In the late 1980s, when home theater often only meant surround sound, Pro-Comm (Protection and Communication) in Lynwood, WA already was on the technology cusp. "The norm is that a line-voltage contractor starts a low-voltage division," said Rick Strauss, vice president and one of three partners in the company, which was incorporated in 1984. "We're one of a few successful low-voltage contractors that made the crossing from specialty to a full electrical contractor. We do it all-providing fully integrated systems from security/fire to lighting control, shading and even high-end home theater through The Music Room, as well as others such as Point ID Fire, access control, camera systems and even central vacuum systems through other divisions."
Over the last 6-year period, Pro-Comm has purchased three companies, one of which was Progressive Electric, a residential and commercial electrical contractor. The acquisition was a natural move, Strauss said, because it is the "easiest way to increase our sales by leveraging our existing customers."
About 65 percent of Pro-Comm's projects are residential in the Washington area. Current projects include a high-rise Seattle hotel with condos above it. "We're doing the condominium audio/video, shading, lighting, hotel signage, display, concierge and lobby services as well as all the boardrooms," Strauss pointed out.
Pro-Comm, with a staff of more than 65, maintains techs on both the commercial and residential side, and a "real" 24-hour service department, meaning that clients can speak with a tech that is capable of responding 24 hours a day. "With many techs," Strauss said, "if we have a large project, we can move techs onto that project to lend a helping hand. There is power in numbers. We've learned that everybody's an expert in something, but working together and taking responsibility is something that sets our employees apart. We've been forced over time to face the fact that we're the best trainers. We hire installers typically on an apprenticeship basis, typically for 12-24 months. A good tech is always looking to the future, and being capable of working in both line and low-voltage is the future."
One of the comforts of being in business for more than 21 years under the same ownership and same name, is a lessened need for marketing, Strauss explained. "A project manager we may have worked with years ago may now own or be employed by a new company, and use us still. We also do Seattle's Street of Dreams projects from time to time, not targeting on advertising, but more to protect the customers we have. We don't want anyone else working on their projects. The upside comes in new leads and referrals."
Pro-Comm also provides UL-listed, central-station monitoring for fire alarm, security and elevator systems realizing that these contracts also act as an annuity, meaning that the normal ups and downs of cash flow are missing with consistent payments coming in. Pro-Comm's primary crossover products include Lutron and Crestron products as well as D-Tools software. "In the last seven years or so, D-Tools has taken us to an engineering level," he said. "A good journeyman can do residential or commercial work, and an engineered set of plans assists them in doing a great job. Everything is detailed. We know exactly what the finished product is to be before we start the tech on the project."
One key to Pro-Comm's success, its owners said, is that they have worked as installers. Strauss runs the residential divisions with Pro-Comm doing the typical residential systems and The Music Room for higher-end installations. One partner, Paul Briganti, is NICET-certified for fire alarms and oversees the engineering, inventory and techs. Partner Robert Davis heads the financial side and oversees the service department and quality control.
"Some of our competitors say no one can do it all, but we've been proving that, yes, we can," Strauss said. "We've got a great crew, and it has long been coming together in terms of what we call, 'the Pro-Comm Way,' which is meeting or exceeding customer expectations. This, in turn, allows our company to profit in both personal and financial ways."