When it comes to the U.S. alarm market it seems the more things change the more they…change. In fact, other than the video surveillance industry, the alarm industry may be the fastest changing market in security. With new technology in the wireless and connected home space, strong competition from the do-it-yourself (DIY) and cable and telco companies, and rocket-like growth in interest of interactive services on the home and small business front, many dealers are having to reinvent themselves to stay current.
This is evident even at industry giant ADT, consistently ranked No. 1 on the SDM 100 Report.
“We are probably in a period right now where we see more innovation than we have seen in the last 30 years in this industry,” says Alan Ferber, president of residential, The ADT Corp., Boca Raton, Fla. “We speak about ourselves internally as a 140-year-old startup. We are focused on new technology that can improve customer’s lives.”
While Rochester, Minn.-based Custom Alarm, featured on this month’s cover, doesn’t match the longevity of ADT, it has still experienced the same theme: reinvention.
“2014 was much better than 2013 — probably about 20 percent better on the alarm side,” says Melissa Brinkman, CEO. “It has to do with the economy, but also partly to do with the way we are marketing ourselves differently with interactive services. We are being more proactive with it. We are 47 years old. We have customers who didn’t necessarily think of us as having newer technologies. They thought of us as a traditional alarm company.”
There has never been a better time to overcome image problems such as these. With the marketing blitz being taken care of by the big guns that more recently entered the market, many dealers large and small are grabbing the opportunity to ride on the coat tails of the cable and telephone companies, resulting in potentially huge opportunities.
“2014 was a really strong year,” Ferber adds. “Our dealer channel was up about 19 percent over the prior year.”
At 19 and 20 percent growth, these dealers are slightly above average for 2014 the industry, according to research by Parks Associates, Dallas.
“Our data said it grew at approximately a rate of 15 percent,” says Tom Kerber, director of research, home controls & energy for Parks Associates. “That is very strong for an industry that had been relatively consistent.Much of that was the addition of interactive controls. Our consumer data shows that when you add home controls and interactive services to a basic security system, the appeal increases by as much as two-fold. In fact, we had predicted that the market would grow by about 50 percent over the next 10 years, but we have had to revise that forecast up to probably more like in the next five years.”
Numbers are not yet in for 2015, but he anticipates another 10 percent to 15 percent growth this year as well. “The forces expanding the market are much greater than those holding it back at this point,” he adds.
Distributor TRI-ED notes opportunities are definitely increasing, due to these factors and others.
“In both the commercial and residential markets, it was those companies who made sure they leveraged technology to add more value who fared well in 2014.” says James Rothstein, senior vice president of global marketing, TRI-ED Distribution,Woodbury, N.Y.
SDM magazine’s 2015 Market Forecast Study bears that out. SDM readers were contacted in the fall of 2014 about their experience in 2014 and expectations for 2015. Burglar alarms swapped places with video surveillance last year as the technology category bringing in the greatest share of dealers’ revenue, at 28 percent (see chart, page 62). Residential security sales and installation jumped from 16 percent of total revenue in the previous year’s study to 21 percent, where non-residential sales and installation fell from 36 percent to 25 percent. Home systems sales and installation also grew.
Another thing contributing to sales in 2014 was technology — both the introduction of new and lowering costs of existing.
“The cost today of a motion detector with a camera in it has come down to the point where it is not much more expensive and in a few years it will probably be the same cost,” says Steve Walker, vice president of customer service for Stanley Security, Indianapolis, as well as president of the Partnership for Priority Video Alarm Response (PPVAR).
Brinkman says technology is definitely driving sales in her business, which is about 30 percent residential and the rest large commercial, education and government. “It changed rapidly. Technology advancements are really catapulting things forward.”
Along with that, there is the increasingly ubiquitous Internet of Things. “There’s an app for that,” has become the catchphrase of the decade and that is making its presence felt in the alarm market as well.
“Remote services played a key role in 2014,” Rothstein adds. “The ability to monitor and, in some cases, control remotely via smartphones has become more and more important in residential and commercial markets.”
