Security and alarm firms hit hard by gas prices

Companies forced to increase rates, implement new vehicle policies

"Sadly enough, if the fuel costs go up another 50 cents, we will have to suspend our patrol service," he said. "I know that some of the larger alarm companies would say ‘Here, we’ll pay more,’ but the other ones wouldn’t and it just wouldn’t justify the costs to run for [only] a couple [alarm firms]. We’re hoping it doesn’t get to that point, but I have a feeling it’s going to. I can tell you this much, this company will not have a profit this year because of fuel."

The fuel crisis has also had a personal financial impact on Valdez, as well as CBI co-owner and Chief Financial Officer Adam Kerbs.

"We both have stopped taking payroll checks until we get through this crisis," Valdez said. "We haven’t received a check in about six months. So, we’ve been living off our savings just trying to weather the storm."

Hurting the alarm industry, too

Another segment of the security industry feeling the fuel pinch is alarm dealers. According to Sam Fiske, general manager of Smoky Mountain Systems, which primarily installs residential and commercial alarm systems in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina, fuel costs for his company have doubled over the last 18 months.

Fiske estimated that the company, which also installs phone and home automation systems, doles out between $45,000 and $50,000 a month filling up more than 50 different vehicles.

To offset these costs, Fiske said that they have started adding a fuel surcharge to each service ticket, but he indicated that they are looking into other methods of conserving gas.

"We have certainly researched GPS and some of the firms that are out there that help you evaluate routes that are being taken by your technicians. We are currently doing that internally; we’re grouping and zoning calls to be sure that we maximize penetration in areas that we’re in that we catch all the service and installation we possibly can why we’re in that immediate area," he said "In some cases postponing some non-emergency type service for a day or two until we can possibly get other calls in that area to better justify sending a truck and either one or two men into that area."

Fiske added that the company is also combining two technicians to a vehicle when possible to help cut down on fuel costs. He said that they primarily use the Ford E-250 and Chevrolet 2500 service vans for installs, which when loaded down, are estimated to get between 10 and 11 miles per gallon.

They have yet to find a type of hybrid service vehicle marketed in their area that meets their required specifications. Being that many of their service calls are in mountainous regions, Fiske said that they require vehicles which not only can take the stresses of driving on high-elevation mountain roads but also can handle the weight of numerous tools and parts.

Though some of their technicians are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week due to the fact that they provide service to various hospitals and emergency response agencies, Fiske said that Smoky Mountain Systems is exploring the option of changing their schedules from five eight-hour days to four 10-hour days. As of yet, no decision has been made to change the work schedule.

As their fuel bill increases, Fiske said that they will have to keep passing off the difference to their customers.

"We’ve absorbed about all the increases that we can absorb internally and we’re going to have to continue to pass it on to the consumer. Just as the grocery stores reflect the price of food and vegetables for transportation bills," he said. "We are seeing it billed to us as we are in turn having to bill it to others."

According to Fiske, Smoky Mountain Systems has seen an overall reduction in business, but he attributes that mainly to the overall downturn in the economy rather than as a result of any added fuel surcharge.

With costs come fraud

While neither Valdez nor Fiske says they have experienced problems with their employees improperly using gas cards, an executive with one of the largest, nationwide alarm and electronic systems installers, who asked that he and his company remain anonymous, said that they have not been as fortunate.

The business, which has a fleet of 2,600 service vehicles, has had numerous problems with technicians attempting to take advantage of the current situation by filling their own cars or their relatives’ cars up at the company’s expense.