Over the last few weeks of traveling, I have spoken with colleagues at meetings in various states. I realized that every time we had a choice of where to eat breakfast or lunch, we would universally choose a Cracker Barrel restaurant. We never hesitated in this choice. Why? Two reasons: consistently good food and consistently good service.

No matter what the geographic location, we could always get “Momma’s Breakfast” or the meatloaf special, and the meals would always taste delicious. Cracker Barrel has found the secret to keep us coming back no matter where we happen to land. (Sadly, Cracker Barrel restaurants have not opened in every state yet, but they claim to be working on it.) That secret: consistency in quality and service. Whenever I see a Cracker Barrel, I know what I’ll get when I sit down. You may experience this with another restaurant chain.

The pertinent question, however, is: “How do you ensure consistency of quality in your service when you install fire alarm systems?” Obviously, you can make use of the apprenticeship programs to help your young technicians learn the electrical trade. But as owners and managers of electrical firms, you need to ensure all the systems your company sells and installs will work as required and meet the requirements of the appropriate code. New technicians may have a background in fire alarm terminology, but with today’s complicated equipment, they will flounder in the field unless you take the initiative to help them achieve consistent performance.

One of the things you can do as an owner or manager is develop a relationship with a fire alarm equipment supplier who is able and willing to train your technicians on a regular basis. This relationship is a two-way street. If you decide to sole- source much of your fire alarm equipment needs with one supplier, then that supplier should respond by supporting you in the field with extra training and possibly stock extra parts for your use when the inevitable crisis occurs.

In addition, if you standardize on one manufacturer’s equipment, your technicians will become more familiar with the equipment installation techniques. This will help to maintain consistency. By maintaining consistency, you will increase the efficiency of the fire alarm system installations. This will, in turn, add dollars to your bottom line.

“But,” you might ask, “what about ensuring competitiveness so that I don’t pay too much for the equipment?” Nothing prevents you from constantly seeking competitive bids for your fire alarm equipment needs. Just make certain you consider the cost of retraining your technicians on a new manufacturer’s equipment. You must also consider the length of time it takes to develop a relationship with the new manufacturer. If you make a purchase decision without considering these two points, you may make a choice that will actually subtract dollars from your bottom line.

The wise professional contractor looks at the long-term benefits of these kinds of relationships before he or she buys simply based on the low bid. A good supplier’s representative will warn you when the design you are bidding on does not comply with the code. This representative will often assist you in guiding the owner or the engineer back to a consistent design with a reduction in ambiguities.

As you know, the fire alarm system must achieve full operability before the owner can open the building, and the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) can issue an occupancy permit. If you catch the problems up front, you will ultimately save the owner (and yourself) a lot of grief at the close of the project. You do not have to become a fire alarm expert, but it makes sense to ensure your supplier has such expertise. That capability rarely shows up as a line item on the equipment bid. Good managers and their purchasing agents know how important proper technical backup can influence getting the job to begin with and getting the job finished on time.

Another benefit comes to light when the supplier’s representative has developed a good relationship with the AHJ and can use that relationship to ensure you stay out of trouble as well as to ensure you have a smooth acceptance test. Additionally, the supplier you choose should have more than one system programmer to ensure, regardless of last minute changes to the project, the building will open on time.

So, in order to ensure a profitable fire alarm system installation, take note of the Cracker Barrel secret. You must continue to install fire alarm systems with a consistency of service and quality that becomes known by the owners, architects, engineers and AHJs. Not only will you benefit from a positive reputation, your bottom line will grow consistently, as well. EC

MOORE, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and an expert in the life safety field, is a coeditor of the current National Fire Alarm Code Handbook. Moore is a principal with Hughes Associates Inc. at the Warwick, R.I., office.