Intrepid Electronic Systems operates from two locations in California—Oakland and San Jose—with 25–35 employees at each location. Founded in 1997, the company focuses only on low-voltage systems.
“I have been doing this kind of work myself since 1976,” said Kurt Brinkman, owner.
In years past, the company was involved in a wide range of low-voltage work, including fire alarm and life safety systems, access control, closed-circuit TV systems, intercom and entrance door controls, security systems, nurse call systems, paging systems, master clock systems, and mass notification.
“These days, we are almost 100 percent fire alarm systems, but we also do some sprinkler repair and testing,” Brinkman said.
Why the decision to specialize in this niche? Brinkman named three reasons.
“First, fire alarm systems are code-driven, and anything that is code-driven tends to be more profitable,” he said.
Second, the entry point into this specific business is more expensive than other types of low-voltage work, which helps to reduce the competition.
“Third, by specializing in this area, we end up gaining access to the very latest technologies in fire alarm systems before anyone else has access to them,” he said.
While there are many aspects to running a successful business, Brinkman concentrates a lot of his time and effort on the employees.
“We have very little turnover,” he said. “One reason is that I maintain an open door policy, so they can talk to me about anything. I am also flexible. I don’t think it’s my role to micromanage them. Rather, my main role is to make sure they have all of the tools they need.”
Brinkman focuses as much attention on hiring the best employees as he does on retaining them.
The first step involves going out and looking at the types of jobs these potential candidates are already performing.
The process has been working well so far, according to Brinkman. His evidence?
“There are a lot of people who want to work for us,” he said.
Once hired, new employees are sent off for factory training. The National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies (NICET) includes fire protection (fire alarm systems, special hazards suppression systems, etc.).
“We also have some requirements for NICET levels that they must achieve,” Brinkman said.
Besides having employees perform day-to-day work on the company’s various projects, Brinkman also makes full use of their knowledge and experience in other ways.
“One way we market ourselves is to schedule demo days,” he said. “On these days, we showcase all of the products that we sell, and then I arrange for all of our people from the field to come in and demonstrate them for clients and potential clients.”
Brinkman has found that the company’s best salespeople tend to be the technicians and installers.
“I make sure they are familiar with all of the details of the products we sell, and then I let them go out and talk with our clients,” he said.
This strategy provides excellent education for existing and potential clients and improves the knowledge base of the technicians and installers themselves.
“As a result of what they learn when preparing for demo days, they can also use this information when they are in the field, talking with the clients,” he said.
Just as the company specializes in one type of technology, it also focuses on certain markets. Two of these are schools and hospitals. Another sweet spot is high-tech industries.
“We do a lot of work for Google, which is probably our biggest customer right now,” Brinkman said. “We are also starting to get involved in working with high-tech manufacturing companies.”
Tying in to Brinkman’s desire to gain access to the latest technologies, Intrepid Electronic Systems is working on a project that involves a new and unique development.
“It is one of the largest construction projects that will be taking place in Northern California, and we will be introducing some unique technology to that project,” Brinkman said.
Specifically, the client doesn’t want the fire alarm equipment visible, so Intrepid is installing a new technology called an air-sampling system.
“Instead of using smoke detectors and electrical connections, we install pneumatic tubing,” he said. “It includes a little ‘sniffer’ that reports back to a central computer that analyzes all of the background air and can actually detect a fire long before a smoke detector can. It detects smoke even before the smoke is visible.”
Despite its success, or maybe as a result of it, Brinkman plans to expand Intrepid Electronic Systems’ geographical influence even more in the future.
“We perform service work for a lot of national accounts,” he said. “More and more these days, they are wanting us to cover more of their territory in Northern California. These are clients that have sites in a number of locations, so we are looking to expand further out from just the Bay Area.”
While Brinkman is excited about future growth potential, he admitted that one challenge will continue to be finding the very best employees. Without them, he emphasized, continued growth will be difficult.