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Don’t Skimp on Training When You Add a New Brand or Technology Category

With the constant pace of change, we have to keep up with new technologies (streaming media), new categories (networking), and new companies (Pakedge, Cisco, etc). But as our companies grow, we must reassess what sort of product offering works best for our businesses and our customers. (Image via Duke Energy | Flickr)

The ever-changing nature of our industry is what keeps what we do for a living both interesting and very challenging. With the constant pace of change, we have to keep up with new technologies (streaming media), new categories (networking), and new companies (Pakedge, Cisco, etc). But there’s another reason we can’t stand still and always need to be learning. As our companies grow, we must reassess what sort of product offering works best for our businesses and our customers.

Image via Duke Energy | Flickr
Maybe you started out with Harmony remotes and Sonos players, but then you evolved into more robust control systems. Maybe it is as simple as URC Complete Control or RTI’s baby brother Pro Control. Maybe you went a step further and are installing URC Total Control or RTI or Control4. Or, like me, you could have moved into Crestron, Savant, or AMX. For streaming media, maybe you are doing Autonomic Controls media servers or using the media servers indigenous to your control system. Whatever the case, changing these types of product lines, while often necessary to remain competitive and to grow your business, cannot be taken lightly. You have to be ready to invest significant time and money into the endeavor.

Over a year ago I made a significant change in my business model by becoming a dedicated Crestron dealer. It was scary, because it was a system that I was not very familiar with, I wasn’t sure what it fully entailed, and wasn’t sure how much more business it would mean. I did understand, however, that it was going to be costly and time consuming up-front to make the switch. I went to countless trainings and meetings at Crestron HQ, installed thousands upon thousands of dollars worth of product in my own home. But this was critical and necessary. I got up to speed on the product and worked out all the kinks. Not only did I not use my clients as guinea pigs, but I avoided service calls in the middle of the night to clients who lived 30-60 minutes away from my home. The only service call I made was to the rack in my basement if something wasn’t working just right. I learned the systems inside and out and also figured out which configurations worked best for different situations.

My friends Mark Feinberg from Home Theater Advisors and Dan Ramos for Intelligent Automation are both going through the same learning curve right now. Mark is shifting from URC Complete Control to Pro Control, RTI, and Lutron. Dan is coming from the enterprise market and is getting up to speed with RTI.

Mark has invested a couple of thousand dollars already and is prepared to spend even more. He has put an RTI remote and processor into his main living room and is putting Pro Control into his bedroom. That way he can learn both systems inside and out. He is using his bedroom to test and learn the more economical line and his living room for the more robust line. Along that same thought process, he has installed Lutron Caseta lighting in the bedroom and will put RadioRA2 into the living room, both tied to their respective handheld remotes. He is nearly finished with RadioRA2 web-based training and has signed up for Lutron window shades training. All in all, he will likely invest up to $5,000 dollars and more than 24 hours of dedicated time, over several weeks, in training, installing, programming, testing, re-programming, and improving his system. This is a significant investment for someone who has only been in business full-time for only two-plus years, but he knows how critical it is and is very excited for what he has done already and what is to come. With his capacity currently maxed out for more work unless he brings on additional installers and programmers, he hopes that adding lighting and shading to his repertoire will help him grow the business profitability without having to add significantly to headcount and allow him to continue to be on-site for every project.

Dan is also investing his time and money. He has RTI product that he is currently working with. He purchased it from WAVE Electronics and has gone through an all-day training at WAVE’s facility in New Jersey. He has seen the growing pains with a new control system, but is very happy he took my advice to do it first on his own time and dollar and not in a client’s home. None of us can afford to pay the overtime and service call expenses that this would cause, and we also can’t afford the bad reputation and word of mouth we would get with our clients if we used them as guinea pigs for technology we didn’t yet understand.

Our clients don’t always appreciate the complexity of what we do. They don’t realize, as fellow Resi blogger Heather Sidorowicz put it (and I’m paraphrasing here), that a client’s relationship with an AV integrator is a partnership, not a transactional agreement; we will be back; there will be things to tweak, upgrades to make, firmware updates to do. Clients often expect us to finish up at the end of a project and to have everything working perfectly the first time (which is always our goal, but not always reality). If we keep having to come back, and we’ll have to come back even more if we’re not familiar with the more complex aspects of the job like control systems and networking, it just makes us look bad. And we want to look awesome.

I am a firm believer in always evolving as a person and as a company. Just be sure you put in the effort and investment to do it right. Take (and send your team to) product and technology trainings; play with the product and use your home, office, or showroom as a test case. Then wow your clients (and yourself) with what you can do to improve lives.

+Todd Anthony Pumais president of The Source Home Theater Installation, Powered by Fregosa Design, in New York City.