A-com has been helping to protect Columbus-area residents since 1973, when Wayne Beck launched the security and fire alarm company, then began steadily growing.
His sons, Jeff and Jason Beck, gravitated to the business, working at it while going to school, eventually becoming owners themselves.
Today, Jeff Beck oversees A-com Integrated Solutions, an area of the company focused on helping customers -- residential and commercial -- blend the management of fire, alarm, energy and lighting use, all of technology that advances at a faster and faster pace.
But Beck said the reason why the company has done so well through the years, and why he truly enjoys what he does, is at the heart of why it was first launched four decades ago -- helping people stay safe and secure, with peace of mind. "There are times when someone broke into a house with very bad intentions, and if someone came home and the alarm wasn't there, it may have been a very different story," said Beck, 37, a Columbus native. "Or in the middle of the night, there's a fire that starts in the middle of the attic, and thanks to a heat detector, it was caught and people were able to vacate the premises in a timely fashion."
The reward, he said, is in the myriad letters, notes and phone calls that A-com receives at its 7521 Veterans Parkway office. The praise comes in the form of technicians and support staff arriving early, staying late, and getting the job done right.
Today, aside from Columbus, A-com operates in a number of Georgia markets, including Dublin, Stockbridge, Macon, Jesup, Tifton and LaGrange, as well as in Auburn-Opelika, Ala.
The Ledger-Enquirer visited with Beck recently to discuss his job and what it entails, as well as what it takes to keep homes and businesses safe 365 days a year. This interview has been edited for length and clarity, with an expanded version available at www.ledger-enquirer.com.
What is Integrated Solutions and what else does A-com handle?
It's a business within the larger business, which is A-com Enterprises. We have residential security, a monitoring station here in house for all of the customers that we install alarms for, and we have a commercial telephone business as well. Within the security umbrella, we have burglar alarm systems, access control, fire alarm systems, surveillance with camera systems. Within that we have a residential side and a commercial side. We've experienced so much growth within the past couple of years on the large commercial side that we've decided to enhance the focus, make it more of a specific business to take of advantage of the opportunities we've had. We're rated in the top 30 in the country in terms of residential security systems. That business is doing well, but we decided to put a focus on the commercial side.
What type of businesses do you help?
Every shape and size. We have as customers everything from a small strip center shop, with one person, up to colleges, universities, medical facilities, hospitals and military installations, and all points in between.
Are camera systems, such as in apartment complexes, more common down due to break-ins?
That's common everywhere. The cameras, residential and commercial, are one of the things we've seen increase in installation. But it's always been there. There's always been a value to having surveillance, whether that's been a deterrent, or from an employer standpoint being able to track productivity. But now there's so many advantages with, one, the remote viewing capabilities, and two, for them to be integrated into other systems that we provide. For instance, if there's an alarm activation, it's tied into the surveillance system, so it begins transmitting the video from a certain section of the property.
Is that alerting your office or law enforcement?
It's coming to us. In the security area, what we've seen is a case of form following function, meaning the model platform -- the smartphone or tablet that everyone seems to have. The systems have adapted to fit that type of technology. So you can be wherever you have an Internet connection and check on your home alarm status, and the video feed that comes through. You can adjust lighting and thermostats now through the home automation system, and the security system is at the center of that hub of different features.
Where does A-com stand out from the security crowd?
The key distinguishing characteristic of A-com is the central station that we have. It monitors all of the alarms. The alarm sends the signal. It's transmitted either through a phone line or cellular connection or, in some cases, a radio connection back to our central station here. And we monitor 25,000-plus alarm systems right here from our facility headquarters in Columbus. We also have a backup facility, a remote facility, located in the Northeast U.S. in the event of a natural disaster or some other type of problem.
Not every company has its own local monitoring station and operators?
Less than 25 percent of all monitoring facilities have been granted Underwriters Laboratories approval, and that's a strict certification to have. We're actually a five-diamond UL-listed central station, which is a much more strict level of oversight on the facility and the training of our operations. Less than 5 percent of all central stations in the U.S. have the distinction of being UL and five-diamond certified. And we're the only one in the area that actually owns our own central station.
What's your day-to-day life like on the job?
One, I'm a co-owner, along with my brother (Jason) and my father (Wayne), who started the business in 1973, with a partner who eventually was bought out. They grew the business steadily over the years. My brother and I came to work here after school. We were allowed the opportunity to take ownership in the company. So we have the oversight that comes with being owners of the business as a whole. And then we both have our own individual roles within the company.
Is it all about technology?
