Monitoring stations with an edge: Earning dealer loyalty

Flashy incentives are nice, but dealers care more about a central station’s service, technology and expertise
Wednesday, August 26, 2015

YARMOUTH, Maine—It’s supposed to be a win-win when wholesale central monitoring stations want to manage, service or purchase accounts from alarm dealers. The dealer can acquire some capital. The central station builds its portfolio. This business relationship can be sweet, as when central stations offer perks to purchase accounts. Or it can go sour when the central station and the dealer, after an account transfer, wind up competing with each other for customers.

The only chance that wholesale central monitoring stations have to keep everyone happy, according to industry insiders, is to stick to the basics that made them successful in the first place. Prioritizing training, redundancy, flexibility and customer service carries more weight than flashy incentives, they say.

Those incentives can include cash signing bonuses for dealers to move part or all of their accounts—a Caribbean cruise or an appreciation dinner during a weekend in Las Vegas.

“All these things exist,” said David Smith, director of marketing and communications at COPS Monitoring, based in Williamstown, N.J. These perks may serve as good business tools, but they are secondary to service, expertise and reputation, experts say.

Smith says his firm’s strongest selling card for alarm dealers is “our strong reputation.”

“The only thing we’ve ever done is third party monitoring,” said Smith, noting that COPS has been in business for 37 years. “In the end the dealer is not likely to change the central station unless they are unhappy. It’s a major undertaking to change central stations.”

With monitoring station sites in New Jersey, Florida, Arizona, Tennessee, Texas and Maryland, Smith said, “We’ve been doing redundancy for 10 years.” If a natural disaster, massive power outage or industrial accident were to affect one monitoring station, the backup facility does not need to “power up staff and redirect.” Redundancy protocols, staffing, training and response are operational 24/7.

“You just can’t open another central station with seamless redundancy overnight,” Smith said. “Instilling your company culture, training programs and achieving consistency of services [all] take time to perfect.”

Smith said COPS does not own accounts generated by dealers, something he says avoids conflicts of interest by doing business with the same end user. “We talk to our dealers all the time,” he said. “They are experienced alarm guys. … They do their homework when choosing a central station and are not likely to be swayed by flashy, glossy brochures.”

At EMERgency24, based in Des Plaines, Ill., Kevin McCarthy national sales manager, and Kevin Lehan, public relations manager, also lauded their alarm dealers. They also touted the value of straight-talking, bottom-line business over incentives to woo dealers.

“Our dealer base is strong,” said McCarthy. “They aren’t looking for extra funding.” He said EMERgency24 offers technological expertise, home-grown equipment and software, a software team, speed on special requests and five branches from Washington, D. C., to Los Angeles with full redundancy.

Said Lehan: “We’re in Chicago, 90 minutes from Milwaukee. Should there be a catastrophic event in Milwaukee, we can easily keep up sufficient staffing nationwide. … If our closest backup was in Los Angeles, we’d have staff uprooting their lives to keep us operational.”

As for dealer incentives, McCarthy said, “I’ve never heard of signing bonuses.” He is, however, aware that EMERgency24’s competitors offer “weekend meetings.”

Smith of COPS referred to their dealer appreciation dinner in Las Vegas as a long-standing tradition. “We use trade shows as an opportunity to show our appreciation in person,” he said.

Michael Zydor, managing director for business development at Affiliated Monitoring, based in Union, N.J., says his company offers “very significant incentives” for alarm dealers, in all 50 states, who are transitioning accounts. More important than the incentives, he said, is the company’s aggressiveness in procuring, servicing and maintaining accounts with their “outside sales team, trade shows, cold calling, face to face contacts.”

Service trumps incentives every time, he said.

“One of the challenges for [established] monitoring centers is that they can’t evolve fast enough” to keep pace with technological advances and breakthroughs. “Our technology infrastructure is second to none,” Zydor said.

“We do not purchase accounts directly,” said Zydor, noting that Affiliated sometimes serves as the middleman with financing partners to help dealers when they want to sell accounts.

“We always maintain third party status. Our dealers don’t have to worry about competing with us. We’re not trying to sell to your end user. We’re not going to solicit their target audience,” he said. 

As for redundancy, “That’s 101 for us,” Zydor said. Affiliated’s newest facility “at a minimum, has double, triple, quadruple” levels of redundancy. “That’s our lives,” he said.

The key is staffing and training. “It’s not just about infrastructure,” he said. “You need the right number of people on staff,” trained in complementary ways.