Missing Ethics in Door-to-Door Alarm Sales?

National companies allege that some competitors are misrepresenting who they are, what they sell

Similar tactics have hit HSM customers, reports Dennis Stern, HSM's executive vice president and general counsel. "There are a bunch of guys that sell this way. There are companies that don't correctly represent who they are and what they're doing," says Stern, who notes that APX is by no means the only company whose door-to-door sales tactics could tarnish the alarm industry's image. Stern says that he has heard from others at Guardian Protection, Protection One, ADT who say they also have been hit by similar sales tactics.

"They're knocking on doors, and misleading to people that they're from Brink's," explains Brink's Dave Simon. "Then they're getting in the door and recommending changes to alarm systems that really don't need to be made and then trying to switch the monitoring over to them."

According to Simon, the tactics don't fall in line with what Brink's has for standards.

"We don't go door-to-door, and we don't come in with a service technician to say you need to have work done. If a technician needs to be there, then either the customer has contacted us or we've contacted them and set up an appointment."

Simon added that while the events have been isolated, they seem to flare up in the summer (Inbar says APX does have a summer program that uses college students). At Brink's says Simon, the issue of mispresentation has come to a point where the company has contacted APX Alarm and requested they cease the business practices.

APX's Inbar, however, denies that his company's sales staff misrepresents itself. "We even make sure that our customers know that while we are a dealer of Honeywell equipment, we are not part of the Honeywell corporation," says Inbar.

Being Proactive

Simon says that any alarm companies experiencing unethical operations in their markets will need to be proactive. He offered the following tips that his company has been doing as suggestions for any alarm company being plagued by a competitor that is misrepresenting itself.

"Make sure that their people, when they perform any type of service visit, identify themselves," says Simon. "They need to call before hand and say what dealership they're from and let the customers know there are changes that have to be made and why. They should give them the technicians name and specify a time they would be out there to service the equipment. You have to be very clear about who you are and why you are coming out.

"It's best to get your customers informed in every way you can, and notices in a letter or bill is a good way to do that. The other way we do that is through an automated voicemail system that can call our customers and advise them of the situation. Email will also work well if you've collected your customers' email addresses."

An Industry Ethics Problem

But even with proactive efforts from the "stand-up" companies in the industry, the alarm industry may not be immune to ethical problems.

"It's an entrepreneurial environment, where if you want to start an alarm company tomorrow, you can do it, and how you operate that company would be based on your personal ethics," says Simon. "The challenge there is the demarcation between the different companies. You have some companies with firmly established standards, but not everybody adopts those kinds of high standards.

So how do you reach those high standards?

"It can be education. It can be peer pressure. It can be pressure from association leadership and from national leadership, and ultimately it would be good to create some sort of enforcement mechanism. Overall, for the alarm industry, enforcement of any type of regulation or standard seems to be very difficult."

Nonetheless, APX's Inbar maintains that problems of ethics and standards don't affect his company. He says APX is one of few companies that makes it clear to customers what is being done, and actually follows up with their customers in two surveys, before and after the actual equipment install to make sure everything is upfront.

But asked how it is that a company that has such seemingly standard ethics has become the black sheep of the alarm industry according to both their competitors and according to so many local community news outlets, Inbar said it was only because the company was big and steadily growing.

"We're a lot larger than a lot of them," said APX's Inbar, "and as a result, we're on the radar."