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The Importance of Education

There are two types of installers in our industry: those that are passionate about what we do, and those that have barely enough knowledge to be dangerous.

Disturbing comments that I read recently on a couple of Internet “forums” have caused me to step back and take a look at our industry and my own career, and to reflect on some decisions that I made several years ago.

It is becoming more obvious every day that there are two types of installers and installation firms in our industry. There are those that care and are passionate about what we do, and those that have barely enough knowledge to be dangerous, and dont care about anything but making a quick buck.

As I progress in my career, I run into people daily that just dont care about what we do. These people are current and future customers, other contractors, architects, designers, electricians, plumbers and HVAC specialists. Their lack of concern is to be expected, because we usually get in their way and slow their progress on a job site. They do, however, have the knowledge and respect to know that they pose exactly the same problems and invoke the same reactions from us. We dont always care about what they do either, just as long as we can get our projects done on time and on budget.

The people that truly concern me are the ones within our own industry that dont care at all about what we do. They dont care about their customers, the products that they sell and install, the processes that they use, their employers (or employees) or their own pride. They only care about making money quickly and getting back out below the radar.

I am not willing to simply define these people and firms as “trunk slammers.” There are so-called trunk slammers in our industry that do care about what they do. There also are major firms that, because of their sheer size and clout in the industry, dont care very much about what they do. They can afford to send technicians out over and over again, and even risk losing repeat business, because they think that there is more than enough business around the next corner. Just their name, they believe, will bring the next customer through the door for at least the initial consumer investment.

Why does this concern me, and why should it concern you? These companies and individuals that dont care about quality are breeding more and more installers, designers, sales people and entrepreneurs that consequently think two things:

1) I can do this better, faster and cheaper, and

2) I can make more money doing it.

The inherent problem in this thinking is that if this “next generation” is being trained to accept this mentality, then they will come to believe that the “dont care” attitude is the standard in our industry, when it is not.

How, then, do we combat this onslaught of quality people being poorly trained? It all lies in education and the passion and desire to obtain it. It lies in two-way loyalty, and it all starts at the top. If the owner of a company takes the time to learn from manufacturers, publications, industry resources like CEDIA, PARA and CEA, and most importantly their peers, then that person is able to pass on the valuable, useful and respected knowledge that he has obtained. But it doesnt stop there. This owner who cares will offer you advice, information, training and life experiences. He or she will offer knowledge far beyond that which can be obtained from someone who only “saw a niche and filled it.”

I have worked for both types of companies. When I broke into this business, it was for a small, ultra-high end company in Southwest Colorado. I was privileged to enjoy the bottomless pit of knowledge shared by my companys owner. He could do anything with a system, and frequently had to simply to make poorly engineered older systems operate properly. But, alas, I was the young punk that thought Id learned everything that I could in two years, should be paid more and was ready to move on. So I did, and embarked on the most “educational” three-year stretch of my life.

I came to Denver on false and empty promises. The company that lured me away from what would have been A/V nirvana was a small, “we dont care and just want to make a buck” organization. The company had a decent reputation among the three builders that were its main customers (or at least I thought it did at the time) and that was all I needed to know. The promise of a management position, a fat paycheck, a company vehicle and full medical benefits was too great to refuse. I packed up my wife and our two young children, and we were off to the big city.

I worked for that company for only eight weeks. In the process, I had drained my checking and savings accounts and got only two paychecks (one of which bounced higher than a basketball). I recently got the bankruptcy declaration from the feds for that company, and a settlement (which I will never collect) for $7,500 of the $22,000 (wages, product and expenses) that I was owed. The owner, who is now out of business, had done the same thing to more than 35 employees and 300-plus customers, over three states.

I have about a half-dozen customers that followed me from this mis-step. Many others, unfortunately, associated my name with the poor way that my former employer treated them. To me, this is still very discouraging, because I have pride, and I do care.

I thought at the time that I had surely learned enough to keep myself out of the same jam, but got myself right back in it. Again, I was blinded by the “make as much as you can as fast as you can” business model. When I realized my mistake, I got out of there as quickly as I could, with as many as customers as still trusted me.

Now, I work for a company in a position that I have always desired, with the most important benefit of all…education. The owner is an electrical engineer, specifically schooled in the design and creation of the circuit boards that go into the components that we install every day. He pays for CEDIA training (two regionals and EXPO, plus certifications) for all of his employees. The fact that he cares about education is valuable on many levels. He knows how long things take, how to design complex systems, how to troubleshoot networks, etc. Knowing these things helps him (and me) run a very effective and efficient business.

Ive had the unique opportunity to gain a vast amount of information over the years. I have learned many good things and many more bad things. I wrote this article to remind you to look at yourselves and your business models. Through your own education and experience, do you truly care about your clients, products, projects and pride? Do you have the education, knowledge and experience to say that you care and that you arent just in this for the money? Or are you setting up yourself, your customers and your competitors for a lawsuit, a failure or a black eye?

Stay with an employer that treats and trains you well. If youre the employer, then educate and compensate your employees well and they will stick around. Trust me, if youre still relatively new to the industry, stick with a good job, learn the ropes, do your time, and someday, you may have your own company to run.

Until next time, keep pluggin!