Good companies focus on providing a quality installation of life safety systems, but great companies build relationships to strengthen their bottom line. Life safety systems must be maintained and tested to ensure continued reliability, and someone has to do it. It might as well be you! Lack of proper maintenance and testing is a leading cause of system failures.
Owners do not always understand this, and some would prefer not to have these systems at all. Your first job is to sell them on the idea. Here are some of the objections I have heard repeatedly from potential customers. I am sure you have heard these, too.
‘It’s under warranty, isn’t it?’
Many owners have it in their minds that, since the systems are brand-new and under warranty, everything is covered, and they don’t need to spend more money to have them tested.
Warranties cover equipment failures and maybe installation errors but not code-required testing. They also don’t cover such things as Sheetrock dust contamination, lightning strikes or dirty smoke detectors that were installed too close to air diffusers, all of which can cause nuisance alarms or device failure. By maintaining and testing installed equipment, they have a higher assurance the systems will operate if needed. How will they know if they are eligible for a warranty replacement of a device if it is never tested?
‘What about insurance?’
Most owners are convinced that, if they have a fire, their insurance company will cover the loss. You can bet that, in case of a fire, the insurance company will investigate what contributed to the cause. You can also be assured that they will want to see the fire alarm system testing and maintenance records. Remember that, according to NFPA 72, the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, owners are responsible for their systems. If equipment failed due to lack of testing or maintenance, the insurance company will place at least some of the blame on the owner and either refuse or reduce the claim payment. Any owner who lives by the it-won’t-happen-to-me mindset is living dangerously.
‘My maintenance staff can take care of it.’
Once again, according to NFPA 72, service personnel must be qualified. If owners choose to maintain their own systems with unqualified personnel, they are giving their insurance company another out. How can anyone disagree that third-party testing and maintenance by trained and qualified professionals not only improves reliability but also reduces liability?
When life safety systems are first installed, one of the first questions the fire inspector witnessing the acceptance test should ask is, “Who will be maintaining and testing the fire alarm system after the certificate of occupancy is issued?” It is something you can help train the authority having jurisdiction to understand and enforce. Not only is it good for improved life safety, but it is good for your recurring revenue. Some large facilities, such as universities, may maintain their own systems, but they typically have the training and qualifications.
You will be more visible to the owner by becoming a part of his or her team. Doing so builds relationships and trust. You may start by just testing and maintaining the life safety systems, but it also puts you in an excellent position for other work that may come along. What about their planned expansion? What about other low-voltage systems they may need? What about security needs? The list can continue to grow. By building a strong relationship with your customer, you may well be recommended to their friends. I have gotten many jobs based on referals from facilities’ personnel because a friend of theirs in the business was happy with the services I provided. Being on the short list of companies that are being considered for a job is a sure way to build your business. Networking pays off!
HAMMERBERG is the president/executive director of the Automatic Fire Alarm Association Inc., Jasper, Ga. He serves on a number of NFPA committees, including the NFPA 72 Technical Correlating Committee and the Protected Premises Technical Committee. He can be reached at TomHammerberg@afaa.org.