Not only is it driving interest in actual apps and remote connections, it is affecting the entire end user mentality.
“A vast majority of people are willing to adopt new technologies in the high-tech market early on and adapt easily to changes instead of sticking with the status quo,” says Bill Kieckhafer, president and COO, AES Corporation, Peabody, Mass.
And with the economy improving, more and more users will have the money to do just that.
Even better for the security dealer, there are more talking points than ever before to go to new or existing customers and sell the new products and services available today. And technology turnover is happening just as fast, with communications technologies obsoleting at almost dizzying rates. Yet for many, change — especially at the rate the alarm market is moving — can be challenging. Along with the positives comes some trepidation about where the industry is heading and how it will impact the security dealer’s business. Perhaps that is why, when asked about sales by product niche for 2014 and 2015, SDM’s 2015 Forecast Study respondents were positive about this year (which actually did 10 percent better than they had predicted it would in the 2014 Forecast), but put other technologies ahead of burglar alarms for next year, dropping the technology three percentage points and from 3rd to 5th most positively viewed. Still, with “good to excellent” rating at 71 and 69 percent (see chart, page 63) perhaps “cautious optimism” is the best way to look at it.
Navigating the waters of change and competition can be tricky, but many in the industry feel the opportunities in this market are huge if you know where to look.
The Interactive Services Factor
Industry insiders simply can’t say it often or strongly enough: residential interactive (or automation) services are driving this market at an increasingly fast speed.
The alarm system in a home is the one piece of technology that knows whether people are present. The natural extension of doing something with that information such as turning on lights, adjusting thermostats, or alerting the homeowner’s smartphone that their teenager is home are just a few of the interactive services that are making security a newly attractive option to more and more homeowners.
Products such as Honeywell’s Total Connect Remote Services are offered through a free download on iTunes or Google Play and can help dealers sell more remote services. “The app resides on smartphones,” explains Robert Puric, director, connected home, Honeywell Security Products of America, Melville, N.Y. “The user enters their user ID and password and can control anything from the alarm system to all the lifestyle benefits.”
Security-based home control products appeal to the customer’s lifestyle, says Duane Paulson, senior vice president of products and market development, Nortek Security & Control, Carlsbad, Calif. “Our GoControl line of smart home products may not fall within the traditional alarm system portfolio and business model that dealers are used to, but the home control segment does represent a future-facing profit center that complements traditional systems.”
Besides, interactive services are “cool,” Brinkman says. “Before, in the alarm business the user would hope the keypad never made a noise. Now people want to be interacting with it, whether it is on a wall or a phone. It is a whole different way of looking at an alarm system.”
These types of services do more for the industry than just drum up new business. They are also a key RMR boost, adds Tom Mechler, product marketing manager, Bosch Security Systems Inc., Fairport, N.Y.
“We are seeing that RMR opportunities are growing for dealers. That monthly fee for just the monitoring was tending to go down every year. Now we are starting to see it increase again because of these services,” he says.
Parks Associates’ research supports this. According to its quarterly research, 65 percent of new installations have interactive services. “That number 65 is huge,” Kerber says. “That is a big switch for the industry to have adopted that fast.”
Some dealers are taking interactive services even further, adding in monitoring of critical conditions such as moisture.
“Ask how many people have had a water leak in their homes,” says Craig Leyers, senior vice president, sales and marketing, ADS Security, Nashville, Tenn. “Insurance providers, are frothing at the mouth to connect with that customer base. Insurance settlements can range from $2,000 or $25,000 or more. It is the No. 1 claim insurance providers face.”
Both ADT and Custom Alarm offer water monitoring solutions, as well as seeking out partnerships with insurance companies.
“We have been working with local insurance agents,” Brinkman says. “We did a sales blitz last spring to create interest. With our certificate of insurance we provide to our customers, the insurance company then provides them a discount.
“These are the kinds of things we talk about on the front end with our customers. We live in a fairly safe community. Rochester is where Mayo Clinic is and there are a lot of people who come here temporarily from a big city. They think we are quiet and safe and they don’t need security. But life still happens.”
