|HTSA's executive director, Jon Robbins. |
Home Technology Specialists of America (HTSA) returned to where it all began for the buying group 20 years ago. At Chicago’s Westin Michigan Avenue, October 18-20, an impressive 90 percent of the group’s dealer members were in attendance for their Fall Conference, which featured one-on-one time with vendor partners, targeted discussion groups, a media panel about voice control, a keynote address by Alicia Rainwater about selling to the next generation of customers, and a vendor showcase.
As its 20th year celebration year draws to a close, HTSA has been on a bit of an upswing, propelled in part by the enthusiasm of its executive director Jon Robbins, who came on strong in his first year at the helm of the organization. His interactive style and weekly communications with members has helped the group better move in the same direction.
“Jonny’s done a great job of reinvigorating the membership and the vendor members that are part of this group,” noted Dave Keller, VP of sales for Legrand, North America, which became an HTSA member two months ago with its Vantage and QMotion brands. Joining Vantage/QMotion as new vendor or service company members at the meeting were Wisdom Audio, Trinnov, Row One seating, Blue Dog Data, Trxio, and OneVision Resources.
Twenty-year dealer member David Young, owner of The Sound Room in Chesterfield, MO, agreed with Keller, noting how committed the membership is to common goals and initiatives. “We’re acting as a group, marching as a group in step with one another, and we’re showing that to our vendors with some good results,” he stated.
Robbins acknowledged that his constant engagement probably helped keep everyone on the same page, but credit should go to the members, not him. He just helps keep everyone on track. “The funny thing is that group members want to act like a group. They just need to be directed and to understand,” he offered. “They’ve got so much going on in their world. From the time they walk into their office at 7 o’clock on a weekday until they leave at 6 o’clock at night, there’s just so much stuff that’s built up in emails and demands.”
What Robbins says has been happening in the past year is a re-emergence of the HTSA culture. “The culture is that we’re going to walk as a group, and we’re going to share best practices and what are the best ways to enhance our businesses and gain stability,” he said. “And our guys want to be here. They realize that there’s a lot going on, and they want to be here not only receiving information but sharing it. We had some members-only meetings yesterday and our guys are wide open to share. We don’t have many multiple members in the same market that would make them reticent to share information. There’s some exclusivity, but they know that they can feel comfortable sharing information. Many of them will say that this is their best opportunity for learning.”
As part of that learning, keynoter Alicia Rainwater, from the Center for Generational Kinetics offered insight to new generational truths that directly affect leaders like HTSA members. She shared data, firsthand stories, and step-by-step actions customized for HTSA members' unique needs in addressing all generations, but particularly Millennials. Rainwater, a Millennial herself, offered HTSA members research-based suggestions for how to drive their sales, communication, engagement, and recruiting, noting that while her generation happens to be the most connected generation in history, it’s not necessarily the most tech savvy.
The conference featured one-on-one time with vendor partners, targeted discussion groups, a media panel about voice control, a keynote address about selling to the next generation of customers, and a vendor showcase.
Rainwater also said that Millennials generally prefer in-store warranty over third-party (manufacturer) offers and are surprisingly willing to make in-store purchases. She also said that her generation isn’t particularly swayed by positive online ratings but doesn’t pay close attention to how well a company responds to negative reviews. They also react well to testimonials with photos, but don’t ever ask them for a referral after working with them because that sounds like something you’d hear “in a doctor’s or principal’s office.” Instead, she said, ask, “Do you have any friends that I can help?”
When it comes to marketing to Millennials, also keep in mind that your website must be visual and provide alternative ways to shop or schedule a visit to your showroom. “Anything to avoid having to pick up the phone and call someone,” she said. This generation has a lot of “visual buyers and communicators,” so avoid large blocks of text on your website, if you hope to attract younger clients.
In an earlier panel discussion featuring me, Lisa Montgomery from EH Publishing, Rob Stott from NAPCO Media, Tim Albright, founder of AVNation.TV, and moderated by Residential Systems contributor Ted Green, the general consensus was that voice control should not be ignored by home tech pros, but that it should never be used as the only interface for an integrated home system.
Beyond its spring- and fall-conference educational sessions, HTSA has been offering a series of Master Classes to its members, as well. So far these events have focused on selling high-performance audio and a weeklong tech course that provided entry-level technicians with basics, from proper use of tools to how to address clients in their homes. Coming up, the group will offer a similar course for more experienced technicians, as well as a manufacturer visit with B&W. Next year, HTSA will offer its first EOS (Entrepreneurial Operational Systems) component to its Master Classes, giving members a chance to learn best practices from successful business owners from outside the industry.
To drive his “performance message,” Robbins knows that education is the key. “The beautiful part is that we’re getting buy in,” he said. “The fact that there’s 90 percent of our members here, they see that there’s a reason to get away from their businesses for a few days. They see a positive ROI to get here and spend the time. As a vendor, this level of engagement means that when they come to an HTSA meeting they’re going to see almost all of our members in one place.”