Signal of Eastern Pennsylvania: From Local Success to Franchising Sensation

Written by:

Abigail Korinek

Every summer, the lush green hills of Eastern Pennsylvania come alive with a colorful array of fairs, bringing visitors from across the region to the towns that dot the landscape. Brightly colored tents and booths line the fairgrounds and towering carnival rides loom in the distance. Amid the glow of their neon lights, Signal of Eastern Pennsylvania is a reassuring presence, giving thrill seekers a sense of peace of mind. 

The team’s story began in 2012 with the merger of two security companies, creating what would become Signal of Eastern Pennsylvania. The foundation to this partnership had been laid years earlier. Owner Bill Kotowski and Executive Director Paul Kennedy had collaborated on large-scale events going back decades, including the Great Allentown Fair, one of the largest and oldest fairs in Pennsylvania. The merger in 2012 transitioned the team from competitors to partners, Kennedy says, and they began to share a vision and see the potential that lay ahead. 

After gaining sole ownership in 2019, Kotowski began looking for next steps for the business. As a regional mom-and-pop security provider, they had been having challenges competing against larger big box companies and the team saw the business beginning to stagnate. That was when Kotowski began researching his options and found Signal.   

For Kennedy and Director of Human Resources, Rebecca Gonzalez, the prospect of being part of a franchise was something they had never considered. They say that they were a part of every conversation from that point on and, by the end of it, had no hesitation that becoming a Signal franchise was the right direction.  

In March of 2020 Kotowski and Kennedy flew to Omaha to learn more about the company. Kotowski says that, starting with airport pickup, every aspect of the visit to Signal’s Home Office showed the company’s culture, and any initial apprehensions disappeared quickly. 

“We landed in Omaha and called our contact,” he said. “They told us, ‘Okay, we’ll send Reed to pick you up.’ I thought that there must be multiple Reeds that work there, but we’re standing outside and up pulls this car and out jumps Reed Nyffeler. We’re like, what is going on, this is the CEO of the company? But that was what the culture was.” 

The team jumped head-first into the culture, technology and processes that come with running a franchise. Joining Signal in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, they had concerns about retaining both customers and employees. However, just the opposite happened. The team estimates that they saw an increase of 30% in their first year due to pandemic-era initiatives like mask enforcement. The franchise also had 100% employee and customer retention after the transition, an impressive feat for what can be a turbulent time. 

The heart of this success, Kennedy says, is communication and the team’s unwavering commitment to building relationships. The team leverages their local ownership with the power of a global brand to provide their clients with peace of mind every day. 

“We’re here and vetted in the community,” he said. “Even though we’re an international brand. That’s the key, we bring the power of the brand to the local market with our involvement. There are intricacies about each individual market that you know, someone sitting in Omaha is just not going to know. And some of our clients, we’ve been servicing them for 30 years. Their teams come and go, people come and go from their facilities, but we’re the constant.” 

Signal of Eastern Pennsylvania understands the intricacies of the local market, and their diverse portfolio of clients shows that. Their clients list differs from many other Signal Franchises, where patrols make up the core of the business. Here, Kennedy says, they are operating about 90% of their sites as dedicated contracts. They have a vast array of different client types, including food processing plants, warehouses, distribution facilities and, unique to their franchise, mining companies. Many of these clients have been working with Signal of Eastern Pennsylvania since before their transition, and the relationships have only grown stronger in the years since. 

“Our team members at night are digging or loading coal into furnaces and cleaning ashes out and maintaining boiler pressure,” he said. “Its definitely unique, but again, it’s built on relationships. I’m a fourth-generation coal miner and a federal mine safety instructor. There are guys that we’re working with now that were taught by my grandfather. It’s really great that we get to have those kind of relationships.” 

Another part of their incredibly diverse list of clients comes out every summer when the team operates as the security provider at dozens of fairs across their territory. These fairs, which sometimes run over multiple weeks, are a core part of Signal of Eastern Pennsylvania, and is something Kotowski, Kennedy and Gonzalez are passionate about. Kotowski is a stakeholder in the Great Allentown Fair and Kennedy is president of the Schuylkill County Fair.  

When you’re involved in large-scale events like fairs, it’s not just a job, it’s a lifetime of learning, relationships and career experience. The team operates in conjunction with different partners, including the State Police, City Police, Emergency Management Teams and even federal agencies. Running these fairs takes an incredible amount of time and effort, but the entire team loves it and gets involved, volunteering their time to help set up the spaces and give the best possible experience to everyone that walks through the gates. 

As committed as they are to their community, Kotowski, Kennedy and Gonzalez are even more committed to their team. Training is a cornerstone of their business and from day one, they emphasize the importance of continuous learning and relationship building. 

“It really starts with onboarding,” Gonzalez said. “We show people a pretty extensive onboarding presentation and talk about our history and the integral role they’re about to play in our current story. We want them to know that they’re going to help benefit the team and everyone works towards our goals. And you can see it on their face, they light up. Those are the people we look for; we want to build our team around people like that.” 

To those just joining Team Signal, Kotowski, Kennedy and Gonzalez have valuable advice. They emphasize the importance of fully immersing oneself in everything Signal has to offer, as their success is due in part to the tried-and-tested formula they aligned their business with back in 2020. As they move forward, the team at Signal of Eastern Pennsylvania is excited for what the next year has in store. With eyes set firmly on the future, this franchise is poised to achieve even more. 

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