Making the move to security and low-voltage products and services might be one of the best decisions you make this year. Just begin with a target market and get trained.

Sure, it’s competitive and your local security alarm dealer may cringe at the thought of another “outsider” stepping into the industry. But the truth is, electrical contractors aren’t outsiders at all. As one of the first trades on the job, they are a natural to provide not only the wiring, but also all of the devices that make a building, home, or office run.

Maybe you don’t want to take on low voltage now and prefer to stay focused on wiring, cabling, fiber optics, or whatever your established niche may be. That’s your choice. But for those who want something outside the box, low voltage may be the way to go.

A piece of the pie

Low voltage can be any number of products and services. That’s the beauty of this ever-evolving discipline, which includes access control; building automation, burglar alarms, and life safety (fire) systems; closed-circuit television (CCTV); integrated controls; intercoms; paging and sound systems; and more. There’s also a new niche that directly addresses terrorism, with more installations focusing on protecting government and industrial sites, oil storage facilities, and other high-alert locations.

The following are the advantages of entering the low-voltage installation market:

• You have the customer, so you’re already “in,” especially if you can perform a turnkey operation well.

• There are a number of different ways to go, and you can select the service that matches your business. For example, if you have operations in an industrial area, wiring for camera surveillance is a perfect match. What about automatic gate controls, photoelectric beams, and the like for that same facility?

• It never hurts to have a new niche or business to fall back on or boost profits. And security is big, big, big, to say the least.

• Coupled with the merging of telephone and computer controls, security has jumped several notches to state-of-the-art sophistication, yet really become simpler to install and use in most cases.

The following are the disadvantages of entering the low-voltage installation market:

• You have to know what you’re talking about and how to install it properly so that the customer is satisfied. It takes a knowledgeable technical crew and sales staff to sell security. You can’t just throw up a passive infrared sensor or dual detection device anywhere without considering principles of detection.

• The end-user needs to be satisfied with a security and low voltage systems’ function and performance, day in and day out.

• The job may last only a couple of days, with one or two installers, as opposed to several weeks on what may be a typical cabling job. That observation alone makes for a whole different business mindset.

• Finding qualified help and training personnel is another potential stumbling block. Even those within the industry attest to the continuing problem with finding and keeping qualified workers. According to The Security Group’s analysis for the SDM 2001 Profile Report, finding and retaining employees and keeping current with technology are among the top challenges of security companies.

Niches and specialties

If you want to get started, there are plenty of niches and specialties in low voltage. One obvious is voice/data/video (VDV). In fact, said Bill Bryan, president of Newtech E.C.I. in Joliet, Ill., at the very least electrical contractors should be doing telephone and computer cabling as an initial venture into low voltage and security.

Maybe you’ve thought it out and want to partner with an electrical contractor and act as their subcontractor for low voltage. That’s another way to go—working with those ECs who don’t have an inclination for low voltage but would love to expand their services via subs.

Don’t be reserved about asking questions, partnering with other electrical contractors, working as a subcontractor, teaming up with traditional burglar or fire alarm installers or seeking the assistance of manufacturers, distributors and others who sell product. You’ll be on your way to breaking down the barrier to low voltage.

O’MARA is the owner of DLO Communications Inc. in Park Ridge, Ill. She may be reached at (847) 384-1916 or domara@flash.net.