VOL. 126 | NO. 81 | Tuesday, April 26, 2011
State Systems Celebrates 25 Years
State Systems Inc., along with the company president Bob McBride, has experienced explosive growth and seen many changes within the protective services industry in the Mid-South over the past quarter of a century. The company celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.
McBride started his business in January 1986 with his father. He had previously been involved with an industrial first aid safety and supply company called Z Medical Service Co. When he heard about a fire suppression company called State Systems Inc. that was for sale he bought it and became 50-50 partners with his father.
“We thought it would be a good tie-in with our first aid and safety company,” McBride said. “State Systems was a small company with only two or three employees at that time. I decided to continue to run Z Medical Service, while my father took over the day-to-day operations of State Systems. He handled sales from 1986 to 1995, and then I sold Z Medical Service and joined him full time.”
During State Systems’ first 10 years, the company grew from a couple of hundred thousand dollars in revenue in the first year to nearly $3 million in 1995. When McBride’s father retired in 1999, he purchased his remaining stock.
“When we started in 1986, our focus was primarily restaurants, and the services we offered were sales service, inspection of fire extinguishers, fire suppression systems for kitchen restaurant systems, steam cleaning of restaurant vent hoods for fire protective purposes and carpet cleaning,” said McBride, who cites long-time restaurant clients like Sonic, Burger King and Wendy’s.
State Systems dropped carpet cleaning after a few years, but the core business has remained to this day. Expansion over the past quarter century has led the company into offering full-service fire alarms, fire suppression systems for computer rooms and vehicles, closed-circuit TVs, access controls, and nurse call systems, along with a structured cabling/technology division.
“Today we’re a $10 million per year operation with 86 employees and 5,000 customers,” said McBride. “Our customer base has naturally grown over the years. We now call on every type of business. Every business is required to carry a fire extinguisher, so every business is a potential client.”
The company’s large customers on the industrial side today include Williams-Sonoma’s facility in Olive Branch and Nucor Corp., and it also works with a number of schools, hospitals, hotels and office complexes.
“Everything we do now is commercially oriented,” McBride said. “In the early years at one point we dabbled in the residential security market, but after a couple of years we decided to focus on the commercial side of the industry.”
City of Memphis Chief Fire Marshal Ron Brown has worked in the area of fire protection and safety in the Mid-South for the past 24 years, and he has seen his fair share of incidents in the commercial sector.
“Over the past 15 years, there have been various changes in the technology employed to control and extinguish fires of different types,” Brown said.
He explained that the evolution of fire suppression systems has gone from dry chemicals, which were very messy, to wet chemicals, which presented electrical hazards, to today’s inert gas-based systems, which displace the available oxygen in a room.
Another significant change that Brown has seen over the past 25 years is the presence of sprinkler systems in all schools, a requirement now that wasn’t always the case.
Brown feels that the newer fire suppression techniques are effective, but they have not reduced the number of incidents.
“What they do is reduce the amount of loss as a result of the incidents,” he said. “The thing that best reduces the number of incidents is public education.”
State Systems formed a new fire sprinkler services division last month as a response to a large number of customer requests for fire sprinkler inspections and service work.
“The one key component that we’ve lacked over the past 25 years was fire sprinkler work. We have a heavy investment starting from the ground floor, and that part of our business will probably not be profitable for 12 to 15 months,” said McBride, who expects the new division to bring as much as $1 million in additional revenue to his company.
McBride said it is something he has wanted to do for a long time, but he had not found the right person to head up the division because of licensing requirements.
Terry Donovan is the new manager of the company’s fire sprinkler services, and he brings more than 30 years of experience in the fire sprinkler industry. He was formerly with the Memphis office of Simplex Grinnell.
“We’re also back into the first aid segment as of last year,” said McBride, who left that part of the business behind when he sold Z Medical Service in the mid-1990s.
State Systems’ new first aid service is a van-based operation that is fully stocked with items like bandages, ointments and safety glasses. They travel around to local businesses to restock their safety cabinets and provide them with whatever supplies they might need.