by Richard Prior
There’s a lot to be said for providing a good product and superior service.
Actually, that says it all.
“We had a group of people who all believed in the same thing,” said Bruce Scott, the once and present force behind Scott Alarm. “We all believed in hard work and over delivering service. That’s something that’s not out there today. There are major companies in this business, in this town, who are two weeks before they get a service truck out.
“My philosophy is, if you’re paying me to provide service for your home, family or business, and I don’t deliver, then I don’t deserve your money. Period. The end.”
In addition to that attitude, Scott has another quality that expanded a start-up company in Jacksonville into a $41 million enterprise with branches around the country in 11 years. He concedes to being “a bit industrious.”
The truth is he has a whole lot more drive than most and treats sleep almost as an inconvenience.
The former burglary detective with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has been out of the alarm business since 1996, when he sold the company to Wayne Huizenga’s Republic Industries. After Ameritech’s SecurityLink bought Republic in 1998, Scott signed a non-compete agreement.
The agreement has expired, and Scott is back. Opening day for Scott Alarm was July 15.
Following the 1996 sale, Scott worked for Huizenga for 23 months, “the best experience I’ve had in my life working for someone else. And all my employees felt the same way.”
When Ameritech got into the picture, Scott faded out after six weeks.
He later worked as a consultant for First Alert, an alarm manufacturing company. He even took a shot at politics but lost a City Council campaign against Mary Ann Southwell.
Running on a platform of bringing business sense to government, Scott had “a lot of great people who voted for me.”
“I think somebody had a hand on my shoulder, though,” he added. “I’m not sure I have what it takes to be in politics.”
Scott conceded that, no matter where he found himself over the past eight years, his heart was always with his company.
“The problem with consulting is it’s probably a lot like being a professional athlete who then becomes a coach,” he said. “You’re on the sideline.
“You’re not out there doing it. And you miss that.”
Scott and fellow burglary detective Jack Murray started Scott Murray, a guard dog business, in the mid-1960s. They were getting up at 4:15 every morning to feed and exercise 149 dogs before going off to “run around and chase thieves.”
They returned every evening, taking the dogs to their assigned locations. They ate when the job was done, usually around 11 p.m. Scott also provided security at his apartment complex.
He was making $82.50 a week as a detective and $100 a month for each dog that was put out to guard some property, “so that was big money.”
The two men expanded to a guard service, putting men with dogs at sites that needed extra security, walking up and down the pipelines at some of the oil refinery depots.
They then were approached by a young fireman who said he couldn’t make a go of his alarm business.
“I think you could really do something with it, and I’ll work for you,” Scott recalled the young man saying. “So we paid him $350 for his alarm business.”
Scott and Murray eventually sold the alarm business to Clay County’s J.P. Hall. Murray stayed with Hall. Scott took $3,000 and founded his own company, selling the systems at night, installing them by day.
Business boomed. Customers were getting what they wanted; the employees were having fun. There were no job applications. The top of the form read Adoption Papers, “because we consider everyone family,” said Scott.
After teaching school in Duval County for 26 years, Scott’s mother, Neil, had gone to work for her son. Business cards said her position was “vice president of hugs.”
Scott’s top installer was Jeff Budd, who started Budd Security Systems after Huizenga sold the business to SecurityLink. Now, Budd’s back, in charge of installation and service. And Scott couldn’t be happier.
“Everybody loves Jeff — the employees and the customers,” he said.
At its peak, Scott Alarm had 2,400 employees in 58 offices all over the South and as far north as Columbia, Md., and west to Chicago and Denver.
During Scott Alarm’s first incarnation, the boss took all the employees to dinner when the company reached its 500th customer.
“That was such a milestone,” Scott said. “It was huge.
“If you’d have told me at that point that one day we’d have 400,000 customers, I’d have said there’s no way.”
This go-around, the company is already closing in on its 500th customer after a month and a half.
“We’re having a really good time,” said Scott. “The really fun thing about this has been all the calls that I’ve gotten from former employees, all saying relatively the same thing.
“They’ve all gone into the alarm business. They tell me, if I’ll come to — fill in the city — they’ll shut their business down and merge it into Scott Alarm tomorrow. They say, ‘I was never happier than when I was part of Scott Alarm.’
“Man, that’s just great. It really is.”