There are few guarantees in life and fewer guarantees in business – unanticipated, catastrophic incidents are one of them. Any business that’s around long enough will experience its share of storm damage, burst pipes and even a fire.
For the past six decades, General Fire and Safety of Omaha has made its name on minimizing the chances of a fire turning deadly, steadily expanding from fire extinguishers to sprinkler and other suppression systems. Today its one-stop model for sales installation and service has it well-positioned for future growth.
Service a Top Priority
“It all boils down to customer service for us, and that customer service could be a family coming in and buying an extinguisher for their home,” said CEO Jason McDonald. “It could be a large high-rise that’s been in Omaha for 30 or 40 years looking to us to inspect and maintain the systems that they have. It’s making sure we follow up with thoroughness and always doing things by the book.”
This corporate philosophy has led the company to see steady growth over the years both in client headcount and staff size. It’s also led them to new and larger quarters this year, a 16,000-square-foot facility that doubled the size of its previous digs, featuring space for up to 26 offices, a showroom, training and meeting space, a warehouse, a shop and prefabrication workspace for sprinkler and fire suppression pipe.
The company worked with DLR Group on the design of the facility, located at 13002 I St.
“The front entrance is basically in the middle of the building, the core of the building, which has a showroom, a training room and a breakroom/event space. So, if we are hosting events or hosting clients, the heart of the building is going to be the setting.”
The new facility also reflects the diversity of the company’s current roster of products and services.
“Just like in any industry, technology is a big piece of this,” he said. “On the fire sprinkler side of things, some of the new technology is nitrogen systems. Nitrogen inside of pipes helps maintain the pipes from rusting out so the pipes last much longer. That’s a huge deal for sprinkler systems.
“Fire alarm systems, right now, if you look at let’s say, a college campus, the technology is now where all of the fire alarm systems in all of the buildings on a campus can connect remotely into one fire alarm graphic annunciator. So, one person at a security desk can see every fire alarm at all of the buildings across the campus.”
Corporate Accounts Lead Sales
McDonald said nearly all of the company’s sales reside with corporate clients and of that, 60% is made up of service and inspection work and 40% is project-based. He said General Fire and Safety’s ability to install and service what it sells is a key differentiator and has spurred the company’s growth.
“The end-users and the clients that we have are so busy that for them to have just one contact at General Fire has been absolutely imperative for us,” he said. “They don’t have time to think, ‘What company is doing this? What company is doing that?’ With us, they’re able to make one call and say, ‘Yeah, come in and take care of my fire alarm systems, my sprinkler system,’ and we take care of it. We pride ourselves on that.”
General Fire and Safety was founded in 1964 in Lincoln. Starting in the early 1970s, the firm grew to include locations in Omaha, Sioux City and Des Moines, all of which were sold off and became independent entities using the same name in the early 1990s.
McDonald joined the Omaha operation in 1999 as general manager, gained part ownership of the company by 2012 and by 2016 owned 100% of the company. In that time, employees have increased almost four times over, from 14 workers in 1999 to more than 50 today.