At PSA, we believe our integrators are the most innovative, advanced, and effective in the electronic security industry. To recognize these exceptional qualities, we bring PSA integrators to the stage each month and introduce them to the PSA community. This month we talk with Gannon Switzer, president, about KST Security and how they are growing to meet the needs of their community.
KST Security (KST), formerly apart of Koorsen Fire, is an Indianapolis-based security and nurse call system integrator, with locations in Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky offering security products and services for financial, educational, healthcare and commercial companies. KST leadership includes Kelly Hoffman, CEO, Gannon Switzer, president, Skip Sampson, executive leader of special projects, Tom Feilen, vice president of national accounts, Rick Zimmerman, vice president of business development and Eric Patz, director of human resources.
How long has KST been in business and how did it get started?
KST was incorporated in July 2008 as a standalone Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE) small business. We originally began in 1999 as a division of a 72-year-old family owned fire protection business that was looking to offer security in central Indiana. We are now in the fourth generation of family ownership and are a specialized systems integrator with offices in Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.
What PSA services and programs have KST found useful or important?
We have been a long time PSA member/owner company, bringing numerous members of our team to TEC year after year for certification training and educational sessions. We share work across the entire country through our network of partners including members of the National Deployment Program (NDP). It has been a very important component to our success. Skip Sampson, KST executive leader of special projects, serves on the PSA Board of Directors as the Midwest regional director. With the new people in our organization, we are looking to get more engaged with PSA committees and their other educational programs/offerings.
We attribute that ability to our focus on maintaining a highly skilled workforce and we will continue investing more time and money in training so that we can deliver the best solutions and service experience in our markets.
What project has been a highlight for KST to be a part of?
The new Indianapolis International Airport has been a unique client for us. Since it opened as the first post 9/11 airport, we have been onsite maintaining the access control system. First as a sub to a sub, then as one of a select few providers and now we maintain virtually all electronic security systems on the property. We are in the midst of a complete upgrade which includes all the cameras, VMS, advanced analytics, LPR and biometrics. Our team takes a lot of pride in servicing such an important customer; plus, Indianapolis International Airport has been named North America’s Best Airport by Airports Council International for six years in a row. We like to believe that the outstanding security solutions in place are a factor in that notable award.
What vertical market does KST work in?
We have a pretty diversified portfolio of clients, however, our core business has been traditionally strong in healthcare, manufacturing/industrial, large commercial and property management. The education vertical is a “must grow” space for us. It is a relatively new market even though we have a select number of key clients, including prominent universities. The requests from both K-12 and higher ed customers are currently drawing us into that market with increasing urgency. It will not only be instrumental in our growth, but we see it as an obligation to fulfilling our purpose as a security provider. As a former teacher with kids in college and a spouse that is a lifelong educator, it’s wildly important to me personally that we focus more of our attention on protecting as many students and faculty as possible. It’s cliché’ but we know first-hand that “it won’t happen here” is foolish thinking. The shooting last spring at West Middle School in Noblesville, IN shook our entire community; we had friends and loved ones from our own KST family in the building that day.
How did KST get started in the educational vertical?
It’s hard to believe that up until just a few years ago we had little to no presence in K-12. We have found our way into it mostly through word of mouth and networking. We traditionally have not been aggressive in the bid market unless we found ourselves with a strategic advantage; either by the sophistication of the system or a particular technology that we have special expertise delivering. The general feeling was that schools went with the lowest cost provider and were just looking to put in something, rather than finding the right thing. However, over time our customer service first approach led to a growing number of opportunities from schools seeking service and we bring them a consultative sales approach to the market. We also began receiving a number of leads from our manufacturer partners that have a strong educational client base and promoted us in the local markets.
What are some of the biggest challenges that integrators face working with schools and educational institutions?
One of the biggest challenge facing integrators is navigating the financial landscape and understanding how and when these decisions are being made. Another challenge is not being proactive in educating schools on available technologies. If you are falling into a reactive pattern and just taking orders for more cameras and card readers, it is doing the schools a disservice. There are a lot of opinions out there regarding how schools should be protecting our kids. It’s imperative to find out who the schools are working with, what they are researching and who within their team is making the decisions. They are usually looking for help in choosing the right solutions and you need to be in front of them, or they will be susceptible to buying the first thing that “looks” good on paper (the web) because they just haven’t had a trusted advisor.
