Holistic security guards taking fresh approach

BEST MATES: Ben Dewson and Charles Hall, of Holistic Security.
 Pictures: Ryan Osland
BEST MATES: Ben Dewson and Charles Hall, of Holistic Security. Pictures: Ryan Osland

MOONLIGHTING as a security guard while studying for his teacher's degree a decade ago, Ben Dewson unwittingly developed a niche business model.

Barely out of his teens and measuring 173 centimetres, Dewson was in the unenviable position of having to tell drunk and often aggressive grown men to call it a night.

"It's not in my nature to be the bad cop or heavy hand, so I had to quickly find the path of least resistance," he says.

"So I just started explaining to them, without quoting legal stuff to confuse them, why they couldn't stay even if they weren't drinking, and why they had been deemed intoxicated, and I pretty much had people shaking my hand as I was walking them out, and thanking me.

"I didn't realise where it was all heading, I just thought 'this is what I need to do to survive'."

Working alongside his best mate Dewson, Charles Hall agrees the pub scene back then wasn't pretty.

"It wasn't uncommon for there to be a fight every night, we had spare shirts hanging out the back and that wasn't saying anything about the Kent [Hotel], it was just where security was at," Hall says.

"We were both learning on our feet and there were a few times things went wrong and lessons were learnt and I wished a more senior guard had given me better instructions on how to do it."

By the time Dewson finished his degree at the University of Newcastle in 2007, he and another mate founded Holistic Security with a handful of casual staff.

Now heading crowd control at prominent pubs including Argyle House, King Street Hotel, Hotel Delaney, The Burwood Inn, Cambridge Hotel and Newcastle Panthers, the company today employs 70 casual security guards.

Tattooed and buff but measured rather than menacing, Dewson and Hall aren't looking for kudos.

But they will acknowledge their efforts to remove the "bounce" from the word bouncer has led to their growing reputation.

Taking the bounce out of "bouncer".

Taking the bounce out of "bouncer".

"It's just behavioural management, understanding human nature and the way people react to certain things," says Hall, who worked as a roof tiler and in personal training before joining Holistic as a director.

"We're not saying we are professionals at it, but once we started training our guys at King Street [Hotel] and found it had pretty positive results that's when other venues started coming over, asking who was doing their security."

While the introduction of the Newcastle Entertainment Precinct, curfews and a club scanning system helped curb club thuggery in Newcastle, the unique approach of Holistic has also had an impact.

Dewson and Hall can't reveal trade secrets, but their service is comprehensive and the average punter remains unaware of the strategies the company has in place that assess their demeanour multiple times before they even get a chance to walk into a venue.

"What we do for our guards as far as training I can confidently say is unique in our geographical area," says Dewson, who shudders to think of young new guards who are handed a shirt and expected to evict patrons while out of their comfort zone.

New employees, all of whom must have a security licence, must pass a trial period where they shadow an experienced supervisor who reports back in detail about their strengths and weaknesses.

Once deemed to have the right skills, employees receive ongoing training and staff meetings are regularly addressed by relevant professionals, for example nutritionists offering advice on how to stay in peak form while working nights, and martial arts experts imparting safe restraint techniques.

"All of this has definitely stemmed from our own experience, as we have matured as individuals and as a company in the last seven years, that ethos has become a point of difference," Dewson says.

"We want to change the way security is perceived and we also want to contribute back to the community - Charles is big on bettering patrons, as well as those who work for us."

High-profile pub operator Russell Richardson, of King Street Hotel and Argyle House, says Dewson and Hall "have been professional from day one and do a great job in a job that is not always easy to do".

Frank Hall, a behavioural management expert with a security background who trained the pair in security and risk management assessment, says the company has set a new benchmark with their best practice approach.

"The term bouncer is abhorrent . . .," Hall says.

"Even though they are very much athletic, the best part of their armour is their communication skills, not only are they proactive on site but they want to keep improving themselves, and I think that is the key to their success."

BUSINESS didn't always run so smoothly. In 2010, three years after forming, Holistic Security was in "crisis mode" as Dewson realised he was unable to split his time between teaching primary school kids and the company.

"My finger wasn't on the pulse, I was teaching five days and it was all OK when turnover was high but we lost a few contracts and all of a sudden we may not have made it to Christmas," he recalls.

Through Richardson, he contacted local businessman Tim Ryan, a partner in Altus Q experiential coaching, who quickly surmised the firm was bleeding money despite providing the best nightclub security in Newcastle.

"Their clients would have been devastated if they were no longer providing that service, but they were overstaffed, it was a bit of a boys' club and they had too few venues to cover their overheads," says Ryan, who stepped in to manage the company's communication process as it shed staff "without losing mates or clients".

Father of four Ryan says Dewson and Hall stand out from the security pack because of their ability to use psychology in a positive way.

"I feel there is no safer venue on the planet than one that is run by Holistic and feel very comfortable that my kids attend the venues they control," he says.

"When I was going to pubs and nightclubs as a youth I was more worried about the bouncers hurting me than I was about the patrons. Holistic Security would not employ a guard with that attitude."

Hints of the company's ethos are evident in their office eyrie, a two-bedroom Honeysuckle apartment with a living room with views to Stockton converted to an efficient office space.

Make sure the new guards are doing the job the Holistic way. says one scribbling on the whiteboard. And another: There's no place in this industry or in this company for guys that aren't going to jump in and help when the shit hits the fan.

Dewson and Hall are coy on their financial success but say they judge lucrative in other terms anyway.

"We have a good life, Ben and I are best mates, we spend half the day laughing and I think one of the main things is that we like to have a good time and we like others to have a good time," says Hall.

"It's a sort of fairness thing we have. If we see guys out we both feel that the little 50-kilo nerd has just as much right to enjoy himself as the footy team, it's all about people having the right to enjoy themselves in safety and peace and have a good night and go home. We're good-time kind of guys."