As one of the largest detention equipment companies in the corrections industry, Southern Folger continues to expand its services, while working to ensure that past projects are maintained successfully.
In early 2006, the company introduced a detention equipment contractor certification program that all contractors who wish to install Southern Folger products must complete. The company also recently introduced its latest product, a new system that allows facility operators to protect their systems from lightning strikes.
Don Halloran, Southern Folger president, spoke with Correctional News during a phone interview from his San Antonio office.
Correctional News: How has the DEC certification program progressed?
Don Halloran: We made our decisions on the DECs that would be qualified at the beginning of the year and we just had our first class completed in August. We’re going to have our next class at the end of October. There is a two-week class for the superintendents on the installation training of our products — both Southern Steel and Folger Adams — and there is a second class for the project managers. We call it project coordination training and it is one week long.
CN: How did those first classes go?
DH: It worked really well. Preparing for it was interesting because it really forced us to look at all of our processes internally to make sure that they make sense. We made some changes and asked ourselves the question, “Does how we go to market and do business make sense?”
The superintendents and the project managers thought it was good hands-on training and they gained something from it. They felt that there was a lot of good feedback going both ways.
CN: Have there been any major changes in the way you do business that were a result of information you unearthed during the preparation process for the classes?
DH: I think the feedback has made a difference. The superintendents are a group of people that we normally don’t interact with. We usually deal with the project managers. It is good to open up that line of communication so they feel comfortable calling us and talking directly with us. We don’t intend to bypass the project manager, but sometimes it’s tough for the project manager to be the translator when there is an issue in the field or a question.
CN: Are you going to have classes regularly now?
DH: The next one is at the end of October and we’re going to run these almost every other month through next month. It’s going to keep us busy.
CN: You recently developed some lightning protection products. How did that come about?
DH: After we bought Folger Adams we realized that we really need to pay attention to the facilities — the existing installed base. We are not the only ones, but everybody pays attention to what new project is bidding and we don’t go back to what we already sold to see how it is working.
As we went back and started to talk with some of the facility operators — we’ve been doing it now for two years — some of the feedback we’ve received from some of the locksmith and maintenance people is they are having an issue in certain areas of the country with lightning storms. It was taking down their system for a certain length of time. It cost money to fix and it compromised security.
We now have Lightning Shield, which actually senses changes in the atmosphere as lightning storms approach and it to takes electronics off-line. It happens so rapidly, there is no interruption in services because it switches systems over to an uninterruptable power supply. When it’s on the UPS there is low risk of it getting struck by lightning. When the storm starts to pass, the Lightning Shield will put the system back on direct line.
We are at the beginning stages to promoting this product, but it seems to have a lot of interest right now, especially in areas like the Gulf Coast. We have been doing some demonstrations at trade shows and we’ve gone into a couple of facilities where they have some lightning problems.
CN: Has going back and getting feedback from past clients supplied you with any other important information?
DH: There is a ton of information. We are finding out if they have any issues with our products and we also gain an understanding of how locksmiths and maintenance people operate.
For instance, when they have to go troubleshoot a lock, we were finding that there was not an easy way to do that. So, in the past year we came out with a full line of test boxes that they can hook up to the locking systems and do some troubleshooting right there at the door or in their workshop area. It makes them more efficient at doing their job.
Things like that have been invaluable. Let’s face it, in a facility, one of the most important things is the locking system, so going in there and just being there gives them a sense of confidence that we are standing by our products.
CN: How has your business changed since Southern Steel bought Folger Adams?
DH: We moved Folger Adams’ operation from Lamont, Ill., down to San Antonio, Texas, and that has been in place now for about two years. We’ve kept both product lines going and we have every intention to support them. We do not plan on doing away with one brand or blending them into one.
Bringing Folger Adams to San Antonio did present some challenges. We had to make sure our people understood how to assemble and manufacture the products, and we had to understand the design issues. We had to have room for almost doubling our inventory of spare parts and assembly parts. Every part of our company was affected by the acquisition.
We spent a lot of time up front planning for the move and I think overall we did a good job. There are some things that we learned from it, and if we did it again we would probably do some things differently, but overall I think it went well.
CN: What do you see happening in the overall market right now?
DH: The market right now is still — when you look at what is being bid — at the low level where it has been the last three years. When you look at where it is today compared to 10 years ago, it is 50 percent less than what it was 10 years ago.
The good news is, which is new this past year, the architects seem to be very busy. Their backlog of projects that are in planning and design is very high right now. We’ll start seeing some of the benefits of that probably in the second or third quarter next year.
Existing facilities continue to be overcrowded and understaffed, which is putting a challenge on properly maintaining what is out there. If the product is not being maintained, then the risk is the facility is probably not going to be operated the right way, which could open up some opportunities.
CN: Are there any trends in construction or operations that concern you?
DH: The concern I still have — and we are trying to address it with the DEC certification program — is there is a need for more certification programs that are not just for locking devices, but all the things that go into a detention facility. It’s a life safety issue. There are training issues that still need to be addressed.
The industry needs to look at how we can better serve the end user — the facility operators. We need to focus on their needs. It seems like there are not many new products out there and it would be good to see more effort put into that by the entire industry.