Kern eyes retrofit market

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Monday, February 1, 2010

PEORIA, Illinois—While the economic downturn hasn’t translated into a stop in construction here, as it has elsewhere, R. Scott Kern, president of The Kern Group, is eyeing the retrofit market for fire opportunities this year.

Kern is a GE Security Pro dealer who runs a small integration company with “fewer than seven employees,” he said. About 25 percent of his work is fire installation. “We recently started selling the new GE Security Fireworx system. We’ve been waiting for it to be released for some time,” he said. Previously, Kern used other manufacturers’ fire products for the small- to medium-sized projects that are his bread and butter. “We don’t typically do large hospitals or college campuses, but we can handle 90 percent of the commercial applications out there.”

The Kern Group’s footprint is central Illinois, “everything south of I80, so it’s a very big footprint,” he said. Kern is about to begin an upgrade to the new Fireworx system for a “community-based theater organization.”

Kern said his biggest battle is convincing small business who “just want to add a couple smoke detectors to a security system” to do it the right way. “It’s a continual battle,” he said. Kern said he’s sympathetic to the fact that complying with codes can mean a lot of money for small business owners, but said, “if I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it right.”

A frank discussion about life-safety systems and possible insurance savings are helpful in convincing building owners to install a code-compliant system he said. 

Most of his fire business to date is with new construction and retrofits for large commercial operations. “In 2009, there was still a lot of new construction, even new projects starting up until about two months ago when it got too cold to build … there’ve been all manner of projects, of course not as many as two years ago … and there’s bad news in the paper every day.”

This year, Kern is changing his tack. “We’re going to go to our existing customer base and target those customers that don’t have a fire alarm system. That’s our initial plan for this year.”