The residential market is really as much about that peace of mind as it is security today, says Neil Evans, senior product manager, Tyco Security Products, Toronto. “Interactive support, integration of low-cost cameras, verifying when a child gets home — these things give a homeowner more peace of mind. There is the intrusion factor, but also lifestyle things.”
And it isn’t just for the rich. In fact, SDM’s 2015 Industry Forecast Study respondents cited middle-market existing homes as the expected fastest growing residential market in 2015, outstripping high-end homes by 16 percentage points (see chart, page 74).
ADT’s Pulse home automation platform allows integration with lights, thermostats and door locks and is growing rapidly across demographics and geographies.
“A couple of months ago we hit our millionth customer,” Ferber says. “In our dealer channel, over half are signing up for Pulse, which is up from 30 percent a year ago.
“There really isn’t an economic range. People used to have this exact same discussion when the smartphones came out. I feel the same way about automation,” he relates.
Not everyone is rushing to board this train of interactive services, however. Some smaller dealers, particularly, have reservations. Parks Associates’ research indicates that smaller dealers are slower to adopt than the national and regional ones.
“There is a little bit of intimidation factor,” Evans says. “It changes the installation. You are also talking about IP and/or cellular technology. The majority of medium and larger sized dealers are doing it, but some of the smaller ones are a little hesitant.”
Shooter Stein, president, National Certified Alarms Inc. (NCA), Nashville, Tenn., is one dealer who is stepping more slowly into the interactive waters. “We do offer connected services but only with the security portion,” he says. “Interactive service is great, but there are so many factors that it is hard to control the quality for customers. Their Internet could be down or the smartphone could be acting up, but if their lights won’t come on, the first thing they will do is blame us and probably call us to fix it.”
Like many dealers, offering good service is their bread and butter, so Stein wants to make sure that even the perception of bad service won’t be the result. “If I get a call and a thermostat isn’t working, I can tell them to call the HVAC company, but then it looks like I am dismissing it and I don’t care. And what if it really is my app? We always want to make sure we are treating the customer correctly, so if we are going to get in it, we want to go full-fledged, have techs qualified and trained in every aspect of lighting and know how to work all these thermostats. Until you are willing to jump all the way into it, you can hurt yourself.”
Puric understands that. “Small dealers don’t want to be burdened with a call at two in the morning because a boiler went out. A lot of it has to do with training techniques. I always tell dealers if you are going to invest in this area, hire an electrician and a network person.”
It’s not just a small dealer attitude, Brinkman says. “We had problems with the installation team saying, ‘If we are going to use these locks we need a locksmith.’ I installed one in my own home and went back to my guys and said, ‘Look, you don’t need to be afraid of this.’”
Whether you are already offering it, thinking of offering it or afraid of it, here is something to think about: The percentage of new installations that are basic, professionally monitored with no additional services fell 10 percent between the 1st quarter and 3rd quarter of 2014, according to Parks Associates’ research.
“Where we see interactive services help dealers most is in attrition rates,” Puric adds. “They hover in the general 12 to 15 percent range. The lifestyle aspect helps them attract the customer and separate themselves from the rest of the community just doing arming/disarming.”
Paulson agrees. “Perhaps the biggest advantage of these services is that dealers can create a more universal control and monitoring ecosystem for end customers that ultimately results in a stickier product sale. Meaning, users will be less likely to cancel their subscription because it’s geared around their lifestyle and not just security and a monthly monitoring fee.”
Cable & Telcos: Competition or Free Marketing?
When cable and the telephone companies first announced their intention to enter the security market, the industry wasn’t sure what to expect. Were they serious or was this going to be a repeat of history? How would it affect the security business? As it turns out so far, the alarm industry may owe cable and telcos a big thank you.
