May 29, 2015 - 11:00am

Chamber Quarterly Special Edition: Local Business Is Watching Out for the Community

Former Managing Editor, Digital Content


Melissa Brinkman, Custom Alarm’s CEO, has the company positioned for the future while carrying on the tradition established by her father, Leigh Johnson. Photo by Ian Wagreich / © U.S. Chamber of Commerce

2015 Midwest Regional Finalist

Custom Alarm
Rochester, Minnesota
Melissa Brinkman, CEO

NOTE: It is time to nominate businesses for the 2016 DREAM BIG Small Business of the Year Award, and community involvement is a key component. Custom Alarm – a 2015 DREAM BIG finalist – helps the community with their volunteer and donations committee called Custom Cares. Apply for the 2016 award and challenge businesses in your community to donate time, money, or resources through #bizgiving on Twitter.

Custom Alarm is a full-service security alarm company that employs a team of more than 65. The company is known in the community for providing its customers with peace of mind through its commitment to technology, local expertise, and quality service.

How did the business get started?

Leigh Johnson was selling a background music machine for 3M when he was encouraged to go out on his own. He lacked the resources, but he found investors and started his own company back in 1968. “What started as a dream in my basement has turned into a successful family business,” Leigh says. Those initial investors provided the young entrepreneur with guidance, and the security alarm component eventually became the bulk of the business.

While the company may be 47 years old, it is an operation energized with new initiatives and a new vision. In February 2014, the company sold off the sound and media side of the business to focus on the “core four” of security: intrusion, fire, video, and access control. And there is even a new CEO with plenty of company experience: Melissa Brinkman, Leigh’s eldest daughter, who most recently had been the chief operating officer. The company has spent the past several months hiring, training, and honing the skills of existing associates.


Photo by Ian Wagreich / © U.S. Chamber of Commerce
What I think is really important to be successful, regardless of what position you have in a company, is to understand your business.  I have been here 16 years. I started in sales. I was in marketing. I was in the mentoring center overseeing customer service and operations.
Melissa Brinkman

What is the company’s role in community involvement?

For starters, Custom Alarm watches and protects Rochester. The company owns its own monitoring system, giving it a more personal touch. Customers know that they will talk to 1 of 12 different people in the dispatch center. And with the center in Rochester, the company has a good handle on weather conditions and other things that could impact its alarm systems.

Leigh has always been a fierce supporter of the community, serving on various boards and working with many organizations. The tradition continues with Melissa. She received the Mayor’s Medal of Honor for Community-Wide Service in 2013.

“Community involvement is very important; that is something my dad really taught me,” Melissa says. “The foundation he built was on the belief that one should give back to the community both time and talent. He has always been a model for me in that regard.”

The company has a volunteer and donations committee called Custom Cares. Associates meet monthly to review and discuss ways to give back to the community through time and money.

Picture This

The company promotes a semiannual photo contest for employees. Winning photos are showcased in the break room with descriptions and information about where they were taken.


The company now feels well positioned for the future, having spent the past several months hiring, training, and sharpening the skills of its employees. Next steps will include expanding the company’s footprint in two secondary markets, adding new offerings to key customers only using one service, and providing new online sales opportunities with two new salespeople.





The DREAM BIG Small Business of the Year Award, sponsored by Sam's Club, celebrates the success of small business and honors its contributions to America's economic growth. The winner, seven regional finalists and 100 Blue Ribbon winners will be acknowledged on June 9 during America's Small Business Summit in Washington, D.C.

About the Author

About the Author

Former Managing Editor, Digital Content

Eric Nelson is the former managing editor of digital content at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.