Jon-Nolan1Jonathan Nolan wants to raise the profile of private security officers. “There’s a perception that security guards are wannabe cops or jerks who have suddenly gotten a taste of authority and don’t know how to handle it,” says Nolan, founder of Nolan Security in Avon, Indiana.
A former police officer, Nolan launched his company in 2006 with $4,000. In 2011 he broke the $1 million mark in revenue for the first time, and this year he expects to hit $2 million with a staff of about 150 full- and part-time employees.

Nolan says that private security’s negative stereotype is partly fueled by movies like “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” which depict overzealous guards with delusions of grandeur. Yet the image is also fed by the industry, he admits. Like many police officers, Nolan held part-time security jobs to supplement his income and was troubled by the lack of professionalism he encountered. “It sometimes resided at the top with the owner, but trickled down to the boots on the ground,” he says. “There was no vision. Employees weren’t being educated to be better.”

In response, Nolan has created an in-depth training program, which includes at least eight hours of basic training with additional hours devoted to specialized activities such as large group events, construction sites and traffic safety. Soft skills are an important component. “Security officers are in a unique spot,” Nolan explains. “They have to communicate with the general public, the client’s employees, vendors who may coming and going, and someone in leadership. All of these interactions will be different.”

Instead of “fake police uniforms” that are commonplace in the industry, Nolan’s staff wears either business casual or casual clothing (depending on their assignment) that display the company’s logo. “Private security officers don’t have the same authority as police, and we’re not going to pretend to be something we aren’t,” he says. “A fake badge doesn’t make someone a better security guard — training and personal development does.”

Technology is another differentiator, and Nolan has developed a proprietary guard system that uses smart phones and QR codes to scan information into an online database. All reporting is done through a cloud-based application, which enables the company’s management team and clients to see what’s happening at facilities in real time while they’re offsite. In contrast, many competitors still use clipboards and generate handwritten reports, Nolan says.

Nolan is also careful who he hires. A private security officer’s role is about deterrence and prevention, he says. “We’re not guarding Fort Knox here. We don’t need someone with Special Forces experience, full tactical turnout and automatic weapons. We need someone who is responsible, reliable and can be trusted to protect the client’s assets.” One of the questions Nolan asks himself before bringing on a new employee is: Will they feed the stereotype or fix it?

Improving private security’s reputation is also about educating clients to view security personnel as an operational asset rather than a line-item expense. “You’re not just paying officers for what they’re doing at the moment; you’re paying them for what they can do when the need arises,” Nolan says. “Certainly, there will be times when they’re staring at computer screens where cameras show an empty parking lot. Yet the minute something suspicious happens, they are responsive and able to make good decisions about what needs to be done.”

Although private security is not a high-paying profession, Nolan’s company offers higher wages than regional competitors. “We also try to be a good company to work for, one where employees feel valued,” Nolan says. “We want their work to be about more than a paycheck, for them to know that they are true assets for the company and their opinions matter.”

Changing an industry perception is no cakewalk, but every satisfied customer is a step in the right direction, Nolan adds. “Engaged employees, professional attire, better training and technology, responsive management — these may be subtle changes by themselves, but we think it adds up to a major difference.”