“COX has been advertising more heavily in our area,” says small dealer Jeff Monson, owner, Bulwark Home Security LLC, Mesa, Ariz. “While we have only lost a handful of existing customers to them, they are not a threat when it comes to online review sites like Angie’s List and Yelp since they don’t have many positive reviews. In the past I have always told people that [a certain large national] is my favorite company, because we get so many people switching over to us due to concerns with their service. Maybe COX will be my new ‘favorite’ company in a few years.”
Monson’s experience highlights the general mood of the alarm industry these days regarding these “competitors.” They do great advertising, raising awareness; but when it comes to trust, the traditional security dealer still has it hands down.
Parks Associates says 23 percent of professionally monitored security systems acquired in the past 12 months (as of 1st quarter 2014) were bundled with broadband TV, mobile or phone service. That still leaves almost 80 percent for the dealers, who are poised to capitalize on the interest cable and telcos are generating. In fact, a recently published study from Parks Associates found that two-thirds of U.S. broadband households are willing to pay for a smart energy management service.
“Mainstream media coverage, advertising and social media have had a strong influence on security and integrated home systems,” says Rob Aarnes, president of distributor ADI North America, Melville, N.Y. “For example, there are commercials out there showing people locking their homes and turning off water remotely from their cabin.”
This is paired with an interesting — if not surprising to anyone who has bundled cable or TV services — phenomenon: It turns out homeowners don’t trust the level of service they will get with them and would still prefer to buy from their local dealer, as long as they have the same types of offerings.
“Telcos came into this as a threat and people were nervous about it,” says Amy Kothari, president/CEO, Alarm Capital Alliance, Newtown Square, Pa. “But it ended up being neutral because they do struggle a bit on the service side. I view them as a positive thing as long as we are staying on top of the technology, because they have bigger marketing budgets.”
On an aggregate national basis the cable companies are lined up on price, Kerber adds. “But I am pretty confident that on a service basis a local dealer will win. There is a lot of baggage associated with the telecom industry and service, even if they do make improvements.”
ADT’s Ferber says cable and telco companies are not a factor as competition. “They have helped raise awareness of automation and helped the overall industry. But I would put our dealer’s service and experience up against them any day.”
It’s a rising tide that lifts all ships, says Shawn Welsh, vice president of marketing and business development, Telguard, Atlanta. “Smaller companies don’t have the marketing budgets, but they are the local companies with the local contacts. More and more I don’t hear as much about the threat side of this. Small dealers or large, the local dealers are not losing deals to these larger entrants.”
The surge of advertising is reaching customers that would not have previously thought of security, Tyco’s Evans says. “Now we are able to penetrate to more customers. It is also an opportunity for dealers to differentiate themselves as well. You have guys that have been doing this for 20 to 40 years as opposed to companies that have a voice but are relatively new to the overall industry. There are a lot of nuances to how intrusion works.”
For example, cable and telco companies are less likely to recommend a communication path other than broadband, which is not always the most stable choice.
“Cable companies aren’t educating customers on what the benefit is and why you need another communication backup,” Brinkman says. “They are not trained in that kind of thinking.”
Brinkman, like many of her fellow dealers, views the cable companies as an opportunity more than a threat, but she cautions that the window of opportunity may not be open forever. “It is important for us not to say ‘us, too.’ We want to make sure the customer thinks of us first. We are trying to get the message out there early so when people think of interactive, they think, ‘Oh, I think Custom Alarm has that.’ And when they are ready, they will call us first.”
DIY/MIY, or ‘If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’
Like cable and telco, DIY companies came in the market under the veil of a threat to the professional alarm market, but may actually be something dealers can capitalize on. A portion of users will flock to DIY and MIY (monitor it yourself) because they are cheaper. But industry insiders agree that those are likely not people who would have been professional customers anyway.
The good news for the professional alarm market is that the self-installed/self-monitored systems market doesn’t have as strong a growth as the professional market. “The good numbers are in the professional market. There is a percentage that is self-installed, but the professionally monitored is increasing faster,” Kerber says.
