Reviving a Legacy in the Security Industry

Grandson of Best Access Systems founder builds security firm that plans to go national

In some ways, Richard Best has never gotten over his departure from his family's business, Best Access Systems. Some memories he'd rather forget. But others he carries with him like treasures carefully secured under lock and key.

"That was a very difficult time," Best said in halting tones, referring to 1995, when his youngest brother, Russell, acquired control of the company and used his leverage to buy out him, his father, Walter, and brothers Robert and Marshall. "It was our family business ... and then it no longer was."

A decade later, Richard Best is starting over, building from scratch his own company, Vigilcorp LLC, which he believes will one day be a national provider of security systems and services for residential and commercial customers.

Best, 47, along with former Best Access executive David Benshoof, started Vigilcorp LLC in May 2002. Best expects revenue for the firm to reach $1 million this year and $20 million within five years.

"I want to take this firm national with sales of $100 million within 10 years," Best said.

Unlike Best Access, Vigilcorp isn't a manufacturer. Rather, it provides security consulting and services while purchasing the products themselves from vendors. Areas of expertise include closed-circuit TV systems, personal protection, corporate-espionage control, and providing and training security staff.

Vigilcorp serves clients statewide, and is eyeing expansion into Chicago and Cincinnati. Best said he would like to have 10 regional offices nationwide within seven years.

"There's tremendous growth opportunities in this sector," Best said from Vigilcorp's Castleton office. "Since 9/11, you're seeing 30 percent of companies with a new executive called chief security officer. But if you talked to businesses, security for them was an issue well before 9/11."

Idea brewed for years
Best said he began to draw his blueprint for Vigilcorp in 1978 while traveling on business with his father in Europe.

"I saw a company trying to do what [Vigilcorp] is doing now with a mechanical system, and it was so archaic," said Best, who was vice president of facilities when he left Best Access. "I could see the future."

One of the biggest challenges for new firms, especially in the security industry, is name recognition, said Bill Zalud, editorial director for Security magazine, an Illinois-based trade publication.

"It really helps to have a strong background in this industry for obvious reasons," Zalud said. "Trust and reliability are big issues. The Best name still carries a lot of weight in this industry as an innovator and for strong service. They're known coast to coast."

Zalud said that, in the company's heyday, Best products were in the White House, Pentagon, some of the most secure military installations, and more than three-fourths of U.S. manufacturing plants.

"An association with the Best name should definitely open some doors for them," Zalud said.

Best said he chose not to use his name in Vigilcorp's moniker to avoid confusion and to eliminate thoughts he was trying to harm Best Access. The Best name still graces the company's corporate headquarters on the northeast side, though Russell sold the business three years ago to Connecticut-based Stanley Works for $310 million.

Family matters
Richard Best likes the idea of carrying on the family legacy in the security industry.

His grandfather, Frank Best, was one of the pioneers in the field. It was his creation of a lock with an interchangeable core that led to the founding of what was then known as Best Lock in Seattle in 1922.

Frank Best, who moved the company to Indianapolis in 1938 to be closer to suppliers and customers, died in 1966, the year his son Walter took over. Walter, who built the company into a national powerhouse, led the firm until 1994, when he turned it over to Russell.

"We made an agreement that the company would go to one son, but all would participate," Richard Best said. "In the end, we had a disagreement on how the company should be run."

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