The Beat

Hangin' with Harrington
Dealer of the Future: Keeping Up With Kipp
Marc Hess, owner of Kipp Visual & Security Systems, could write the book on how dealers can market themselves and grow their businesses. His is thriving. It's because he actively, and proactively, promotes it.

The Baltimore-based company has been his baby since 1992, when he bought it from John Kipp. Founded by George Kipp circa 1865, it's one of the oldest businesses in and around the Baltimore/DC area. Although its rich history is embedded in the past, Kipp Visual & Security, under Marc Hess' watch, is relentlessly looking to the future. It's a philosophy, it would seem, that was handed down with the business.

His predecessor was also a visionary. Around 1960, when a little known Japanese firm wanted to break into the U.S. with TVs and transistor radios, john Kipp answered the call. The Japanese company, by the way, went by the name of Panasonic. Kipp was one of the first dealers in the U.S. to deal with Panasonic. When VCRs came along, the company expanded into the industrial electronics world. By the time CCTV hit the landscape, Kipp became a security integrator. So, for the past four decades, the company has been providing its clients with leading edge visual communications and security technology, including now, digital video, non-linear editing systems, access control and presentation systems.

Marc Hess knew a good thing when he saw it. He approached John Kipp when he was reaching retirement age and offered to buy the business. Hess had been a regional rep for a computer company and often called on local dealers. He saw the writing on the wall with the future of computers and integration, and seized the opportunity.

"I inherited well established people," he says. "But, they needed new enthusiasm. Recognizing that security was going to play a big role, I invested, brought in the better lines, expanded into access control, and established a myriad of wonderful clients."

Client-getting is the name of the game, and Marc Hess plays hard. He runs two separate businesses under one roof: KIPP Visual Systems, which designs, installs and maintains digital signage, software packages and plasma displays, and Kipp Security Systems, spanning video surveillance, access control, employee identification, and infant monitoring. Although separate entities, the two companies fuel one another.

Playing Both Sides of the Fence
Having an AV mix, I can play both sides of the fence," Hess states. "I can draw the security people in and vice versa." Case in point, after being retained to create digital signage in an area hospital, Hess pitched security solutions once inside the door. The relationship was already there, and the security installations followed.

"If you have success in a couple of areas, the best way to exploit that is to join the associations. Get out there and network. It's still a relationship business and always will be," he advises. He practices what he preaches and recently joined the Chesapeake Area Society of Health Care Engineering (CASHE), an association comprised of Hospital Facility Managers. "We're sponsoring a seminar in February and showing digital signage for hospitals. The same people make the decisions on security. This ties us into advertising in their trade publications as well as sponsoring a show to speak on our particular products."

Acknowledging that everyone needs to find a niche or two (or more), Marc does a lot of work with the X Mark baby monitoring systems. "I'm a vertically niched business. You can't be everything to everybody. Find those one or two areas that you can specialize in and differentiate yourself. Baby monitoring is becoming mandated. It's a niche product, profits are high, and it's a specialty. When you get into a hospital situation and do a good job, you'll grow your other applications. You have to offer things that are different."

Marketing the business is a mainstay of Kipp Visual & Security Systems. It's all about getting out there in front of potential customers. "Being a small business," he points out, "You can't be afraid to try something different. When you're a small guy, you have to be self-promoting, because you're up against the big boys."

Hess brings to the table what it takes to compete with them. He recently completed a $340,000 CCTV upgrade for the Georgetown University Law School. "We added 2 new buildings to our campus," explains Ray Smith, Security Director for the law center. "We had an antiquated CCTV system which was in a very small, overcrowded space on the ground floor of a dorm. As part of the New Buildings Capital Project, we upgraded what was an old CCTV, multiplexer/monitor system into a state-of-the-art digital system with flat screens and plasmas. We also needed to put in a panic alarm system in case of emergency, but we didn't want hardwire, as people move offices. We went to a wireless system ? 20 buttons throughout 5 buildings on a three block campus. Kipp did a helluva job for us."

They began by putting a package together for budget approval. There were 49 existing cameras, 28 more to be added (fixed and PTZs). "To make it easy for them to manage," Marc explains, "we took their Communications Center and turned it into a high-tech facility. We installed a total of six American Dynamic DVRs, 6 dedicated 42" plasma screens, and tied it all together with a mega power matrix to control all the PTZs. With the DVRs, not only can Ray (Smith) view the cameras from his desktop, but, depending on where we have site agreements, others with authorization can go into the network and do the same."

For the prestigious law school just a stone's throw from the Capitol, Hess' objective was to give them a top of the line program (achieved through American Dynamics and Bosch products), and the ease and flexibility to enter into the digital world. Although the system is intuitive, some training was needed, and included in the proposal.

Once the deal was negotiated one-on-one, Marc turned it over to a Project Manager who was on-site 3 to 4 times a week until it was completed. "He managed our people and coordinated our construction company?Whiting-Turner," he recounts. "A lot of things can go on that aren't your fault; half the battle is keeping up with everybody else. Our strategy is that a Project Manager on the job can catch the problems before they became major. And it's key to let the client know what's happening all the time. One of the biggest mistakes with any installation is that the dealer has one expectation, the client has another. The Project Manager's job is to coordinate with our installers, Georgetown's people and the construction company's people.

After we do the install, our techs come in and set up all the cameras, all the software and we give their training. Our techs are intimate in training the security guards in Ray's group. They're involved with the working of it, so it makes sense that they give the training."

"They're still training us on an ongoing basis," Smith adds. "I can go into the software program and manipulate any of the 78 cameras from my computer. It's an excellent system. Marc and Kipp did a great job?I'm very pleased."

Keeping the customers satisfied is rule one for Hess. "Don't ignore the people you've already sold to because you've made their money; you always have to look for their new business. You can provide a maintenance contract and deliver what you promised before they sign the contract. And, a phone call from the owner or top management always helps. We send out a survey after and ask how we performed. It is good to get feedback and clients like to feel like they are part of that process."

Other promotional tools Hess employs include his Web site (strictly for information gathering, not sales) and direct mailings. He reaches out in these mailings to churches and synagogues, to Security Managers to promote his CASHE seminar, and is doing another mailing with IDenticard, which recently signed up a large group of hospitals. "We're using their list and telemarketing to hospitals," he says.

For three years running, Hess' big outreach has been hosting a Security Symposium for his clients. It is an opportunity for clients and target clients to receive training and get up close and personal with the newest product offerings. Guest speakers also participate in the event, which usually attracts about 80 attendees. It is all part of Marc Hess' commitment to providing quality service and growing his business. Expansion has, after all, always defined the evolution of the Kipp business since its inception over a century ago.

Ironically enough, Hess mirrors that history. "I look at my past to predict my future," he says. "If I've been strong in hospital applications like infant monitoring, why not replicate that? Why not do a direct mailing to Facility Directors or MIS Directors, who are getting more and more getting involved in the decision making because of IT convergence? If dealers are not recognizing that, they are missing the boat."

Hess adds, "You used to speak with a retired cop. Now you are talking with young people in MIS departments. They are sharp and know what broadband is. The convergence with IT?the writing is on the wall, and with what's happening digitally. The progressive dealer today is talking to an AV director, an MIS director. They are putting in cabling and whatever it takes. If you can provide everything they need, you can hold onto that client. Being two and 3-dimensional gives you a bit more of an edge."

He knows of which he speaks.