One day not long ago, two men charged into a Worcester, Mass., pharmacy. Sticking a sawed-off shotgun in the pharmacist's face, they ordered the customers to lie on the floor, and demanded money and drugs. The pharmacist slid the cash and narcotics across the counter. He also tripped a secret panic button, alerting a Sonitrol Securities Corp. operator in a central monitoring station. As the thieves sped away, the pharmacist walked to the open door. Then, facing inside the store, he described the getaway car and its direction of travel. The thieves were apprehended five minutes later.
To the robbers, the event must have seemed like a perfect heist inexplicably gone awry. To Chuck Munigle in Hartford, it symbolized the perfect investment.
Munigle is an investor in Comsec Inc., a holding company that was created to own and operate retail franchises and the Northeast distributorship for Sonitrol. The parent company develops, manufactures, and sells the alarm equipment to regional distributors.The distributors, in turn, sell it to the Sonitrol franchisees in their territories. Distributors can open new franchises in their territories.
Sonitrol's system uses ultrasensitive microphones, which are hidden in a house or a business, to relay sounds to an operator, who monitors the accounts from a remote central station. The operator calls the police when he or she suspects a disturbance. Once the police are on the line, they, too, hear what is coming over the microphones. "For a business, Sonitrol is a best bet," attests the police dispatcher who answered the Sonitrol operator's call regarding the pharmacy robbery. "It's an excellent alarm system, because we can hear what's happening as it's happening."
Unlike many franchised businesses, Sonitrol doesn't require its franchisees to be owner-operators. That is fine with Chuck Munigle; he already has a full-time job as chairman and chief executive officer of The Munigle Corp., a Hartford-based, $50-million-a-year holding company in construction and real estate. Since The Munigle Corp. demands most of his time, Munigle limits his investments to a few businesses he can devote some attention to.
The Sonitrol deal, Munigle thought, was one of those. Two years ago, a mutual friend introduced him to Glenn Lord: Lord had worked for the likes of General Electric, Raytheon, and Northrop, had started his own consulting firm, and had done some work a few years back for Sonitrol's parent company. With a strong marketing plan and the right people, Lord figured, distributing Sonitrol systems could be a very lucrative enterprise.
Lord assembled a management team, including his son, John, formerly a vice-president of Otis Elevator Co., and Russell MacDonnell, who owned a Sonitrol franchise and a distributorship with his father. MacDonnell's father wanted to retire, and MacDonnell was looking for a way to make Sonitrol grow.Next, Lord looked around for someone to raise money, and it was then that he met Munigle. Munigle saw his niche. "As with most start-up businesses," says Munigle in his best management-textbook style, "it is necessary to have a financial person whose responsibility it is to support the people who are running the show." He adds, dryly, "I figured I could do the financial part OK."
Chuck Munigle doesn't exactly fit the stereotype of a financial maven. When he graduated from Lehigh University in 1960 with a degree in civil engineering, he entered the family business as a construction worker and advanced through the ranks. But when his father died in 1969, Munigle took over the company. He diversified, first by starting a union electrical-line construction division, then a nonunion division, and then by moving into real estate. The Munigle Corp. is now a substantial investor and player in the construction, management, and sale of commercial and residential properties in the Hartford area.
Along the way, Munigle learned something about money and numbers. "I saw the synergy between real estate and construction," he explains, "and had no choice but to learn about investment analysis. "Where Comsec was concerned, he agreed to invest some of his own money to help set up the corporation, and, most important, to raise outside capital. He would also aid in financial planning -- determining when, where, and which franchises to acquire or establish.
In November 1983, Munigle became treasurer, a shareholder, and a board member of Comsec. Setting to work, he got in touch with friends and negotiated with various institutional lenders. Thanks to his efforts, 13 shareholders -- all personal friends or contacts -- invested a minimum of $50,000 each, and three banks and an insurance company agreed to provide debt financing. The amount raised came to $11 million, with 20% from equity investors.
In May 1984, the company began operations. Ownership of the Northeast Sonitrol distributorship was transferred from the MacDonnells to Comsec, along with a Worcester franchise, and Comsec bought a second franchise in Stamford, Conn. Lord, Munigle, and their partners then put into operation the aggressive marketing plan they had worked out. In the past, many of Sonitrol's franchises were owned and operated by people interested in the security business: former police officers or security guards. Few were experienced businesspeople, but the systems sold well anyway. "The franchisees were getting filthy rich with no real marketing effort," says Munigle. "They'd get 400 to 500 accounts, and sales would be beyond their expectations. They had no incentive to do anything but retire." Comsec, looking to improve this performance, hires at least four salespeople per office, instead of the customary one or two, and expects each salesperson to make between 12 and 15 qualified sales calls a week.
So far, Munigle's investment in the franchise company looks good to him. "I think Sonitrol has the best technology on the market, and I think we've got a head start on the competition," he says. The biggest risk now, he believes, is interest rates, the one element beyond his control. A real estate investor in the late 1970s, Munigle tells a horror story about how his company started a multimillion-dollar project when interest rates were in the single digits. By the time the job was ready to be financed, double-digit inflation had pushed the cost of money to around 21%. Rather than cancel the project, Munigle had to offer equity to a corporate lender in exchange for a more reasonable rate.
Barring such a catastrophe, Munigle expects at some point to round up another group of investors or lenders to raise money for future acquisitions. Comsec's 1984 revenues were $2 million, and its five-year goal is to be a $50-million-a-year company. If it achieves this ambitious goal, Munigle should realize a minimum 20% average annual yield on his investment.
Yield, however, isn't the only thing that Chuck Munigle has in mind. Although he has other investments -- an unglamorous stock portfolio, some real estate, and thoroughbred breeding and racing partnerships -- he gets a kick out of investing in such deals as Sonitrol, which let him apply what he has learned in developing his company. That much is plain when he is asked what he does for fun. "This is what I do for fun: building businesses," he answers, looking as if the question had never occurred to him. "I have fun being involved in projects that are done well, and I love the game of business."
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