Head of Security
Point Monitor Corporation’s life-safety and communication solutions protect business assets
Point Monitor Corporation President Mark Higgins got his start in the fire alarm industry as a summer intern while earning his business degree. He worked hard, and his boss eventually gave him subcontracts to handle on his own.
Higgins says, “I would hire my friends to assist me with the installations and pay them out of my personal checking account. It was unconventional, but my boss trusted me with that opportunity that led me to where I am today.”
Higgins learned from that opportunity in Ohio, and 30 years later his business model in the Pacific Northwest looks very different. With a staff of 105, Point Monitor services commercial facilities in the Portland and South Washington area. Much more than a fire alarm supplier, the company offers design, installation and monitoring of access control systems, emergency communications, CCTV surveillance, nurse call systems, asset tracking, patient tracking, HVAC building automation, perimeter security and high security for clients such as banks, jewelry stores and high-end homes.
Party of One
In the early 1990s, Higgins left his home of Ohio and moved to California in pursuit of a master’s degree. He found work with another fire alarm company, doing engineering sales in the Sacramento office for three years before moving to the company’s Portland office. But in both places, something just didn’t feel right for Higgins. He says, “Despite my best efforts, customers weren’t happy. It was because the company didn’t treat them well, and employees weren’t given the discretion to make things right.”
So, in 1999, Higgins started Point Monitor. He says, “I was on my own. No employees, no customers.”
Higgins wasn’t on his own for long. He did jobs for electrical contractors, helping them wire, start up and test alarm systems, and eventually he began selling those systems to his own customers. Today, Point Monitor’s flagship product is Honeywell’s Notifier fire alarm system, and the company is recognized by Honeywell as a premier dealer and top distributor. Point Monitor has also achieved diamond-level partner status with Tyco Kantech access control systems.
Point Monitor’s path to success was paved with hard work, creativity and a desire to learn. In the beginning, Higgins says, “I didn’t have a finely tuned business plan, but I knew I wanted to take care of customers.”
It seems his plan—or lack thereof—worked. He hired his first part-time employee in 2000, hired another 25 by 2010 and had 50 on staff by 2013, growing consistently to where he is today. His company services customers such as industrial facilities, hospitals, multifamily housing, office buildings, utilities, K-12 schools, universities, assisted living facilities and retirement homes.
Higgins is particularly proud of Point Monitor’s work performing security upgrades for access control and communications for Portland Public Schools. This project involved installations for more than 90 schools between 2018 and 2020.
Another high point for the company was its recent task of replacing the entire nurse call system for Columbia Memorial Hospital in Astoria, Oregon. This required a phased retrofit while the hospital was occupied. Higgins says, “It was a very delicate situation where we had to get the job done without having a system down in order for the hospital to continue to protect its patients.”
Point Monitor has designed and installed systems for many multifamily housing communities, such as Goat Blocks apartments in Portland, AmberGlen in Hillsboro, The Springs Living assisted living communities located throughout Oregon, and the Modera Belmont apartment complex in Portland.
Other notable projects have included systems for the Old Trapper beef jerky manufacturing facility in Forest Grove, Oregon; Peterson Machinery, a regional distributor for heavy equipment, such as Caterpillar products; and a building automation systems upgrade for George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon.
A Solutions Company
Point Monitor’s success is tied to its diversity. More than just a building security company, Higgins keeps the firm relevant and cutting-edge by adding other types of security and systems maintenance to its repertoire. Customers also have the option of combining data security and disaster recovery services as a package through Point Monitor’s IT group, SecurePoint.
Higgins explains that SecurePoint was born when staff began asking the question, “We’re securing their building, but what about their data?” To promote creativity and ingenuity, Higgins allows his staff to run with ideas, which often leads to the development of new services. When staff wrote a custom database application to help the company with its own client management system, they learned they could also help customers meet their database needs. Today, Point Monitor’s software development team does just that.
Higgins says, “We have traditionally had a hard time saying no when a customer comes to us with a need. You never know what opportunity might come along as a result.”
As an added monthly service, Point Monitor also offers management of users and key fobs for apartment communities and office buildings to take the burden of programming off the customer.
Higgins says, “We call ourselves a solutions company. We ask a lot of questions before we advise a customer on its needs, and we don’t push something if it’s not a solution for them.”
Higgins attributes his company’s success to investing in people first. Point Monitor recently celebrated its 18th year as an employee-owned company. There are presently 53 stockholders, all of whom are working employees.
According to Higgins, his employees earned this benefit. He says, “Many of the staff didn’t know the alarm industry at all when they started. We had moms re-entering the workforce, restaurant workers, shipping clerks—you name it. They joined because they needed a job and wanted to learn something new. Some of those are VPs of our company now, and they got there by applying themselves.”
One of those employees is Vice President Ben Breit. He says, “I came on board and everything was new to me. But what Mark cares about is finding good people who care about doing good work.”
Higgins adds, “What we had is a desire to learn and grow. We didn’t even have titles at first. Today, everybody just does what needs to be done. We don’t focus on titles and status; we focus on execution.”
Point Monitor also invests in people by helping them enter the electronics and construction trades. The company is a major provider of jobs for those entering the limited energy industry through the Independent Electrical Contractors of Oregon apprenticeship program. Point Monitor has hired more than 60 apprentices in the last eight years, many of whom completed the program to the journeyman level. Those journeymen are now training new apprentices.
Higgins says, “A lot of people who need a career come here, and we train them in a skill where they can be successful. Ben was our first apprentice, and now he’s a VP. We’re very proud of that.”
The Right Thing
Point Monitor was born out of Higgins’ belief that his customers deserved better, and now he feels this is what sets his company apart from the competition.
He says, “We have good customer retention and many of them view us as part of their team. Because of our reputation, we often win jobs through design-build negotiation rather than having to pursue street bids. Our long-term customers trust us. We aren’t perfect, but if we make a mistake, we recognize it and make it right.”
Breit adds, “While of course we care about the bottom line, if sacrificing profits means doing the right thing, we’re going to do it.”