Modern Fire Security Eyes Global Market
"We're a product of this community," said Daniels, who runs the firm with his wife, Stephanie. "Those Hollander ways are deeply enrooted in what we do, and I think that's why we've been able to do find work on the national level. Here we learn to be frugal, to watch over every dime — people outside the area can't appreciate that."
He is quick to add that he is also a product of America. Despite the rapid technological advances of the industry over the past decade, there isn't a job at his company that he couldn't step into at a moment's notice. In fact, it was only a few short years ago that every job in the company was his. Only since 2004 has the business moved off the Daniels kitchen table and into a new 6,000-square-foot facility at 26 Stevens St. SW in Grand Rapids.
Today, Modern Fire & Safety Systems is the security system contractor for the new Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, the future home of the Super Bowl Champion Indianapolis Colts. The $2 million, fully integrated security system deployment includes the Midwest's largest IP-based security camera system and a homeland security component.
The company is consistently involved in high-profile construction projects throughout the eastern half of the U.S. — including pre-bid work for the Conrad Indianapolis hotel, the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and the new Indianapolis International Airport — as well as key projects in West Michigan — Gerald R. Ford International Airport, the Grand Rapids Public Library's main branch and others.
Modern is also one of its sector's largest military and homeland security vendors in the Great Lakes and easily its sector's most accomplished local minority-owned business.
A former college athlete, Daniels entered the security systems field in his first summer after graduation, when he spontaneously asked a technician working on the security system in his parents' home for a job. He worked as an engineer for a short time before becoming a system installer after his position was downsized. From 1988 to 1996, Daniels worked as an installer at different local companies, and in 1996 he set out on his own.
Modern's early clients included local churches, friends and family, and eventually grew into larger residential buildings. Apartment complexes were 90 percent of the company's business at one point, with Daniels estimating that Modern held the second highest market share for that segment in the state. Modern also landed work with the U.S. Coast Guard and other military institutions across the Great Lakes.
Soon enough, Modern caught the eye of a number of key construction management firms, somewhat due to its minority-owned status, but not for the purpose of inclusion. The most notable example was a meeting with Hunt Construction Group, a national contractor then working on the DeVos Place convention center.
"They told me they were looking to make sure they had inclusion on the project, and I told them I wasn't interested in just doing a segment of it," recalled Daniels, then president of the West Michigan Minority Contractors Association. "I didn't want to pull cable or whatever it might be. If I couldn't do an entire scope of work, than I didn't want to do it. They had never come across anything like that."
Daniels pointed out that nowhere on his business card does it identify him as an MBE. "We don't want set-asides. We don't feel we need them."
Modern bid on the full fire-safety system for the DeVos Place project, and although the low bidder, was not selected. Hunt Construction promised Daniels that it would find opportunities to work with him. Meanwhile, Modern took advantage of its local connections with Rockford Construction and other firms in the West Michigan chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors, on whose board Daniels now sits.
In 2005, Modern was named the national account manager for Meijer Inc., performing all of the company's fire and security work in nine new stores and five renovations. Daniels credits his local connections and the company's federal security clearances for the Meijer contract, a relationship that continues to this day, albeit not as an exclusive arrangement.
Unlike many of its local peers, Modern has actually seen larger success outside of the region than locally.
"I think we were slightly forced out of the region," Daniels said. "We really think that we had to go away and prove ourselves before we could come back to this community."
Modern conducted pre-bid estimates on behalf of Hunt for several of the company's largest Midwest projects, including several in Indianapolis, where the firm's Midwest division is based. During the bid process, however, Modern kept losing, at times even when it was the lowest bid.
"We weren't frustrated; it gave us an opportunity to cut our teeth," Daniels said. "When Lucas Oil came along, we were second on the fire safety system, and we were disappointed, but they called us up and asked us to bid on the security scope."
Modern learned it had won the work a week after the Colts' Super Bowl victory.
Today, the company has 19 employees, and Daniels expects headcount to grow immediately if some current opportunities succeed in taking the company global. Domestically, the firm's focus will be on sports coliseums, convention centers and airports, in addition to smaller projects locally and across the Midwest.
Daniels, a Union High School graduate, is also working hard to create opportunities for inner-city youth to work in the security industry.