Family Success in Northern Nevada: Franchise of the Month June 2023

Written by:

Abigail Korinek

Amidst the majestic Sierra Nevada mountain range, Reno, NV is known as the ‘Biggest Little City in the World,’ and is home to breathtaking natural beauty, glitzy casinos and bustling entertainment. It's also home to Signal of Northern Nevada, owned by Steve O’Neil, Sean Van Dort and Annette Woollard. In early 2021 the trio, made up of mother Annette, stepfather Steve and son Sean, were looking for the next steps as Steve’s retirement approached.

“We were looking for a business we could run as a family,” Steve said. “When we researched Signal, we found that the core values and mission statement all kind of related to our past military experience and really just how we run our lives.”

When doing their research, the trio also spoke to current owners to get more perspective on the company.

“We asked about their successes,” Steve said.  “But they told us about the challenges and struggles too. We had some long meetings and were pretty sold on it afterward. I was really like, where do I sign?”

Since launching in September 2021, the team has seen tremendous growth and success in the Reno/Sparks area of Nevada. The franchise is currently ranked #33 out of 166 Franchises overall for the Signal Network’s Key Performance Indicators, including 4th in Days Sales Outstanding and 7th in Patrol Completion. For their fantastic operational performance and dedication to the values of the Signal brand, the team is our Signal Franchise of the Month.

Today, the trio has separated the day-to-day running of the franchise into areas that play to each of their strengths. Annette handles most of the administrative work, including billings, collections and HR. Steve works with the Home Office on expansions, vehicles and larger projects like last year’s rebranding. Sean handles most of the operations and sales. He says that having someone with a physical presence in the community is vital to the success of their business.

“I meet with customers and clients and let them know who we are,” Sean said. “It’s not just a phone call or an email or something. We want to be a friendly face. Somebody that accounts can communicate with. It’s not like you have to contact this person to reach this person to then finally get ahold of you. They can call me directly and work with them.”

Developing those relationships has proved to be essential not only to their current success but for future contracts. The team says that many of the contracts they have come to them via word of mouth from current clients.

“One of our biggest recent successes is our contract at Summit Mall,” Steve said. “The person that runs Summit actually lives at one of the apartments that we patrol. So, she liked our services at the apartments, and she contacted us when they sold the mall because she knew they were going to take new bids. We were not the lowest bid, but she really went to bat for us, and we got the contract.”

Of course, every journey comes with challenges. Like many other owners, the team says that finding the right employees has been a challenge.

“We run a really tight ship and have high standards and a zero-tolerance policy for a lot of things,” said Steve. “Unaccountable time, no calls, no shows. But the employees we have now seem to be keepers.”

The team understands that relationships are key to keeping both employees and clients happy,

“We’re not perfect,” Steve said. “We have guards screw up, there are miscommunications with clients. But they have a direct line to Sean and we’re able to fix mistakes right away. They see improvement right away.”

That same improvement-based mindset also applies to their guards. The team sets an example by completing any training they have their guards do themselves. They’ve also recently promoted key employee Dylan Parrish to supervise training and help guards grow in their roles.

“Everybody here has done the same training I’ve asked them to do,” Steve said. “If a guard is having issues with making routes on time or report writing, we send one of our stars out there to ride with them and help them. However, they learn we’re trying to embrace that. Dylan has been a big part of our training program. We try to find everybody’s weaknesses and make them stronger.”

The team also has a close relationship with other owners in the network and the team at the Home Office. Steve’s biggest advice for other owners is to build those relationships and ask for help.

“You have to network with owners,” Steve said. “I think my biggest learning curve was that you can’t reinvent the wheel. Someone’s already figured out how to do this. You’ve just got to find the right person. Find out who the successful people in the network are and ask. What worked for you, what didn’t work.”

As Annette, Sean and Steve approach their two-year anniversary, they’re looking forward to what the future holds for Signal of Northern Nevada.

“Our goal for 2023 is to make the $1 million club and I think we’re on track to do that. There’s just so many opportunities here. It’s not just multi-family. We have industrial, we have shopping centers. It just branches out and it seems like every different area that you go in throughout Reno, and we’re still learning it, there’s more. There are so many more opportunities here.

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