Traditional security company goes retail

The Alarm Company’s new store in a strip mall draws customers, creates buzz and is part of a new trend
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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

MADISON, Miss.—The Alarm Company, located in an isolated industrial park for years, moved in September to a strip mall on a busy road here. Going retail has attracted customers, generated lots of free publicity and is the wave of the future, according to company owner Tony Collums.

“We just decided to come out of hiding and get where people could find us,” Collums, who also is president and director of operations of The Alarm Company, told Security Systems News. “That was my philosophy when I started the store and it has done exactly what I asked it to do.”

Collums said The Alarm Company—now in its 24th year and a new member of Honeywell’s First Alert Professional Dealer Program—opened its retail store to give the public “easier access to security, audio/visual and automation products.”

His company is at the forefront of a new trend of using a retail approach to sell security. Earlier this year, SecureWatch24 announced it was opening a store in New York City to sell security systems to apartment dwellers.

And telecom giant AT&T has told SSN that selling Digital Life, its home security/home automation product, in its retail stores is a key part of its sales strategy. Also, retail giant Lowe’s recently announced it is selling its Iris product not only its own stores but in Verizon Wireless stores.

Collums believes professional security companies like his have an edge over big-box stores and telecoms because of their expertise. “I think the biggest difference when you look at what we are versus AT&T and Lowe’s is the fact that when you go in a retail store like that, they know just enough to be dangerous,” Collums said. “They really don’t know what they’re selling, they’ve got a pre-canned speech and if you go outside of those parameters, they’ve got problems.”

The Alarm Company offers burglar and fire alarms, CCTV surveillance systems, access control solutions, home theater and A/V systems, mostly in a 90-mile radius around Jackson, Miss. But Collums, who has 34 years of experience in the industry, said a retail store is “something that I felt for years needed to be done.”

He said that’s because small, independent security companies like The Alarm Company—which has about a dozen employees and about 8,000 customers—tend to locate in “not really visible” places such as industrial parks and multi-tenant office buildings.

“I’ve always felt we missed the boat in that we didn’t promote what we did, kind of like a Radio Shack or a Best Buy on a smaller scale,” he said. “We have the people who are trained and do this every day, so why don’t we have a place where a customer or anybody could come in off the street and either buy the products or learn about the products, or have a place to do a consultation?”

He said having The Alarm Company Store also makes it easier for customers to come and buy batteries for remotes “so they don’t have to pay us to do a service call to do something as simple as replace a battery.”

It may sound counterintuitive to have customers get their batteries at the store—The Alarm Company’s office is located at the back of the building—rather than have them pay for a service call. But Collums said, “It has helped us tremendously from the standpoint of exposure.”

He continued: “Even though we try to explain to people and show them what we do, when they walk into the store to pick up a battery or a new sign or pay a bill—that’s another thing; it makes it convenient for them to come in and drop off checks—when they walk in our store and see all the things we do, they say, ‘Oh gosh, I didn’t know you did all this.’ So word of mouth has spread about the amount of things and the type of things we do.”

For example, Collums said, the company installs flat-screen TVs and completed 600 to 700 installations last year. Now, at the store, “people say, ‘You’re The Alarm Company, we didn’t know you did that,’” Collums said.

Also, he said, not only is The Alarm Company’s name right across the front of its store, it’s also on a big sign at the front of the shopping center. “That sign is like a billboard that [can be seen] 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said.

He said homeowners in new nearby subdivisions that don’t have security systems “have seen our signs in the neighborhood and have seen our sign at the store and they come to us and say, ‘We bought a house that has no security system. We’d like to get a quote, or can you sell us the stuff to put in ourselves?’”

Collums sells pre-packaged, do-it-yourself systems. “We put together packages and have it programmed [with] each device marked as to what room and what window it goes to, and all they have to do is go stick it up and it’s a working system,” he said. “Then they pay us for monitoring and they feel like they saved some money by putting it in themselves.”

Collums recently wrote about going retail as a guest contributor on Honeywell’s The Security Channel blog, offering advice to other independent dealers who want to follow his lead in order to compete with the big players in this rapidly changing industry. Collums predicted to SSN that more and more security companies around the country soon would be moving “to places of exposure so people can find them.”