It's All about Protection

Protection 1 is more like a giant family than a corporation. Along with the usual awards dinner events, there is a lot of recognition of achievements, back slapping for a job well done and accolades for focus on successful business accomplishments.

Why the ongoing success? The answer is Tim Whall, the CEO.

Timothy J. Whall started in the security industry in junior high school while working for the family business, Whall Security, in Detroit. Since then, Whall has held nearly every position from installer to call-center operator, general manager, COO and CEO. Decades of experience span from his family-operated security business to leading some of the largest security companies in the world. Whall is able to keep his focus on the customer while ensuring their experience is second to none.

“We view residential security as a career path, not a summer job,” Whall said. “We’ve had numerous people work for us in the summer during college and then join the company on a full-time basis, creating a career for themselves. We invest heavily in our team.

“I enjoy getting to know the people on our front lines, and including everyone in team building experiences and events. These are the people who make the business successful, and I want to share in their successes.”

Employees Ensure Excellent Customer Experiences

Protection 1 (P1) believes in their employees, helping them build a pool of potential customers and learning the products that they have to offer. Whall said that employees understand when it’s time to decide between home and commercial security companies, who the customer chooses, matters.

“Protection 1 is the nation’s largest full-service security company, protecting residential, business, national account and integrated system customers at millions of locations,” Whall said. “At Protection 1, it is about the customer experience— from sales to installation to service. People respect our value and our teams.”

Running a business such as Protection 1 is time-consuming, but Whall does it with an eye toward the customer. There is the “stuff” that changes from day to day, but what Whall is most concerned about is the customer experience. He wants to ensure that what the customer gets is something positive, with a winning solution. Part of running the business, for Whall, is thinking about any big trouble spots from yesterday that can be done better today. Top of the list, however, is the employee.

“People like working at Protection 1,” Whall said. “This is a small company and our people are family; our employees recognize that we don’t take them for granted and that our customers are people just like us.”

A Few Changes

When Whall took over about five years ago, he saw a company with a terrific national footprint in security monitoring. His goal was to build on what they had been doing for the past 20 plus years. Their goal for the past five years has been to expand into more channels. While remaining in the channels they are already part of, Protection 1 has developed robust commercial, national account and integrated systems channels.

Whall brought Don Young on board with him. The two have worked together in the security industry for the past 23 years. Young serves as chief information officer and chief operating officer, and among his many duties include leveraging technology to create a better experience for the customer and the employees, while delivering valuable data to both.

“This is an effort to help alleviate the burden of technology,” Young said. “We look at the process and technology to help reduce activity that neither the customer nor Protection 1 wants. This enables us to maximize margins and deliver a better customer experience.”

P1 also changed the way they went to market in residential security by offering a do-ityourself version for customers who are outside a service area. Potential customers call P1, asking for service outside the branch footprint. The customer is sent a DIY kit, which they activate and receive 24/7 monitoring services. And, if they need service, P1 sends the customer the new part to get back up and running.

“We studied the DIY offerings because we wanted to have more oars in the water,” Whall said. “We found what was comfortable for us and began to grab more customers.”

More than Just Residential

Being a full-service provider, Protection 1 does not want to be targeted as a residential provider only. The company wanted to get involved with commercial and national accounts. Whall said that there is a sweet spot in each of these areas, and they want to participate in all of them.

Through Protection 1’s CMS Wholesale division, has monitoring relationships with nearly 4,000 independent alarm companies. “There are great relationships we can leverage if we need a subcontractor or other support in an area.” Whall said.

Because this is such a technically savvy market, today’s technicians have a completely different bag of talents to rely on during a service call. When the company got into the space of selling national accounts (even if there was no branch office nearby) subcontractors were used and new talent was developed on the service side, which the company needed for its own expansion.

The bottom line is that a company can’t sell commercial accounts if they don’t have the expertise with which to install the system. But, without qualified technicians, it’s impossible to secure commercial accounts. The conundrum is similar to which came first, the chicken or the egg. However, Protection 1 made sure they didn’t get caught on the short side of things and made a couple of key acquisitions in 2012. The purchases allowed P1 to springboard from a primary residential installer to an A to Z monitoring company, including installs that require up to 4,000 card readers and as many as 2,000 cameras, plus managed systems, 24 hours a day.

