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Friday, Sep 22, 2023

ABOUT THE LIST–Labor Shortage Hurts Booming Security Guard Business

They are everywhere. They’re at sporting events, conventions, private housing divisions, shopping malls, hospitals, banks and industrial parks.

You might not notice the security guards, but they’re there protecting their clients and their clients’ clients.

Even in an environment like San Diego, where spending is up and unemployment down, security guard firms are needed. There are still people who steal display items from store countertops, CDs from music stores, and target wallets and purses.

The List in the San Diego Business Journal this week features the largest San Diego County security guard firms ranked by the number of local employees.

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According to two security company executives on The List, business is booming despite a labor shortage. It seems security firms would rather turn away business for lack of employees than not have that option at all.

One firm that has turned away its share of potential clients is United Private Security, Inc., No. 8 this year. The 14-year-old company, headed by owner and president Dennis Whan, has security contracts with 10 shopping malls throughout the county and has noticed an increased interest in its services over the last 12 months.

“I have seen an upturn,” he said. “As long as the economy’s good, it’s very good. The downside is when the economy’s good there’s a labor shortage.”

– Industry Is

Labor Intensive

A downside exists, Whan said, because the security guard industry is labor intensive.

“The last two years the quality of personnel available and the lack of the military people being available has hurt our industry as a whole,” he said. “I was talking to a company from San Jose (recently) and they are working a lot of their employees at double-time.”

In the current economic environment, Whan isn’t faced with just a regular labor shortage, either.

– Companies Often Want

Large Staff Members

“When crime is up , right now it’s down , but when crime is up you get into the stronger armed-type security,” he said. “When crime is down they’re looking for more public relations-type security. Rather than having an armed guard out there, they’re looking for a guy to give directions and give good service. We’re really trying to attract the public relations style.”

Security guard companies usually require the assistance of the larger bodied members of society and United Private Security is no different. Because United has contracts with almost all the major San Diego shopping malls, Whan needs his mall guards to command the respect of would-be thieves , from across the store, he said.

Employing and hiring people like United’s highest-ranking guard, 7-footer Mike Patterson, is difficult regardless of the labor conditions.

“If you’re at a shopping mall or patrolling properties or at an industrial park, size plays a real big role because, obviously, if the guy’s very large nobody’s going to intimidate him that much,” he said.

While that works fine for the traditional security firms, Aaron Johnson, president of City Event Staff Services, said he prefers bright over might.

“There is a need for a company to provide a different type of security service and the way this industry has moved throughout the year 2000 is they’re trying to professionalize it a little more,” he said. “When I started this company seven years ago that’s what I had in mind: a more professional image geared toward the hospitality/entertainment industry.”

– Profits Higher

For Hospitality

Profits at City Event, No. 10 on The List this year, are tilted 70 percent in favor of hospitality/entertainment and 30 percent standard guard operations.

The labor shortage doesn’t affect City Event as much. Part of that professional image Johnson had in mind had to do with product diversification. Including standard security staffing services, both armed and unarmed, clients requiring valets and cashiers need look no further than Johnson’s operation.

“So many people (interviewed with) us saying, ‘I don’t really want to do security’ or ‘I have experience in other areas,'” he said. “So we do valet parking, traffic control, we have cashiers and ticket takers. We do a whole lot of things that are associated with special events.”

Which says a lot to potential clients when Johnson defends City Event’s bids.

“It says ‘Why do you want to deal with all these different, separate companies and write different checks to all these companies?'” he said. “Why not just deal with us and pick it all up? We do the whole spectrum.'”

But like United Private, finding the right people has become very, very difficult.

“I hate to say it, but I would like the economy to get a little worse,” Johnson said.


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