Fire Alarm Brands, Managing Obsolescence and Customer Retention - Fire Trade Supplies

Over the years it seems that many of the major UK fire alarm equipment manufacturing companies have been swallowed up through acquisitions by major US corporates.

Honeywell, United Technologies Corporation (UTC), Eaton and Johnson Controls, through their acquisition of Tyco last year, have all purchased major UK brands.

There has, however, been a difference between how these organisations have managed the value in the brand names they have acquired.

Honeywell hold a portfolio of brands including Gent, Notifier, Morley, VESDA, KAC and System Sensor whilst UTC have collected names such as Ziton, Chubb, Airsense and Kidde.

To a large extent Honeywell and UTC have retained the original brand names from their acquired companies. This is not out of sentiment, to me it makes perfect business sense.

Fire detection and alarm systems have a finite life span which is significantly less than that of the building in which it is installed. Over the years a building will have several fire alarm systems. When a customer chooses a replacement system it is highly likely that the brand which it has already installed will at least be given serious consideration when choosing the next generation of system.

Honeywell Gent, as it is now branded having had a recent subtle change from Gent by Honeywell, have retained customers over many years by ensuring a backward compatibility route for its analogue addressable fire alarm system customers. Going back to the Gent 3300 fire alarm system and then onto the Gent 3400 fire alarm, then Gent 34000 and the launch of Gent Vigilon and now Gent Vigilon Plus, the Gent fire alarm business has managed a progression over many years which has seen its products continually keep pace with new technologies and standards, whilst at the same time providing an upgrade way forward for its customers and a reassuring constant under the Gent brand name.

By contrast the UK fire alarm businesses which are now contained within the UK business of Eaton Corporation have gone down a different route. In 2012 Eaton Corporation completed the $13 billion acquisition of Cooper Industries. Cooper Industries had acquired a number of reputable UK brands within the fire alarm industry including Menvier, JSB and Fulleon.

In the early 2000s Cooper Fire launched its new Menvier DF6000 analogue addressable fire alarm system. The Menvier DF6000 was the replacement for the Menvier DF4000 analogue addressable fire alarm system.  However, the Menvier DF6000 fire alarm system was not backwardly compatible with the Menvier DF4000 fire alarm system. If your Menvier DF4000 panel started to fail, there was no option to upgrade to the newer model panel and retain the existing fire alarm devices. The entire fire alarm  system needed to be changed.

At this time, Cooper Fire had observed the success of the Gent fire alarm business’s move to a route to market through specialist fire alarm installation and service companies, which Gent termed system integrators. Menvier products had traditionally been sold through the major UK electrical distribution companies. Cooper Fire did not want to upset its valued customers in this channel and so it decided to market the Menvier DF6000 fire alarm system as the Cooper CF3000 fire alarm system and set out to establish its own system integrator network with this brand.

However, when Gent launched its system integrator network, the newly appointed integrators were gifted with an established installed base of customers and opportunities to upgrade systems which had originally been developed by the Gent installation and service fire alarm businesses.

Cooper Fire’s new system integrator network was faced with the prospect of marketing a new brand and a new fire alarm product which had a number of issues including difficulties with new state of the art touch screen.

Needless to say, Cooper Fire’s attempt at establishing a successful system integrator route failed.

Cooper Fire also struggled to reconcile the issue of managing different brands for different routes to market, with the practicalities of ensuring consistent levels of product supply without keeping financially burdensome levels of stock. The result was regular substitution for of one brand for another and the supply of products with three different part numbers on the box, neither of which are helpful if you are trying to maintain an illusion of different brands for different channels.

Cooper Menvier CAB382

Difficulties in managing brands in different routes to market was not Cooper Fire’s only problem. A number of poorly managed product obsolescence issues resulted in significant loss of market share in the UK. Products appeared to become obsolete overnight due to component shortages with no suitable replacements.

The Menvier MF9300 range of conventional fire alarm panels disappeared from the range and with it the Menvier brand from the conventional UK market. The JSB Biwire system disappeared just as suddenly with significant impact on Cooper Fire’s presence in the electrical distribution market. A Cooper Fire radio system was launched but failed to gain traction and after product supply and reliability issues and standards changes the products were withdrawn.

Menvier Fire Alarm
Menvier - a lost brand in the UK market?

Perhaps not surprisingly, this period of brand confusion and product obsolescence was accompanied by regularly changes to organisational, management and sales structures which despite the best efforts of those involved only seemed to compound their problems.

A new Biwire range of fire alarm products has been launched under the Eaton branding and I understand that this has begun to reclaim some of the lost ground. A new ‘Flexi’ panel has been launched which is capable of running both four wire conventional and two wire ‘Biwire’ circuits.

Eaton are also developing a new generation analogue addressable system which, we understand, will be backwardly compatible with the current range of Menvier DF6000 and Cooper CF3000 fire alarm systems. A wise move in my opinion and perhaps the Eaton branding with allow the company to shed the association with some of the mishaps of the past. The phoenix may well yet rise from the flames!