Many believe the DIY market can still help get the word out about what is possible and those not willing to try to figure it out themselves will come looking for it from a professional. “The DIY market will lead people to look for more professional solutions in the coming years,” says Frank Soehnlein, sales team manager for Safety Technology International, Waterford, Mich.
“There are definitely a lot more DIY solutions available on the market, but we are also finding that users are still willing to pay for the features they are looking for,” Aarnes says. “Just because products may say ‘DIY,’ many users may still want a professional to install it, so they might buy the products themselves but will call a dealer for the install. There are a lot of DIY solutions coming equipped with higher end feature sets that need to be unlocked by a certified professional, which creates opportunities for dealers.”
In other words, a certain portion of the DIY market is already crying “help” and asking for professional support.
Monson has experienced this first-hand. “We get calls all the time from people who decided to try to save some money by purchasing their own system and then realize they cannot install it.”
ADS’s Leyers thinks the trick is to capitalize on this frustration. “The way I look at it, and we educated our sales organization this way, is in Home Depot you can also buy a hot water heater. But how many people will install those on their own? How many times are those products really sold to professionals or with the expectation that they will be installed and supported by a professional that can provide a long-term lifeline?
“There seems to be a pretty rapid point of recognition where someone finally understands why these products have such an aggressive price point and realizes a professional would have been a better choice.”
For those looking just for “connection, not protection,” Telguard’s Welsh expects the MIY trend to be short-lived. “It is a much younger demographic in their first homes or apartments (see SDMonline story, “The Millennial Factor”). That may actually translate into net new growth. When they get about eight texts in a row about that there is someone in their home, that will introduce them to the value of professional monitoring.”
Joey Rao-Russell, president and CEO of Kimberlite Corp., a Sonitrol dealer, Fresno, Calif. says DIY/MIY is giving a false sense of security to consumers. “One of the things we laugh about is the idea that someone will want to [monitor their own] alarms via their phone. That won’t last. I certainly can’t see it lasting in the commercial space when an employee forgets to turn off an alarm and it goes off every two seconds. But it makes us have to be better at what we do, have a more consultative sale and inform the customer as best we can.”
ADT recently introduced a new marketing campaign aimed at the DIY/MIY customers to address some of these points head on. “DIY is a tremendous opportunity to demonstrate to the customer that a smart home is not necessarily a safe home,”Ferber says. “Our new ad campaign is really to educate the market around the difference between a smart home and a safe home and that you really want both.”
Kothari inserts a note of caution, however. “I think it is wishful thinking to think you can stick to professional install as a traditional security company. This is a bubble that won’t last that long. DIY instructions and support are getting better and better, and customers smarter and smarter. We need to be prepared to play in the DIY market.” (See SDMonline story, “The Ikea Effect: Can DIY Work for Home Security & Automation.”)
Perhaps the key going forward will be a hybrid solution that satisfies the DIY urge where it makes sense, but keeps the security portion in the professional’s hands. Honeywell, for example, allows consumers to do some DIY within its Total Connect platform. “We do offer some DIY capability, but the services are professional security,” Puric says. “The consumer has to buy the panel and security related technology from their dealer, but they can go into a big box shop and buy another module like a Z-Wave light switch and add it to the control panel. We tell our customers, for life safety you want a pro installing the security. For lights and locks, you can do it yourself.”
For those who want to try to play in this market, Kothari has this advice: “Selling DIY really comes down to marketing dollars. You can do it through traditional channels by having your front line sales say, ‘We can ship you this product and walk you through it.’ If you want to go further you need to focus on search engine optimization (SEO) and marketing to get the word out. Most of the DIYs are not running on pure ecommerce yet, but most are pushing it through the Internet. The differentiating factor is how it is delivered. Fulfillment is key. Are you able to execute on the expected fulfillment perfection? Can you pre-program everything, ship it in a clean, well-instructioned package and have the support staff to help the customer through the install?”
If so, you might be able to beat the DIY companies at their own game and make a profit in the process.
The Commercial Market
In many ways the commercial market mirrors the residential, even if the same influencers don’t affect them as greatly. On the small to medium commercial end especially, they are looking for many of the same “connected” services as the residential customers.
