Go East

Many times, succeeding in business means changing with the times. The Porfilio family has proven that for a half-century.

When William Porfilio Sr. launched Eastern Electronics in downtown Springfield in 1957, he specialized in antenna-based communications, from paging and intercom systems to radio repair. But when cable became the dominant mode of receiving broadcasts, Porfilio knew he had to make a shift.

That’s when he changed the company name to Eastern Electronics & Security, putting more emphasis on the security side of the business, which now encompasses a wide range of services to protect and monitor homes and businesses, as well provide tools to track the attendance and productivity of a company’s workforce.

“We had to change with the times, basically,” said William Porfilio Jr., the company’s current president. Heading into its 50th year, Eastern remains a family business, with another son, Richard Porfilio, serving as vice president and Porfilio Sr. continuing to act as CEO.

“Security will always be an important part of the business,” Porfilio Jr. continued. “Companies want to keep drivers from wandering around when deliveries are made. They want to control who’s entering the building, and they want to keep track of time and attendance.”

Those efforts not only keep companies secure, he said, but also benefit their bottom line – sometimes in unexpected ways.

This issue, BusinessWest examines how Eastern Electronics & Security, now based in West Springfield, has managed to remain ahead of the curve in the rapidly changing, increasingly technology-driven field of electronic security.

Shifting Landscape

Eastern Electronics had been a player in the Pioneer Valley for more than 20 years when Porfilio Jr. joined the business in 1979, followed by Richard Porfilio in 1982. Both have been there long enough to witness workplace security trends come and go.

For example, “right after 9/11, we were doing more in the food industry, but now we work with almost all industries, and everyone has their own needs,” William Porfilio said. “Some want to prevent people from entering the building, while some are monitoring employees or keeping an eye on production.”

Whatever the industry, Eastern tends to work with mid-sized and large companies more than smaller ones, in part because larger businesses have larger security budgets and more employees and facilities to protect.

“It is a long-term expense,” Porfilio explained. “I’m not saying smaller companies aren’t interested, but most of our growth has been with companies of 100 employees and up.”

“People want all the coverage. They want protection for their whole building,” Richard Porfilio added. “But when they find out what the bottom line is, they tend to do it in phases. It’s tough to do it all in one shot.”

Fortunately, Eastern offers an array of security options – including access control badges and biometric readers, video surveillance systems, fire and security alarms, and 24-hour remote monitoring – so that companies can prioritize them according to their individual needs. Clients can also purchase a range of communications products, including nurse call systems for health care facilities, digital phone systems, and paging and evacuation systems for industrial facilities.

In all cases, Eastern works closely with a client company to identify its security and communications needs, design a system to meet those needs, and install and service that system. It’s not a business that rewards complacency, Porfilio Jr. said, since the technology that supports these products is always changing.

“Unlike 20 or 30 years ago, most of this is computer-based,” he said. “So there’s definitely a learning curve – you have to know the software and the hardware, where years ago, it was all about the hardware.”

The march of technology has ushered in some effective tools. For example, only in recent years have employers had the ability to monitor their workplace on a laptop from a vacation spot across the country.

And certainly, GPS tracking devices for vehicles and shipped products weren’t part of the business landscape 20 years ago, but that’s yet another option for companies seeking ways to monitor their operations.

“That’s a new technology, and it’s still in its infancy stage, so it’s still on the higher end, pricewise,” Porfilio Jr. said. “But it will become more affordable. It’s the same as with any new technology – it starts out expensive, but as the technology improves, the price comes down.”

A Solid Investment

The Porfilios don’t shy away from the price factor in discussing their services. “Not everyone has the budget to do some of this,” Porfilio Jr. told BusinessWest. “There is a cost. But technology also allows us to do a lot more for the money than we could 20 years ago.”

He cited one local company that hadn’t addressed its security needs in 15 years. “As it turned out,” Richard Porfilio said, “it was more cost-effective to completely upgrade it than it would have been for them to work with the old system.”

Meanwhile, “there’s a lot of junk on the market, and you get what you pay for,” Porfilio Jr. added. For that reason, he said, Eastern deals only with high-quality vendors with proven track records, so clients can be confident they will be around five or 10 years down the road.

However, the Porfilios don’t allow costs to obscure what they believe is a financial return on investment – one that extends beyond preventing theft from outside intruders.

“There’s also theft of equipment and time” by employees, Porfilio Jr. said, which is why Eastern offers a number of workplace- monitoring products. He told of one company that discovered second- and third-shift employees hiding and taking naps over a long period of time. “That may sound funny, but that’s money,” he said. “You’re paying somebody to do the work, and they’re not producing.”

In addition, swipe cards can track the movement of employees, while GPS hookups in company vehicles can determine whether drivers are spending too much time taking breaks.

“Companies don’t realize what they’re losing,” Porfilio Jr. said. “You can track how many times someone takes a cigarette break over the course of the week, and how that affects productivity. So while this technology protects employees, it’s also there for the employer, to improve his bottom line.”

After all, a healthy bottom line is the best way to secure a successful future in business – and that’s what the Porfilio family has enjoyed for almost 50 years.