Magazine Articles

Profile of Proficiency - An Inspiration and An Asset

Security Dealer Magazine
September 2001

After gaining a tremendous amount of experience from years of working for leading security design firms, Ralph Johnson put his safe future and retirement on hold, to strike out on his own. He is very glad he did.

After nearly a decade of dedication, Johnson's company, Fire Control Systems, Inc., Pensacola, FL, has emerged from the spare bedroom office into a bona fide contender in Florida's panhandle. "I had worked for about 30 years in the industry from some very large companies in the sales, service and installation departments. I just had an intense desire to work for myself and with the help of my wife, I did," Johnson remarks.

Making a move of this magnitude after 30 years working for someone else is a huge step, admits Johnson. "It was a hard transition. The first nine months I never took a paycheck. Fortunately, my wife had a great job at the Navy base."

Johnson estimates that the first year the company did $140,000 in sales and service. "This year we'll do nearly 2 million, and I just hired my 12th employee. Business is booming," he states.

Getting Off the Ground

Once in business, Johnson earnestly translates his years of experience into a living. It is soon obvious to him that he made the right decision. "Within a year, many clients were seeking my knowledge and work," he says.

"When you first start in this business, many of the challenges are related to cash flow," Johnson continues. "I was limited to the size of the job I could bid on because of my resources. I was undercapitalized when I started out."

However, with what he refers to as "a little luck" and good contacts willing to take a risk, Johnson succeeded. Drawing from his many years in sales, he is able to transfer some key contacts into solid business leads.

Contractors are known to shy away from new start-ups because there is no proven track record. "I was fortunate because I had worked in the Florida panhandle for so many years," Johnson admits. "They knew me personally and gave me a try," he says.

Fire Control Systems specializes in the installation of fire, security, CCTV and offers central station monitoring to customers. To Johnson, the equipment he installs and the manufacturer who stands behind it are huge assets to his continued success.

One company Johnson enjoys doing business with is Keltron. "We have been working with them for over five years and they have been a very good sales tool for us," he comments.

"Number one, they provide us with products that sell and the equipment customers want," Johnson continues. "Number two is the technical support on all projects we work with them on."

Keltron Corporation, located in Waltham, MA, describes itself as a company that provides smart technology with a lot of backup to its clients. Steve Sargent, sales manager, feels that many of the companies who purchase solutions from Keltron do so because its systems provide a wide range of inputs and outputs.

Another reason, according to Sargent, is that company representatives can be found behind the scenes on many of its dealers' jobs, converting old signals into signals that are compatible with the newer equipment. Plus, while performing these tasks on integrations jobs, "no one ever knows we are part of the job except maybe the service technician," Sargent states.

Old Meets New and, In-Between, There's Integration

A recent Fire Control Systems/Keltron collaboration is a cost-cutting project at Florida State University in Tallahassee, FL. It is a classic retrofitting of old meets new and some fancy integration in-between.

"Florida State University had a relatively new Keltron unit operating very well," Johnson explains. "It was a dialup system where all the transmitters and dialers came back to the central police station via leased telephone lines. The system was costing the university over $40,000 a year in telephone expenses. They wanted to eliminate these extra costs," according to Johnson.

When Fire Control went in to upgrade the existing Keltron DMP703 system, Johnson discovered the new Keltron system available has complete UL listing as a proprietary supervising station fire alarm system; even its active radio networking has this listing.

Adding wireless capability to the system removes the expensive line charges as well as the reliability concerns of hardwiring, such as line cuts. System integrity is also enhanced with more frequent supervision of check-in signals.

The system has the ability, according to Keltron, to handle a variety of input styles and has made the upgrade and transmission from wired to wireless simple and straightforward.

To Johnson, the important role a manufacturer plays on a project is one of teamwork and he feels Keltron fits the bill. "My resources only get better with a good manufacturer to count on," he says.

Karen Duane is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Security Dealer magazine.