Forty-five years ago, John Bartle’s mother loaned him $200 to start a company that evolved into Barcom Security, which now has 50 employees.
The Swansea-based company serves homeowners and businesses throughout the St. Louis area and also has support staff in Marion and Decatur to serve customers in Central and Southern Illinois.
Bartle’s son, Mark Bartle, is the sole owner of Barcom since his father died in 2012.
“We continue as a family business,” Mark Bartle said. “The kids are working here, and I’m hoping to build a legacy so that they can continue on after I’m gone. That’s what it’s all about. That’s why I work hard.”
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Bartle’s son, Austin, works full time in commercial sales, while his son, Braeden, and his daughter, Alyssa, work part time for the company as they attend college.
We continue as a family business. The kids are working here, and I’m hoping to build a legacy so that they can continue on after I’m gone.
Mark Bartle, president of Barcom Security
John Bartle started the company after getting that loan in 1972 from his mother, Mildred Bartle, who was a longtime music teacher for Belleville School District 118. But he did not incorporate the firm until 1976, and that’s the year Barcom notes as the official establishment of the company.
Barcom’s customers include Allsup, Emerson Electronic, Shop ‘n Save, the Bank of Edwardsville, Memorial Hospital in Springfield, Hofbräuhaus, the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District, MotoMart and FCB Banks.
Barcom’s headquarters at 923 North Belt West in Swansea features a central station that Mark Bartle describes as a “vault” with concrete walls, ceilings and floors.
“That’s where we monitor all of our burglar alarms and fire alarms, where we host access control and actually do remote video monitoring, which we’ll look at a car lot or we’ll look at a shopping center, or a commercial application where there’s cameras at night,” he said.
Bartle, 50, recently met with the News-Democrat to talk about Barcom’s longevity:
Q: How did you get started in the security business?
A: “My father started the business actually in ‘72 … We didn’t incorporate until ‘76. The first four years, he was dabbling in a lot of different things. He actually was an employee at Monsanto prior to that and after multiple layoffs, decided to get into business for himself and decided to get into the closed circuit TV business, which prior to networking and IP addresses and all that, it was closed circuit where you run a wire to a camera to a recording device, which back then was a VHS recorder similar to what you watch the old movies on.
“He was way before his time and there wasn’t a lot of market out there for that. He then began installing home burglar alarms. I got involved in the business after that through grade school, high school and college ... I went from each department as far as service, installation, sales, our central station and learned the business and then decided that we needed to grow other avenues, and that’s when we started doing commercial business as far as access control, high-end video surveillance.
“He passed away in 2012, and at that point I became the sole owner of the business.”
Q: Can you give an overview of Barcom and what kind of services you offer?
A: “Our bread and butter is security. We have four divisions. We have a residential/small business. We have commercial. We have direct and user commercial business where we go out and call on the Allsups, the Emersons are a couple of accounts of ours. And then we have a direct bid market where the bid market is new construction on the commercial side like the Hofbräuhaus, where we contract through electrical contractors. We’re working with Pyramid Electric on the Hofbräuhaus. We’re providing all their local systems, fire alarm, access control.
“From a customer standpoint, we’re 50-50 as far as residential customer base to commercial customer base. New growth sales is 90 percent commercial, 10 percent residential just because the dollars and cents of commercial systems … We sell security alarms for as little as $99 in a home so when you compare that to when we go out and sell a $200,000 or $300,000 access control system at a hospital, it separates itself pretty quickly.”
Q: Every year it seems surveillance photos get clearer and clearer as technology advances. How have technological improvements impacted Barcom?
A: “There’s no tape anymore. We can program DVRs … that we sell so that it’s TV quality. You can get 30 frames per second … And what’s nice about that is we can send that via the internet for prosecuting evidence because you can’t tamper with that. It’s basically a sealed set of footage. You can send that to the police department. From an investigative tool standpoint, everybody can get that on their computer laptop when we have that quality video.
“The installation’s easier, the pricing is actually more competitive today, and the quality is just incredible. It’s TV-like resolution.”
Q: You recently met with high school students participating in the Belleville CEO program, which teaches them to think like entrepreneurs. How did that go, and why did you participate in the program?
A: “We’re very proud of that. We were one of the first folks to get involved in that. And we’re one of four companies that actually hosts the high school students. So they use our facilities.
“I wish my kids had the opportunity to go through it … You see some of these kids’ eyes really open. I wish I would have had the opportunity. It would have given me a jumpstart, talking to some local businessmen, businesswomen that just kind of tell you how it is. Sometimes it’s not as hard as you think it is, and sometimes it’s not as easy as you think it is.
“And what made me feel good, is each year I’ve had a couple of the kids either pull me aside and come to my office and talk to me outside of the meetings, and I’ve had some of them even after the fact call me and say, ‘I’m considering this, what do you think about it?’ So they do end up getting people that they can talk to and contacts. Hopefully along the way it helps us, and it helps the community because we hope some of these kids get involved not only in business but in volunteer work and some of the other things that help the community.”
Q: What kind of outlook do you have for the security business?
A: “Our growth is typically 20 percent or better. We’re looking at doing more than that this year. We’re adding staff. We’re hoping that the new president … comes up with some of his promises as far as reducing taxes. You know the banking industry is going to have more money to spend if they decrease regulation and decrease the percentage of taxes you’re paying. So we think … the next three to four years is going to be incredible growth for our industry.”
Q: Why has Barcom been able to thrive for four decades?
A: “The way that I run this business, God’s first, family’s second, all the other stuff, I include with Barcom. So with my employees, if they have issues, there’s no questions asked. Take care of your issues, if you’ve got a sick kid or you’ve got a catastrophe happening at home, or whatever. So I think that is most important. I don’t think Barcom is first in anybody’s lives here. We work to support our personal life and do the things we like to do personally. So that’s where it starts.
“I have key managers here that I don’t micromanage. I allow them to manage their departments, and that’s the key to our success. Our success is that they really care, they have a sincere concern about what they do. And we live by the rules of effort, attitude and loyalty not only to ourselves and to our clients but to our other team members. And we feel that that’s very important.
“We don’t really have internal competition even between sales people. Everybody tries to pull their own weight, and if a team member needs some help, another team member helps them pull their weight.
“I will say that over 40 years we’ve had pretty good leadership. My father was an extraordinary leader, and I like to think I’m a good leader now.
“In sales staff meetings, you’ll hear me say a lot, ‘We say what we do and do what we say.’ I call it the say-do theory. A lot of people use that. We live by it.”
- Job: President of Barcom Security at 923 North Belt West in Swansea
- Family: Wife, Allison Bartle, who is president of the Belleville Township High School District 201 school board and an attorney for AT&T. Children, Austin, who works in commercial sales for Barcom; and Braeden and Alyssa, who work part time for Barcom and attend college.
- Contact: www.barcomsecurity.com or 618-277-3344
- His outlook for Barcom: “Our growth is typically 20 percent or better. We’re looking at doing more than that this year. We’re adding staff.”