Construction bust doesn't stop SSD's boom

California-based fire installer relies on retrofits, service revenue
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Monday, April 19, 2010

ANAHEIM, Calif.—Construction is still at a halt within SSD System’s footprint, but business is good, thanks to upgrades, retrofits and a robust fire service business.

Fire is the biggest part of SSD, which is a full-service traditional security company, based here with five other California offices, three Texas offices and one office apiece in Arizona and Colorado.

Despite the slower economy, SSD’s revenues for 2009 compared with 2008 were flat. “We did $35 million last year and the year prior. The new installation was down nine percent and RMR was down about six percent. What made up the difference was that service was up,” said Scott Hollis, SSD director of sales.

Service revenues were up across all business units, “but it was up at a higher pace in our fire business.” SSD bolstered its efforts to increase service business and in particular went after fire alarm test and inspection business. They hired a key person who was in charge of this end of the business and also instituted Building Report’s system a couple of years ago. The system helps accurately track tests and inspections by having a bar code label on every fire device in a building. As the devices are tested and inspected, the information is uploaded to a hand-held scanner and communicated online to the company, Building Reports, which in turn, generates systems status reports that are useful to both SSD and the end user. 

“We go ahead and label everything when we do a new installation,” Hollis explained.  “We have 700 buildings on that system.”

Founded by John Affeld in 1968, SSD has 375 employees. “We’ve done close to 20 acquisitions over the last 30 years, some of those have been very small, and we’ve grown organically.”

The retrofit and upgrade market has been fertile ground for SSD, Hollis said. It just finished a $1.2 million upgrade to the Texas State Supreme Court in Austin. It had a “very old system, which was upgraded to a new Notifier system. The nature of the building, which houses the courthouse library, and judges’ chambers, made it a “delicate project” to manage, Hollis said. “We can’t send in 20 people at one time. We have a couple of crews that we have to isolate and have access to certain areas of the building at certain times.”

SSD also recently won a $2.5 million bid (with an additional $2.8 million to be awarded shortly—and expected to go to SSD) to the Dallas VA hospital, which encompasses 50 buildings.

In addition to government and healthcare facility upgrades, SSD has done a lot of tenant improvement work. “There’s not a lot of building going on, but the buildings we do have, the owners are going back and upgrading the systems. That’s triggered a lot of fire alarm business for us,” Hollis said.