AATEL Communications

Discovering a market niche in healthcare

AATEL Communications has effectively transitioned within the communications industry from a small telephone systems provider to a fully-integrated communications solutions company, specializing in products for the healthcare industry. CEO Darren Croucher was a crucial part of this transition and AATEL’s recent success. He spoke with CBJ about finding a company focus and the future of AATEL Communications.

As a small, family company and a division of ISI Group of Companies, AATEL had a longstanding reputation of customer service within the communications industry since its inception in 1947. It is during the last decade, however, that AATEL has really discovered its niche and grown its profit margins considerably. AATEL offers both commercial and government services, but it is the healthcare industry which is the primary market.

The transition began as Croucher stepped up as CEO. As AATEL began installing nurse call systems and hospital phone systems it dissected the market and started looking at long-term care facilities, assisted living facilities, and retirement homes. “What we quickly found was an easy integration between telephone systems and nurse call systems on the systems integration side,” says Croucher.

“Then customers came to us and asked us why we didn’t do things such as card access systems, fire alarms, security—anything that was low voltage below the building. On the long-term care side we quickly got into access control installing mag locks and card readers, then we were getting into patient wandering systems, protection systems in hospitals, and public address systems such as paging. Then as technology evolved we started getting into wireless devices and eventually integrated everything.”

Growing profit margins

This evolution into the healthcare field has solidified AATEL as an industry leader. It has had a very successful few years despite an economic downturn. “In 2007, within 18 months, we completed 50 to 60 long-term care facilities because that’s when the Ministry of Health was building new long-term care facilities everywhere,” says Croucher. “That’s really when we started to grow and our first significant jump was from 2 million to 5 million, and then we went from 5 million to 8 million within a three-year period.”

So how did AATEL manage to attain such commendable growth during such uncertain times? The refocus on healthcare and the integration of a wide variety of new products and services was key in its achievements. “When I came in the average sale was between $5,000 and $10,000,” Croucher says. “Then when we started working the long-term care angle the average sale was of $50,000 to $100,000. Then when we started integrating into the hospitals doing more than just nurse calls, what was a $300,000 job now today is more like $1.5 million. Growth didn’t necessarily come from more customers…it was just from the products and services being offered, so we changed our skill set.”

It is this kind of ingenuity and creative spirit which exemplifies the kind of company we love to profile at CBJ. “Even though we’ve had the economic downturn we really haven’t been too affected because our top line sales have come down. Our profits and everything else has stayed the same. We’ve become a little leaner. We spent a lot of time with employees on training and development” states Croucher.

Future projects and forecast

AATEL is now structured better for larger build projects, and it is part of numerous Public-Private Partnerships (P3) for Ontario Infrastructure through design teams. “Those teams are built up of many parts such as engineers, architects, general contractors, and then we are part of that group as a systems integrator,” Croucher explains. AATEL has now been structured in a way that can allow for growth and even bigger contracts. “I see us getting more into design, development and workflow. The challenge we have is keeping up with technology. It is consistently changing in training and development, not only for us but to the people that use our systems.”

If there is anything that has been proven over the last few years, it is that AATEL is up to the challenge. It has spent considerable time on training and development in preparation for the next phase of growth. “We’re forecasting double digit growth. So that’s where we are taking a different angle to it than some of our competitors,” states Croucher. It is also in this comparison to its competitors where AATEL has another considerable advantage. “Our prime competitors are major corporations such as General Electric, Honeywell, and Siemens. We are a small family-run business. We’re a little more mobile than some of the bigger corporations.”

In addition to this mobility, the small, family-run operation is well-equipped in customer service and sees it as a key goal. The reason for this, as Croucher explains, is that relationships with clients are longstanding and many systems are used for over 25 years. “Customer satisfaction is a primary goal,” says Croucher.

AATEL Communications has successfully carved itself a niche within the communications market as leading providers of healthcare communications, life services and security integration. It is a truly a story of smart Canadian business.