“There is some migration in both residential and commercial markets that are blending them more than ever,” says Mark L. NeSmith, vice president of sales for Digital Monitoring Products, Springfield, Mo. “Dealers are adding access control functions to residential applications and Z-Wave devices to commercial properties such as lighting control and thermostats. Video is a standard request in both segments, as well.”
Aarnes agrees. “There will be a bigger push for connected building technology as users look to have the same protocol and same access to the building as offered in the home. All users, whether residential or commercial, are now expecting total connectivity of their systems and remote access through their devices.”
The difference on the commercial side is what they do with that connectivity. More small to medium commercial businesses are using IP and even cloud technologies today. Dealers who play in this market have to be prepared to offer integration at increasingly lower levels, and potentially monitor access and video, along with alarms.
“Traditionally it was only at the enterprise level where they expected alarm, access and video to work together,” says Rao-Russell. “Now even small and medium businesses want those things. At the enterprise level they want more boutique service. It is very similar to residential. They want their phones, Internet access through Web-based portals. They want to feel secure and have access to automation.”
David Whittington, CPP, SET, assistant manager, Blue Ridge Security Solutions, Anderson, S.C., agrees. “Everybody wants an app to access their system. We also see a shift to remotely managing access control from our central station. Another trend is cloud storage for video. We are seeing good demand for that.”
Commercial users do want more interaction with larger video and access systems than residential customers, Bosch’s Mechler says. “They are starting to bleed with the remote services. In the commercial space, however, we see that end users, while they like that convenience, have a little more concern about security and do you really want someone arming and disarming a bank from their phone?”
Tyco’s Evans feels wireless is another technology that is now starting to “bleed” from residential over to commercial. “From the residential perspective it has been available for more than 10 years, but we are starting to see a tremendous upswing in the commercial market. When you want to sell customers on these new services, the easiest way to add them in is via wireless. I strongly feel it will increase more in 2015.”
One interesting trend in the commercial space comes from the dealers themselves. In response to uncertainty about the rapidly shifting residential market, some dealers are actively choosing to focus more on the commercial side of their businesses (see “Sales Models for Success” online).
“Last year we had more growth in our commercial business than residential,” Leyers says. “We have deliberately increased our focus a little more on the commercial market in hopes we can continue to future-proof ourselves.”
As a dealer whose “sweet spot” is the small to medium enterprise-level integrated customers, Rao-Russell has noticed this shift. “What has changed is the companies that used to focus strictly on the residential and small commercial side are looking to enter the medium-sized space. There is more competition shifting into our space.”
Another big differentiator between the residential and commercial space is the issue of police response. False alarms affect every aspect of the industry; but in many geographic areas, budget constraints have led police departments to delay or even not respond at all to property crime, understandably putting tightening resources towards life safety first.
“Over the long term our police forces have had to redeploy their assets,” says Jack DeMao, CEO, Electric Guard Dog LLC, Columbia, S.C. “This means commercial property crime has to be treated as a lower priority and commercial companies have had to invest more in protecting themselves.”
They are also focused more on verifying the alarms they do have, in order to prioritize police response (see “The Case for Verified Response, page 73). “Verification from our perspective is absolutely having an impact on the playing field,” Walker says. “It’s not just about detecting an alarm situation. Now we are detecting activity at a protected premises and we are able to give a lot more information to both the customer and law enforcement about what is happening. Video and audio are not just shaping the consumer’s view about these services; they are also influencing the way the police respond.”
Whether a dealer operates in the commercial space, residential, or both, it is clear that change is in the air. And that may not be a bad thing.
“I think it is a changing time in our industry,” Rao-Russell concludes. “As long as we are responding to the customers’ needs, they are always willing to buy peace of mind and true security,” Rao-Russell conclues.” Yes, the industry is changing and we have all these different challenges; but if we provide the consumer confidence in what we do and become experts, the cable companies and DIYs are not going to be a problem in our space.”