The Ahhhhh Factor

May 6, 2011
Yes, Virginia, security is different when you serve the wealthy

The rich are different. They like convenience. They are not price sensitive. They want creature comforts. And, they have properties that require protection.

Todd Broyard, owner of Black Lab Alarm Inc., Woburn, Mass., knows a lot about the different controls and conveniences these customers want. He has built a successful business serving top-end builders and their customers in the Boston area and has achieved success even in the down economy. He knows what his customers want and how to deliver it.

For starters, they are way beyond setting a system by punching a few buttons and walking away. How old school! Black Lab's customers like to control things from their smartphones and iPads. They know what they want, but that can change by the hour so Black Lab provides a system that changes parameters on the fly. These customers want bells and whistles (and would probably take an entire brass band if they could).

"You don't want to box them in," Broyard said. Black Lab's client list reads like a 'Who's Who' of society in New England-athletes, Fortune 500 CEOs and prominent business owners.

This is not a clientele where profits are made on RMR. In fact, Black Lab has only about 1,000 monitored accounts. But some of them generate $700 a month in revenue.

"One big positive is that even in a down economy they have money and they are even more concerned about security," Broyard said. Through the recent recession, he had no layoffs at his company. In fact, he hired an additional technician and office staff for a total of nine technicians and four administrative positions.

Black Lab got into business about 17 years ago. A couple of years into it, they did a project for a client who had hired an A/V installation company and was disappointed with the quality of work. It was this business-savvy client who suggested Black Lab and the A/V firm might work well together.

Over the ensuing years, he built a network of about a dozen A/V partners. "We get about $1 million of referrals from A/V firms each year," he added.

Know the customer

It should be obvious by now that these customers, both the contractors and the homeowners, require special handling. Having a background in residential contracting as a frame-and-finish carpenter helped a bit. However, Broyard said, an alarm dealer must be selective about which alarm control panel to use.

Black Lab will do 12 or more contracts each year that are well over six figures-some hit $500,000-in a single family home. Customers want to have top-quality megapixel monitoring cameras. The video surveillance has to work with the iPad and iPhone for arming and disarming.

Homeowners demand Web-based access control. It is not unusual for a client to spend $40,000.

Black Lab works with Chubb Group of Insurance Co. as a Preferred Partner. It makes Broyard's life easy when a client says they need a system that Chubb will approve and he can flash his endorsement from the company.

The same relationship holds true with the major A/V vendors in the Boston area. Broyard said that the alarm dealer should be on the same page as the A/V dealer when it comes to presenting to the customer. Both stand to win a substantial contract when things go well. This means the alarm dealer should have a simple, coordinated system design to present.

Unlike the typical quick-turn sale, Black Lab often will be on an installation for hundreds of hours. "These jobs are time-consuming and tie up labor," Broyard continued. "We sell the job at a profit. We try not to lose money on installations."

Typically, an alarm dealer will carry special insurance that an A/V dealer will not have.

Broyard likes his niche. He said there are not many security companies who concentrate on serving the custom, high-end residential market.

That may be because most dealers focus on signing up monitored alarm accounts.

He said too many security companies are unwilling to adapt to the new panels they may find on a job. "You have to be willing to work with different cameras that work with your displays and touchscreens," he added.

"That is our business model," Broyard said. "Knowing what to integrate with which panel made a huge difference. We can work with the A/V company and the builders like that. It makes life easier for the builder-we are easy to work with."

Todd is a graduate of the University of Vermont. His wife, Michele, assists with day-to-day operations. He started in the alarm business 22 years ago in Hartford, Conn., working with Doug Curtiss at Sonitrol Communications Corp. "It was a great operation and I got great training," Broyard recalled. He moved to the Boston area, working with Curtis Anderson, president of Sonitrol for a year.

In October 1994, he decided to go into business on his own. However, he had no network with the upper crust. "I had nobody to tap," he said. So, he went to the building departments in the upper-end Boston suburbs and looked to see who had pulled building permits. He cold-called job sites and got some work. Eventually, an electrical contractor he knew introduced him to a top-end contractor. He followed through with premium work execution and was in a good position to talk to other premier builders.

"Word spread that we had a good group of technicians," Broyard said. Now, they are one of a couple companies that work on the $20 million to $40 million single-family home jobs and Black Lab Alarm is loving every minute of it.

Breaking Into Big Numbers

As in any business, in the upper-end market "who you know" might be as important as "what you know." In this market, alarm dealers have a lot to gain by partnering with the right A/V integrators.

"There is a small pool of qualified alarm dealers who perform the level of work required to succeed in the high-end residential market," Todd Broyard said.

He would find partners by looking for open-minded contractors working in the large homes in affluent neighborhoods.

"Too many alarm contractors are reluctant to use any panel other than the one they usually install," he said.
"Network with high-end builders, architects and interior designers," he added. "Look at the company's history. Get references from custom builders and clients."