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Q+A: JAMES KERR:

When it comes to security, everything is fine until it isn’t,’ says Southern Nevada entrepreneur

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Courtesy / Mark Andrushenko

James Kerr is CEO and founder of Boss Security Screens.

Mon, Jun 29, 2020 (2 a.m.)

James Kerr’s wife confided in him that she felt unsafe when he was away on business, even though they lived in a gated community within a safe neighborhood. He asked if she wanted a gun, but she didn’t want to shoot anyone. A big dog? She wouldn’t want it hurt while protecting her or their children.

Still, the sound—even just occasionally—of police helicopters hovering around the neighborhood was unnerving.

So Kerr came up with a different solution to their security needs.

“I decided that there’s got to be a better way to make the home safe, and eventually realized we can replace those standard solar screens with a very tough stainless steel mesh that makes it very difficult for anyone or anything to break into the home,” said Kerr, founder and CEO of Boss Security Screens. “Our ground floor windows, doors and patio slider are now secured with these security screens. We have never felt safer.”

What is your background?

My background is mechanical engineering. I worked for Sony in Tokyo and then moved to Hawaii to start an IT company. I am also a martial arts instructor. So between fighting hackers online and teaching self-defense skills to children, I was already giving a lot of thought to security in general.

Do you have any recent news or updates you’d like to share?

Boss Security Screens currently serves Las Vegas, Phoenix and Tucson areas. The exciting news is we are expanding into Albuquerque and Reno.

Our ultimate goal is to make our security screens more accessible to more people. With this in mind, we are interested in partnering with builders so the cost of security screens can be rolled into the mortgage for a new home. This would be win for everyone. The builder can market “safe homes” and the buyer can get the screens without having to squeeze budgets.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your business?

As you can imagine, the pandemic and the rioting have made people even more focused on security. We’re experiencing an exponential rise in demand, as well as strain on our supply chains as nationwide demand for security surged.

When it comes to security, everything is fine until it isn’t. That means you can go about your life and not have to worry about anything. Chances are you won’t get mugged or murdered ... but then something does happen, and everything changes.

My mission is to help people make sensible decisions about security. There’s no need to overdo it. But at the same time, we don’t want to be complacent about it.

The prudent approach is to give some serious thought about securing your home or business and to take immediate action. It’s important to be proactive about security, just like it’s important to be proactive about our finances and our health.

At one point a few months ago, the line to buy food was as long as the line to buy ammo! People were—and still are—very concerned.

Did you wait out the state-mandated business shutdown or were you able to remain open?

We are considered an essential business. We are also a decentralized company, with everyone working remotely from home, so we were already set up for the current business environment. Fortunately, all estimates are done from outside the home and the installs are also done from outside the home. It’s a pandemic-friendly business model.

Describe your management style. Have you refined your management approach?

I am a terrible manager. For some reason, I believe everyone is like me—working all the time—and everyone can read my mind and know what needs to get done. This results in very poor communication about expectations and is ultimately unfair to employees. So I just hire great managers and try to stay out of their way. My real job is to lead, to set our core values, to chart the course as a company, and to stand by our product and our team every step of the way.

I also sign the checks.

Did you develop any new habits during the quarantine?

I found a tree outside my home and started doing pull-ups every day. My max is now 23 nonstop. I do 50 per day or I’m not allowed to go to bed. I also get to spend more time with my wife and my two boys, and that’s golden.

Has “normal” forever changed, or will you aim to get back to what normalcy was pre-COVID?

Remember that scene in ‘Cannonball Run’ when the Italian driver rips the rearview mirror from his Ferrari and says, “What’s behind us does not matter”?

Good or bad, the past is behind us. We must look forward and move forward. Adapt and overcome. And hopefully, along the way, we become smarter and wiser.

How did the pandemic change your outlook on business?

Moving forward, the successful companies will strive to stay nimble. That means lower overhead, and cost structures that scale with demand.

Ultimately, we want to diversify our supply chain so we are not so dependent on any particular vendor. And we want to move into more regional markets, so if one city is struggling because of lockdowns and high unemployment, we can still secure revenue from other cities that may be in better shape. The more pistons of business, the better.

What is the best business advice you’ve received?

When I worked for Sony as a recent college grad, I would meet for 30 minutes once a week with one of the directors. The purpose was for me to learn from him. In one of those sessions, he said, “One thing you need to know is that businesses do not destroy businesses. Companies destroy themselves.” When people ask who our competitors are, I tell them it’s ourselves.

Is there some business decision you’d like to have back and do differently?

Yes, plenty. The first impulse as a business owner is to cut costs. Because without cash, a business—no matter how promising the product or service may be—cannot live. But at the same time, one cannot undervalue real talent, true quality, etc., because at the end of the day, there are no shortcuts. You can never discount your way to success, whether it’s developing human resources or just procuring materials. You always get what you pay for.

What are you reading right now? Or binge-watching?

I just finished a book that I highly recommend called “Skunk Works.” It’s a riveting (pun intended) memoir about Lockheed’s development of planes like the U-2 and the Blackbird. Just amazing. And I am now midway through “Stick And Rudder” ... because I am a private pilot.

How do you wind down after a long day or busy week?

I love doing a few sprints on my bike and then enjoying my favorite IPA while looking at sailboats for sale online.

What has been your most exciting professional project to date?

Because of the nature of our work, we hear firsthand many of the horrible stories, like the terrified 8-year-old old latchkey kid, home alone, who hid under his bed as two intruders ransacked the home. Or the retiree who finally moved to Las Vegas, his lifelong dream, and only to feel so violated when someone broke into his home one night, tiptoeing through his bedroom as he slept. Or the woman who was raped.

And when you realize some of the people who need your product most are sometimes the ones who can afford it least, you do what you can, when you can. Because we are a young company with zero bureaucracy and because the buck stops with me, I can make special exceptions in pricing on a case-by-case basis. It is our duty to help. And it’s very rewarding when we can.

Where do you see your company in 10 years?

We will be making and selling security screens nationally. And someone smarter than I will be running the company. I also look forward to using new products and materials to secure windows and doors. If we think of bars as generation 1, and rolling shutters as generation 2, then the security screens we offer today are generation 3. Ten years from now, maybe we will use lasers instead of the stainless steel mesh.

If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would it be and why?

I have developed a love for sailing, so the San Juan Islands in Washington state are calling my name. From biking and hiking to coffee and beer, the Pacific Northwest offers a pretty high quality of life—at least for four months or so out of the year when the weather is awesome.

What is something that people might not know about you?

My father is an MIA from the Vietnam War. They never found him or his plane. My mom moved us to a 150-acre cow farm in Maryland where I led a very Tom Sawyer-esque childhood. And I was raised by Quakers.

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