Founder/owner, The Surveillance Shop
Edmonton/Medicine Hat, Alberta
Married to Betty, Father to Hilton and Kennedy
Computer Technology certificate from Southern Alberta Institute of Technology
Career highlights:
Starting a highly succesful security business from scratch after a 12 year career in the construction industry
www.survshop.com 1(877) 530-2288

As far back as he can remember, Curtis Dyck never nursed any entrepreneurial ambitions. He played high school football and generally enjoyed himself while he was growing up. But once he started getting serious about life, he really put the pedal to the metal. He’s a natural organizer with a deeply rooted work ethic which has helped him build a super-successful security business and has enabled him to beat out enormous corporate competitors for important contracts on a regular basis. Since striking out on his own in the first few months of the 21st Century, Dyck, his wife Betty and a highly committed team of experts have grown the company on a foundation of customer service as well as blood, sweat and tears. The Surveillance Shop has experienced year-over-year growth with million-dollar monthly revenue and strong eight-figure sales projected for 2015.”

1. Where did you get the entrepreneurial drive that led to the success you’ve achieved?

“My parents were both very hard workers. My mom worked a full-time job in addition to keeping us all fed and clean. My dad was a heavy-duty mechanic, a very hard-working guy. He worked for Finning as a young man and wound up starting his own company in Medicine Hat. He’s a great guy, 70 years old now and in great shape, still an extremely hard worker.

2. Did you start out by helping out around the shop?

Yeah, I worked with him, pulling wrenches and doing odd jobs around there. If I wrecked his trucks, I’d have to pay for the damage myself. I always worked, from about the age of 12. I started by delivering papers and picking cabbages on the farm. At 13, I was cleaning bricks for a factory in Redcliff. I made all the usual stops, working at Bonanza and Burger King, places like that.

3. Sounds like working hard is part of your DNA. Did your family always expect you to pull your own weight?

It was definitely part of the family culture. There wasn’t much money in the house so if you wanted to buy any extras you had to work for them.

4. How did you get your start in the construction business?

I had enrolled in college (to get his high-school equivalency) but I partied too much and wound up leaving after three months. Then I talked to a friend of my dad’s who owned some graders in Saskatchewan. I told him I’d work without pay for one week on the understanding that he’d hire me if he thought I could do the job.

5. And how did that arrangement work out?

I stayed on his farm, fed his pigs in the morning and helped him grading roads all day. He never did pay me for that first week but at the end of the week he gave me the job. At that time I was about 18.

6. At that point, you were still light years from the point of starting your own security business. What was going through your mind at that time?

When my dad dropped me off at that little farm in Saskatchewan, a light kind of turned on in my mind, like, it was really time for me to get serious and get to work. A real wakeup call. I tell people that was a life-turning moment for me. The message was, the free ride is over. If I’m going to eat, I’m going to have to work.

7. So that was a major reality check for you. How did things unfold from that point?

I worked very hard for that guy. After a year and a half, I moved on to another road building company. At 21, I came to Calgary. That was 1988, the Olympic year. I wound up getting a job at Standard General Inc., where I operated a grader, building roads and streets in suburban Calgary. I built roads in Tuscany, Country Hills, Sundance and Shawnessy. Eventually I became a project co-ordinator for the company, looking after the roads going over the river at Stoney Trail in Northwest Calgary.

8. Sounds as though you made the most of your time working for Standard General. How long did you stay with the company?

I stayed with them for about 12 years. They continued to promote me as time went on. By the time I was 28, I was head of the asphalt division in Calgary. That involved a lot of long hours and gave me some management experience. I was doing a lot of scheduling for the engineers who worked in the same division. There I was, a kid with only a Grade 11 education, working with all these well-educated people. I made some really good friends at that time but I began to realize that I’d gone about as far as I could go along that particular career path.

9. Is that about the time you started to contemplate a career change?

More or less. I was about 30 and the company offered to pay for me to take courses in road building. But I decided I wanted to take courses in computer science. Computers were just becoming a big thing and I was very interested. So I enrolled in night courses at SAIT, learning Microsoft Office applications and that kind of thing. So by the time computer programs became more important in management, I was pretty well ready to handle the change.

