Security firm's Wichita franchise is growing fastest

Designed to attract attention while patrolling properties, the modified sport-utility vehicles used by Signal 88 Security are black, blue and seemingly lit all over.

"They're kind of our signature," said Kris Withrow, who owns the local Security 88 franchise with his wife, Traci. "It's a visible vehicle, unique, high-profile — that kind of thing."

Apparently, they're also a pretty good calling card for prospective clients. Since the Withrows launched the Wichita franchise last year, they've picked up 43 clients, most of them apartment complexes. That made them the Omaha-based company's fastest-growing franchise last year, even though they're in the second-smallest of 45 markets.

"We're still pretty small, but it's really grown immensely," Withrow said.

Signal 88 was started by a former Nebraska lawman in 2003. The name means "situation secure" in Nebraska police code.

Withrow, a Mulvane native, heard about the company while working in Omaha for Target as a manager in the loss prevention department.

When the company began selling franchises in 2008, the Withrows decided to move back home and take the plunge, becoming the 10th franchisee.

In addition to the franchise fee, the biggest investment required was the vehicles, which are equipped with remote-control spotlights, flash bars, GPS units and laptop computers. The company also emphasizes hiring people with law enforcement or military experience and puts them through a training process in addition to the city's requirement that security guards be licensed. Traci Withrow handles the bookkeeping.

The Withrows' first client was Claremont Apartments at Harry and Webb. Since then, they've added eight more apartment complexes in the southeast part of the city, along with others in the northwest and central parts of the city. The company also provides other types of security, including handling events at the Museum of World Treasures in Old Town.

Kris Withrow said apartment complexes are a natural market because most have budgets for security. Still, selling his new venture was a big change for Withrow.

"At first, it was a challenge," he said. "Sometimes you get rejected. After a career managing people, it is a change."

Much of Security 88's work is designed to prevent the "criminal element" from seizing on opportunities such as unlocked car doors and open apartment windows, Withrow said. Then there are the late-night noise calls.

"We're always getting after-bar crowds, parties that have spilled out of the nightclub into somebody's apartment."

The keys are being responsive and able to communicate with apartment management and residents, he said.