Two layoffs in the aviation industry were enough for Kris Withrow.
He has parlayed a part-time job he took after the first layoff into a full-time career as owner of a security business franchise.
“In essence, I thought it was just time to do something different,” said Withrow, who owns Signal 88 Security with his wife, Traci.
Signal 88 Security provides a roving patrol service for apartment complexes, construction sites, convenience stores and other clients, using marked cars and plenty of lights at night to draw attention to their presence.
Based at WaterWalk, Withrow’s franchise has about 50 part- and full-time employees and was named franchise of the year for 2016 by the Omaha-based company.
The Withrows, who are originally from the Wichita area, moved to Omaha in the early 2000s after a layoff. Kris Withrow worked in loss prevention for a national retailer and also part time for Signal 88, which at the time only operated in Omaha.
The couple returned to Wichita in 2008 so Kris Withrow could take a job as a buyer with Learjet. But within a year he realized he likely would be laid off again, even though the company was helping him get his master’s degree.
“In that time frame, Signal 88 started franchising out,” he said. “We were able to get in basically at the very beginning.”
Withrow said they own the 10th-oldest of what are now about 120 Signal 88 franchises. The company has bigger franchises in cities such as Atlanta and Dallas, he said, but the Wichita operation is its biggest “medium market” franchise.
Withrow said the biggest challenge for him was selling the service to potential clients.
“I had zero sales experience,” he said. “But I think what I was able to do is focus more on building relationships with potential clients as opposed to selling them something.”
He added, however, “You do have to finalize” sales to succeed.
One of the franchise’s key selling points is that it uses up-to-date technology for things such as tracking the company’s vehicles, Withrow said.
“All of our scheduling and reporting information is web-based, as opposed to the old style of writing down information.”
Traci Withrow handles the business’ administrative work, which was also cited in the award the franchise received.
Kris Withrow said finding qualified employees is difficult. The vast majority of its patrol guards work at night, on weekends and holidays.
“We’re never off,” he said.
The company can’t hire off-duty police officers, but Kris Withrow said it has been successful hiring students in area criminal justice programs.
“We want to hire people who have aspirations to do something other than security,” he said. “At last count, we’ve had 18 former employees who have gone on to various police departments or sheriff’s departments.”
All local security guards are required to take a class taught by the police department, he said, and Signal 88 requires additional training for its employees.
The job can occasionally be exciting. Police have requested videos captured by the company’s vehicles, and the guards sometimes come upon someone in the act of committing a crime.
While security guards are legally able to detain someone, Withrow said, “Typically, we would err on the side of calling the Wichita Police Department.”