Fuel and security—the businesses do mix

Monday, November 22, 2010

BOCA RATON, Fla.—Wilsons Fuel stood out at the recent Honeywell First Alert Professionals Convention here because the company doesn’t have “security” or “alarm” in its name as did most of the other 158 companies in attendance.

But David Wilson, business development manager for the Nova Scotia-based company, was at the Nov. 11-14 convention because Wilsons doesn’t just sell fuel—it also is a Honeywell First Alert certified security system dealer.

It expanded into the security space about three years ago and now offers installation and monitoring of alarm systems for customers’ needs that range from fire and intrusion protection to making sure their home heating systems aren’t malfunctioning, Wilson said.

The company, headquartered in Truro, Nova Scotia and serving commercial and residential customers in the Maritime provinces, has found security dovetails nicely with its role as a heating fuel company that already has about a century’s worth of experience providing service and installation to customers, Wilson said.

“We’re continually looking at how we evolve and what we can do, and this was just a natural fit,” Wilson told Security Systems News in an interview Nov. 18.

Fuel businesses getting into the security sector isn’t new. In fact, also represented at the First Alert conference was General Utilities/General Security, headquartered in Plainview, N.Y. Peter Allen, general manager of General Security, said General got into the alarm business in 1985 and believes it was one of the first fuel companies to do so.

The phenomenon of mixing fuel and security has not garnered much publicity in the industry, however, and Allen estimates the number of fuel companies that also do security is quite small, perhaps around 100 or so, compared to the thousands of security companies in North America.

Security has worked well for General, Allen said. General Security operates in New York, North Carolina and Virginia and has about 44,000 residential and commercial accounts, Allen said.

He said General’s decision to add security 25 years ago “came from a desire to level out the very short oil season, which is about four to five months of the year.” Just as oil season is winding down in April, he said, customers’ security needs are revving up, as they open windows, plan vacations and start thinking, “geez, maybe I should get that alarm system for my home.”

Also, Allen said, the oil and security businesses have “a lot of parallels in that you’re selling a product and have service techs and installers.”

In addition, he said, both sides of the businesses can solicit each other’s customers. General Utilities has about 60,000 fuel accounts, Allen said.

Wilsons saw that other fuel companies in the Northeast were branching out into security and decided to do the same. The decision also came at a time when high oil prices are reducing demand for heating oil, as customers turn down their thermostats and look to alternative fuels. Now, Wilson said, the company is working to grow its security side.

“Within the last year or so, we’ve been more focused just on building it as a stand-alone business and one that complements our heating offering so we can truly meet the needs of our customers,” Wilson said.

He said that while the company offers all facets of security protection “from personal emergency response to fire to intrusion detection, video cameras and the whole works,” its marketing strategies focus on the need for customers to monitor the temperature level in their homes because “everybody has a home to heat in this part of the world.”

For example, Wilsons’ website asks: “Do you worry about the consequences of a freeze up when you are away from your home? Sign up for Wilsons Home Monitoring to alert you of potentially devastating low temperature in your home as well as provide you with protection against burglary.”

Wilson said that when you think about it, “a loss from a low temperature or heating failure system could be significantly worse than a burglar. If you’ve got hot water heat and your house freezes up, you’re into tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage.”



"In addition, he said, both sides of the businesses can solicit each other’s customers." That seems to include my customers and my own home system as well. How about you get your own subscribers? (Suggestion: "It’s not our intent to solicit the subscribers of other companies. (See Ex. 20:17) If you’re currently under contract with another company, please disregard this offer.")

The dual-trade company I used to get the biggest kick out of was one (no longer around) that branded themselves "N__'s Paperhangers and Electricians." I theorized their electricians were messing up too much wallpaper.