Bob Beck was a career police officer when he branched out into security. He actually borrowed money from his wife, Kathy, to get R.J. Beck Protective Systems Inc., Norwalk, Ohio, started. “She lent me the money to buy my first ladder and drill,” he recalled.
Since the birth of their son, when Kathy left her newspaper job to take over as the company’s business manager, they have been working together around the clock. “She turned my expensive hobby into a paying business,” Beck said.
Son Steven, now a graduate of Ohio State University, has been with the company since he started doing janitorial chores in the office at age 16. In the summers, he worked on the crew, then in finance, then sales. Today, he is in charge of the 40 percent of the business that comes from the government vertical market.
In the beginning
Bob Beck has always had an interest in electronic security. “During my early career as a police officer and sheriff’s deputy, I saw a need for professional security companies,” he said. “So I left my full-time job in law enforcement and went out and sold my first CCTV systems to a grocery store and a small retail store. And here I am today,” he said.
Beck built the business one client at a time. “We never had one defined system,” he said. With Beck, it is all about what the client needs. “I would listen to what the client had to say and what they were having problems with. We would custom design a system to fit their needs,” he said.
The company’s strategy was as simple as it was elegant: Provide the best equipment from the best manufacturers at the time, add hands-on service for each client and work to build a lasting business relationship. It worked. “We have had some clients for 30 years,” Beck said.
In the early years of the business, R.J. Beck was a dealer for Radionics and Pelco. “Those two companies had a very good dealer support network and product networks,” Beck said. No need to re-invent the wheel, he figured. “We took that ideology and passed it through to our customers, enhancing our support and product offering as time passed.”
Servicing government agencies
R.J. Beck’s migration to government sales came in the late 1990s. The business joined the Pelco and Radionics GSA dealer group and started to provide systems to government agencies.
In one way, it was a simple transition. “We took our business practices of providing good service, good systems and standing behind the products we install for them,” Beck said.
Their government-based business grew. Today it represents some 40 percent of the company’s activity—not bad for a company located, not in Washington, D.C., but in a small county seat in Northern Ohio.
“We cover the Midwest for the government bids on different projects. Some we get some and some we don’t—but we always enjoy doing business with government agencies,” Beck said.
He also serves as a consultant with the government as a Physical Security Specialist on various projects, such as court house security programs.
With the mix of enterprise clients they serve, Beck finds his biggest challenge is similar to many others in the business: As the company grows, it is a challenge to add the right employees and keep them trained on the latest technology.
“Our industry—unlike most—has a long learning curve. We provide careers, not jobs,” he said. “That is a different mindset.”
“We also have to control our growth so it is healthy and solid. He said he laments the number of times over the 30-plus years that he has been in business that he has witnessed the “flash companies.” And, he said, “Then they’re gone.”
He said it is important to remember there are a group of security dealers who are in the business because they like what they do and look to build solid companies providing jobs and growth.
“My biggest frustration is that there are so many opportunities out there that we don’t have time to pursue,” Beck said.
Part of that ties back to the scope of the business. The company services over seven percent of all of the U.S. Social Security Administration offices in the country.
“We are often the low bidder but our customers know we offer good service, too,” he said. That, of course, is a “good” problem to have.
Beck’s biggest gripe is being besieged by manufactures coming in and pushing products that have not been properly tested in the field. Unless he is fully aware, he does not want to be treated as a beta-test site. “They rush the product and that creates nightmares for us,” he said. “Too often, the sales people for these companies do not really know the products that they sell and then do not stand behind it,” he said.
“Our test of good manufacturer is that they provide us with the new products and we put it through its paces to be sure that it is a product we want to provide to our customers. Remember, the customer is not buying the product, they are buying you and your reputation,” Beck emphasized. “As the dealer, I have to stand behind the product. It is us they trust and we have to deliver what we say.”
Sometimes, he observed, new technology adds to the fast pace of the industry. “I like watching my cameras on my iPad when I am traveling,” Beck said. “I convey this to my customers who then want me to do the same for them.”
For Beck, everything loops back to the customer.
Beck constantly reminds his employees to always treat customers as they would expect to be treated in business.
“We also realize that our business is a work in progress. We are good…but we are not perfect. We always have to do better and keep trying to improve our service. We also have to realize that we do not just sell hardware; we sell systems that try to solve client’s problems and provide life safety,” Beck said.
“In five years, we’ll be here, God willing—a bigger company with more customers and larger growth,” Beck concluded.