Until recently, American Integrated Security Group (AISG) President and CTO Levy Acs was content to avoid the spotlight. After all, his company was still emerging from its infancy and was trying to gain a foothold with the markets it was targeting. “We were the stealth company, running under the radar nice and quietly,” Acs admits.
Following two straight years of phenomenal growth, the College Point, N.Y.-based firm has caught the attention of so many end-users and fellow integrators that it can no longer maintain a low profile. The growth over the past year in particular was so steep that AISG has risen from No. 4 last year to the top of SD&I’s 2014 Fast50, and the company can now call itself the fastest-growing security dealer/integrator in North America.
“We’ve got the start, so let’s see where we end up,” Acs says. “I hope we become one of the biggest integrators in the U.S.”
The goal may be lofty, but if the past few years are any indication, Acs and AISG could very well become the company he envisions, thanks to a customer-first attitude while targeting key vertical markets where AISG has tremendous expertise on its side.
The First Steps
Acs co-founded AISG in 2007 with CEO Avi Jacobi following an 11-year career at Honeywell in the gaming security industry. “It was a lot of travel,” Acs recalls. “It got to a point that my wife said that either you travel or you stay home with us — make a choice. So I decided to stop the travel and (Jacobi and I) launched AISG.”
Acs was committed to building a service-oriented company where customer support and service — from the initial design stages all the way through implementation and continued monitoring — was the top priority. “Through my years at the casinos, I realized that anybody can install a camera and be great at installations, but then they disappear,” Acs says. “So that service aspect was constantly in my ear from all the customers that I was dealing with when I was at Honeywell — they would say ‘look at that dealer, they installed my system and then they disappeared, I don’t see them anymore.’
"So I knew there was a need for true service-oriented companies that would be there for the customer,” Acs continues. “That was my goal in creating the company, and that’s what we do best, service. That is our differentiator. The true need for a company is after the installation, when everything is done — that’s when they need the training, the constant help. When something happens, you have to be there for them to support them the next day or next hour to make sure the system is up and running.”
The catch is, most end-users can hear you tell them that your company is all about customer service, but for them, seeing is believing. Until you have proof, you are just a lot of talk. “In the beginning, everyone was asking, who is AISG? Yeah I know Levy, he is a great guy, but should I trust him? Will he still be in business next year? Everybody was waiting for us to see if we would still be here next year,” Acs explains. “So we planted a lot of seeds through the years in 2007, ’08 and ’09, and really that’s when it started to grow and pick up.”
The Launching Point
One of the most important seeds that Acs planted was with retailer Burlington Coat Factory. It started with one store here and there, replacing DVRs and performing other small security jobs. “As they tested our abilities through the years, slowly we got to a point where they started trusting us,” Acs says. “(In 2011) they approached us and said, ‘We are going to change everything to IP, are you interested?’ Well, of course we were interested, so we put some talent together and we got the contract.”
That contract, in fact, enabled AISG to become the exclusive security integrator for the retailer’s more than 500 stores under the Burlington Coat Factory, Cohoes Fashions, Super Baby Depot, MJM Designer Shoes and Burlington Shoes names. The average store size is approximately 80,000 square feet.
“That’s where the big jump was for us, as the big customers started coming through,” Acs says. “Up to that point, we were just a local New York business — that was the first really big push into loss prevention and nationwide contracts. We had Burlington, then we did Limited Brands, and Bed Bath & Beyond — and that just started pushing more work toward us. It was word of mouth; in fact, I didn’t even have salespeople for the first few years.”
It was truly a launching point for AISG. From 2011 to 2012, the firm’s gross revenues tripled; and then nearly doubled from there in 2013. The company opened branch offices around the country to be able to support the influx of customers.
With the big Burlington, Limited and Bed Bath & Beyond contracts, AISG’s wheelhouse is in the retail market. “With retail, if you don’t know the business, if you don’t talk the language, they will never trust you to give you business,” Acs says.
