Security firms seize opportunity as need for protection services rises

Security guards checking people at a the entrance of a mall in Kampala. There is need to have thorough training for secuirty guards before deployment. FILE PHOTO

Security business in Uganda is booming as a significant section of the public moves to secure their homes, businesses among other properties. Prior to July 11, this year, Mr Mark Sekyana, a sales and marketing manager at Elite Computers in Kampala walked to his work place without any security checks. In the wake of the bomb blasts that sent shockwaves across the world, life for Mr Sekyana has changed. He now has to keep up with rigorous security checks at the Garden City Shopping and Leisure mall where he works.

Immediately after the attacks, the management of the mall installed a temporary walk-through metal detector at its entrance to exercise thorough security checks on visitors.
In addition, intense searches were administered on vehicles entering the premises along Yusuf Lule Road. The mall has since replaced the walk through machine with hand-held metal detectors. Just next door, at the Oasis Shopping Mall, Hash Security guards wielding similar security devices inspect each car and visitor going into the mall.

Major commercial banks like; Stanbic Bank and Standard Chartered Bank Uganda have also tightened security measures at their main branches. They have installed walk-through metal detectors at the bank entrances.

In a nutshell, it was until three bombs exploded in Kampala killing at least 76 people and injuring many more that the business community and individuals realised the great importance of tight security.

The rush for protection at the eleventh hour has handsomely rewarded most security firms in the country according to a survey Business Power has conducted among players in the market.
There are at least 35 private security firms in Uganda, each with an average of 250 guards, according to Police records. Mr Sachin Kochargaonkar, the sales and marketing manager at Securex Agencies told Business Power that the market response to the services in the last two months has been “absolutely stunning.”

Immediately after the bombs, most of the security products, especially metal detectors, which had been lying idle in the company’s stores, were snapped up in what he described as an overwhelming response.

“We found it difficult to replenish the stock in time,” he said in an interview last week.
Securex’s sales on metal detectors alone have risen by over 150 per cent. “Demand for other regular security products like; alarm systems, Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) and guarding services has also gone up by 50-70 per cent,” he added.

Following the attacks, the firm has experienced startling interest for products including; hand held & walk through metal detectors, under vehicle search mirrors, perimeter security (electric fencing) and X-ray luggage scanning machines.

To illustrate the growth in sales, he said before the attacks, the firm had 30 pieces of hand held metal detectors. Two months after the attack, the company has sold about 100 pieces. The firm had also stocked four pieces of walk through metal detectors without any buyers. After the attack, Securex sold about 30 pieces. It has also received an advance, booking for five X-ray machines.

At Pinnacle Security, one of the new entrants in the industry, the sales of security products and services have also skyrocketed, according to Mr Moses Matsiko, the chairman of Pinnacle Group.

“If I compare what we sold between January to July this year and what we sold in the last two months, the sales more than tripled,” he said. Before the attacks, Pinnacle Security had stocked three walk through metal detectors but in the last two and a half months, the company has sold more than 20.

These machines cost between $5,000 (Shs11 million) and $7,000 (about Shs16 million). Pinnacle, like its competitors, provides technical security services, guards besides ambulance and fire services.

Mr Kochargaonkar and Matsiko, attributed the response to the laxity and complacency of the business community in Uganda. In his view, the satisfaction with the security situation, which is slowly creeping back, was induced by the years of calmness that Uganda has enjoyed over the last decade.

Income streams of the firms have also been oiled by a government declaration that all technical security equipment coming into the country be exempted from import duty to allow businesses to secure their premises. This has provided the firms with an incentive to import more devices to secure the country, according to Mr Mastiko.

Besides widening revenue bases of the security firms, the impact of the attacks has made business owners “more agreeable” to taking advice that they previously would have ignored.
Simply because most managers believe that security is usually seen as a cost one wants to reduce rather than increase.

“Many customers had a heightened sense of awareness of the terrorist threats and started to look at their access control processes with new eyes,” said Mr Tony Maleche, the general manager of G4S Security Services Uganda. He added that there has been a significant increase in requests for security services of all kinds by both existing and new clients.

Besides, technical equipment firms also offer unarmed security services like; VIP escorts, risk assessment and dog services. Mr Maleche, however, said it’s worth noting that immediately, after the attacks, there was a downturn in sales of certain services as a result of a slowdown in the retail sector. For instance, he said there was a drop in cash-in-transit services as fewer people engaged in fewer cash transactions. This impact was large, among up-market shopping and entertainment centres. But that was a temporary situation and sales have since bounced back, parallel to consumer and business confidence in the economy.
The spontaneous demand for security services provided a firm base for companies like Pinnacle to acquire competitors Protectorate S.P.C at Shs3 billion in August. The 100 per cent takeover gifted Pinnacle with an extra 1,000 guards. Inititaly, the firm hired only 300 guards. Pinnacle plans to expand the camp to 1,500 by the end of this year.

Competitors like Securex are equally in the process of recruiting 150 new guards by the end of this month to fill the demand gap for security services. To hire a security guard, you have to part with between Shs300,000 and Shs450,000 per month for a 12-hour shift, going by the Pinnacle example.

“But the prices vary depending on the number of guards a customer needs,” Mr Matsiko said.
Mr Maleche explained that the spontaneous growth and demand for security services in Uganda has induced the company to consider making further investments in equipment and staff.
“It calls for more and better vetting, more frequent collection and analysis of intelligence, more specialised and frequent training and development of new processes and techniques,” he said.

Although many people have woken and become security cautious, Business Power, has observed growing complacency in security alertness just like before July 11. People are back to their old way of doing things. The social spots are filling up again, access controls are reducing and some guards are back to snoozing on the job. In short, it’s a perfect recipe for another disaster to occur.

Operators of security firms are urging business managers and citizens to remain vigilant and take ownership to avoid a repeat of the Kampala attacks. “Security starts with you. Inform police or nearby security firm immediately in case of any bomb threat, and buy minimum security gadgets,” Mr Kochargaonkar said.