Old, but not in the way

Wednesday, September 1, 2004

SYOSSET, N.Y. - As one of the oldest alarm companies in the United States, AFA Protective Systems has expanded well beyond its foundation as a fire business. Now offering a line of fire and burglar alarm services, the 131-year-old company has worked to increase its presence on the East Coast and continues to cultivate its national account work.

AFA traces its roots to 1873, when it was founded as Watkins Automatics Signal Telegraph Company by William B. Watkins, who capitalized on the emerging need for fire systems in industrial environments. By later merging its operations with Boston Protective Company, the company extended its presence beyond New York, where it was founded, and soon after adopted its current name in 1890.

Within the past 15 years the company has expanded geographically, spreading over the mid-Atlantic and Southeast states. Based on Long Island, N.Y., AFA seeks to support its expansion by filling in the gaps along the East Coast where it does not have a regional office and diversifying through new business opportunities.

There’s been a “big impact with national account work,” according to Richard Kleinman, president and chief executive officer. He said its Bainbridge, Mass.-based division has been successful with winning larger accounts, such as CVS, a pharmacy, and office supply store Staples. The company started placing emphasis on its national chain account program about four years ago. Within the last two years business has picked up.

“Each national account operates differently,” explained Kleinman. Its customers tend not to require just one service across the board but a host of services including access control, burglar systems and monitoring.

The company found many national chains unhappy with their previous providers, according to Kleinman, who said his company was able to step in and offer personalized service and customer care.

Last year, the company reported $53 million in revenue. Business this year seems on track to equal or surpass that figure. The company monitors 40,000 accounts, of which approximately 60 percent are on the burglar side. With approximately 420 employees, the company seeks deals both large and small.

“We’re interested in doing the both of them to make money,” said Kleinman’s brother, Robert, who is chairman of the family owned company.

Although the company intends to increase its geographic presence, this does not mean it will do so without prudence.

“If there are situations that make sense, we’ll look at it.” Until then, he is interested in “profit enhancing shareholder value.”