With that in mind, Acs decided to hire a business development manager that specialized in the retail vertical. He tapped Dave Sherer, who was the VP of Loss Prevention for shoe retailer DSW. “I wanted someone who actually worked in retail and knew the business inside and out,” Acs says. “(Sherer) introduced us to retail, and I spent a lot of time with him and other VP-level retailers at events like the NRF (National Retail Federation) conference. He coached me that retail is not just selling a box, it’s understanding what their needs are, and tailoring the systems to exactly meet those needs. Otherwise you will never succeed — it’s not just ‘hey I have a system for you, here take it.’”
A firm footing in the retail market gave Acs and AISG the opportunity to branch out into other key verticals. Falling back on his own roots, Acs started targeting the casino market in 2012. “We hired Paul Lindsey, who runs our gaming strategy. He’s got a gaming background, and he’s part native American, which helped us get into that side of the gaming business," he says. "And of course through the years at Honeywell, I developed good relationships with other integrators, and I convinced Mike Womack to join us. He and I built about 80 casinos together when he was at North American Video and I was at Honeywell.”
But Acs says his fastest-growing vertical market is in the energy sector, where AISG has completed an array of projects for solar power plants — sites that average hundreds of acres and massive 10-plus-mile perimeters. AISG has developed into a one-stop shop for securing these sites, using powerful, IP-based video surveillance and thermal cameras combined with perimeter alarm and in-house remote video monitoring services.
“We got lucky to get in right when this solar boom started happening in the U.S.," Acs says. "We got close to one of the solar companies, who coached us on what the solar and energy companies are looking for — how they budgeted everything and how they look at the whole process of securing solar energy sites. Again, we sat down with the customer and learned the business before going full-force after customers. Right now, that’s one of my biggest segments in terms of revenue. We design the security for the solar sites, and for some we even design the whole fiber structure for the solar panels themselves.”
AISG started securing these sites about four years ago and has expanded to nearly 40 sites across the country. Acs says his firm just finished building and deploying a system for the California Valley Solar Ranch, which at the moment is the biggest of its kind in the U.S.
“These are very complex installations — it’s not just put in cameras and walk away,” Acs says. “They are massive sites where we are talking about protecting 17-18 miles of fenceline, so we use a lot of thermal cameras with integrated fiber.
“We have one installation where a good portion of the fence is on the U.S.-Mexican border, and we dispatch the border patrol every time we see something happen on that segment of fence,” he adds.
Additionally, the company was recently selected by the Trump properties to secure all of its hotels, golf courses, resorts and residences.
Acs says they are finishing up work at Trump National Doral Miami; and are already in process with a fourth Trump property to deploy a complete IP system using a VMS from WavestoreUSA as its backbone. “It’s definitely a big challenge,” Acs says. “A golf course is miles of property , so we use thermal cameras around the fence again. Being the Trump name, some people just want to do damage because they can.”
As SD&I’s fastest-growing systems integrator in the U.S., the future is now for AISG. “As an owner, it’s a challenge,” admits Acs, who adds he is still getting used to not having all his employees in a single office. “I have one employee in Alaska who I have never even met in person.”
He says that a sale is definitely not in the cards for his company. “We have a lot of people come in and want to buy us out, but we are not for sale,” he says. “It’s not part of our growth strategy to build a company for sale, we are definitely in it for the long haul.”
Still, in his goal to be one of the biggest integrators in the country, he is off to a rather encouraging start. “We are an aggressive company, but look how big this country is — the growth potential is unlimited,” Acs says. “If you do the right thing as a company and stand by your customers, the sky is the limit.”
A Closer Look
Company: American Integrated Security Group (AISG)
HQ: College Point, N.Y.
Principals: Levy Acs, President & CTO; Avi Jacobi, CEO
Year founded: 2007
Number of employees: 100+
Residential/Commercial split: 90 percent commercial; 10 percent residential
Top technology brands used/sold: FLIR, Fiber SenSys, WavestoreUSA