We've always had a history of treating the employees well. The pay scale we have and all of the benefits are at the tip of the scale for this marketplace. We have just under 100 employees companywide. For a regional alarm business, it's a good size. And we're taking on new folks every day. We've just hired several new technicians. There's a sales person being trained here in the office next to us. And we're doing the same things in the other locations as well.
So are you in meetings all of the time, or do you go out and visit clients?
The fun part is going out and meeting with our customers. On the commercial, we have representatives that work with our existing base here, and then we have representatives that try to attract new customers. And I work with both of them, along with our operations manager who manages the technical side.
You visit customers and tour their facilities?
Yes. We try to ask questions about what their needs are. We offer them solutions that we think can best fit those needs, whether that's a camera system at a facility that doesn't have a lot of oversight in terms of the employee base, whether it's a fire alarm that needs to be updated, whether it's an access control system where someone wants detailed reports on who's coming and going and when, whether it's someone that unfortunately experienced a break-in recently and has never had an alarm system, or a company that's expanding a new facility. So it's really across the board.
What's the largest customer you deal with numbers wise?
In terms of sheer traffic, military installations or large college or universities probably have the most traffic.
Are false alarms common and what's the classic cause of them?
A classic cause is you open up the door to let your dog out in the middle of the night or in the morning and you forgot to turn off the alarm. With the sheer volume of accounts that we have, you can imagine user error happens quite frequently.
At the same time, there are false alarms that are related to the age of the system, and sometimes service is required or an update to that system. Lightning and power surges can provide false alarm troubles.
Where does the support staff come in?
All of the information about that customer is there for our live operators. We have live operators here 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. In the case of a snowstorm that came through, we had emergency rations and cots and we had people sleeping here. Employees of ours stayed and weathered the storm to make sure we were able to provide that service during that time.
You have no intention of outsourcing that part of the business?
It's the backbone of who we are. It's the reason we've grown to become one of the top 60 alarm companies in the country because of the dedication and expertise of our employees here, and the infrastructure we've provided our customers to ensure that they're receiving the highest level of quality control possible.
Does A-com remain aware of crime areas and statistics? Are we becoming more of a city that's experiencing more and more break-ins?
What we try to do is be proactive. It's my opinion, obviously, that every home and every facility should have a monitored security system and, of course, also have monitored fire protection, which we offer through smoke alarms and full-scale fire alarm systems.
So we want to be proactive knowing that the alarm reduces your chance of being broken in to. It certainly reduces the amount of time and damage that can be done if there's not someone there watching when you're not able to be there, or when sending authorities on your behalf if you're in a situation they are needed and you're helpless. So the amount of crime in the community, while it certainly affects the amount of business we do, it doesn't change our philosophy. Ultimately, we're wanting to be in the prevention business more so than responding to different crime waves.
You're hoping the alarms don't go off?
Correct. I live here. I have three children. I would say 90 percent of my family, including my extended family and my in-laws, all live in Columbus. I want it to be as safe as possible. An alarm system is somewhat of an insurance policy. Rarely is it on the top of anyone's Christmas list. But at the same time we're able to offer a lot of those features that people are getting, and it can be controlled through a solid, very stable hub, which is that security system, knowing those other features are now supported through our same experienced technical staff and support system.
Does a security and fire system help lower insurance rates?
Yes. There's typically a homeowners or business insurance reduction that's offered to someone who has a monitored security system, and often there's an increased reduction if fire is a part of that system.
Finally, downtown is growing by leaps and bounds. Is it secure enough and is A-com working to help secure that more with cameras, etc.?
We're working with a lot of companies to make sure they have the security that they need, to make sure that they're able to effectively manage their business through whatever services we can provide, but also to make sure they're able to offer protection for their customers, their employees in that environment. The city does some of that, Columbus State has done such a great job down there of really kind of working their way into the area and becoming such a strong presence in downtown. They maintain a good security measures.
Is A-com a part of that effort?
Yes. Would I like to be doing more? Of course.
Some would say we need security cameras along the RiverWalk?
Right. We've entered discussions on both sides of the river for that as a possibility. But, of course, it's one of several concerns. It's such a fun place to go. I go with my wife and my kids. I do feel safe when I'm there, and I'm confident that the people there will make those kinds of decisions to make ensure it stays that way.
It's needed because there's been so much investment down there?
Exactly. Of course, it's in their best interests as good corporate citizens and neighbors. But the ability of that area to thrive, of course, part of it will be based on people's peace of mind being there.
What's the most challenging part of your job?
Because we put so much of an emphasis on staying ahead of the curve, because we represent such a wide array of businesses customers, residential and commercial, it's making sure that we stay on top, on the cutting edge, of not only what we offer in terms of a product, but making sure we're able to support and service that product effectively. The alarm industry is constantly evolving.