Magazine Article | August 17, 2012

Shut Out Your Video Surveillance Competition

By Gennifer Biggs, Business Solutions Magazine

When this IT security integrator added loss prevention, guards, private investigation, and more to its line card, it discovered a new way to stand apart from the competition.

After buying Down East Protection Systems (DEPS) more than a decade ago, President Tom Vermillion has seen tremendous changes in the video surveillance and access control market. Already wellversed in residential and business security, DEPS knew it needed to uncover a differentiator that opened doors to new business and new opportunities. That opportunity came in the form of a new division of DEPS that today handles the more personal side of security, such as armed and unarmed guards, private investigations, loss prevention, risk management, disaster planning, and more. That complementary offering of technology-powered security and people-oriented safety services has allowed DEPS to approach potential customers from two different angles, then deliver a fully integrated solution that can start with armed guards at the doors, include loss prevention investigations, and close with a physical security and access control solution featuring the latest in technology innovations. But Vermillion cautions that it takes a lot of planning, resources, and patience to build out an entirely new security practice.

What’s Driving The Expansion Of The Security Business

Increased competition and a slow economy (it was 2009) drove Vermillion to start exploring options for expanding his business. Given his tenure in the physical security market and a burgeoning friendship with a local public safety expert, Greg Smith, Vermillion started to consider adding a new dimension to his physical security business by layering on safety services. As he talked more with Smith, who was in the midst of brainstorming his own postretirement loss prevention business, the two decided there was a lot in common between their individual plans.

“I understood the ways physical security resources could — and should — be used most effectively, and Tom had the technology side already figured out,” explains Smith, who retired at the end of 2009 after 30 years of service in public safety. “We started to see the synergy between what we both knew and really felt there was a way for us to help each other and the customer.”

It’s Not Cheap To Add Physical Security

With a plan in place, the two men tackled creation of a sister company under the DEPS name, ending up with DEPS Security Systems (the original business) and DEPS Safety and Security Services. The process took longer than anticipated. To begin with, DEPS needed to determine what licenses were needed by both the company and its employees in order to offer the new services. DEPS had to apply for a guard and patrol license, a private investigative business license, and a license to offer polygraphs, which together cost about $2,000. From there, individual employees faced training and certification as well, which can cost between $600 and $800 each.

Overall, it took nearly six months to get organized and licensed, even with Vermillion and Smith’s extensive knowledge of the North Carolina requirements tied to offering security services. Vermillion cautions that if a physical security provider is interested in adding these services, it is worth the time to understand all the requirements in each state you hope to work in. Smith advises that training and certification will become ongoing line items in your budget, plus you’ll need someone to track when each employee’s licenses and certifications are due, as well as monitor their continuing education needs. In fact, DEPS has two people on staff, one on each side of the business, who spend a couple hours a week checking on employee certification and continuing education standings.

While Smith and Vermillion had a solid understanding of what they needed to do legally when it came to formalizing their plans to offer security services, they leveraged — and continue to use — several resources to stay current on both legal requirements and trends in the security business. Those resources include the North Carolina Association of Private Investigators, which often provides the continuing ed resources DEPS needs, as well as the Electronic Security Association, the North Carolina Electronic Security Association, the National Fire Protection Association, and the International Association of Chiefs of Police. “The biggest thing for us is understanding the trends in terms of both crime and the technology, and these associations help provide us with advanced notice of what we need to be prepared for,” explains Smith. “If we can fully understand those trends, then we are better prepared to help our customers.”

Pairing Security With Services Creates Differentiator

While building an adjacent security service practice took both time and money, Vermillion and Smith agree it was well worth it. Today, DEPS stands clearly apart from its competitors by offering a one-stop security shop for customers. Plus, the solutions provider’s sales team can approach a sale from a variety of directions. “We are about way more than just cameras; we layer on all these other tools to help resolve a business’ security issues from several angles, so no matter why a customer comes to DEPS, we can turn that into a broader sale,” explains Smith.

The prime example of the success of this combination of services for DEPS is one of its long-term clients, restaurant chain Bojangles. The chain was relying on DEPS for video surveillance when it became the target of a robbery plot that involved armed holdups at several different locations toward the end of operating hours. Management quickly turned to DEPS. The restaurant chain asked DEPS to coordinate efforts and supply helpful information to the police investigating the robberies, but it also asked them to extend and improve security services at the restaurants. “They first wanted to improve the camera coverage, but then we also assisted them by conducting employee interviews, reviewing video footage, and eventually placing security guards in the restaurants to reassure customers that the ownership was taking these robberies very seriously and working to resolve the issue,” explains Vermillion. “That is the perfect scenario for us; when they need more from us, we have the capability to offer it.” Smith says that ability, to explain to customers that cameras may be a deterrent, but are not the ultimate answer to securing a business, is what sets DEPS apart. “When you have a problem, cameras are rarely the ultimate solution; they are part of an integrated solution.”

Customers such as the restaurant chain helped DEPS grow as it rolled out its new services offerings, especially since nearly all its business comes courtesy of referrals. Once DEPS lands a customer, Smith and Vermillion say their goal is to grow with that customer, such as they are doing with a local community college. At that location, DEPS is not only coordinating security, but the long-term plan is for DEPS to write the campus’s disaster plan, pulling experience from all parts of DEPS to supply best practices for the college.

When it comes to tackling the wide and deep security offering that DEPS has built, the two men have fairly straightforward advice. First, start with employees that have the special experience needed; most likely you’ll find public safety or military service on their resumes. Second, start to build strong relationships with law enforcement in your region. “For most [integrators] in the physical security world, there is not enough interaction with law enforcement, and they are missing an opportunity to understand what trends are happening and what those officials need to prosecute a criminal,” explains Smith. “They are a resource, and they are happy to talk because that relationship starts to flow both ways.” Third, Vermillion says not to be afraid to call up similar providers in other markets and ask for advice. Last, be ready to move your sales conversation from technology toward business consultation. “You need to spend more time with your customers, so be ready for that, and be ready to bring the public safety experts you have hired along on sales calls to build your credibility,” adds Vermillion.

While DEPS is still gaining momentum, Vermillion says the impact on the business is clear: They are enjoying deeper relationships with customers and building a long-term partnership with clients that relieves the pressure of filling the pipeline with only project work. Plus, on the DEPS Safety and Security Services side alone, the company watched revenue grow 900% in its second year as momentum built. Additionally, he says the expansion of services has positioned DEPS to stand out from the physical security crowd from here on out. “When we talk to customers with the level of insight we have into security, they are reassured that we know what we’re talking about and can truly resolve their issues, and then they understand we aren’t just trying to sell them something; we are providing a service they need.”