A Signature move at the right time

Florida fire installer diversifies from construction market before recession
Monday, October 5, 2009

CASSELBERRY, Fla.—In a fortuitous business decision, Signature Systems of Florida, a $7 million fire and security installation company here, started shifting its go-to-market strategy five years ago.

At that time, Signature was almost entirely reliant on the construction market for business said company president Phil Lutes. They bid most of their jobs through electrical contractors and while they did seek monitoring and service contracts, “they were not a focus for us,” Lutes said.

Then Lutes hired Darren Uner to write a business plan where Signature would market directly to the end user and actively work on creating RMR.

“The goal for the group the first year was $750,000 and the group did $1.2 million, and I said, ‘I think we’ve got something here.’” After exceeding a higher goal the next year, Lutes made the group into a new company division headed by VP of operations Harry Griffin.

In the first few years, the expansion of the Signature’s End User Division was fueled by “strong cash flow from the construction business,” and now—due in part to a huge decline in construction business—the End User Division accounts for 60-70 percent of revenues. 

In business since 1988, Signature Systems started as a residential alarm company, but for the past 13 years or so it’s primarily been a fire alarm installation company. As part of its diversification over the past five years, it’s doing more access control, CCTV and systems integration.

It’s also recently started a sound and communications group, which can do intercom work for school and government jobs. Griffin said this group fits nicely into the company’s vision and motto of “protection you can count on.”

It recently completed a mass notification project for Valencia Community College, a five-campus school.

The school “needed more than just paging and signage,” Lutes said. In September, Signature installed “the head end for the mass notification systems using [GE Security’s] EST product with Fireworks graphic display.” The dashboard enables communication from a central command station to more than 25 buildings across the five campuses.

This installation is the beginning a longer process which will eventually involve tying IP cameras and access control into the Fireworks system.

Mass notification projects will continue to be a focus for Signature in the future, likely in government and higher education projects, Lutes said. “We’re going to go where the money is,” he said. “It’s no secret that the government is going to be a big customer for a lot of companies.” He sees possibilities for the health care construction vertical in the near future and the corporate campuses in the long term. However, he said, “until the economic recovery takes hold in the middle of  next year, we don’t have high expectations for the corporate marketplace to be doing a whole lot of anything.”