Big Idea of the Month: There’s No Substitute for Being With People and Sharing Ideas
Washington Alarm’s Shannon Woodman chats with Ron Davis about the importance of being involved in the industry, the state of acquisitions and more.
Shannon Woodman is the president and COO of Washington Alarm in the Seattle area. And if you, dear reader, think my job as a columnist for this magazine is easy, just try and catch Shannon for a free moment when she’s not busy multitasking with her company.
It seems as though I’ve known Shannon for years, and I probably have, but it wasn’t until the last few years where I got to see her in action, first in her role as president of Washington Alarm, and second, as a leader in the state’s association.
I’ve been to their corporate headquarters, a really nice facility. More importantly, people there seem to be happier than those I’ve seen in similar jobs in other parts of the country. Maybe it’s just my imagination. Who knows? Maybe it’s the air in the Pacific Northwest. Or, maybe it has to do with the style of management Shannon and her team seem to have embraced. It’s probably the latter.
Although the company was founded in 1943, it’s achieved much of its substantial growth in the not-too-distant past. Today, it has 73 employees, over $10 million in annual sales and by all estimates a future that is really bright.
One-fifth of its customers are residential. Three-fourths are commercial, with a focus primarily in fire systems, panels, etc., as well as video with analytics being introduced as you are reading this. And it seems to be not just accepted by customers but asked for by many of them. Shannon believes it is the wave of the future.
Video analytics is something I would like to come back to in the future, when I get to understand it better and have the space to write about it. Suffice to say, I think it’s going to make an impact on the industry.
When I asked Shannon about her “great” idea, she hesitated and then responded, “Get involved in the industry,” and then expanded on that thought. Even though our industry has a plethora of training programs, books, videotapes, etc., she feels there is no substitute for being with people and sharing ideas.
She says this one idea has made her much smarter in doing the things she’s doing and, frankly, I haven’t been at an event in the Pacific Northwest in the last 20 years that Shannon hasn’t also been in attendance, most often as a speaker, or a mentor. And while Washington Alarm has done a few acquisitions, she is very anxious to expand that part of her business and grow the company through strategic acquisitions and mergers.
She mentioned that it didn’t seem as easy today to have an aggressive acquisition program because many of the larger companies have already been bought, and many of the smaller companies are just in the process of “getting ready to become larger companies” in the not-too-distant future.
We have just gone through a steady and progressive growth period in the industry and it is continuing to be robust. If you take a look at some of the top 100 companies, probably half of them came into existence sometime in the past 25 years.
If you look at the largest company in the industry, you will see a gigantic corporate entity leading the field. If you look at the smallest company, you will see one doing less than a few million dollars a year in business.
That’s a wide gap between the smallest and the biggest, and if you look at any listing of security companies that is measured by size or sales, you will see there are not a lot of options available to integrators or alarm companies interested in in doing acquisitions. That’s the main reason the M&A business in this industry is very active.
When I mentioned this to Shannon, she agreed but felt there were still opportunities to make smart acquisitions. I concur and it is being done, almost daily. And while building a dynasty may be important to the management team at the company, it is not necessarily a driving force for its president.
In fact, when I asked Shannon her goal for the company, she was quick to say building and creating all the things necessary for a positive culture. Not just the management of the company, but also its employees and customers. To me, that is the single most impressive thing about what’s going on at Washington Alarm.
What a great story this would be if we could predict the future. We can guess, sometimes correctly, what will be. Nobody knows for sure, but if you spend a little time at Washington Alarm you will get the sense that a culture and legacy is being established now that will last for the long term. With that in mind, recognize the gold in that idea. Of course, it starts with networking, being involved, joining groups and getting proactively engaged in the plans for your company, right now.