Habitec grows in Michigan with Citizen buy

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

TOLEDO, Ohio—Habitec Security, which calls itself the largest independent dealer in Ohio, this week acquired Citizen Security Systems of Carlton, Mich.

“It’s a small company in southeast Michigan that’s been in business for ten years and has a couple hundred account base,” said John Smythe, president of Habitec.

Chris Ruelle, the former president of Citizen Security, has joined Habitec as a sales consultant. Habitec is in the process of transferring all monitored alarm systems to its monitoring station here.

Habitec has about 13,000 accounts and is roughly half residential and half commercial. It has 90 employees and two branch offices, in Traverse City, Mich., and Columbus, Ohio. The company was founded by Smythe’s father, Jim Smythe, in 1972. John Smythe took over as president after his father passed away five years ago.

Smythe said the company’s made about 100 acquisitions over the years, including five since he took over.

While Habitec’s commercial business has slowed considerably in 2009, its residential business has done very well. “Our security systems installations on an annual basis was up more than 15 percent,” Smythe said. “And our cancellations stayed low.”

And for 2010? “We expect small [overall] growth again,” he said. “While the margins on commercial are thin, we’re finally starting to see some jobs close in the initial part of this year. We’ve won some bids and we weren’t the lowest bidder. They were sold, instead, on our company.”

Smythe said he’s had valued guidance over the past five years from some veteran alarm company owners who serve on his board including Mel Mahler of ADS, and John Bourque of HB Alarm. Mahler and Bourque were close friends of Smythe’s father, and they’re all Honeywell First Alert Professional dealers.

At the most recent First Alert Professional conference, Smythe gave some guidance to other FAP dealers in a seminar on Internet marketing, something he’s a big proponent of.

“We’re doing a lot more of that than we used to,” he said. Through search optimization on his site, Google ads and Google click campaigns he’s “generating way more leads than through other means ... we get five to six leads a day through the Internet marketing, which is a lot for us.”