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Business Observer Friday, Feb. 19, 2016 2 years ago

Beware of the dog

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Auto dealer Dennis Hampton created a device that monitors the cars on his lot. Now he's started selling it to other dealers and their lenders.
by: Jean Gruss Contributing Writer

In 2010, a thief stole a $25,000 Chevrolet Suburban from Dennis Hampton's sales lot, and no one knew about it until a month later when the tow company sold it at auction for $1,300.

When he called the police, an officer shrugged and told Hampton: “I'd start monitoring your inventory a little better.”

Hampton, longtime owner of Denny's Auto Sales in Fort Myers, looked for a system that would help him monitor the cars on his lot. To his surprise, there was nothing on the market.

So Hampton decided to create a system that would alert him immediately the moment a car was started. “I hired a couple engineers and software people,” he says.

Six years later and an investment of $600,000, Hampton founded Stay Secure Systems, a company that makes and sells Device On Guard — Dog, for short. It's a device no bigger than a matchbox that plugs into a car's electronics via a port built into every car made since 1996. The radio-frequency device links to a base that can be plugged into any computer with the USB port. “My device fits on any car in the world,” says Hampton, who has contracted with a U.S. manufacturer to make the device.

Hampton says the market for the Dog is huge. Besides the thousands of car dealers, some of the biggest auto-dealer finance companies can use it to track their collateral. As it is now, they send an auditor to car lots once a month, but the device can let them monitor vehicles from their computer. “They can see in real time where their assets are,” says Hampton, who notes that it can be used on boats, tractors and any vehicle with a diagnostic port.

In addition to alerting the vehicle owner by text, email or phone when the car is started, the Dog can also monitor any system in the car such as battery levels. That's important because dealers sometimes lose deals when a car won't start and they waste salesmen's valuable time cranking every car on the lot.

Consumers can buy the Dog device and plug it in themselves, too. The device costs $57.95 each and customers pay a monthly software support fee that starts at $99 based on the number of units.

Hampton says the Dog can tie into the ADT alarm system and he's working on an option on the software to steer customers to the nearest auto-parts store or mechanic when the car senses a problem. “We can diagnose the check-engine light from my office,” he says. “We can monitor anything that has voltage.”

Already, Hampton says several auto dealerships have signed on in Florida, Indiana, Texas and Utah. He seeks investors to help market and sell the idea, hoping to raise $500,000 to $1 million. Although Hampton has patented and trademarked his devices, speed-to-market is key to stay ahead of competitors, he says.

Hampton plans to have a large booth with an 80-inch screen at the National Independent Automobile Dealers Association in Las Vegas in June, a must-attend event for any industry player. “I think it's going to bust loose,” he says.

Follow Jean Gruss on Twitter @JeanGruss

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