Institute for Economic Development

Business Therapy

Security firm owner develops plan for growth thanks to expert advice

Better business sense Shawn Fluitt and his wife, Donna, saw their business flourish with assistance from the UTSA Small Business Development Center.

It isn't far from the truth. Fluitt, owner of Timekeepers, a private security firm, and Sifuentes have met roughly every other week since October 2009. But instead of lying back on a couch describing his dreams or talking about his childhood, Fluitt often has sessions while driving his pickup truck, with Sifuentes riding shotgun. Fluitt takes Sifuentes to every important meeting he has-bankers, insurance brokers, you name it-and the two talk about everything from managing payroll and retaining good employees to customer service and work-life balance.

For Fluitt, the relationship has meant everything to his company's growth. "I started Timekeepers back in 1996," he said. "We touch almost every piece of the oil and gas business-drilling, completion, fracking, pipeline-but in 2009, I wasn't sure which way we were headed. Oil and gas prices were down. So were our revenues, by about 30 percent."

Fluitt had a plan, though. The year before, the Eagle Ford Shale-an oil and gas play of historic proportions-had been discovered, and it promised unprecedented opportunities for business in South Texas. Fluitt wanted to get his company in on the action, but he knew he wasn't prepared to manage the growth that would come when Eagle Ford started to take off. Then he heard about the UTSA Small Business Development Center's Building Business Excellence program, and he decided to sign up.

The program, which held classes twice a week for four months, was a real eye-opener. "People in very different businesses from mine were talking about forecasting five years out," Fluitt said. "For me, six months was a miracle."

"The program is for companies that are really ready to commit to going to the next level," said Sifuentes, who became Fluitt's advisor as part of the program. "The problem is, you can go out of business just as quickly when you are growing. You have to manage your growth; you can't let it manage you."

For Fluitt, the program and his ongoing relationship with Sifuentes have paid off in a big way. "Taking that course is the best thing I've ever done," he said. "Eagle Ford was just starting to be developed, and the timing was perfect. Our business has skyrocketed; we're probably up 300 percent, and we're still growing."

And as his business has grown, Fluitt added more employees, creating jobs for about 150 people at Timekeepers. At a second company he spun off called Tier One Security Management, he has about 180 contractors, up from only 45 in 2009.

But, as Sifuentes noted, the most important takeaway for Fluitt has been learning to manage that growth. "Our world changes about once a week," Fluitt said. "A customer will come up with a new requirement. Insurance will throw us a curve ball. When someone asks for something different, we say yes and then figure out how to get it done. I just got into the equipment rental business this morning that way. We've moved into new offices twice and changed banks two or three times."

Fluitt's wife, Donna (he calls her "the boss's boss"), still helps out in the office, but today there are eight full-time people working there. "Before, it was just me driving around in my pickup," Fluitt said. "I've put two of my guys through the same program; I thought it was that valuable. Now when Richard comes out to the office, he spends time with them, as well as with Donna and me."

The most valuable change, Fluitt said, is that he has learned how to run his business like ... well, like a business. "Heck," he said, laughing again, "now we have a process for things we never knew we needed a process for."