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McRoberts Protective Agency is Keeping Clients and Personnel Secure

A long time ago, William J. McRoberts was employed as a coffee inspector on the Brooklyn piers in New York. Being a young entrepreneur, he saw there was a need for cargo protection. Theft was rampant, and the cargo owners welcomed his new security services. Nowadays, McRoberts’ great-granddaughter, Meredith McRoberts, continues to grow the firm’s reputation built on her family’s long line of security professionals.

McRoberts Protective Agency Inc. is the oldest privately-owned security company in the United States, and perhaps even the world, according to Paul Bristow, vice president of business development for the California division. Bristow is partnered in California with Chuck Harold, vice president of operations and qualified manager. Bristow says, “I think we are only three months younger than Pinkerton, but they are no longer privately-owned.”

McRoberts is found in major port cities throughout the United States, including Puerto Rico. The company is very strong in the maritime world, as experts in maritime security, according to Bristow. It has handled the Cunard Line for the past 90 years.

“The fact that McRoberts is family-owned has meant they tend to be targeting the upper-end work,” says Bristow. “They don’t crave publicity and have never bought another company. I like to say it’s a big company with a small-company feel. They are also the 25th largest security company in the country. It’s a very quiet company; we just get on with our work and please the clients.”

McRoberts has a 44 percent turnover rate, incredibly low for the guard industry, according to Bristow. “Typically it’s about 200 percent. We don’t have a client turnover. Normally, in the L.A. security market, a guard stays with their employer 10 months. We have them for years, including one guard who has been with us some 30 years now.

“We do much for the hospitality industry, lots of expos and many special events. One of the things that brings people to our company is the look of our uniforms. They really are classy and distinctive.”

The McRoberts uniforms vary according to region of the country. In New York, for example, the uniforms reflect more of a police look with the predominant colors being dark blues.

“If you look at our badges, they’re a little bit different than most badges that you see,” comments Bristow. “We tend to use the square-looking badge. In the middle of the badge is a ship. For the embroidered section that the badge sits on, we tend to use a square shape instead of a shield you may normally see with other agencies. It stands out.”

In addition to covering ports all around the country, McRoberts also has branches in Florida, Texas, New Jersey and many other states as well. Although international expansion has been discussed, overall the company is pleased with maintaining focus in the United States. “McRoberts has some strategic alliances with companies, such as in Saudi Arabia, but at the moment they’re just interested in doing a fantastic job here in this country,” says Bristow.

How uniforms are chosen, designed and assembled comes down to what each individual client wants. For one client, Archstone Properties, McRoberts uses a blue blazer look with a gray trouser, and an attractive striped tie with a white shirt. “It’s a really nice look,” says Bristow. “Each client tells us what the look is that they’d like to see.”

Its West Coast offices use men’s and women’s ties paired with a blazer, trousers and a shirt. In other places, officers use the “hard look” uniform. This consists of a straight shirt and trousers. At the maritime locations, McRoberts officers use the RAF jumper, provided by UniPro, though not all the maritime employees use that particular uniform.

“We provide whatever is needed,” says Bristow. “That would include anything necessary, say at a construction site, for safety. Also, we allow the women to wear the male tie but we also supply a female tie. Our guards are supplied with a whistle and chain as well. This looks good and it enables them to have a whistle handy if the need arises.”

On the West Coast, McRoberts does not hold a bulk of uniforms on hand. They will measure the guard and then UniPro, its supplier, sends McRoberts a box containing everything that the guard needs from the belt, badge and nameplate to the trousers, shirt, hat and tie.

“This is a good program, and I must admit it was Chuck’s idea,” adds Bristow. “They get the boxes in and then they’re ready to roll. We just outfitted 70 individuals at Long Beach; consequently, we had 70 boxes. Each box is for that individual officer. It’s simple, and it really works. Instead of having 20 shirts delivered with someone’s name in it, you just get the box delivered. The guard comes in, you give him the box and he walks away.” The whole company doesn’t use this system, but it has worked well on the West Coast.

McRoberts Protective Agency is a very fluid company where there is not a lot of micro-management, according to Bristow. What it tends to do is let each office run in its own manner best suited to the employees, region and managers. “As long as that’s successful, you’re allowed to do your thing. That’s why we do things differently than the East Coast. There is no real ‘you’ve got to do it this way;’ if it works for you, get on with it. This has worked for McRoberts for 132 years now.

“We have two categories of clients: one being our guards, and the other the client, which is the guard’s and the company’s client,” says Bristow. “We really try to look after the guards, paying on a weekly basis – one of the few companies doing that. That detail is an especially big thing for security officers. It costs more to pay people on a weekly basis, that’s why people tend not to do it. Meredith McRoberts looks at this as something good for the guards and good for the company, and so we spend the extra money. The company’s outlook is very guard-oriented in trying to keep them happy.”

UniPro Uniforms Co. is the primary supplier of uniforms and accessories for McRoberts. Uniforms perform a critical role in the presentation and performance of a security organization and its officers. For the public, the apparel and accessories that a security officer wears quickly establishes a trusted authority figure. For the security officer, the right look instills confidence, encouraging him to take pride in his work and to perform his duties well, according to Dennis R. Borak, West Coast regional sales manager.

