Fed up with life in the corporate world, Madelaine Lock resigned from a cushy sales job only to be coaxed out of retirement by her husband. “He heard about a telemarketing company that sold security cameras and he thought I’d be good at it,” recalled Lock.
Lock, a pro at selling over the telephone, was good at it. When customers asked if she could supply other kinds of security equipment, Lock saw an opportunity. She took out a $15,000 bank loan in 2000 and founded SmartWatch Security & Sound. The Mount Dora, Florida-based company designs, installs and services closed-circuit TV, fire alarm, audio, burglary and key access systems. Last year it rang up sales of $4 million.
“This company got started through sales expertise—not technical expertise,” explained Lock. Here’s how she did it.
In the 90s Lock was successful selling recorded message systems but her Orlando-based employer was purchased by a national firm. Lock was unhappy with the corporate culture and resigned.
She had no career plans until her husband Jay told her about someone who was selling plug-and-play security cameras from a home telephone and doing well. “This is what you’re good at,” Jay said. “Why don’t you give it a chance?”
Lock got up to speed on the product—a monitor and four simple-to-operate cameras that plug into a recorder box, no technical knowhow necessary, and sells for under $1,000—and decided to try it.
Her husband knew a wholesaler and ordered a supply of camera packages, but before they arrived, Lock was calling from a two-line telephone on a small desk in her den. “I called businesses that I had previously sold recorded messages and said, ‘Now I’m selling security cameras,’” Lock recalled.
When customers peppered her with questions about more security equipment and services, Lock wondered if there was a market waiting to be tapped. She asked husband Jay, who sold fire alarm systems. “He said it sounds good but you’ll need a technician,” said Lock.
Jay, who had contacts in the industry, knew just the guy for the job—Harry Stops. Stops had a full-time job but he agreed to help with the new company.
Lock got busy. She arranged a $15,000 bank loan on her signature and then rented a 500-square-foot office in Mount Dora for $500 a month, got an occupational license and insurance. She paid a year’s office rent in advance—for a reason. “I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t quit the business.”
Through husband Jay’s technical expertise, the company obtained a full-service security contractor license required by the state. Jay’s contacts also helped line up suppliers for security cameras, monitors and alarm systems. Then Lock started drumming up business her usual way—through cold calling. “Using the Yellow Pages I called every business I thought needed security systems,” she said.
By a fluke, one of Lock’s calls, to the district office of Shurgard, a mini-storage company in Orlando, gave her fledgling company the boost it needed. “I reached a manager and explained that we were a new security company in town looking for business and so on—and he perked up,” recalled Lock. “One of their stores had a security camera system that was on the blink. Could I send someone to check it out?”
Lock dispatched Stops, her tech ace, to the complex. He flipped the breaker switch and the cameras worked. The company that installed the cameras had said the cameras needed major repair work. Boom! Shurgard asked Lock to take over fire alarm and security monitoring for 32 complexes they operated in Central Florida.
This catapulted revenues from $65,000 in 2001 to $450,000 in 2002. As the company flourished, Jay Lock came on board and heads up the estimating department. Dean Farrell joined the business as operations manager and a third partner. Lock hired four technicians and moved to a 1,200-square-foot office.
A contact from Lock’s former employer helped her land a year-long job installing security for Central Florida’s Publix Supermarket chain’s corporate offices and warehouses in 2003.
By 2005, Lock was able to take a breather from chasing new business. “Referrals kept us working nonstop,” she explained. “We have built relationships. We’ll install security cameras and later we’re called back to put in access control, or install intrusion systems. We’re a total systems integrator, so we can do it all.” In 2006, the company, again short on space, with 25 employees in house, purchased a 3,200-square-foot building in Mount Dora for $175,000.
Most big jobs are awarded through competitive bidding, which is handled by Jay Lock. For example, SmartWatch was the successful bidder for a $3-million job—installing security for the Air Force at Cape Canaveral. Last year their bid won the contract to install security for the $400-million, 1.6 million-square-foot, mixed-use master-planned community, Veranda Park, west of Orlando. The $695,000 job took 700 hours to complete.
As for the future, Lock wants to grow the business—but up to a point. “I don’t want to fall into the corporate culture that I had to get away from,” she said. •