Happy New Year! Now that there is a lot of new construction going on, it is easy to put testing and servicing of fire alarms on the back burner. Since a number of companies will do just that, now is the best time for electrical contractors to expand their existing fire alarm system service and testing programs. Keep in mind that profit margins are usually much greater for testing than for installations. Let’s discuss some ideas to help build service revenue.
Remember that the inspection, testing and maintenance requirements for fire alarm systems in NFPA 72 are only minimums. Starting back in the 2013 edition, NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, modified the language to better define the limits of the fire alarm system. This was done to clarify the requirements for qualifications more than anything. In the past, it was commonly expected that the fire alarm company would verify the operation of the other integrated building equipment when the fire alarm was tested.
Today, there are two tests: testing of the fire alarm system per NFPA 72 and integrated system testing per NFPA 4, Standard for Integrated Fire Protection and Life Safety System Testing. As of the 2018 editions, the model building and fire codes reference NFPA 4, so we should see more of it in the future. At present, NFPA 4 is required only for high-rise buildings and buildings with smoke control systems. However, the code language states, anytime there are two or more integrated systems, end-to-end testing must be done to verify the integrated equipment plays well together. When performing integrated testing, NFPA 4 requires an “integrated testing agent” to represent the owner and coordinate testing end-to-end with the other trades. I see this as an excellent opportunity for fire alarm companies to expand their services.
NFPA 72 also introduced a requirement for a test plan in the 2013 edition. Although the language is a little vague, it is intended to provide information to the owner of what is to be tested, how it is to be tested and what is not going to be tested. Be wary of the test plan and customer contract contents. Never say something like “We will meet all the requirements of NFPA 72.”
Remember that NFPA 72 now contains much more than fire alarm equipment. For example, when testing smoke dampers that are operated by the activation of a smoke detector, be clear in the test plan to what extent you will verify the operation of the smoke damper. If there is no clarifying language and a damper does not operate properly during a fire event, you just increased your liability.
Here are some other tips on improving service revenue. First, train employees to treat customers as they would like to be treated. That goes a long way toward building long-term relationships. Stay aware of improvements to fire alarm systems for better fire protection. The bottom line is you want customers to see you and your employees as experts, not people who are just trying to pad their service invoices.
Emphasize the importance of updating systems. In my experience, customers want to do the right thing in most cases. Explain the benefit of any improvements. This is not only a great service to the customer but will also lead to additional revenue.
Your testing and service sales representatives should also provide information from NFPA 72 regarding owner responsibilities, as well as copies of Table 14.3.1 for inspection frequencies and requirements and Table 18.104.22.168 for testing frequencies and requirements to prospective customers. Assume customers have limited knowledge of fire alarm requirements just as you probably have limited knowledge of their industry. This helps them better understand the requirements, so they can ensure fire alarm testing is done correctly. This will help reduce their liability in the event of a fire by ensuring the service company hired for the job will do everything that is required. That is another reason to ensure potential customers know about owner responsibilities.
Finally, consider expanding your testing and service department to include other systems such as security, carbon monoxide and sprinkler systems. I have found that customers prefer to work with one company that can do multiple tests rather than contracting with multiple companies.
Be both the expert and the professional, and you will build a loyal customer base.