“Our goal has always been to play across the entire security monitoring space,” Whall said. “Our focus was on becoming a full service provider.”

P1 will stay relevant in the industry because there is enough business, but also because they go after new buyers or offer to sell a better service to existing buyers. Whall points out that one large provider will cancel as much as $40 million of RMR next year, and that’s just one competitor.

“Not to pick on anyone, or that it’s a bad number, this is just an example of how many customers are out there with one provider,” Whall said. “We will attract new buyers and sell a better service to existing buyers.”

Whall also said that P1 can participate in either of these campaigns successfully. He also said they have accounts that fall off the edge, but that they don’t lose that many, and that P1’s attrition compared to their peers is substantially less and it ranked as one of the lowest in the industry. Considering all monitoring companies, Whall said that P1 is the largest full-service provider, and in terms of branch offices, they are the second largest in the United States. Total revenue, P1 is in the top 5.

Young said that the security monitoring market will continue to grow well into the future because the consumer has an appetite for the intersection of services and the connected home. He added that the residential market has always had a large, traditional base of customers that now want interactive capabilities.

New Accounts through New Offerings

Reclaiming a prior customer is probably the most satisfying, even for Whall. He said that he feels best when a former customer comes back: “I didn’t realize the benefit of having a live person answer the phone in one ring.”

Of course, obtaining new accounts is the trick and why there is an art to salesmanship.

Someone who has had a security system in place for four to five years is a good target market because technology has changed so much during this time; it is involved in everything. Whall said that his sales team asks a potential client for 5 minutes, and “I’ll tell you about some new features.” P1 sales teams would then be able to pitch four major offerings, including the customer not having to guess about false alarms. Protection 1’s IView product offers commercial customers the ability to see why an alarm went off right from their phone.

P1 team members likely don’t target potential accounts that have new systems, but Whall said they do “offer better service and price.”

“This is an industry that goes to the swift; the guy that works the hardest,” Whall said. “If I knock on 30 to 40 doors a day, I’m going to find some older systems. We can provide better technology of equal or better pricing, with a small premium. Most people would find that of interest.”

Teaching people to sell is not the trick, but teaching a salesperson the products has been the most successful plan. Whall said that his reps engage in meaningful conversation, and bring solutions to the table that adds value.

“There is a bit of art to that,” said Whall.

New Options Abound

The monitoring industry is offering many new options, and Young said that it includes network managed services and video to the cloud as a service. People want to access the cloud from their smartphone or desktop computers.

Young has been a strident supporter for video verification and at one point in his career, he was called a heretic for pushing the issue. Not now. Video verification allows an operator to ID the source of the alarm, which is pushed to the operator’s screen for verification. A 10-second video clip is sent to the operator and can determine if this is a false alarm or if other emergency action is needed for a priority response. The customer receives the video clip, and operators do as instructed by the client, but allow them to verify human activity or a false alarm.

An Engaged CEO

Being the CEO of a successful company has challenges of its own. The first thing on Whall’s mind is his people. He wants to be close to the people on the front lines and be responsible for their successes. He said that teambuilding is an important ingredient and keeping track of what’s going on is important to his staff.

Because Whall travels frequently to various branch offices, he also focuses on how the company did yesterday, the longest service call to get through the call center and what can he bring to those he visits that will make their life a little easier.

“We have a family-feel at Protection 1,” Whall said. “There are not seven layers of management between myself and a branch manager. I just want employees and their families to know that we care about them.”

Having been in the security industry so long, Whall has a myriad of experiences he could share with younger people coming along. He said that it is important to embrace the security industry because it is a good industry that provides good work protecting people’s life and property. Younger employees shouldn’t always have an eye out looking for the next opportunity.

“Young people today are wicked smart,” Whall said. “Stick with it, and in 30 years look back and see where you put your flag in the ground. This can be a professional career for a lifetime.”

That’s not to say that Whall wouldn’t leave the security industry, but conditions would have to be substantially different than they are now. There is no doubt that Whall has a love for this industry, and he has fully embraced it. If he could do anything else in life, he would pick coaching the Michigan State Spartan basketball program. He admits they probably don’t need him right now, but if they called, he would arrange for a sabbatical to help his Sparties. Consequently, you will see Tim Whall doing what he likes best, protecting people and their property.

This article originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of Security Today.


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