Insiders in the security alarm industry—those installing companies that have been at it successfully for years—are reluctant to share their secrets to success. That’s because they know it’s a lucrative business when a company has the right mix of professionalism and expertise to capture customer confidence.

Successful low-voltage contractors know that installing security today means integrating traditional intrusion detection with automating or convenience features that appeal to the masses. And that’s where the electrical contractor, already wiring for coaxial cable, computer networking, telephone systems and more, can step in as a low-voltage integrator, snaring a share of this ever-growing segment.

Installing a control panel with sensors, whole-house intercoms, and closed circuit television (CCTV) is a great place to start, but don’t overlook other systems solutions to offer the client. These include remote control arming and disarming capabilities, automated lighting, and even surveillance via the World Wide Web with the latest “Web” cameras.

Think about the possibilities, learn about the probabilities, and start offering a host of related systems and services to your customers. What do they need? What grabs their interest? You can bet anything with the labels of “convenience,” “remote control,” and “fully automated.”

It’s an exciting market—one that has finally come of age—as computer and telephony functions mesh and go mainstream with other low-voltage functions. Best of all for the electrical contractor, low-voltage work transcends myriad installation applications, from residential to commercial, industrial, institutional, and government.

When you’re doing the wiring for a customer, find out if they need a keypad at a door, or an electromagnetic lock with a keypad. When you’re doing structured wiring for a residential customer, explore some of the other possibilities: remote control of outside lighting, or inside, automation of a variety of functions, such as controlling the humidity in a wine cellar, for example.

It may be the offbeat or the unusual that sells, or simply, something that makes life easier for the customer. Ademco’s Bi-Directional Remote Control Unit actually speaks to the customer and provides instant feedback. The Syosset, N.Y., manufacturer distributes the product through ADI nationwide.

Or, consider an alarm panel that can be armed or disarmed from the owner’s mobile telephone. Or, consider gate control with the AM-KP keypad from Linear Corp., Carlsbad, Calif., that hardwires to a Linear access controller and activates one of four relays to trigger a gate operator or door strike. Knowing what’s available and finding the niche among existing customers is how electrical contractors will find their place in the market.

Diversity is key to the success of the traditional security dealer, and it should be a guiding light for the electrical contractor. According to Security Distributing & Marketing (SDM) magazine’s 2001 forecast study published by The Security Group, 2000 revenues by security dealer firms hit $18.1 billion, with the bread-and-butter burglar and fire alarm business grabbing the lion’s share of total dollars. However, security alarm dealers have learned to evolve. They have diversified into a variety of products outside the burglar and fire alarm industry, including CCTV, access control, home systems, and integrated systems (see related chart).

Anticipating a market and having the flexibility to move with its ebb and tide propelled Structured Wiring Systems Inc., into residential wiring systems from the traditional electrical contracting trade. Tom Lowry, a principal and founder of the Joliet, Ill., based company added the division several years ago. He’s worked hard to gain acceptance from local builders for his structured wiring packages and it’s beginning to pay off, as Structured Wiring Systems partners for greater profits with several local area builders, including nationwide giant Pulte Homes.

It’s where he wants to be, especially with signs of growth continuing in residential building activity. In fact, according to the SDM forecast survey, one of the top driving sales factors in 2001 for security dealers and reasons for growth includes residential building activity.

Lowry admits breaking into new construction as a subcontractor to the builder was tough. He started with structured wiring, gained the confidence of builders, and now offers a complete low-voltage system package. He believes relationships among builders, architects, and others is the smart way to do business.

“It’s no longer about price and material. It’s about forming a strategic partnership with all involved. We are working with three area builders right now, trying to form partnerships in which we are the low-voltage contractor of choice. It’s a win-win for both parties. Builders don’t have to invest large sums of money in starting a new division and hiring experts. Structured Wiring Systems goes in on their behalf and, under a joint marketing plan, performs the work. It’s more profitable, and the customer gets the best service possible,” Lowry said.

Get creative. Find ways to work with others to become a systems specialist. Seek out and become an expert in forging relationships that last and bring more business your way. It’s the future for electrical contracting and it’s here now.