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Surveillance success: Greenwood-based security firm's rapid growth draws national notice

November 27, 2006

They all have high-tech surveillance systems from Greenwood-based American Sentry Guard.

The company specializes in building and distributing "intelligent video" systems capable of linking digital video with other computer-based information, such as sales transaction records. Clients include schools, banks, casinos, government agencies and small businesses.

Founded in 1999 by father-son team Jack and Jeff Brummett, American Sentry has become one of the nation's fastest-growing privately held companies. This year, Inc. magazine ranked the company 150th on its "Inc. 500" list, an annual ranking of U.S. private companies based on revenue growth.

American Sentry has grown 699 percent in three years, pulling in $5.6 million in revenue in 2005, according to the company. It expects to increase that to as much as $10 million this year. The company does not release profit figures.

The Brummetts, both former employees of Ford Motor Co., started American Sentry with $100,000 and zero experience in the security business. Initially, the company focused on residential and commercial security alarms.

They figured security was a safe bet for growth.

They were right, says Ralph C. Jensen, editor of Security Products, an industry trade publication headquartered in Dallas.

"There are some real hot areas," he says. "One is school security. Banking. Casinos. Health care."

Jensen said American Sentry has set itself up well in the industry, networking with other players and developing a reputation for "hard-charging" dedication to customers.

They also keep up with the latest technology. For example, their systems can connect footage from company-branded VizionCams to point-of-sale information, allowing store managers to review specific transactions and evaluate customer service.

The digital footage also lets bosses see whether employees are following instructions and offering appropriate "up-sell" options to customers, such as pushing smokers to buy a second pack of cigarettes.

One showcase for the company's technology is the 42,000-square-foot Jonathan Byrd's Cafeteria in Greenwood. The cafeteria's surveillance system includes 96 cameras and six digital videorecorder systems.

The cameras have caught a thief and a quick-change artist and spotted cars involved in crimes, said General Manager Jonathan Byrd II.

They've also raised productivity among employees. When Byrd sees someone performing well, he offers positive feedback and can use the footage as an example for other employees. Of course, letting an employee know he saw them doing something well sends another clear message: He is always watching. And that's exactly the point.

As for American Sentry Guard, Byrd says he'd recommend the firm to anyone. "It's a fantastic company that's on the verge of exploding," he said.

The Brummetts credit American Sentry's success in part to its early grasp of changing digital technology. Better cameras hit the market every month.

It began as a residential and commercial alarm-service provider but quickly transitioned into high-tech surveillance. While other security firms were burdened with analog equipment and analogknowledgeable employees, American Sentry's focus was digital, Jack Brummett said.

The company continues to do both sales and installation work in the Midwest, but its nationwide business focuses on selling products wholesale to dealers. A team known as Dealer Marketing Services helps dealers generate leads and get the word out about products.

The company now has more than 30 full-time employees, up from four in 1999. They snatch up more space whenever a tenant departs the Greenwood office complex that houses their 12,000-square-foot headquarters.

Jack Brummett, 64, who provided the initial investment in American Sentry, lives in Florida but can use an Internet interface to see what's going on in Greenwood. Just about every corner of the office is in view of VizionCams. He can bring up a page online that shows multiple live views.

The cameras, which are manufactured in Korea, are offered in a variety of price levels. The most advanced provide a remarkable level of detail, even in the dark.

The men would not say how much their security systems cost, citing competitive reasons. But they say small conveniencestore systems costs as little as $6 a day, less than the hourly rate for most employees. Jack, the company's owner and CEO, and his son Jeff, president and chief operating officer, someday hope to take the company public. The ultimate goal: Build American Sentry into a $1-billion powerhouse. "There's no reason why we can't," said Jeff, 41
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