From 'Commodity' Installer ...

Like most contractors, you probably keep busy trying to sell and install what you know best, struggling to provide the low bid to get the work. Most customers think of your products and services as “commodities.” As such, they feel that purchasing them at the lowest price should give them the same protection, level of safety, and peace of mind as the highest priced commodities.

Wherever you look—newspaper, magazine or TV—there are ads for the latest, greatest technology that promises to reduce your workload and make your life easier. However, we often use technology to allow multitasking, causing more work and stress.

So, take a step back and review some emerging markets that you could leverage for more profitable work and more loyal customers.

Obviously, you sell and install many different electrical, fire alarm, emergency communications, security, access control, and maybe building management systems. In most cases, a building owner has installed each one for different reasons at separate times, so rarely do these individual systems interconnect. And, each system requires testing, maintenance or upgrading by a contractor who either originally installed it or claims to possess special skills relating to whatever system must be addressed.

But imagine if you had the training, competence and foresight to see this group as a single “system” that you could manage, while saving the owner money and using your time more efficiently.

If we classify all of the above as one “life safety management system,” it will change your and the owner’s view of the system’s collective importance. Becoming proficient in the coordination, installation and maintenance of each system—ensuring they collectively operate as a reliable life safety management system—provides more work in one location. That, in turn, reduces sales and operations costs, and cost reductions increase profits. 

Instead of treating these systems as a commodity, you transform your company from a seller of “things” to a provider of life safety systems management, giving you a unique—and potentially very profitable—new identity in the marketplace.

Focusing on buildings that always have multiple safety systems installed, such as hospitals, your opportunities increase exponentially. I don’t think it would take too much selling to convince a hospital’s purchasing agent that treating multiple systems as a single life safety system would significantly reduce testing, maintenance and upgrading costs for their building. Serving as a “single-point vendor” of life safety systems management, your company can reduce the annoyance factor for the purchasing agent and capitalize on cultivating lasting relationships with your customers.

Enlightening an owner extends beyond cost savings. By educating him or her about the key role these systems play to help manage the fire safety concerns for a building, you become a “translator” who helps the owner understand the critical role these systems play in protecting their assets.

Obtain the answers and contacts to assist in serving as the manager of these systems. Many of the systems—such as the fire alarm and security systems—have characteristics common to other electrically based systems. With further education, you will become proficient in their maintenance and testing. Other systems, such as the automatic sprinkler system or a gaseous suppression system, will require teaming up with a knowledgeable contractor. You will retain the principal role as manager of these systems while using the other contractors as resources. Thus, the key to this process is you serving as the life safety systems manager, coordinating all the work.

As the life safety systems manager, you will need to know which codes and standards apply to which system. This requires a working knowledge of NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code; NFPA 731, Standard for the Installation of Electronic Premises Security Systems; NFPA 13, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems; NFPA 25, Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems; and NFPA 2001, Standard on Clean Agent Fire Extinguishing Systems. The particular edition depends on the jurisdiction in which you work. Of course, using the most current edition offers the most logical approach.

In your role of life safety systems manager, as each new technology emerges, you can incorporate it in a way that fully integrates with the other systems. For example, a current emerging technology involves monitoring portable fire extinguishers. Instead of installing a separate system, you may connect such a monitoring system to the fire alarm system as a supervisory signal input. This will complete the integration of all fire protection systems becoming monitored for availability. Adding this new technology may reduce monthly inspections, which will add to the hospital client’s savings.

So, you can improve your status from being a “commodity” systems installer to being the manager of all installed life safety systems. And, by careful planning and gathering the knowledge necessary to perform efficiently and effectively, you will significantly increase your profits.

About the Author

Wayne D. Moore

Fire/Life Safety Columnist
Wayne D. Moore, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and an expert in the life safety field, is a principal member and past chair of NFPA 72, Chapter 24. Moore is a vice president with JENSEN HUGHES at the Warwick, R.I., office. He c...

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