Dayton company that first sold RCA consoles celebrates 100th anniversary this year

As CEO and owner, Bill DeFries is helming Copp Systems (formerly Copp Integrated Systems) — a small Dayton business offering communication and safety technologies — as the company celebrates its 100th year. THOMAS GNAU/STAFF
As CEO and owner, Bill DeFries is helming Copp Systems (formerly Copp Integrated Systems) — a small Dayton business offering communication and safety technologies — as the company celebrates its 100th year. THOMAS GNAU/STAFF

The first time Bill DeFries called Tom Frericks Jr. about buying his Dayton business in 2001, Frericks hung up on him.

The second time DeFries asked Frericks about buying the business, Copp Integrated Systems, he was able to stay on the phone a bit longer. But the answer was still no.

By 2011, Frericks had a different answer for DeFries, a Marine and security industry veteran: “Perfect. Perfect timing.”

Frericks was ready, and so was DeFries. The two met for lunch at Milano’s across from the Lexis Nexis campus and hammered out a deal. By 2012, it was done, and DeFries owned the security and communication technologies company.

“We shook on it and pushed the ball forward,” DeFries recalled.

This year, the company is celebrating a rebranding as Copp Systems and a 100th anniversary.

Copp Systems consults, designs, installs and maintains electronics systems for employee access, video surveillance, nurse call, audio-visual systems, monitoring and more.

Based at 123 S. Keowee St., Copp Systems has navigated the field of electronics for 100 years, from vacuum tubes in the 1920s to artificial intelligence today. THOMAS GNAU/STAFF
Based at 123 S. Keowee St., Copp Systems has navigated the field of electronics for 100 years, from vacuum tubes in the 1920s to artificial intelligence today. THOMAS GNAU/STAFF

“Copp Systems’ 100-year anniversary is a monumental milestone and a testament to our dedication to customer service,” said David Markham, Copp president. “Our customers know they can depend on us as their trusted advisors to maximize their resources and deliver a superior level of support.”

With about 25 employees, the small Dayton company handles an array of technologies for big names across Dayton, including Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Kettering schools and others. The business is handling a new fire alarm system for Stratacache Tower downtown as tower owner (and Stratacache CEO) Chris Riegel updates the building. For decades, the company has provided sound system services and tech for University of Dayton Arena.

DeFries has worked to maintain Copp’s approach in making complex systems work together.

“What Copp was, was this small, uber-professional systems integrator,” DeFries said. “Everything that they did, everything we do at this company, it’s like an engineering firm for systems integration.”

Roy Stanley Copp started the business in 1920 from a storefront on Monument Avenue selling and servicing RCA living room consoles.

DeFries’ road to Copp was a long one. He transferred to Dayton from Chicago 19 years ago with Tyco ADT, a security systems integrator. Tyco was in an acquisitive mood, and it identified Copp early on as a good acquisition target.

While he won’t offer figures, DeFries said 2019 was the “best year ever” for Copp, with revenue growing 20 percent. He said much of that money will be reinvested.

DeFries is known for more than helming Copp. He has also owned two Beef O’Brady’s restaurants in the area, as well as a car wash, the Super Clean Auto Bath.

As restaurant owner, he found himself in the national spotlight when he pledged in October 2017 not to air or stream NFL games during the protests in which athletes took a knee or linked arms during the playing or performance of the national anthem.

He has sold both Beef locations, Centerville in 2011 and the Beavercreek site in early 2019.

What’s ahead? DeFries sees artificial intelligence becoming more prominent in the years to come. Video analytics and smart sensors will become common. The day isn’t far off when customers won’t need to unlimber their wallets to buy something, he believes. Facial recognition will get workers into offices.

Copp is one of the licensees of Footprint, a web-based situational software developed with the University of Dayton Research Institute. Footprint unites information from multiple video monitoring systems into one platform, enabling law enforcement to solve cases quicker.

“We live in the age of the Internet of Things, and that’s what we know here at Copp,” DeFries said.