In a far-less-than-robust economy, we find many owners deferring moving to newly purchased or constructed facilities. Rather, they choose to renovate their existing buildings. Obviously, this process constricts the amount of work available. It places a particular burden on the contractor who has specialized only in new construction. A contractor requires a somewhat different mindset and business skills to become successful in renovation work.

Contractors market two ways. They either wait for the phone to ring, or, better, they subscribe to a service that lets them know when a project has gone out for bid. The latter method works fine with new construction but not if your business plan focuses on renovation.

Many successful contractors find that they need to be more aggressive in the marketplace in order to find renovation work. Some of this work involves architects and engineers, so maintaining a good relationship and reputation with architecture and engineering firms will move you to the top of the list when owners contract those firms to perform design work. However, not all renovation work involves an architect or engineer.

Your relationships with design/build general contractors also influence the amount of that type of renovation work your firm will receive. Further, you can always go out seeking other renovation opportunities on your own.

No matter the source of your renovation jobs, almost all building renovation work creates a need for fire alarm system changes and additions.

In the case of fire alarm system upgrades, the owner may contact an engineer directly to determine the owner’s needs for a new system. Or, the owner may contact a manufacturer or distributor to determine how to make a system expansion or upgrade.

Again, good relationships count significantly. You should form good relationships with distributors and manufacturers as well as engineering firms that specialize in fire alarm system design. Creating a comfortable working relationship helps ensure that these firms call you when they have a project to bid. If you have not yet corresponded with these firms, take the time now to visit them, provide them with your technical background, and ask to be placed on their approved bidder lists.

You can create additional opportunities by working locally with a fire alarm system distributor or manufacturer to sponsor a seminar on the importance of maintaining a fire alarm system. Next to installation contracts, continuing maintenance contracts for fire alarm systems can represent a significant revenue stream that will continue during economic downturns.

Large industrial and commercial properties that typically manage their own construction and renovation may require you to become prequalified as a bidder. So, you should actively contact local purchasing agents in order to submit your qualifications. When you make these contacts, you may find that they have a need for a fire alarm system upgrade. Or, they may let you evaluate their system to determine its current operational effectiveness and current code-compliance. This evaluation will determine whether the company’s fire alarm system equipment is near, or even beyond, obsolescence.

If you haven’t already established a relationship with fire officials in your market territory, begin now. Ensure they know you install, test and maintain fire alarm systems. Emphasize your history of enhancing system reliability and dependability. Ask if the fire officials know of any system owners locally that need assistance with a false alarm problem. This will give you a list of potential customers to visit and see if you can assist them in upgrading or troubleshooting their fire alarm systems. You can sell your services to make those systems false-alarm-free and more reliable. Owners often ask fire officials whom to call to repair a system plagued by false alarms. If the fire official knows your technical competence, he or she will more likely offer your name as a potential service contractor to cure the owner’s system problems.
You can also research local and state government websites that advertise when municipal- and state-owned buildings need repair or renovation. Unless you visit these websites at least monthly, you will miss the opportunities that regularly present themselves.

Don’t overlook the more aggressive approach of increasing your targeted advertising in your local business journal. You can use a directed advertising promotion that indicates your ability to perform renovation work efficiently and on-time.

Finally, speaking at your local Rotary, Kiwanis, or other service organization about the importance of maintaining and upgrading systems to ensure operational reliability and continued life safety is another way to help generate additional work during a slow economy. Such speaking opportunities will also help you establish your company as willing and technically competent to perform the work.

So, the secret to success in the renovation and fire alarm system upgrade market lies in your ability to remain aware of opportunities and then aggressively marketing your skills through carefully established relationships with those individuals and firms who can assist you in the process.


MOORE, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and an expert in the life safety field, is a past chair of the NFPA 72 Technical Correlating Committee. Moore is a principal with Hughes Associates Inc. at the Warwick, R.I., office. He can be reached at wmoore@haifire.com.