10. But you were still working for Standard General at that time, weren’t you?

Still building roads, yeah. I enjoyed the work and I liked the people I worked with, as well as my boss, Henry Hipfner, a cowboy from Okotoks. A very inspirational guy. His staff turned up to work at 6 a.m., he’d be on the job by 5 and was the last one to go home at night, sometimes as late as 8 p.m. He expected your very best every day and we all tried to give it to him.

11. Were you still hatching a plan for a change in direction?

Yes, I continued to build roads but on the side, I started a new Internet company, kind of an online directory, along the lines of Canada 411. I started selling web pages that I built myself, using a Microsoft program called FrontPage 2000. I managed about $20,000 in sales the first month, so thought I was really on to something. I thought that was a terrific opportunity so I quit my job at Standard General.

12. That was a gutsy move. Were you apprehensive about the risk you were taking on by going solo?

It was definitely a gutsy move. My wife was a little nervous, for sure. She had just given birth to our second child. That time, things didn’t work out too well. The market wasn’t quite ready for my directory so I was forced to shut it down. We were broke so I went back to building roads. I had built up a good base of knowledge so it was easy to get a job. This was around 2001. I went back to work on the roads as a short-term thing so we could pay our bills.

13. That was around the time you started The Surveillance Shop, wasn’t it?

I got that operation up and running in the evenings. I definitely wanted to get back out on my own. The idea came from an article I read about a babysitter shaking a baby in Brooks, Alta. So I came up with the idea of selling nanny cams so parents could keep an eye on their babysitters from remote locations. My wife and I made a lot of cold calls and sent out fax advertising to everyone we could think of.

14. How did the nanny cam idea work out?

Well, we got several responses but most of our orders came from commercial clients looking for security cameras. Before long, we quit trying to market to residential customers. It was lucky for me that most people were recording on video tape via their VCRs and the resolution was terrible. Fortunately, the Internet was improving, digital technology had come along and hard drives were starting to increase in size to the point they were able to store enough data to be an effective technology for video surveillance.

15. What kind of commercial customers were getting interested in your services?

We did several major rec centres around the city. It was a tough learning curve in the beginning. These products were expensive and we couldn’t afford to hire installers. In the early days, I was still building roads during the day and we’d try to find someone to take care of the kids while my wife and I went out and installed cameras in the evening.

16. Why do you think high-end clients were willing to take a chance on such a small company to take care of their security needs?

I think it was due to our customer service model. I’d go and meet them on site, shake their hand and look them in they eye. After all, the security business is dominated by very large players. I think the customers found it refreshing to meet a humble smaller player they could always reach on the phone. And, of course, we were able to deliver everything we promised.

17. How were you able to deal with financing issues as a small but ambitious start-up?

It wasn’t easy. We started to ask for a 30 per cent deposit up front, which was enough to take care of our suppliers. Our suppliers started us very small, with no line of credit. Eventually, they extended us a $5,000 line of credit and we were able to grow our credibility from there.

18. Was it about that time that you graduated to even bigger projects?

Yes, when we were three years into our business when I bid to supply the Winnipeg airport with security cameras. I just about fainted when a package showed up in the mail saying that my bid was successful. The equipment alone was going to cost me $50,000. which I borrowed from my mum. I really didn’t think I had a ghost of a chance to win that bid, beating out the big guys, names like Chubb, Tyco and other national companies. We were only a three or four man operation at the time. I think what sold them was the price. I didn’t have the same kind of hard costs that a company like Chubb would have. I wasn’t even taking a salary for myself at the time. I probably came in a little under price. We wound up doing a very good job and we got a lot of mileage from using the Winnipeg job as a testimonial. That led to contracts with the Edmonton Remand Centre and the Lethbridge Airport, among others. I always had a goal, whenever I had a sales lead, to put a quote in a customer’s hands within 24 hours. I’d drop it off, right in their hands. I think that tells them that we’re hungry, fast and efficient.

19. How did the company’s growth curve develop from there?

We got busy quick. We started recording higher sales volumes every year and started hiring more people. We cracked $1.1 million in sales in our fourth year so we moved out of our basement and into a little shop on 12th Avenue and 14th Street in Calgary. We started adding five or six installers a year from that point. The following year we landed another terrific contract out at Morley for the First Nations. We set up several buildings with surveillance systems, including the hospital, fire station, admin building and schools.

20. What markets do you see developing in the near future?

Integrating access control, intrusion alarm and video surveillance into one platform and offering video analytics with pro-active monitoring solutions will both be big parts of our business going forward.