The Ahhhhhh Factor

The rich are different. They like convenience. They are not price sensitive. They want creature comforts. And, they have properties that require protection.


Todd Broyard, owner of Black Lab Alarm Inc., Woburn, Mass., knows a lot about the different controls and convenience tools these customers want. He has built a successful business serving top-end builders and their customers in the Boston area and has achieved success even in the down economy. He knows what his customers want and how to deliver it.


For starters, they are way beyond setting a system by punching a few buttons and walking away. How old school! Black Lab’s customers like to control things from their smartphones and iPads. They know what they want, but that can change by the hour so Black Lab provides a system that changes parameters to meet their whims. These customers want bells and whistles (and would probably take an entire brass band if they could).


“You don’t want to box then in,” Broyard said. Black Lab’s client list reads like a Who’s Who of society in New England— athletes, Fortune 500 CEOs and prominent business owners.


This is not a clientele where profits are made on RMR. In fact, Black Lab has only about 1,000 monitored accounts. But some of them generate $700 a month in revenue.

“One big positive about these people is that, even in a down economy, they have money and they are even more concerned about security,” Broyard said. Through the recent bad years, there were no layoffs at his company. In fact, this year he has hired an additional tech and another office member for a total of nine technicians and four administrative positions.


“Our customers are a bit more recession proof than most and they are willing to spend,” Broyard continued.


Black Lab got into the business about 17 years ago. A couple of years into the business, they did a project for a client who had hired an A/V installation company. The client was disappointed with the quality of work. It was this business-savvy client who suggested Black Lab and the A/V firm might work well together.


“We met to discuss opportunities,” Broyard recalled. Over the ensuing years, he built a network of about a dozen A/V partners. “We get about $1 million of referrals from A/V firms each year,” he added.


Know the customer


     It should be obvious by now that these customers, both the contractors and the homeowners, require special handling. Having a background in residential contracting as a frame and finish carpenter helped a bit. However, Broyard said, an alarm dealer must be selective about which alarm panel to use.


     Black Lab will do a dozen or more contracts each year that are well over six figures—some hit $500,000—in a single family home. Customers want to have top-quality megapixel monitoring cameras. The video surveillance has to work with the iPad and iPhone for arming and disarming. The jobs almost sound like commercial installs. Homeowners demand Web-based access control. It is not unusual for a client to spend $40,000 on a video system. “A quarter-million is not unheard of,” Broyard said.

     Black Lab works with Chubb Insurance Co. as a Preferred Partner. Chubb also caters to the upper crust. It makes Broyard’s life easy when a client says they need a system that Chubb will approve and he can flash his endorsement from the company.


The same relationship holds true with the major A/V vendors in the Boston area. Broyard said that the alarm dealer should be on the same page as the A/V dealer when it comes to presenting to the customer. Both stand to win a substantial contract when things go well.

     This means the alarm dealer should have a simple, coordinated system design to present. This will require some back-and-forth, either by phone, email, or in person, between the alarm company and the A/V dealer.


     “All vendors should know what to expect when meeting the customer for the first time,” Broyard said.


     Unlike the typical quick-turn sale, Black Lab often will be on an installation for hundreds of hours. “These jobs are time consuming and tie up labor,” Broyard continued. “We sell the job at a profit. We try not to lose money on installations.”


     Billing, contracting and collections must be resolved in light of state laws. Some states have licensing requirements to sell security systems. Typically, an alarm dealer will carry special insurance that an A/V dealer will not have.


     Broyard likes his niche. He said there are not many security companies who concentrate on serving the custom, high-end residential market.


     That may be because most dealers focus on signing up monitored alarm accounts.


     He said too many security companies are unwilling to adapt to the new panels they may find on a job. “You have to be willing to work with different cameras that work with your displays and touchscreens,” he added.


     “That is our business model,” Broyard said. “Knowing what to integrate with which panel made a huge difference. We can work with the A/V company and the builders like that. It makes life easier for the builder—we are easy to work with.”


     Todd is a graduate of the University of Vermont. His wife, Michele, is a graduate of the University of Rhode Island in finance and she assists with the day-to-day operations. He started in the alarm business 22 years ago in Hartford, Conn., working with Doug Curtis at Sonitrol Communications Corp. “It was a great operation and I got great training,” Broyard recalled. He moved to the Boston area and worked with Curtis Anderson, president of Sonitrol of Boston, for a year and then transitioned into distribution with Varitec Inc.


     In October, 1994, he decided to go into business on his own. However, he had no network with the upper crust. “I had nobody to tap,” he said. So, he went to the building departments in the upper-end Boston suburbs and looked to see who had pulled building permits. “I was hungry.” He cold-called job sites and got some work. Eventually, an electrical contractor he knew introduced him to a top-end contractor. He followed through with premium work execution and was in a good position to talk to other premier builders.


     “Word spread that we had a good group of technicians,” Broyard said. Now, they are one of a couple of companies that work on the $20 million to $40 million single-family home jobs.







“These customers, both the contractors and the homeowners, require special handling.” –Todd Broyard


Not many security companies concentrate on the custom, high-end residential market. Some accounts generate $700 a month in revenue.—Todd Broyard