50 Years of Growth
BFPE International takes fire protection to the next level
In August 2019, BFPE International CEO Pam Boyer received a distinct honor. The Baltimore Business Journal named her company the second-largest, woman-owned business in Greater Baltimore. It’s a fitting accomplishment for the company. Under Pam’s vision and leadership over the last 25 years, the once small fire protection business has evolved into a nearly $150 million operation that spans eight locations across the Mid-Atlantic.
BFPE International (BFPE) provides everything from fire alarms, fire sprinklers and fire extinguishers to clean agent fire-suppression systems for commercial clients. The company not only provides installation services, but also provides testing, inspections and maintenance.
And as BFPE prepares to celebrate its 50-year anniversary in 2020, the team has its eyes set firmly on the future, though taking pride in the company’s humble beginnings.
“BFPE International is a true example of the American Dream,” shares Rick Scott, Vice President of Business Development.
With just $1,000 in seed money, Pam’s husband, Jim Boyer, began the company in 1970 from his grandmother’s basement. A history teacher, Jim left the teaching profession and began selling fire protection systems during the day and working with his brother, George, to install the equipment at night. Though the company experienced slow and steady growth, the road to success wasn’t a smooth one.
In 1972, BFPE nearly went under when Hurricane Agnes destroyed its offices. Jim was close to calling it quits when he saw a Small Business Administration (SBA) ad in the local newspaper for a loan program to assist companies displaced by the storm. The financial relief gave the company the jump-start it needed, and BFPE began to grow by leaps and bounds, with Pam joining the company to oversee the service division.
Though BFPE began as a family affair, the firm suffered a devastating loss in 1994 when Jim passed away after a four-year battle with cancer. Before he passed, Jim expressed his wishes for Pam to continue running the company after he was gone. While she knew the ins and outs of the service side of the business, Pam was less confident about her knowledge of installation.
“Pam gathered us all in the conference room next to her office,” Rick recalls. “She said, ‘We have two choices. Either I can sell the business, or you can teach me about installation.’”
Building the Business
That meeting was a defining moment in the company’s history. Pam set out to learn everything she could about all aspects of the business, and the BFPE team rallied to support her.
Over the last quarter-century, Pam has taken BFPE from $10 million to nearly $150 million in annual revenue. She’s done that through strategic acquisitions of companies that align with BFPE, making the company a one-stop shop for fire protection and life safety systems.
In addition to fire protection, BFPE offers security, intrusion detection, access control, closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems and 24/7 central station monitoring. With nearly 850 employees, the company serves a wide variety of industries, including owners of data centers, hospitals, corporate campuses and high-rise office buildings.
What Sets It Apart
While many at BFPE attribute the company’s success to Pam, she doesn’t like to take credit.
“The true secret to BFPE’s success is our people,” Pam says. “Our employees are what set us apart.” Rick agrees. “We truly do have the best of the best. We have put together a great team of professionals dedicated to life safety. We take our work very seriously. What we do could potentially save somebody’s life,” he says.
The BFPE team is front and center in the company’s mission statement: “BFPE is made up of people who use their talent, energy, imagination and time to help others have better, more enjoyable and safe lives.”
Knowing how vital the BFPE team has been to the growth and success of the business, Pam takes special care of employees, setting the tone for the entire culture. Even with a company of 850, the culture is that of one very big family, Rick says. From crab feasts and ice cream socials to holiday parties and a huge companywide picnic every year, BFPE incorporates special ways for employees to come together and feel connected.
Pam also understands the importance of making every team member feel respected and heard, and it’s something she takes very seriously.
“She’s got an open-door policy,” Rick explains. “Anybody can go and talk to her, from a portable fire extinguisher technician to the vice president of the company. And, she encourages management to be the same way. It starts at the top but filters through the entire organization.”
This personal touch also filters through to BFPE’s customers. “It all goes back to Jim Boyer’s initial vision: Take care of the customer, and the customer will take care of you,” Rick says.
From the moment a customer makes that first phone call to BFPE’s office, that person receives personal and individualized attention, according to Rick. “It’s all about building relationships and treating everyone with respect, concern and compassion. We completely take care of the customer to the nth degree,” he says. “If there’s ever a mistake, we’ll fix it—it’s never a question. We make decisions based on what is the right thing to do.”
The Next 50 Years
As BFPE approaches its 50th anniversary, the team is proud to see Jim’s legacy continue to flourish. In looking to the future of the business, Rick says the firm plans to continue expanding its local footprint—but true to Jim’s vision, future growth will be decided on by the customers’ needs.
“We’re going to go where our customers need us to go,” he says.
And for the company that began in a basement, anything is possible over the next 50 years.
“A lot of blood, sweat and tears have gone into making BFPE what it is, and we’re going to do what we can to maintain and grow this business,” Rick says. “The sky’s the limit. If we look back at the last 50 years and see how far we’ve come, there’s no limit to what we can accomplish in the next 50.”