Legacy business: New name and owner boosts revenue for 59-year-old brand

IEC Fire Security Time grows with veteran manager

CEO and Managing Owner Gaines Campbell poses with examples of open fire alarm panels at the offices of IEC Fire, Security and Time.

International Equipment Company (IEC) has done business in Chattanooga for 60 years, but its never sold a piece of heavy equipment.

It has sold millions of dollars in security systems, fire systems and time clocks to commercial customers. After 59 years, the clock said it was time to stop getting calls from people trying to buy a bulldozer.

IEC became IEC Fire Security Time in August 2018.

"We were always getting calls about heavy equipment," says Gaines Campbell, who joined the ownership group as managing owner at IEC in the fall of 2015. "Most people in Chattanooga knew how to identify us, but we needed our name to say what we did."

The rebranding of the company is the latest change at IEC since Campbell arrived. The Pineville Road company, with 24 employees, started in 1959 when two former IBM employees, Walter Valentine and Stan Born, founded IEC on Frazier Avenue after IBM sold its time clock division. The company remained in the hands of the founders' families until 2004 when it was bought by a group of local businessmen.

Over the decades, time clocks comprised less and less of the company's total sales volume as the need for fire and security systems grew. Today, those fire and security systems make up 85 percent of IEC's book of business. The company still provides time and attendance services to support human resources departments, but today's time clocks are cloud-based.

Campbell said company sales totaled $3.4 million in 2010 and $4.2 million in 2018. IEC sells, installs, monitors and services its products in a market focused in East Tennessee, North Georgia and Nashville. Sales have grown 10-15 percent annually since Campbell arrived.

Campbell and Operations Manager Greg Russell reset the clock on how the company operated for the previous eight years, and the changes appear to be working.

"One of the things holding the company back was that the ownership was not engaged on a daily basis," says Campbell, who credits Russell for the business' success since 2015. "I have tried to change that and provide help based on my experience."

The 65-year-old Campbell graduated from Vanderbilt with degrees in business and psychology. He worked in computer programming for three years before joining his family's business, Arcade, Inc., a long-time printing company in Chattanooga. When the family sold the business, Campbell started Sterling Duplication Services, where he experienced and managed through the transition from video and compact discs to the digital age.

He sold the business in 1998 and three years later started a new company, Structured Solutions, that focused on computer network consulting for small businesses. He sold his 50 percent share to this partner in 2015 and bought into the Matthews Group the same year.

Russell said the addition of Campbell has brought new energy to the company missing in the previous years as the company turned a profit with little growth. He said IEC always had the best product to sell, but the "go-to-market" strategy needed revamping.

"We didn't have the answers we needed when we were engaged with a customer or potential customer," says Russell, who directs the sales staff as its lead salesman. "Now, we get those decisions a lot faster and decisions are made quicker."

Jon Freeland is the director of information and technology at Miller Industries, the Ooltewah-based manufacturer of towing and recovery equipment. He has worked with IEC since the late 1990s and said Miller Industries used IEC time clocks before that.

"Everything they do, they do really well," says Freeland. "If anything happens, they are here. I mean, they may be really busy, but they will stop what they are doing and be right here."

Riverworks Marketing Group of Chattanooga developed the IEC's new brand, logo and website. The name change has been particularly effective in Nashville, where the company opened an office in 2001. Russell said the company faces triple the competition in Nashville than it does in Chattanooga.

Campbell said he expects the company to grow 10 percent annually over the next five years, and that security systems will lead the growth. IEC's aim, he said, is to provide a security system that provides everything a building owner would need short of putting a security guard on site.

He said IEC may add network computer consulting to its list of products and services. Russell said the company will grow by 100 new accounts across all its product lines this year and do 100 installations of fire and security systems.

"The employees didn't know if they were doing what the owners wanted or not doing what the owners wanted, and I think I have made them feel more comfortable," says Campbell, who serves on the executive committee of the Chattanooga Community Kitchen. "Now they have some direction, feel a little loosened up and can go out there and do what they are meant to do."