Ackerman’s new branch office in Washington corridor a success

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

ATLANTA—Just five months ago, Ackerman Security Systems opened a new branch in Maryland to serve customers in the Washington, D.C. area. Now, the office is doing so well it has doubled its staff and the company is making future plans for other offices in that corridor.

The new Beltsville location is Ackerman’s first physical office outside of its Atlanta headquarters in more than four decades of company history, according to Jim Callahan, Ackerman’s chief operating officer.

The new office has been showing “nice growth” since it opened, he said, and the number of sales reps has doubled from nine to 18, while the number of technicians has increased from two to four.

The success of the venture has led Ackerman to anticipate opening more offices in the area at some point in the future. “We do have future plans for offices in northern Virginia and Baltimore,” Callahan said.

Ackerman believes it may make sense to open offices in those locations.

“Although we are doing business there now, we think we can continue to do so and provide even a higher level of service by having physical plants right there in those two [areas],” Callahan said.

With RMR running at about $1.5 million per month, Ackerman has had a strong residential presence in the Atlanta marketplace since 1967. Ackerman started a commercial division about seven years ago, and now the company’s commercial work in 48 states accounts for about 20 percent of its business, according to Callahan. All the commercial work is associated with chain accounts or businesses with offices in multiple cities, he said.

A large number of Ackerman’s commercial accounts are in the Washington area. It was the company’s commercial presence there that led to calls from residents who wanted the company to help them too, Callahan said.

“It began as [calls from] employees of the commercial accounts we had in the area and grew so that we were getting calls just from the general public, who were seeing our decals with our 800 number on it as they were coming in and out of stores or restaurant chains or other organizations that we were doing business with,” he explained.

Before deciding to open the Beltsville office, Ackerman did its market research.

Callahan was familiar with the Washington corridor since he has family there and also used to work in that marketplace for Rollins Protective Services before he joined Ackerman 13 years ago. Demographic research shows the area is densely populated, has a high employment rate, and is filled with affluent, well-educated professionals who tend to come and go as the administration of the federal government undergoes frequent election cycle changes. Callahan said many of those newcomers want security systems in the area, because “as with any area that is highly dense and is a growth area…there’s also crime.”

He said such factors led Ackerman to conclude “the Washington, D.C. corridor seems to fit very nicely with our model.”

Callahan explained the company’s model: “Ackerman, unlike some of the other players within the security industry, does not operate off of a mass marketing platform.”

Instead, he said, the company’s customers are those who want a higher-end, more comprehensive system. “The client that we’re working with understands the basic system does not provide the level of protection they’re looking for, for themselves and their family,” Callahan said.

The new office opened May 3 with a general manager, two administrative personnel, an operations manager, nine sales reps and two technicians, he said. Now, he said, a service manager also has been added.

“The plan is to continue to grow the head count, the employee base there throughout 2011,” Callahan said. He said the company expects to have a total of 30 salespeople at the office by the end of next year.

Ackerman doesn’t do door-knocking, but has what Callahan described as a “fairly aggressive marketing program” that includes radio advertising, direct mail and working closely with real estate organizations, chambers of commerce and insurance agents to let them know what Ackerman can provide to their clients.

Ackerman’s new office is just about two miles from ASG Security in Beltsville. Callahan said it is just coincidence the two companies ended up located so close together in the same market. He said he doesn’t consider the two real competitors because ASG’s concentration is commercial, while Ackerman’s new office is focused at present on residential and light commercial customers.

 “I’m sure we’ll be head-to-head on some occasions but not very often,” Callahan said. Also, he added, “It’s such a huge market that there’s plenty of the pie to go around.”

 He said the new office is concentrating on residential and light commercial customers because that is the fastest way to grow the company’s recurring revenue base. He declined to say how much RMR the new office is generating or how many accounts it has, but said that it is “doing well.”