. If we bill a customer for something, they should feel like they are getting a good value.” Customers are billed annually for service contracts, which helps avoid “negative behavior” on both sides, the company believes.
When it comes to technology, Stone Security stays true to its tight partnerships, but they still evaluate and test any new technology they might consider adding as an ancillary product or that a customer might request.
“We have always supported a broad range of outside products that complement our core products,” Simpson explains. “If it is a core product and they want us to move off it, we walk away. But when it comes to ancillary products, we test and vet them to death. We run it in-house, try to break it and learn it inside and out. We have people on our team that have become gurus or specialists on that product. We are not sitting here with blinders on with regard to all the products out there. … If it is a good fit we adopt it.” But it needs to be a fit for all. “If it isn’t something we would offer all our customers we won’t support it,” he says.
One recent example was the addition last year of Arcules cloud-based video and access control, Simpson says. Arcules is also a Milestone partner, and Simpson was part of the incubation team for the product. “We are excited about the direction they are going. They started with very mature software with Milestone and we feel like they are best of breed.” Another example is the company’s foray into the world of drone technology. (Listen to SDM’s exclusive podcast about this here.)
Technology was one reason for moving into their new offices in late 2018. In addition to making the office a nicer place to host customers, Stone made sure to implement the security equipment throughout the office so they could both test and demonstrate it. Brent Edmunds calls it “weaponizing” their office space. “We moved to a much nicer, bigger space and invested in a nice buildout. Before, we never invited customers in. We consciously made the decision to have a place where we could hold trainings, see live demos and make it a weapon in our sales process.”
Simpson says the idea was to provide customers with an experience center, modeled after their partner, Axis. “We have a bunch of cameras that we are always swapping out, IP speakers, smart sensors and several new servers to run the head end.”
Other recent changes included hiring the COO, instituting new backend software, focusing on growing RMR with cloud-based services and generally making sure the company is as efficient as possible when it comes to profitability.
All these efforts have combined to make Stone Security both strong and resilient — which is one reason that even through a year of crazy growth followed by a year unlike any other with the advent of the coronavirus (See “Surviving & Thriving During COVID-19”), Stone leaders and employees are not worried — nor are they done growing and innovating.
“I don’t view us as ‘We have made it,’” Joey Edmunds says. “There is so much room to grow and so much yet to offer. But at the same time, I like being the ‘biggest little integrator’ because we can compete with the national integrators but are still small enough where we don’t have a lot of red tape and we can get things done. We are still small enough to maneuver.”
Stone is determined to keep growing almost exclusively organically, Brent Edmunds adds. “Honestly, because of our business model, we don’t see how we could ever grow through acquisitions. Every company we would acquire would have very different product sets or customer bases. If we were ever to grow through acquisitions we would have to change our business model significantly. It could happen, but I don’t see it. We like to control our own destiny.”
The only possible exception to that, he says, could be a cyber security company. “We have had for many years the idea that one day if there were ever to be an acquisition it might be a small cyber security company that could complete the offering of the physical and information security side.” There are no concrete plans in the works, he says, but, “As we grow, I think that might be a good play.”
For right now, Stone is happy where they are, with a solid culture, tight partnerships and customer relationships, and a foundation that has kept them on steady ground through both the ups and downs in the past two years.
“I feel confident we will thrive,” Melena says. “The strengths that make our company different are the partnerships we developed with our suppliers and our customers. A lot of our business is repeat customers. We don’t advertise; everything is word of mouth. Our growth has been crazy over the past 10 years, but it is all organic. Our suppliers always recommend us because we are loyal to their brands and equipment, along with the team we have who are all honest and hardworking. We all trust each other and feed off each other’s thoughts and ideas and try to do our best; and it has worked for several years.”