Foremost Security: How diversification of services enabled growth, and life after the pandemic
IFSEC Global has spoken to our very own Paul Ritchie, founder and Managing Director of Nottingham-based Foremost Security, to understand how the business has diversified its services to ensure it has continued to grow, even throughout the pandemic.
This article first appeared on ifsecglobal.com on August 20, 2020.
IFSEC Global: Could you tell me a little more about Foremost Security and what you do, and the history?
Paul Ritchie: We founded as Foremost Security in 2010, so we’re celebrating our 10-year anniversary this year.
Before this, I was previously running another security company, but we went our separate ways and from that, we renamed to Foremost Security.
And during your time in the industry, I assume you’ve never seen anything like what’s happened over the last few months?
It’s been very different. I suspect we will see an awful lot more things in the future. As it happens, because of the nature of what we do, we’ve actually done very well over the last few months. I suspect other security companies in different sectors may have been hit harder than us.
When we first formed, our essence was security guarding in the local East Midlands area. What’s become apparent over the last few years is that the margins are so tight, so unless you get huge contracts, or diversify slightly, you don’t make any money.
We therefore decided to diversify and move into mobile security. The key holding alarm response, mobile patrols, unlock and lockup services, have been vital to us surviving and are continuing to work well.
Why do you think the diversification has been particularly useful during this time?
In the security guarding side, we’ve gained additional hours from our customers because their premises are closed or they’re at least less present.
And with the mobile patrols, key holding and alarm response services, we’ve gained extra patrols during the day because so many places have been locked up – previously, we were just patrolling during the night or at weekends.
Plus, we’ve gained several new customers. We wouldn’t usually get involved in the hospitality trade, for example, because they’re usually there until two or three in the morning and open quite early with cleaners. But because they’ve locked down we’ve gained a number of clients in that respect.
And in some instances, extra work has involved site inspections once a week to make sure everything is ok.
Do you think going forward people are going to be more aware of security for their premises and want to invest a little bit more, then? Whether it be investing in personnel or installing better surveillance, for example?
I think it will be a combination of the two.
A lot of office workers have been told they’re not coming back into the office full time until next year, so premises will be emptier than they were prior to the COVID-19 lockdown and therefore putting them at risk.
And yes, I agree that business owners will be looking at electronic security devices as well. My theory is though, without people to respond to it, they’re not fully effective. If criminals know that that a physical presence won’t be coming, they’re likely to continue whatever it is that they’re doing.
Retail too, will be less busy I think and require more guarding.
I suppose the education sector comes into this, as well? It seems there’s a bit of a trend towards security not just being ‘security’, but also beginning to cover safety as well, particularly at universities.
Certainly, and we do work with both universities in Nottingham. It’s been a trend now for several years, where you have to cover both security and safety – many young people aren’t used to being away from home.
Do they really know what they’re doing? I can remember being young once and I don’t think I did!
Safety has suddenly become so critical, not just physical safety, but mental health support as well. Is there training in place your guys are doing to cover those bases?
There is. If we’re working in a site where this will be a theme, there’s a lot of safeguarding training we make sure our officers undertake.
Students need help and protection. And not just the traditional forms of protection, but security staff need to be on the lookout for signs that people are suffering, so wellbeing comes into it as well.
So yes, there is some training, especially where security staff are people-facing. It’s a different sort of security when dealing face-to-face with people, and it takes a different sort of attitude and approach.
We cover training both in-house and online. Wellbeing and safeguarding support advice is readily available online nowadays, and even more so now as a result of COVID. It’s really useful for everyone, as you don’t have to send people away overnight for two day courses and things like that.
Moving on from this a little, how have you seen the security sector change since you first started in it?
I’d say the two biggest changes since I first started has been the impact of the minimum wage, which has helped to bring wages up in the sector – these were incredibly low before this.
And the other big change has been the introduction of licensing in the security sector from the SIA (Security Industry Authority).
It’s taken a few years to really come into effect – it took a few years for some of the more unscrupulous companies to be found out, but it’s made a difference. I’m sure there are still one or two companies going under the radar, but it’s certainly improved standards.
And customers should be aware of the importance of using a certified company. I always ask the question, if you’re giving the keys, or entrusting your premises to people from a security company, surely you want to be sure they work legally under their own industry regulations, too?
And have developments in technology changed the way you work as well?
Absolutely. And, it’s going to increase rapidly the way things are going as well.
I can’t claim to be at the forefront of technology, but we’ve moved on. Certainly, if I say when we started out at Foremost we had one vehicle out there doing mobile patrols compared to the nine vehicles we have now.
In fact, even four years ago we had two vehicles. We’ve moved to nine, simply because we changed the emphasis, and realised one-fifth of our turnover, which is the mobile services, produces two-thirds of our profits.
So the whole emphasis of our business has changed and shifted.
With that comes the technology. 10 years ago, we had separate IT, PCs, and one or two laptops, but now we’re embracing doing site surveys on tablets, cloud-based systems for file sharing and more – even if it’s just to make our internal processes more streamlined.
And how have demographics changed in the security sector? Is the next generation beginning to come through?
It’s interesting – we’re finding that different people like different aspects of security. Our younger staff prefer mobile patrols, for example, whereas some of those who came into the industry a little later prefer the more traditional security guarding role. There’s a lot of moving around and in and out of vehicles for the mobile patrol sector, so it’s understandable why.
We’re beginning to see more female representation as well, which is great to see.
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