Bob Beck was a career police officer when he branched out into security. He actually borrowed money from his wife, Kathy, to get R.J. Beck Protective Systems Inc., Norwalk, Ohio, started. “She lent me the money to buy my first ladder and drill,” he recalled.
Since the birth of their son, when Kathy left her newspaper job to take over as the company’s business manager, they have been working together around the clock. “She turned my expensive hobby into a paying business,” Beck said.
Son Steven, now a graduate of Ohio State University, has been with the company since he started doing janitorial chores in the office at age 16. In the summers, he worked on the crew, then in finance, then sales. Today, he is in charge of the 40 percent of the business that comes from the government vertical market.
In the beginning
Bob Beck has always had an interest in electronic security. “During my early career as a police officer and sheriff’s deputy, I saw a need for professional security companies,” he said. “So I left my full-time job in law enforcement and went out and sold my first CCTV system to a grocery store and a small retail store. And here I am today,” he said.
Beck built the business one client at a time. “We never had one defined system,” he said. With Beck, it is all about what the client needs. “I would listen to what the client had to say and what they were having problems with. We would custom design a system to fit their needs,” he said.
The company’s strategy was as simple as it was elegant: Provide the best equipment from the best manufacturers at the time, add hands-on service for each client and work to build a lasting business relationship. It worked. “We have had some clients for 30 years,” Beck said.
In the early years of the business, R.J. Beck was a dealer for Radionics and Pelco. “Those two companies had a very good dealer support network and product networks,” Beck said. No need to re-invent the wheel, he figured. “We took that ideology and passed it through to our customers, enhancing our support and product offering as time passed.”
Servicing government agencies
R.J. Beck’s migration to government sales came in the late 1990s. The business joined the Pelco and Radionics GSA dealer group and started to provide systems to government agencies.
In one way, it was a simple transition. “We took our business practices of providing good service, good systems and standing behind the products we install for them,” Beck said.
Their government-based business grew. Today it represents some 40 percent of the firm’s activity—not bad for a company located, not in Washington, D.C., but in a small county seat in Northern Ohio.
“We cover the Midwest for the government bids on different projects. Some we get and some we don’t—but we always enjoy doing business with government agencies,” Beck said.
He also serves as a consultant with the government as a Physical Security Specialist on various projects, such as courthouse security programs.
With the mix of enterprise clients they serve, Beck finds his biggest challenge is similar to many others in the business: As the company grows, it is a challenge to add the right employees and keep them trained on the latest technology.
“Our industry—unlike most—has a steep learning curve. We provide careers, not jobs,” he said. “That is a different mindset.”
“We also have to control our growth so it is healthy and solid. He said he laments the number of times over the 30-plus years that he has been in business that he has witnessed the “flash companies.” And, he said, “Then they’re gone.”
He said it is important to remember there are a group of security dealers who are in the business because they like what they do and look to build solid companies providing jobs and growth.