They’re able to offer a lookout to make sure everything goes without a hitch during the best day of your life, because they’ve had a helping, gentle hand for so many on the worst days of their lives.
Fred Roskens has taken his 23 years of experience with the Norfolk Police Department to create the area’s lone locally-owned private security company, BlueLine Security Services, using an SBA Express loan to build a growing and reliable service covering northeast Nebraska.
Roskens said the security company has handled both armed security and an unarmed presence, on-site jobs ranging from a large wind turbine storage facility suffering a string of break-ins, to late nights at an area diner frequented by oft-rowdy customers. When it comes to diffusing a difficult situation, it’s a competitive advantage to use experience from being a founding and commanding member of the city’s SWAT team to train his employees.
“All that goes into this business,” Roskens said. “It’s about helping people.”
Professional service drawn from experienced officers
BlueLine’s corporate customers have rely on their crispy-outfitted service officers for crime prevention, detecting, and reporting, and asset protection. They’ll provide that reassuring presence for employees to escort them through night deposits and to watch the parking lot as they safely reach their vehicles. But they’ll also offer peace of mind to their Norfolk area neighbors by checking on their homes while away through mobile patrols or standing guard, not just deterring opportunistic vandals but all the way down to the mundane, picking up the newspaper and the mail.
His staff of seven full-timers and 50 on-call part-timers is drawn from off-duty and retired police, sheriffs, state troopers and former military members. Having a quality workforce, he added, is important as the company seeks to apply for larger security contracts.
“We want to keep good employees and attract quality people,” Roskens said. “So we provide health care plans, dental, vision for our full-timers, and we’re kicking around retirement plans, too. It's rewarding, we're providing for our employees. Yes, it's about the client and superior service, but what warms our heart is that our employees get a good wage and benefits they wouldn't have.
“We treat them like family,” he added. “I'll go out to a job site at 2 a.m. not as a owner or boss but like as a family member. And our employees know this, that's why they seek us out to work for us.”
He insist the success of the business also is due to the support of his wife, Kim, who handles payroll duties, pesky human resources tasks and contract paperwork.
Built on a foundation of helping people
Law enforcement wasn’t Roskens’ first choice as a career; he studied business and accounting at nearby Wayne State. But two years into his studies, he listened to his friends talk about their work in criminal justice classes, “and I said to myself, I couldn't see sitting at a desk having my day planned for me.”
He left college one semester short of a degree to begin his career with the Norfolk Police Department; it would take him 11 years and a bunch of classes to catch up and finish. “I’m not one to let it go.”
Roskens also has a story from his time in college that explains why he became a cop. Once, he overheard two older students he knew say a disparaging remark to a mentally-challenged student. He snapped, and backed the two up and gave them a piece of his mind, and not quietly. So chasened, a couple of hours later they returned to his dorm room in tears to offer apologies.
He must have made an impression on them. Years later, one followed Roskens and became a police officer, the other, a social worker.
“I've always looked out for the weaker people, that's always been there for me,” Roskens said. “I was never bullied as a kid but I wanted to protect people who were.” It doesn’t take much to get him to share some of the harrowing, terrible calls he’s responded to over two decades, but even as the particulars of the stories he tells differ, they all share the same theme—he’s there to protect, help and comfort people in need.
Serving the community as an officer might also just have been a case of being a part of the family business. His grandfather had worked in security, and his father was the fire chief of a volunteer department in rural Melvin, Iowa, a hamlet of 250, while serving with civil defense and as part-time law enforcement.
Roskens had some entrepreneurial experience, opening a couple of martial arts academies, and had talked with a trusted mentor about his idea to start a private security firm in Norfolk. While companies from Sioux City and Omaha could offer some services, there hadn’t been a local business in the city for 10 years, none “where people here could call and talk to the owner personally.”
He dug into his own pocket for the first $4,500 or so to start BlueLine, working out of his home, balancing his duties as police sergeant with some word-of-mouth recommendations for “a few part-time things.”
SBA loan helped launch revenue growth
Then came a request to provide security for an anniversary party for a railroad company, one that packed in some 400 people at a local event center. Then another job tasked him with providing two service officers on duty 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week for the area steel plant. To keep the company growing, Roskens knew the fledgling small firm needed more financing.
He was in a bind—personal problems had shredded his credit.
Nevertheless determined, he’d called upon his business education to put together a 27-page business plan together in a couple of weeks--by himself.
Roskens took it to his mentor, who asked, "who did your business plan?" But while his mentor was impressed with the effort of his protege, he passed on investing in the new idea. Instead he called the president of Midwest Bank on Roskens’ behalf.
“I met with him the next day,” Roskens said. “He asked ‘who did your business plan?’”
The growth potential impressed the lender enough that in March 2014, BlueLine was approved for a $70,000 loan under the SBA Express program. The proceeds covered office space rent for a year, and paid for uniforms, company vehicles and equipment, and offered the company flexibility to gain future contracts.
Their security services often are found at boisterous wedding receptions and dances at Norfolk’s gleaming conference center—“one event we had 20 of our people there,” he said proudly--and at the city’s new race track.
Before the SBA loan approval, Roskens said monthly payroll, a good barometer of company revenues, was about $250 to $300 a month. Since the approval, monthly employee payroll has been a steady $24,000 a month.
“I'm not a salesman,” Roskens admitted. “All I can do to new clients is explain who we are and what we provide, how we take care of our people and we can do the job better for them.”
Roskens also is careful to keep his business and his law enforcement career separate; he has to contract with another company for background investigations on potential employees, for example, rather than using his access to police databases.
And he’s not ready to give up the badge just yet.
“I don't know how to explain it, we lose family time, we work night shifts,” he said. “We don't do it for the pay, it's got to be the people, there's a job to do together and to make things better. People say to me, ‘you have this business, why not leave?’ I would lose a big part of who I am.”