As a former teacher with kids in college and a spouse that is a lifelong educator, it’s wildly important to me personally that we focus more of our attention on protecting as many students and faculty as possible. It’s cliché’ but we know first-hand that “it won’t happen here” is foolish thinking. The shooting last spring at West Middle School in Noblesville, IN shook our entire community; we had friends and loved ones from our own KST family in the building that day.
What makes KST stand out in the physical security industry?
We pride ourselves on being very scalable and flexible in our approach to business. We gravitate to the complex sale, but we can also rapidly deploy for virtually any type of job providing us with a very diverse portfolio of customers. Not only do we have loyal local customers across our footprint, we have large national accounts that rely on KST to engineer, project manage and implement nationwide deployments of complex integrated solutions. We attribute that ability to our focus on maintaining a highly skilled workforce and we will continue investing more time and money in training so that we can deliver the best solutions and service experience in our markets.
What qualities will a successful security integration company have?
We feel that engineering and providing solutions that are innovative and technology-centric provides true value to our customers. Too many companies in our industry aren’t making investments to stay current. We are changing our mindset to think three to five years ahead and set our “go to” market strategy to meet our customers’ needs today while still giving them choices in the future. We believe integrators that are taking a “wait and see” approach are going to be left behind or are simply looking for an exit strategy. There are tremendous changes coming to our industry and they won’t be like the migration from analog to IP, the consumer market is going to drive demand for things most integrators simply are not prepared to offer. Start getting educated.
What is your advice to individuals who are looking to build a career in security systems integration?
Above all things, invest in your own professional development. If you want to be successful and highly effective in what you do, you can’t wait on the company or someone else to give you training and practical knowledge. There are so many good resources, readily available that not making time to study and learn about the industry and our technology will hinder your advancement. Set yourself apart by learning as much as possible about your chosen profession. It is the best way to separate yourself from the rest of the pack. As you evaluate prospective employers do your homework on them. Are they truly a systems integrator or are they a security installer? Ask about their training philosophies and what types of systems they are installing and for what kinds of clients. There is no wrong way to get started; we have hired great people from all kinds different backgrounds. Know what you are getting into, systems integration is not your everyday security system install. We love hearing from new employees that have come from the alarm industry or other smaller dealers when they start getting into our big hospital systems, or national accounts sites; they become excited about all the things that enterprise solutions can do and the sophistication of some of our larger systems. The key to success is being eager to learn and not being afraid to fail.
What are some highlights for KST from 2018?
We are at an exciting time in our development as a company. Since incorporating eight years ago, we have hit major milestones; closing in on 20 million dollars, expanding our office footprint by opening new offices, doubling our headcount and repeatedly hitting our employee profit sharing goals. Over the past six months, we have taken on a leadership change, ripped and replaced our ERP system and added a dozen new employees trying to keep up with our backlog. Most everyone in the PSA community knows Skip Sampson. Along with sitting on the PSA Board of Directors, Skip has moved into an executive leadership role and accepted the challenge of building a specialized healthcare division for us. It is crazy out there right now and we are having a ton a fun. Our industry is poised for tremendous growth over the next few years so we want everyone to know that KST is hiring!
We are also very pleased to announce that Rick Zimmerman has joined KST as vice president of business development. Rick brings more than 30 years of industry experience and his leadership has been instrumental in building and developing highly successful sales and operational teams for multiple security system integration companies including Best Access, Stanley and most recently, Netech/Presidio. He’s also had the privilege of serving and advising on several manufacturer’s boards. Rick will be leveraging his extensive network and relationships within the security industry to expand our presence in the Midwest and beyond. He will work closely with our KST leadership team to develop successful go to market strategies aimed at regional and national account opportunities, as well assisting in securing local business with key accounts with whom we have a not previously engaged.
For more information on KST, visit www.kstsecurity.com/.