At 20, Altec Systems a 'work in progress'

Focus is on service growth, but also on keeping an eye on increasing the top line
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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

MARIETTA, Ga.—Altec Systems President Tim Feury calls his business “still a work in progress,” even though it’s celebrating 20 years in business this year.

In one sense, Feury is joking: Altec is an established independent integrator with 13 employees. Every year it does 30 to 40 projects outside of its footprint here in Georgia. Most projects range from $10,000 video systems to $100,000 integrated systems; its bread-and-butter projects are $25,000 to $35,000 systems.

In another sense, Feury is just speaking frankly. To be successful, you need to be nimble and innovative, but cautious. You need to constantly assess your approach and make changes when needed, he said.

Feury started Altec Systems from his home in 1994. Five years ago, his wife, Mary Feury, joined the business as VP of operations excellence. With her guidance, Altec Systems branched out into IT services, such as hosted desktop, phone, email and servers as well.

“Our objective is to continue to grow out the services side of the business,” Tim Feury said. “A lot of that is a detriment [at least initially] to the top line. But at the end of the day, the service side is worth more when you go to sell or valuate the company.”

Adding IT services was a smart move for Altec. Today, 30 percent of Altec’s revenue is derived from services and the majority comes from Altec’s IT cloud service.

While the margins on those cloud services are high, there is a lot of competition among providers. “Thousands of people offer the same thing, you have to differentiate yourself,” Tim Feury said.

Customer service is “really the thing we can control the most,” he said. And he said Altec is good at serving its customers efficiently. “If we get a call from a customer saying, ‘I can’t log on to my email’ or ‘I can’t get in my front door,’ [they will get a quick response] and there’s a good chance the problem will get resolved in the first call.”

By resolving most problems remotely Altec’s customer service is cost effective. “If your model is that you get in a truck and spend three hours on the road and then another hour on customer premises—[being cost effective] is hard to do,” he said.

Because Altec is a small business, “our customers know us by name and we know them,” Mary Feury said. And that helps drive a certain “trust level” between customers and Altec staff. “That’s how we differentiate ourselves,” she said.

Altec works with other integrator partners [many are other PSA Security integrators] on out-of-state projects. The vast majority of the time, those projects work very well, Tim Feury said.

The exception is when charges for products and services vary, which can happen in different regions of the country. “If you’re used to charging $3,000 for a reader and another integrator is accustomed to charging $6,000 a reader … that’s a challenge,” he said.

Managing customer expectations is important. Altec has had a successful foray into remote guarding (working with G4S’ central). As with any newer technology, it’s essential to “explain to the customers the good and the bad and what they need to do on their end to really make it work,” Tim Feury said.

“Where it’s feasible or possible, we try to become a customer before becoming a provider [by beta testing at Altec],” Mary Feury said. That way, she said, Altec can see “what [problems] the customer might run into.”

As the Feurys celebrate Altec turning 20, they say they’re happy that technologies that interest them—mobile apps and cloud computing, for example—are having a big impact on the security industry. That keeps this “work in progress” challenging and fun,” Tim Feury said.