ACRE charts new course in wake of acquisition, pandemic

July 20, 2021
A conversation with company CEO Joe Grillo

In a year that has seen businesses across the globe upended by Covid-19, security, as in other times of economic downturn, has remained a relatively stable industry. Sure, sales of various products may have taken a hit here or there, but the overall market remains strong and there has been a good deal of mergers and acquisitions throughout the pandemic.

A good case in point is ACRE, the parent company of Vanderbilt, RS2 Technologies, Open Options, ComNet, and Razberi, which was acquired by UK-based private equity firm Triton earlier this year. Though none of the company’s brands are exhibiting at ISC West this year, I was still able to catch up with ACRE CEO Joe Grillo at the show to discuss their growth trajectory in the wake of the acquisition and how they have addressed the challenges presented by the coronavirus.  

Rothman: Tell us about the past year?

Grillo: It’s been busy to say the least. Earlier this year, ACRE was acquired by European investment firm Triton. We’re excited about their investment in our business because they are a perfect match for ACRE. Triton invests in businesses that serve in the industrial, business services, consumer, and health sectors, and they seek to contribute to the building and positive development of their businesses in the long run.

We have been working closely with Triton on developing long-term strategies for the business. They are unique in that they strive to deliver high-quality resources promoting business growth, and because of that focus they have provided us with all the tools we need for ongoing business acceleration.

With Triton’s support, we continue to focus on innovation and building greater resources to expand ACRE’s reach, drive innovation across our product portfolios, and continue to build robust service and support strategies to service the needs of our customers and partners.

Rothman: Where is ACRE now?

Grillo: We’re continuing on our path to be the global leader in the delivery of security systems for access control and intrusion detection, as well as innovative video solutions. The software and solutions provided by ACRE’s family of companies help secure the highest valued assets of large and small customers operating in the private and public sectors.

We’re hyper-focused on growth. Triton‘s backing has enabled us to continue to expand our presence and capabilities organically and via new acquisitions. We’re actively looking to invest in innovation and expand our network to bring our market-leading solutions to customers in new regions and markets.

As always, we will continue to choose our acquisitions strategically. ACRE is looking for opportunities that are transformative. Not everything we acquire may be a company or brand, but could be a product or name. With Triton’s investment there will be many more opportunities to come, and we are excited for the future.

We are strategically looking in the spaces that we always have: access control, video, credentials and other security-related types of businesses and product segments or geographic areas. Access control has always been a very rich and highly fragmented space, so it is harder to find companies of scale, but now we have opportunities to look at some things that may be more transformative with deeper pockets.

Rothman: How did ACRE address COVID?

Grillo: There wasn’t a whole lot about 2020 that screamed “normal,” but ACRE and its brands have remained confident and hopeful that the physical security market would stand this test like it has done so many times before. And it did.

And looking at 2021 versus last year, the landscape has changed drastically with how we do deals, in general. If you look at how we were acquired, it was a process where we never met any of the possible bidders in person. If you had asked me three years ago, would you buy or sell a company and never meet the investors or the management company in person, I would say no, but the world has learned how to do things, even deals like this.

We were off about 5% for 2020 versus 2019 — we had a decent year. We didn’t spend as much, so we were quite strong financially on the bottom line. I think we expect to get back to and beyond where we were in 2019, but there is still some uncertainty. I think people will continue to be cautious with their budgets.

Our long-term view is that this is a great industry and a great space to invest in. I think we will have growth this year and we feel really good about it. There is a lot of activity and it continues to pick up. Projects are coming back. I think things are slowly getting back to normal, with the really strong quote activity, and a lot of sales activity and opportunities seem to be coming more into alignment. And we’re here at ISC West again, and that’s great.