San Diego, CA
Industry: Electronics and Aerospace
Products: Covert Video Surveillance Cameras
CEO Barry Levine moved his surveillance equipment manufacturer West to SoCal to reorganize and pursue an important security niche.
After founding one of the largest video surveillance and card-lock companies in New York, Levine and his wife moved to San Diego and started Sperry West Inc. Levine wanted to remain in the same industry, but without the burdens of managing a large firm or a sizeable number of employees. With experience and success in making a small volume of covert surveillance kits, the company began creating a line of covert security cameras; a niche product within in the huge security market.
"We were making good quality covert cameras because we found that our industry was full of cheaply imported cameras, making it hard to get good evidence in many cases from what was available at that time," says Levine. "Having clear, high-resolution images is important from a legal standpoint as he explains, "You have to make sure that if you catch someone stealing or committing other crimes that you can actually prove that person captured on camera is the perpetrator."
CEO Barry Levine empowers employees to handle customer calls and quality control, which increases his product’s quality and reliability
The company takes specially built circuit boards that are manufactured for them, as well as other components, and builds their unique line of surveillance cameras. To make the products blend-in within a business or home they purchase a variety of household or office items such as clocks, exit signs, smoke detectors, and speakers, in order to re-build them into a surveillance device. The company made an attempt at molding some of those housings for their cameras, but the expense could not be justified. According to Levine, it was simpler to buy items that were already available. "Statistically we are a manufacturer, but I feel like we are a small product assembler," Levine says of the company’s role in providing the completed products.
Sperry West’s success comes from their products being hand assembled by employees. This provides a variety of advantages for both the company, as well as a pride of craftsmanship for workers, that in the end raises the level of quality. "We do find that our people enjoy hands-on work," says Levine. "They make a complete product. One person doesn’t make a part to hand off to someone else, and so on. They’re involved in the whole process." This assembly method includes empowering the employee also to handle tech questions from customers. "In my view, the people who build the products are best equipped to answer those types of questions," says Levine.
Sperry West has created a niche with their products that frees them from competition by large camera manufacturers like Sony and Panasonic. "If they can’t sell thousands of something at a time, it just doesn’t pay for companies like these to be involved in this segment of the market. So as a result, we concentrate on that niche," says Levine. "At this point, we are known as the quality company in our industry." The company’s "Commander Kits" are especially popular as they include everything needed to set up and take down the special surveillance quickly and easily.
Sperry West sells primarily in the U.S. and Canada through a distributor network, although they also sell directly to the government as a GSA supplier. Medical facilities, including VA Hospitals, are major customers for the company, as they are often plagued with theft of drugs and other supplies. Because the business is small, the quantities of components they purchase are not usually large enough for "open account" status, and that can mean cash flow difficulties at times. According to Levine, careful budgeting and inventory selection help them smooth out the difficult periods. In order to provide the quick turnaround that’s often necessary, however, they must keep certain parts on the shelves, ready to assemble.
Challenges: Different camera formats and protocols used today pose a challenge for Sperry West to provide products which match the needs of their customers. "We need more compatibility in the industry," says Levine. "I do see that as a potential problem in the future."
How and where their products are used is also an important matter for Levine. "We are always concerned with privacy. In order for a company to put a camera in a private office where you can close the door, they would have to have your approval, because you have an expectation of privacy," says Levine. "Unless it is public law enforcement, and they have obtained a warrant to do so because it’s a serious criminal matter, you can’t just put a camera in somebody’s office."
Opportunities: "More people are wanting surveillance equipment, and have higher expectations of strong video evidence from watching crime shows on television," says Levine. "In order to provide that, I see us doing more government work, more law enforcement work. I think that is very important."
Needs: Rapidly changing technology in the video industry has kept Sperry West busy updating and improving their products. "It’s been very difficult, actually, in our industry to keep up," says Levine, "there are so many changes in technology happening quickly, and we need to be in the forefront of those changes."