“The main questions become how does a security organization determine the right look for its officers and how do you ensure the successful implementation of a uniform program?” says Borak. “To answer those, look at what you might desire in a supplier. Having worked with both small and large security organizations, with contracts and priorities since 1997, UniPro has learned what counts most in creating and managing a security uniform program.”

UniPro was founded in 1993 and is a manufacturer of the hard and soft uniforms for contracted security organizations, janitorial markets and police departments nationally. UniPro is extremely competitive in producing security shoulder badge patches manufactured at UniPro China, according to Borak.

UniPro can provide the security company with all the equipment and accessories needed to run its operation. It’s a family, female-owned company with a 150,000-square-foot facility in Newark, N.J., serving as the corporate headquarters and the distribution center. It also has factories in China. Meir Frei is CEO of UniPro and Rachel Brin, president.

Its uniforms are not “off the rack” or ready-to-wear clothes, but are specifically constructed with a work environment in mind. “It’s a mistake to think these clothes are similar to everyday wardrobes,” says Borak. “There can also be vast differences in security functions among industries; think of a security guard at an oil refinery contrasted with someone in security performing concierge-like services at a five-star hotel or in a Class A office building.”

For security services, typically there is a soft look and a hard look, adds Borak. The soft look often consists of a suit or blazer worn with contrasting slacks. The style is complemented with a crisp dress shirt, accessorized with an appropriate tie. This look is usually considered for, but not restricted to, an indoor uniform used in white-collar business environments. Other options for the soft look include an embroidered knit shirt with cotton pants, the type of look frequently seen in such security settings as a gated community.

Security officers outfitted in a hard look have a shirt with shoulder epaulets, pocket flaps, neat military creases and, for some sites, a clip-on tie. “The shirt can authorize with shoulder emblems, cloth and metal badges and related operational identification. Many of our clients have also opted to have American flags facing forward or reverse-facing in military style,” says Borak. “Trousers feature a permanent crease, two-and-a-quarter-inch belt loops for a one-and-three-quarter-inch belt, and two Snugtex waistbands to keep shirts tucked in properly. Trousers may also have striping on the side seam.”

Color selection and fabrication depend on geography and task considerations. With the hard look, materials are 100 percent polyester, and on the soft look, it’s a polyester/cotton blend, usually 65/35 poly/cotton.

“An interesting question is whether one look commands greater authority or is more respected than the other,” says Philip Ganulin, vice president of sales. “There have been discussions on the merits of one over the other. Several inner-city hospitals have recently switched from the hard look to the soft after the hard look was cited as a source of tension between the community and the hospital. Others fervently support the hard look and, in such settings or situations, believe the authoritative police-style uniforms are better deterrents against crime, offering staff and patients better protection.”

The security customer may have his own notion of what professionalism is and what commands respect. A company’s uniform supplier needs to be flexible and able to respond quickly to custom uniform requirements in order to be able to service the demands and needs of a contract, according to Ganulin.

“It’s important to note that cost alone should not be the chief driver in your purchasing decisions,” says Ganulin. “We will interview the operations and upper level staff at a contract security firm to understand what works for the company. Also, we have been asked to consult and work directly with the contract client to help determine what is best for them. It is only after such a needs assessment that we can offer a complete solution.”

A complete line has been designed for the corporate and active casual wear marketplace. “UniPro Uniforms is a dependable source that can offer competitive costs, sizeable inventory for prompt delivery, and reliable customer service,” says Ganulin. “Turnaround time is the same day, latest next day. An online ordering system is essential to branch managers for dealing with uniform requirements, invoicing and payment, and the back-end financial side of various uniform programs for the contracted security company.”

UniPro has onsite cut and sew for attaching patches, hemming trousers, shortening or lengthening of suit jacket cuffs, or embroidering logos or officer names. “We also do unique screen printing,” adds Borak.

As a uniform supplier, UniPro can offer advice on the care characteristics of its products as well. Some are restricted to industrial laundering, while other garments are easy-care fabrics able to be washed at home. Testing is done to be sure the fabric holds up well under cleaning conditions.

Special fabric features of the UniPro uniforms include color fastness, anti-bacterial, antimicrobial, perspiration wicking and wrinkle recovery. The uniform dress shirts are available in broadcloth or Oxford. Trousers feature a heavy-duty brass zipper.

“Security officers come in all shapes and sizes,” says Ganulin. “Proper sizing will not only ensure a well-dressed security officer but a comfortable employee as well. Suppliers should cover the entire spectrum of sizes. I think for this reason it’s reasonable to ask security companies for a long-term commitment in order to stock a fully custom uniform program.”

Borak finds communication is also key. “I cannot stress enough the importance of listening carefully to our customers in order to be on top of situations at a moment’s notice. If you can do that, you will have the vast majority of your problems solved before they’re even problems.”

Above story first appeared in MADE TO MEASURE Magazine, Spring & Summer 2009 issue. All rights reserved. Photos appear by special permission.
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