Specialist fire detection focus drives electronics manufacturer
The often barely noticed fire detection control box at the entrance to commercial buildings is sometimes referred to as a ‘grudge purchase’.
It is a legislated health and safety requirement which would possibly at times not be included in a new (or old) build - but which nevertheless is mandated to help save lives and protect the building.
For Technology Valley Wingate-based international business Pertronic Industries, their specialist focus on such fire detection control equipment has been the single point of focus behind its growth and success - even in the face of stiff competition.
The electronics manufacturer of the building-entrance twinkling-lights control panels is very much a business-to-business model, and always has been since its establishment in 1982 by founder owner David Percy (Pertronic is a portmanteau of Percy and electronic).
The Canterbury University Electrical Engineering graduate had worked for the building services department of the then Post Office for three years before heading for his O.E.
At that stage the P.O. employed 37,000 people.
In Britain David worked for 21 months for a fire protection company. Coming back to New Zealand he found and deliberately worked for three and a half years at a fire equipment manufacturing business, ultimately bought by international security systems and fire protection company Tyco.
Then he established Pertronic.
“It was probably not the best time to begin manufacturing in New Zealand,” David says.
“But we survived the 1984 economy deregulation brought about by Roger Douglas.
“When you’re very small, such macro events don’t affect you much. But the bigger companies significantly retrenched in the late 80s and early 90s, with the 1987 stockmarket crash really bringing some of them down. As others folded, we survived.”
In 1987 there were seven fire detection control equipment manufacturers in New Zealand, but by the mid 90s, that had dropped to four. Now there are only two, and Pertronic is number one in the market.
However there is import competition from countries such as Australia primarily, as well as US, UK and China.
There are 110 people in Pertronic’s NZ operation, with another 25 in Australia, where after 19 years presence the company is in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide.
Business model focuses on installation contractors
The business model is almost exclusively sale to fire alarm installation contractors.
“We aim to be their preferred supplier, and are in the business of repeat sales from them,” says David.
“Once they’re installed, buildings will be modified, extensions made, and we keep on supplying.”
The sensing part of Pertronics’ kit is an analogue addressable detector - ‘clever’ sensors (photoelectric, thermal, infra-red), which report location and condition. The smoke detector is made by USA company System Sensor.
The outer enamel coloured steel outer control panel box is made by Technology Valley manufacturing partners. The electronic circuit boards (printed circuit boards, micro circuit controls, inhouse programming and IP) are manufactured on four surface mount machines and assembled at Wingate, with a new purpose built plant being built next door (May 2019).
“Because we have full control over our design, our technical support to installers is high level,” David says.
“If there are queries, we can easily answer...we don’t have to go back to another supplier.”
He says part of Pertronic’s secret sauce is being very narrowly focused “and trying to be very good at what we do.”
“It is very dangerous to spread yourself too thinly. You lose focus. While there’s obviously areas you might look at, too many companies spread way too wide.”
This is one reason Pertronic haven’t added, what initially appears to be a similar functioning product, burglar alarms, to its product range.
Having reached number 3 in Australia (with an intent to make #2 in five years), David says Pertronic is broadly recognised in Australia as Australian company, not as NZ made.
Now Pertronic is embarking on an American incursion.
In the USA, a number of installation companies are unable to obtain a dealership from the bigger fire detection control equipment suppliers. The market is dominated by a small number of larger players.
Pertronic is working to complete the required certification by Underwriter Laboratories and Factory Mutual, and will embark on the individual state by state approval.
“There’s an opportunity for a company that is prepared to service someone the big multinationals can barely be bothered dealing with,” he says.
“We’re prepared to supply as we recognise these installers as a market opportunity.”
David says he enjoys what he does and has no immediate or medium term plan to step down. He intends to continue to keep ownership and top management as one.
“If I had another partner, the thought of having to answer and justify decisions doesn’t sit well,” he says.
“I have the flexibility to say something like ‘naahh I hear what you say, but I’m still going to do it.’”
“It might pay off, it might not, what the hell.”
He says Pertronic doesn’t work in five year time frames or goals as such. The detailed planning many corporates put into these plans doesn’t gel with David.
“We certainly want to continue to be profitable. We certainly want to be having fun.”
“We most definitely want to see how far we can make this go.”
(Picture - Pertronic founder David Percy has helped drive the company to number one in New Zealand buildings' fire detection control)
Pertronic IndustriesPertronic Industries Ltd Head Office
17 Eastern Hutt Road
Lower Hutt 5019
P O Box 35-063, Naenae
Lower Hutt 5041
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