We have all been there…too much works comes in at once, and scheduling becomes a nightmare, especially if one GC falls behind and our schedule gets moved around. Or a couple of jobs that we expected to keep our teams busy all of a sudden got delayed because the flooring company was not finished, and now our install team is sitting around twiddling their thumbs. Or a part goes bad at a client’s home or business, and we do not have the replacement in inventory on a Friday and cannot get it in stock until Monday at the earliest.
This is why I have worked diligently to cultivate relationships throughout my market with other integrators. We share resources, people, ideas, inventory, and, sometimes, even space. Over the years, I have become very friendly with the owner of GMI Automation, a company based just down the road from me here in Central New Jersey. They do a mixture of high-end residential automation, residential and commercial security, and commercial AV and Automation. A few months ago the owner, Craig, and I started talking about my need to find new office, showroom, and warehouse space because the building where we leased space was being sold and we were losing our lease. Now, we share space with GMI Automation, and since Craig and I now sit down the hall from each other, we share ideas constantly.
Along with GMI, there are several other integrators with whom I share labor resources. Sometimes we are busier than expected and one of my friends is not, so we will take a couple of their installers and/or techs for a few days, or vice-versa, we will be slow and others could use a good pair of hands to help out. This is a complete win-win. As company owners, we are using resources most efficiently and achieving higher utilization rates; our employees are kept working and employed and are also exposed to different product lines, ways of doing things (like wiring racks, running wire, configuring systems, etc.) and management styles; and clients are happy because everything gets done as expected.
We not only share labor resources, but we share business ideas, strategies, challenges, and successes. The proverbial watercooler talk inevitably leads to discussions of challenges that we are facing and among the several of us who interact regularly, someone is likely to have seen a similar issue and has some ideas of how to attack it. Then, when another sees the issue weeks or months down the road, we are prepared for it.
One great example is the STP and network loop problems that can be encountered with wiring multiple Sonos devices to a network. Since I have heard about these problems from several integrators, when I ran into an issue in one my early Sonos installs, I immediately knew to look at the topology of the Sonos system and that is where I quickly found that a tech had accidentally wired two devices to the network switch, creating a loop between the network switch and SonosNet. Had this not been something I had already heard about, I could easily have spent hours or days trying to diagnose the issue.
We even share inventory. When someone needs a part in an emergency and just cannot get it right away, chances are that one of us has something in stock that is either an exact match or can at least get the job rolling until the right part comes in. It saves a lot of stress and uncomfortable client interactions by getting a system up and running when we promised.
We share knowledge, experience, and insights. Another colleague is evaluating different control systems. He is mainly looking at Crestron, URC Total Control, Control4, and Savant. Within our network of integrators, he has been able to talk to dealers of three of the four and get very good feedback, see the programming software, look at the product lines, and really get an overall feel for the pros and cons of each system. By asking the right questions and getting hands on, he will be able to find the right fit for his business model and client base. Without a network to rely upon, he would be struggling to learn more about each system, likely only having access to sales people from each company telling him what they want to sell, not giving him the full picture of what he needs to know.
Finally, we are very active in online communities, mainly through Facebook groups, Twitter, and LinkedIN. Here, we can interact with dealers from around the country and see what is working for them in terms of product selection, “problem-solvers” (like HDMI sync devices), and business strategies (everything from pricing, to employee relations to dealing with difficult clients to rewarding great clients).
Do not look at other integrators as competitors. This is a big industry, with a very vibrant and diverse client base. GMI Automation is right down the street from my home. We are both Crestron dealers servicing a high-end, luxury client base, and we work closely together. We do not see each other as rivals; we are colleagues. So the next time you are at a manufacturer sales event or presentation, CEDIA 2018, distributor road show, or any other event where you will see other integrators, shake some hands, meet some people, get some business cards. Reach out to those you meet and find some like-minded business owners to share ideas, strategies, and even resources with. It will help you become a better business person and to run a more efficient company.