The Home Run

Oct. 27, 2008
Demonstrating the Value of Burglar Alarms to Homeowners
If you've been in the residential security business for any length of time, you know that electronic burglar alarms are not always an easy sell. After all, most homeowners can come up with a myriad of excuses not to have one installed.

A homeowner's reasoning for not having a burglar alarm can vary greatly, ranging from “Nobody will break in” to “I have a dog” to “It's too expensive.” However, the issue of false alarms is another consideration and probably gets the most headlines.

So how does a security dealer convince a homeowner who's “sitting on the fence” that a burglar alarm has real value? One key is to find out what the homeowner thinks about burglar alarms and clear up any misconceptions about pricing and effectiveness. Another step is to show them that the alarm industry is not the only industry that values burglar alarms—the vast majority of law enforcement views them as beneficial too.

Why Homeowners Shy Away

“In my mind really the biggest hurdle that people need to get over is that they're afraid of the technology. It's like anything when you are not used to using something. It's different and it's just hard to get used to,” says Mike Horgan, owner of Wisconsin-based H&S Protection Systems.

“On top of that you have the possibility of false alarms,” he continues. “Nobody wants to have the police or fire department coming to their house and making a big scene. That just makes people nervous.”

Another obstacle to selling burglar alarms is that in many neighborhoods people feel that their possessions are safe. Jon Sargent, president, California Alarm Association, points out some examples. “Nobody will break in, I have a dog, my neighbors are always watching, I have nothing to steal,” says ADT's Sargent, listing a few of the excuses the public turns to in saying no.

“Homeowners feel their neighborhood is safe and they don't feel threatened. It is the common ‘that could never happen to me' scenario,” agrees Dave Simon, senior manager, industry and public relations, Brink's Home Security.

“I can vouch for that personally here because we don't live in a metro area,” says Horgan. “I think it tends to be a different mindset in a metro area where there's more crime people tend to get an alarm system like they would an HVAC—it's part of the house. And here it's different. People here get an alarm system when they get broken into—and not before.”

“The reality is that although some neighborhoods are safer than others, crime can happen anywhere, as can a fire or medical emergency,” adds Simon.

Another factor is that homeowners might have misunderstood what they were buying, and therefore come away with a bitter feeling about burglar alarms if they don't perform as the customer had expected. One big misperception that homeowners have is that the police will arrive the minute their alarm trips, says Sargent.

Another misconception is that burglar alarms actually catch burglars, says Horgan. “There are some systems out there that do an effective job of keeping people from entering your home. But it's not a physical barrier… They're not meant to catch, they're meant to deter,” he explains.

Some more misconceptions that Simon easily lists are: security systems are very expensive; security systems are complicated to operate and security systems don't really work. “Again, the reality is a security system can be designed to fit almost any budget,” he counters. “Today's systems are very simple to operate. And a home with a security system is two to three times less likely to be burglarized.”

Showing the Value

This month Security Dealer thought it would be interesting to reach out to and survey the readers of Law Enforcement Technology magazine (another Cygnus Business Media publication) regarding law enforcement's view on the effectiveness of the alarm industry. The results showed that 72% of these law enforcement members found electronic burglar alarms to be at least somewhat beneficial to law enforcement.

“I think you can look to law enforcement as a real big boost in terms of why an alarm system is effective. They very commonly recommend them,” says Horgan, who often works with law enforcement.

So how do you go about convincing a homeowner to buy a burglar alarm? Well, Sargent gives some wise advice for selling in general. “The dealer or salesperson must first sell him- or herself, then the company, then the product,” he asserts.

As for selling burglar alarms specifically, Simon says it comes down to weighing the benefits against the cost. The question presented to the homeowner, he suggests, should be whether or not the peace of mind of being protected is worth a dollar a day or less. “If the dealer has given a solid presentation and discussed all the benefits, then the answer is usually ‘yes,'” Simon comments.

Another approach is to let homeowners know about your own home. Horgan, for instance, has a fire and burglar alarm system. “I think that in itself is a different thing—it's life safety but it's the same panel,” he explains.

If a husband is on the fence, it's much easier to advise him how important it is to protect his kids and wife and all the things that you can never replace in a fire, says Horgan.

“In this industry that angle is not taken enough.” he adds. “When you really make them stop and think about it, it's worth the extra several hundred dollars or whatever it's going to be to add that protection and might just get you the sale versus just talking about security.”

“Security dealers should not use scare tactics or threats however,” warns Sargent. “Tell the truth—burglar alarms deter crime, they prevent crime, and they provide peace of mind,” explains Sargent. “Most people don't need all the extra jazz, bells and whistles. They just need an easy system to turn on and off.”