Amherst Alarm takes 'deliberate' path to success

A considered approach to everything from products to services has ensured three decades of steady growth for N.Y. company
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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

AMHERST, N.Y.—Amherst Alarm, one of the nation’s leading alarm companies, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. CEO Tim Creenan credits his company’s long-term success to its "slow and deliberate" approach to business.

“We’ve kind of had slow, steady, controlled growth over the years, where we didn’t, [for example], jump from 100 accounts to 10,000 accounts or something crazy like that, [which is] unmanageable,” Creenan, who co-founded Amherst in 1984, told Security Systems News.

There’s no question that Amherst, based in this suburb of Buffalo, N.Y., has a lot to celebrate. The 50-employee company, with its own UL-listed, Five Diamond-certified monitoring center, closed 2013 with revenues of $5.9 million and more than $288,000 in RMR, up 5.5 percent from the previous year.

About 70 percent of its accounts are residential but the commercial side of the business is growing steadily, Creenan said. Overall, he predicts that Amherst’s growth in 2014 will be between 5 to 8 percent.

And he said that growth has come about over the years through a measured approach to everything from the automated services the company offers its customers to the products it uses. For example, it offers customers the ANET24 system, which it says gives them control of their security system from anywhere, using a computer, tablet or mobile phone.

But Amherst is making the transition into home automation in a considered way, Creenan said.

“We’re very slow and deliberate about entering that part of the business,” he told SSN. “We’re in it right now, and what we feel we’re successful with the people who want to take advantages of those services. But with anything that’s new, we don’t want to be the first person putting in something from manufacturers. We want to let it mature a little bit, let them get the bugs out and make sure that we’re going to be experts on the equipment from Day 1, when we start to promote it and provide it to our clients.”

Amherst is also careful not to expand out of its market, which is the western part of New York state. So, while it’s always on the lookout for acquisitions, they have to be strategically located, Creenan said.

He said going into different markets would mean “we wouldn’t have the same advantages we do here, in terms of scale of operations, possibly, and certainly name recognition. Our name helps us tremendously in our marketplace.”

Creenan also believes in “sticking with certain manufacturers and product lines and not being the product-of-the-month club, which we see some of the competition [doing].” He said that “gives us the opportunity to really become experts at the various products we offer to our customers.”

Today, Amherst primarily uses DSC products for the residential side of the business and DMP for the commercial side, he said.

Amherst also eschews sales gimmicks when it comes to customers, he said.

“We’ve always had the business premise that we need to be profitable on Day 1 of the sale. So we’re not providing systems that are subsidized at free or reduced prices. … And we’re been able to be very successful with that approach in our market.”

The company requires only annual contracts, Creenan said. “We don’t ask people to sign for five years. We know we’re going to provide good value and good service and people are going to want to stay with us for longer than that. So we’re not handcuffing people into it.”

And Amherst gives its customers a five-year warranty, which Creenan said the company can do because of the high quality of its service. “We are going to put [the system] in the right way, we’re going to use the techniques that we have to make sure that it’s a trouble-free system, and we use the best quality equipment that we can find, so we know there’s not going to be problems. … We’ve been very pleased that we have taken that route.

He said the company also promotes to customers that it “is IQ Certified, so that brings a level of confidence to the consumer about the standards and processes that we use.”

The IQ Certification Program requires alarm companies to undergo a rigorous evaluation by the IQ Certification board to ensure they meet strict standards “to ensure the professionalism and quality of every alarm system installation,” according to the program’s website.

Creenan is a past chairman of the association and serves on the board. “I definitely believe in that program as a differentiator for our company,” he said.

He also is president of the New York State Electronic Security Association.