American Camera OEM / Online Retailer Interviewed

By Carlton Purvis, Published Apr 10, 2014, 12:00am EDT

A little-known company produced a marketing video comparing its cameras to Chinese giants Dahua and Hikvision, becoming a topic of conversation. Here is the video:

So who is Empire Security, and where did they come from? We interview one of the owners to find out.

Who is Empire Security?

After getting his degree in computer information systems, Kyle Korona and his wife started a computer repair business in New York. The market was tough to break into with so many people doing similar work in the area.

Slowly the business grew they began receiving requests for home surveillance installation. It happened so often that they eventually added it to their offerings. Korona took advantage of the opportunity, enrolled in a few classes on surveillance and got licensed in New York.

Kornoa says the computer repair industry is cutthroat so a business has to find something to make it competitive.

“We’d work with customers to show them how to use their systems. We’d show them how to work things on the networking side and we teamed with a local electrician so we could do the systems in their entirety,” he said.

People were mostly using Q-See and Nightowl systems.

Over time installation sales surpassed what they were making from repairing computers. Kornona said he fell in love working with surveillance cameras; Empire Security was birthed. They moved the company from New York to Wilmington, North Carolina where they would be closer to a container port (He says working with the ports in New Jersey was a nightmare) and business costs are cheaper.

Finding a Manufacturer

After taking the business down south, it reduced the number of installations and increased wholesale business.

“We were doing well, but we just really didn’t have the quality equipment that we wanted and that customers wanted,” he said.

They headed to a sourcing fair in Hong Kong and met with several manufacturers until they found one that they felt could produce what they wanted.

“We were looking for very specific specifications and very specific features based on what our customers wanted the most,” he said. The cameras were built around Sony’s Effio-E sensor. Because it was cheaper to buy in bulk, Empire would order more supply than it needed and sell the excess inventory online on eBay and Amazon.

“We went from selling one or two cameras to selling 200 at a time on eBay. People seemed to really like the specifications we chose at the factory. So that’s what mainly started our business. Amazon and eBay,” he said.

What Made the Business Take Off

Koronoa says he thinks his company was the first to start selling 700TVL cameras in the United States. This was in 2010 and that’s what he thinks made business take off.

“When we started a lot of people were still installing low-end analog cameras -- typically 400-500 TVL and IP cameras were first coming out and were still very expensive,” he said. “We heard Sony was coming out with a 700TVL camera and we were really looking for a different camera than what was out. We went [to Hong Kong] with a vision to bring something different back. As far as we know, we were the first company to offer 700 TVL cameras in the U.S. and that’s what really launched our wholesale side. Then about a year later other companies started selling them.”

Korona says these cameras are still some of the best selling that they offer although now the company carries a line of analog and IP cameras and video recorders that they sell through dealers, installers and distributors.

Many of Empire's customers come through word of mouth, although they use Google AdWords and email marketing.

Sales Numbers

Korona says for 2013 the company broke $1 million in revenue and is projected to do $2 million for the current year. In addition to installations and other work, the company sells 500-1000 cameras per month.

As for prices, he says to look at the online catalog (e.g., 720p IP integrated IR minidome $85, 2MP IP integrated IR, varifocal bullet for $145).

"The MSRP is exactly that, our suggested price to the client or end user. Our installers get a generous discount to sell our equipment and make margin on the spread," he said.

Recent Developments

Empire Security would eventually enter into partnership with the company manufacturing its cameras and have funded a research and development department to be able to come out with its own line of cameras.

“We recently invested in the company we’ve been partnered with for four years now. We have a small ownership stake in the company so we’re hoping to do more R&D and assembly to people's specifications. We want to give our dealers and installers something unique to sell,” he said. Now his time is split between the U.S. and China to help the development process.

Tech support and distribution for the cameras are U.S. based, but the company headquarters and warehouse are in Wilmington. Wilmington was also chosen because because it is within two days of most of its distributors which are in several cities including Chicago, Philadelphia and New York City.

The Hardest Part About Being a Newcomer

“For as large as it is, the security industry is very small ... One of the hardest parts of breaking into the security camera industry is getting the respect from those companies who have been there a long time,” he said. “Starting any kind of business is difficult. At the beginning, no one knows who you are and you’re working hard every single day. There’s a lot of effort and miscues. For the security industry, the hardest part is getting that recognition for you work from your colleagues and getting into that circle with everyone else.”

Response to Critics Who Say He Claims His Cameras Are Better than Dahua or Hikvision

Korona says he's not.

"I wouldn't say whose cameras are better, it is all subjective. We have great respect for Dahua and Hikvision as they have been growing by leaps and bounds over the last five years to become two of the biggest security companies on the planet. We even sold Dahua and Hikvision up until this year with great success. However, we do some things differently. We allow our customers to customize cameras for their needs ...  A lot of our bigger accounts like this flexibility because it saves them time and money when they are doing the job. They aren't paying for more camera features that they don't need and they are also getting features that may be left out from other, bigger vendors." Full statement here.

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