Nicole and Chris Stuart never could have envisioned where their lives would take them.
The couple, who met as high school sweethearts and attended college at Old Dominion University for both their undergraduate and graduate degrees, had individual career goals — Nicole planned to be an attorney and Chris wanted to be a history teacher.
But life had different plans.
Nicole Stuart started Top Guard Security, a private securities management company that provides unarmed and armed security officers, in 1996.
“In the beginning, it was just Chris and I,” Nicole Stuart said. “We did every job ourselves.”
Twenty-one years later, the business has offices in Hampton, Norfolk and Chester, with a workforce of more than 800. And the Stuarts have five children under the age of 12.
Nicole is the president and Chris is the vice president.
Together they make a great team and their business, which they said is Hampton Roads’ largest service business (based on number of employees) and largest women-owned employer, indicates it.
“We were a small company in Hampton with 100 employees,” Nicole Stuart said, noting they added Chesapeake and Suffolk in 2001. “The turning point for our business was when we decided to bid on a contract through the city of Norfolk.”
That bid – which Top Guard won – enabled them to bring on 85 more security officers in more than 30 locations.
Today, Top Guard provides security for a wide variety of client needs including government and commercial office buildings, corporate headquarters, maritime properties, distribution centers, manufacturing facilities, residential towers, colleges and universities.
It also provides temporary security services for construction sites, short-term assignments and event security.
As it’s grown – in both manpower and services – one aspect of the business the Stuarts pride themselves on is the relationship they establish with clients through face-to-face, hand-on meetings.
“We believe it’s the key to our success,” Nicole Stuart said.
And while the industry has changed in the past few years, the Stuarts have found another key to their success is keeping the middle management intact.
“We stuck our claws in and said we’re not changing our business model,” said Nicole Stuart, noting each account is managed individually and standard operating procedures, which include documented training, checklists and site competency quizzes, are written in-house.
Since the security officers work in the field round the clock, it’s vital they have 24-hour support available. Top Guard provides that to its officers seven days a week.
“In a people-oriented business, employee support is a basic tenant,” Nicole Stuart said. “That, unfortunately, in our industry has lost ground.”
“We are the people who choose to reinvest and reinvest in what we chose to do properly,” Chris Stuart said.
That’s one reason they started their own in-house training school in 2015, Coastal Virginia Training Academy. Security officers who carry a gun go through intensive training right down the hall from Top Guard.
George Fitzgerald has been a site supervisor for Top Guard working within a federal facility for the past four years. With 15 security officers underneath him, Fitzgerald said it’s the people he enjoys the most.
“I believe that’s the same feeling that our owners have as well,” he said. “It’s always a fortunate situation when the team you assembled is committed to the services and support you have to provide to your client.”