Stepping off the plane into 80-degree temps last Tuesday in Phoenix, AZ, the last thing on my mind was snow. The sun was blazing. The sky was blue. It was the epitome of springtime, perfectly setting the mood for the HTSA Spring Conference in nearby Scottsdale. At which everyone wanted to talk about snow.
No real surprise there. After a strong 2013, in which overall growth for HTSA members was greater than 10 percent, with 65 percent of members reporting growth over 2012 and 70 percent of vendors experiencing the same, this winter happened. It happened hard.
Bob Hana delivers the forecast for 2014.
But despite that, the tone of the conference was wholly optimistic, with managing director Bob Hana proclaiming that the association "has never been stronger or healthier," emphasizing the fact that HTSA is the industry's only member-owned association, and the first and only one with CEDIA CEU accreditation.
Hana also spotlighted the HTSA strengths by unveiling a new association-exclusive lead management tool called the Lead Management Engine, or LEAD ME, for short, which will allow vendors to upload leads that are then sorted automatically by ZIP code and populated directly into a web portal accessible by members (with emails sent to members' lead managers).
After the general session, I sat down with Hana to learn a little more about LEAD ME, including why and how it was developed.
"It was developed because of the sense that many of our manufacturing vendor partners struggle to disseminate the leads that they get from various sources, and they want to be able have some visibility on whether there's been any action taken on those leads," he said. "So often, a manufacturer will get a series of leads on their website, and they may send them out to their independent rep firms, they may try to send them out to their regional managers, and from there they lose visibility.
"And so we've provided is a very simple application where they can upload those leads, which are immediately are disseminated among the HTSA members, with email confirmation, and the manufacturer has visibility on those leads as to what action was taken, how many remain open, how many have been closed. It's a very simple process, and it's a win/win for both the vendors who want to be able to take action on those leads, and also the members who are looking for new business opportunities.
Hana says that a few final changes are being made to the LEAD ME platform based on feedback from members, including the ability to "drag and drop the information from LEAD ME into emails and other platforms, and simplify the process of moving the data, getting action on it, and being able to track it. We're going to put the last finishing touches on it in the next 30 days."
Back in the general session, Hana also introduced several new HTSA members, as well as new vendor partners Autonomic, Greensky, Heartland Payment Systems, Tigerpaw, and Comcast, whose Mark Francisco, fellow of premises technologies, gave a presentation that revolved heavily around the Spring Conference's theme of "Contagious Synergy."
Comcast's Mark Francisco.
In addition to spotlighting the fact that the color gamut of today's best HDTVs is based on the limitations of CRT technology, Francisco emphasized the fact that a move to more immersive viewing experiences, including greater dynamic range, more realistic color presentation, and yes, higher resolutions, could only become a reality through the cooperation of manufacturers, dealers, and content creators/providers like Comcast.
The introduction of Comcast to the list of HTSA partner vendors wasn't without some controversy, though. I spoke with several member dealers who felt that the company's XFINITY HOME security and control solution is at odds with the goals of the association and a potential threat to its members.
To that, Hana said, "Comcast is here mostly to listen. They have begun to understand the challenges that our integrator community has faced for years now, and their learning curve hasn't been quite the same as ours. Their control and security solution isn't why they're here; they're here to be part of the conversation that will lead to a better entertainment experience for our customers.
"But that said, I don't think XFINITY and other similar solutions are a threat to their longevity or sustainability of our members. They may be a threat to our comfort zone, like iPads were when we realized they could be control devices. It may change the dynamics of what our dealers do, but it won't eliminate what they do, and in fact I think the entire custom integration community is going to benefit greatly from this conversation.
"When you look at a company like Comcast, who owns both the content and the means of delivering it, they have the potential to imbed a lot of different experiences like high dynamic range and 3D sound in that content, which can then be translated in the hardware in someone's home. It does change the landscape for sure," he said.
"And I know that in many instances Comcast and the hardware manufacturers have been talking about making the future of content delivery better outside of the HTSA partnership, but I do believe that's one of the sidebar benefits of having our group come together like this. If these conferences can facilitate more conversations between vendor partners, along with the a discussion of the realities on the ground from our members, those kinds of conversations can't be bad for the future of our industry. As long as everyone is listening."