11 December 2015


This month Simon Banks talks to Mike Greaves, Managing Director of the Keyways group of companies encompassing Westmorland, CJ Alarms, GB Security Systems and Cumbrian Systems.

This month Simon Banks talks to Mike Greaves, Managing Director of the Keyways group of companies encompassing Westmorland, CJ Alarms, GB Security Systems and Cumbrian Systems. Keyways are celebrating 50 years as a family business. Mike is also Chairman of the NASIC buying group, with consolidated annual sales in excess of £100m.

Have you always been a traditional alarm company?

My father started Keyways over 50 years ago with a focus on providing safety and master key systems to the electricity generating market. We started to diversify into CCTV and Access Control long before traditional alarms. In the late eighties we became inspectorate recognised with a goal to focus on a full spectrum of security services including all aspects of physical and electrical security without the need to sub-contract. The aim was to be a solution-based design and installation company focused on mitigating any potential loss or crime against our clients.

How many acquisitions have you made in the last ten years?

Despite strong organic growth the group has also acquired several alarm companies. We often receive direct approaches, but our general approach has been more strategic. Buying companies in parallel sectors such as Fire can be very complimentary to our core strengths. We are also of a size that makes acquisitions necessary to address natural attrition. We made a conscious decision not to enlarge our installation department to cover any natural churn and to focus on high quality leads created from our database and referrals.

Have you been tempted with other vertical business streams?

We have consciously stayed away from AV and home cinema systems (despite being regularly asked) for several reasons. Notably, not to compete with many of our clients but also because we believe we’re a near perfect security company due to our legacy, workforce and experience. It would take considerable investment and an uncomfortable strain on our core workforce to achieve the same high standards in AV or home cinema.

What are the biggest leaps in technology and what challenges do they bring?

The biggest sea change in recent years has been IP. Our challenge has been to re-skill our workforce to take advantage and gain competency and proficiency. Advances in technology have allowed us to use video analytical data to shift the focus from the internal to the external. We want to prevent burglary – and especially aggravated burglary – before it happens.

Have you considered doing more Fire installations?

I would estimate that Keyways - the largest company in the group - can attribute 10% of its installations to Fire; with our other companies the split is more 50/50. We see this as an opportunity to grow Keyways organically into a more lucrative vertical.

Would CCTV benefit from storing data in cloud rather than an on-site DVR?

As of today the quality is not comparable with an onsite storage device. Streaming to the client often involves very poor quality images with restrictions on both band width and storage space. It also generally commands a premium price.

Are there enough skills in our industry?

It is a company’s responsibility to make sure that there’s a feed of talent entering the business through investment in young people. We have created positions for over 10 apprentices in the last year across the group. Apprentices bring all the obvious benefits and provide some less publicized ones such as enabling health and safety compliance on sites that require two people. The apprentices buddy-up with an experienced professional to complement their academic study. As an investor in people we also believe in constant re-training of our team and their commitment to client security regardless of their age.

Should Electricians be moving into Security?

Electricians have always been entering the security market. In my experience it often peaks when the construction sector is less busy. Some stay and take the attributes of Alarm Installers but many Electricians are adverse to the 24 hour call-out culture. We have six qualified Electricians within the group.

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