Outsmarting economy with parts, smarts

California-based Low Voltage Solutions also says building relationships key to success
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Thursday, September 29, 2011

VENTURA, Calif.—Jeff Borrelli, president and owner of Low Voltage Solutions, a Silent Knight by Honeywell Farenhyt distributor based here, said specializing in the “parts and smarts” of fire alarm systems has helped the company stay busy in the down economy.

“We let our customers make money off the fire alarm by only doing the parts and smarts,” Borrelli told Security Systems News. “We normally work for the electrical contractors, and they get to make money installing our stuff and we get to make money on the parts and smarts. That’s worked out well for us.”

The work of the three-employee company, founded 10 years ago, is 95 percent commercial fire work, he said. Projects range from schools and college campuses to businesses to military and government institutions, he said.

Low Voltage’s current projects include two Santa Barbara icons: the Granada Theatre, a cultural landmark that is the tallest building in Santa Barbara; and the historic Santa Barbara County Courthouse, which draws visitors from around the world.

The theater is a nine-story building, with residential units on the top floors, offices on the middle floors and the theater, built in 1924, on the bottom. It was recently restored at a cost of more than $50 million.
Low Voltage was involved in replacing the fire alarm system. Borrelli said a challenge in the job was keeping the old system running while the theater was being renovated so the other occupants of the building were protected while the new one was installed.

The company then moved on to adding a new system in the rest of the building. “We’re working on the last residential unit now,” Borrelli told SSN.

At the courthouse, Borrelli said the company is involved in adding the first fire alarm system ever in the historic building, which takes up an entire city block. The building was built in 1929 after a 1925 earthquake destroyed much of the city, according to a state web site. Borrelli said the interior of the building is predominantly metal with very little wood and has non-flammable plaster, but a modern fire alarm system is being added for greater protection.

An electrical contractor is doing the installation at both sites but Low Voltage oversees their work and does everything else, he said.

“We do the drawings, we engineer the system, we get it approved by the fire department, we pull a permit, and we sell the electrical contractor our equipment,” said Borrelli, who said he recently earned his NICET Level IV, using the Granada Theatre building as his required major project. “They go by our drawings, we oversee them—we have most of them already trained—and then we program it at the end and get it signed off by the fire department.”

Another key to success as a parts-and-smarts company is building relationships with contractors and AHJ’s, Borrelli said. He’s worked with a lot of contractors and counts them and fire officials as friends, he said.
Also, he said, “We have quite a good reputation in the Santa Barbara community.”