Independent Winnipeg-based integrator thrives on Prairies
By Peter Caulfield
ProTELEC Alarms is a family-owned, Winnipeg-based integrator that has been around for 43 years, but the company is as innovative and forward-looking as any young start-up.
By Peter Caulfield
Founded in 1968 by the father of the present-day general manager, ProTELEC is one of the largest independent security companies in Western Canada, with 100 employees in three offices across the Prairies. The company’s head office and central monitoring station is in Winnipeg and it has branches in Brandon and Calgary.
Rial Black, general manager of ProTELEC and Servo Electronics, a separate sister company that supplies hardware and that was started at the same time as ProTELEC, says ProTELEC is a company with a single focus.
“We protect lives and property,” Black says. “We don’t install or sell home theatre systems, vacuums, telephones or other products (that don’t protect lives and property). We believe in doing one thing and doing it well.”
Black says ProTELEC offers its customers a complete, integrated solution.
“Many security companies install alarm systems and get other companies to provide the monitoring and service,” Black says. “This kind of arrangement often leads to dissatisfaction when the system needs to be serviced. With ProTELEC, our customers need to make only one phone call, because we install and service every system ourselves and do the monitoring from our own central monitoring station.”
Black says its monitoring station in Winnipeg is the core of ProTELEC’s business. The station monitors its customers for burglary, fire, flood, carbon monoxide, building temperature and personal medical emergencies. Black says it has “between 10 and 12 seats.”
ProTELEC has residential and commercial alarm customers in Winnipeg and the surrounding suburbs; Manitoba cottage country to the north and east of the city; and Brandon, in western Manitoba.
It also has residential customers in Calgary and commercial clients across Canada and the United States. Black says 65 per cent of ProTELEC’s alarm customers are residential and 35 per cent are commercial.
ProTELEC’s most innovative service is CheckMate, a locally developed and proprietary automated web-based service that checks up on people working alone. Black says CheckMate can be used to monitor the safety and well-being of many types of lone workers, such as taxi drivers and employees of convenience stores, gas stations, retail outlets and parking lots.
CheckMate can also keep an eye on employees who meet clients out of the office, such as home care nurses, social workers, parole officers and realtors.
CheckMate is unlike a run-of-the-mill answering service, Black says. “Because the calls to lone workers are automatically generated by the system, they’re completely predictable,” he said. “Nobody has to remember to initiate a call, and lone workers don’t have to remember to check in themselves.”
If a CheckMate call goes unanswered, a second calls goes out and, if it, too, is unanswered, an alarm is sent to ProTELEC’s central monitoring station and an operator begins notifying the lone worker’s employer’s call list.
The service also maintains an audit trail of all calls, so employees don’t have to stop what they are doing and document their calls.
In addition to the automated calls, there is support by live operators who have been trained to respond to life-and death situations.
“The operators can pick up on clues from the conversation and respond appropriately,” Black said. “This is especially helpful in emergency situations where lone workers cannot express themselves clearly or become incoherent.”
Although CheckMate can monitor lone workers all across North America, most of the service’s customers are in British Columbia.
“B.C. has the most stringent legislation for lone workers,” Black said.
Servo Electronics, the other half of the combined operation, supplies, installs and services CCTV equipment and access control systems for health care and educational institutions. Servo operations manager Fred Prior says 95 per cent of the company’s products are sold direct and the remaining five per cent through two sub-dealers in Thunder Bay, Ont.
Servo’s customers, all of whom are commercial, are located in Winnipeg, the rest of Manitoba, northwestern Ontario and Nunavut.
ProTELEC and Servo were both founded in 1968 by Robert Black, Rial’s father. A chartered accountant, Black had invested in a Winnipeg company called RIMAC (Remote Industrial Mechanical Controls), a first-generation alarm company, in 1966. Unfortunately, RIMAC was a little ahead of its time, and the company went bankrupt in 1968. Rather than lose his original investment, Black bought the assets of the company and founded ProTELEC and Servo.
Neither company was immediately successful, but Black kept at it, confident that a market for alarms would eventually emerge.
Business began to turn around in about 1980 when the residential security market started to take off. And ProTELEC and Servo took off with it. Today, the companies have grown to a total of 100 employees in its three offices: 40 in the monitoring centre; 25 in installation and service, 10 in administration, 15 in sales, 10 in management.