A Publication of WTVP

Sonitrol of Peoria is a locally owned Sonitrol franchise of Sonitrol Corp., said Sonitrol President Steve Knobeloch. "Sonitrol was founded in 1963 with a total of 170 franchises throughout the world and has been in the Peoria area since 1972. The original franchise holder was Robert Becraft, a City of Peoria police officer. It was later sold to Getz Fire Equipment and, in turn, purchased by me in 1981."

He said at first, the customer base was made up primarily of commercial accounts. "That changed in 1982 when the demand for residential systems grew at a fast rate due to mass marketing by GE Cable Alarms, which increased the awareness for reasonably priced security systems. Over the years, we've changed the way we do business by giving the customers what they desired and adding products to meet their ever-changing needs."

Sonitrol does both commercial and residential work, Knobeloch said. "We provide installation, monitoring, and service for security systems, closed-circuit TV systems, fire alarms, access control, and integrated systems monitoring."

Changes have come to the security industry over the years, and Knobeloch said the biggest driver of that change has been technology. "As technology changes, so must we. The Internet is changing the way we all do business. More and more products are Internet based or becoming Internet compatible. Technology is always changing, both at the subscriber's end and at the monitoring end."

Moving into additional markets has been a change, too-though a very positive one for Sonitrol. "Over the years, Sonitrol of Peoria has expanded its products and territory into central and southern Illinois and also into Iowa," he said. "In the 23 years that we've held the Peoria franchise, the security market has gone through a great deal of turmoil-being bought, sold, changed names, or simply moving their monitoring stations out of state. All the while, we've become Peoria's oldest locally owned and monitored security system company. Quite simply put, we have stability and quality that can be relied upon, along with a core of employees that have been with us for nearly 20 years."

Along with the stability and quality, what sets Sonitrol apart in the security industry is its Smart Audio System, Knobeloch said. "With our Audio System, Sonitrol can actually hear the progress of a break-in. Many times, the police can be dispatched prior to an entry; this gives us added time. Whereas with a conventional system, an entry is required to activate a sensor-whether it's a door contact or a motion detector of some sort. For example, Sonitrol recently dispatched on audio activations from a business; the police and owner arrived prior to an entry to the building and found no one around. A playback on a video showed an individual prying the rear door of the building just moments prior to the police arriving."

He said one of the biggest misperceptions about this industry comes from the national mass marketers of residential security systems. "They give the perception that systems can be installed for virtually nothing. This perception lured many residences to sign up with their discounted or free systems. Looking at their way of doing business, I couldn't see that it was a winning relationship, so we decided to stay away from the freebies. We've received many calls from other companies' customers trying to get a hold of someone to service the system they had installed, or questioning the price given to them to add on to their system. The old saying still is true: 'You get what you pay for,' and good service counts in the long run."

The philosophy seems to be working for Sonitrol. "We've tried many forms of media to get the word out, but the thing that works best is the customer referral. Time after time, we'll inquire with our sales staff to see where a particular customer heard about us, and it's usually a referral from an existing customer."

False alarms are the biggest menace in his industry, Knobeloch said. "Potential customers tend to be afraid of false alarms. No one likes them; customers get upset, and they waste the dispatched authorities' time. The industry has heard the cries and has made changes in the equipment. Easier to use systems and better sensors are a result. Surveys still show that most of the time, the false alarms are generated by improper use of the system. This is where additional customer training comes in, both in operation and education on ways false alarms occur. False alarms have even occurred from my own house when the kids forgot to disarm the system in the morning. Nothing like getting a roaring start in the morning."

Always looking for new and better ways, Knobeloch said the Sonitrol product line is undergoing changes to incorporate video. "Not only will we hear the break in, but we'll be able to see the break in too. SonaVision is Sonitrol's premium service and will allow us to integrate audio and video together to give us much more information on a dispatch."

He said the most challenging problem they encounter is that customers want their systems installed ASAP-and sometimes they've called too late. "We put the systems in after a break in has happened many times. Of course, the most rewarding aspect is to see or hear customer satisfaction after an apprehension or other type of service we've provided." IBI