Once A Champio...Always

Once A Champion...Always

There is something to be said about a close family business. There can be trying times, but by and large there are close ties not only to business projects, but for family matters as well. Let’s take, for instance, The Champion Group of Companies, based in Farmingdale, N.Y. The Champion Group of Companies is comprised of two distinct companies that includes Champion Systems Integration and Champion Alarm Systems with Champion Electrical Maintenance and Communications recently consolidated under Champion Alarm Systems.

Champion’s work doesn’t stray too far from its local office, but rest assured, they stay plenty busy in New York City and its five boroughs. This is the kind of company where the top brass aren’t the first ones out the door and 5 p.m. doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the end of the work day.

Champion was founded in 1992 as small commercial and home alarm business. John DiStefano joined in 1995 to grow the company. In 2008, John DiStefano bought out his previous partner to assume 100 percent ownership of Champion Alarm System, LTD. Kevin Tomlinson joined the ownership team as the CFO in 2010. Between the years of 1995 to 1998, John DiStefano launched an aggressive marketing campaign helped the company migrate to a systems integrator, focusing primarily on the public sector.

In 1996, Champion enjoyed a breakout year when they partnered with Vicon Industries and became the top dealers for the U.S. Postal Service. This partnership lasted seven years, and when the well went dry, it was time to expand into different areas of business, including data voice and fiber connectivity.

“When we migrated to systems integration, Champion also began building projects and doing many more exciting things,” DiStefano said. “Our technicians became fully certified with several manufacturers’ products, and before long we were a top tier integrator, and found exciting work within completely different markets.

“When we lost our service contract with USPS, it was really an opportunity for us to expand into other areas of expertise, and increase our proficiency with data, voice and a migration to fiber work. With fiber proficiency, we began investing our talents in the school system,” he said.

Champion has been helping New York area schools with their IPDVS camera system deployment since 2004, and has been the lead authorized Installer for the IPDVS program ever since. They have experienced steady growth in the education market throughout all Low Voltage systems, which DiStefano expresses has proven to be a recession-proof sector.

It is difficult to tell that Champion has a monkey on its back because when they win a contract, they design the system, develop the programs and calibrate the camera systems. Before they put anything in place, the entire system is checked out at the Farmingdale office. Then it goes on its way to the site. The schools learned very quickly that while they initially brought Champion in for expert advice, the company quickly transitioned into school business for fire systems, sound systems in auditoriums and reselling security product from other systems integrators. The list of new work grew to include intrusion devices and access control. The company also provides several thousand synchronized clocks each year in the New York area and has provided more than 10,000 in total thus far.

“With a multitude of growing school contracts, we’ve experienced 30 percent growth year over year, Tomlinson said. “And once we started offering complete system Integration services for all 11 Low Voltage systems in a school several years ago, it allowed us to provide our clients with a one stop shop to get a complete LV solution on their projects from one integrator, which has certainly helped our steady growth.”

“We quickly became very comfortable in the education vertical,” DiStefano said. “We found it to be a comfortable market for us, and profitable. We’re very active in all five NYC Boroughs and in the city itself. This meant schools from Pre- K to the high school level. It is our attention to detail and customer service that brings us work and helps us keep the work we have with various electrical contractors.”

The integration team is busy all year long. Champion has ongoing work in 100-plus schools in the NY area per year. These various work projects can mean single system installations or multi-system site installations.

Champion also pays particular attention to city and local security opportunities as well as state and federal government work. For instance, Champion has been awarded a significant portion of connectivity refresh in the NY area. It is a five–year contract with extension options. The Champion team also provided the fiber connectivity, including terminations and testing, for the Queens Midtown Tunnel rehabilitation project which is enhancing the communication systems for all three ventilation buildings controlling the Tunnel. Champion has security integration contracts for the NYC Housing Authority Sector, as well.

The sweet spot for Champion is clearly bringing all the systems together. That includes IP cameras over the network, engineered sound, fire alarm, and then when finished with one task, starting all over again. Champion staff has several interesting relationships that are a boom to their own business model, redefining what a system integrator is all about. They call it a value-add campaign where they pair with an electrical contractor and complete specific portions of a job. This saves the contractor money, and is a booming business for Champion. Champion usually does all the fiber termination and fiber testing and when they sell the connectivity. They also have found that when they become a dealer for various product lines, their own profitability increases.

Perhaps one of the most recent and high-profile security installations is with the JFK Air Train, at the JFK International Airport. Champion has installed video, access control and wireless backhaul on the airport trains while they are traveling within the secured area of the airport, and they provide all emergency communications for the JFK Air Train services.

“Everyone on the staff sells and manages the JFK Air Train system,” said Robert Alleva, director of engineering at Champion. “The project was developed from the ground up, including a brief safety training for the Rail king, twin turbo diesel maintenance train. Fluidmesh set up the radio system, did the trial run, and we found the ability to provide 30 frames per second, sending that information to the central terminal for processing.”

The project is not quite complete and is ongoing for about another year. There is rolling out the balance of the lines, testing and troubleshooting and then, the final deployment. What Champion’s staff found was that the JFK Air Train terminals and the old access control system were installed many years ago, but was done haphazardly. Today, the system is under complete protection, including 200 card readers, and every electrical room is secured.

“The key to an engineered solution for the JFK Air Train was the wireless backbone,” Alleva said. “This is not something you buy out of the box. This entire system had to be completely tuned and custom built. This is a true engineered solution that took two years to complete.”

Speaking of engineering solutions, The Champion offices located in Farmingdale, New York are finely tuned to get every ounce of productivity in its space. The office area is similar to any office, but there is a “family” dining area with New York bagels in the morning for those involved in morning meetings and an assembly area where every part and every component is tested prior to installation.

Champion also plays well in the transportation sector with Port Authority of New York/New Jersey, where wireless signaling is part of the systems integration. This integration also creates a multi-port switching circuit for the computer network, digital signage on the train, which brings content to the train and its riders and all applicable flight schedules.

Planning for the future, Champion acquired North American Video’s (NAV’s) Commercial Integration Business in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania in July 2015. With a second office in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ and the right team of professionals under their belt, Champion continues to design, install, and support sophisticated security solutions for a widearray of customers, and operates as part of a consolidated group of experts from several key companies within the Champion Group portfolio. This business unit is led by Kevin Myren and known as Champion Systems Integration, LLC. With 35 years of experience dedicated to the security industry, Myren managed NAV’s NE commercial security business and led the management buy-out of NAV’s NE commercial business—creating Champion’s systems integration division.

“I’m really proud of the people around me, and what has been accomplished here,” DiStefano said. “The productivity of the people around me is a great story that needs to me told. Something that we take very seriously is addressing the risks around us, we sell value and more importantly, we treat our customers with respect.”

Today’s Champion business model is focused on the end user and their specific needs and desires to security.

“A customer to us, is a customer for life. We have an awesome group of clients,” Tomlinson said. “When John and I came together and ‘re-started’ this business venture in 2010, there were five people working in one room. Since then, with year after year growth and a staff of 30 employees now, we have had to build out a brand new office and warehouse location to accommodate our staff and our clients.”

Like many businesses nationwide today, at about 5 p.m. work winds down for another day, but at Champion family and staff begin to filter out, but that doesn’t mean the day is done. Chances are you’ll find the team talking business at a favorite watering hole, or team dinner at nearby Vittorios in Amityville, N.Y. Talk around the table quickly turns from work, to the menu and finally back to family.

This article originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of Security Today.


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