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HTSA Spring Conference Gets Real

Buying group hosts first in-person whole-group gathering in over two years.

Late March in Fort Lauderdale, FL, typically welcomes Spring Breakers from across the country, but this year it also counted among its numbers HTSA members and vendor partners who converged on the Marriott Harbor Beach Resort for three days of networking and training. It was the first time the whole group had gotten together in person since 2019.

HTSA Spring Conference 2022 - Keith Esterly
Keith Esterly gives a presentation at the 2022 HTSA Spring Conference.

“People were anxious to get back together, but that made it even more important for us to keep our eye on the ball and make sure that we’re delivering solid content and getting great interactions and collaborations,” says Jon Robbins, executive director for HTSA. “I think we were successful; not only did people get together for the first time, but we had a whole lot of good things for them to talk and interact about.”

The good things included Robbins’ traditional “State of the Union” presentation, where he revealed that, in 2021, HTSA vendor purchases were up more than 20 percent year-over-year from 2020. “Even more exciting is the fact that we were able to evaluate February 2022 numbers versus 2021,” he says, “and the trend seems to be continuing because we’re up a solid 33 percent in vendor purchases for that time period. Plus, the early reports that are coming in for March 2022 look like it will maintain that momentum.”

HTSA Spring Conference 2022 -  Jon Robbins
Jon Robbins, executive director, HTSA

Of course, the past year has not been without its challenges, which include continuing staffing issues and the lingering supply chain struggles. In each case HTSA has been working with its members and vendor partners to ease the situation and offered dedicated sessions at the Spring Conference.

“Obviously everybody is challenged by the supply chain,” says Robbins. “We addressed this at the conference and offered some strategies for overcoming it — including rethinking how we purchase in some product categories — and what it will look like going forward. Likewise, everybody is challenged to get the right employees and trying to keep them. Again, we touched quite a bit on employee and team retention.”

Other topics covered at the conference included website performance, outdoor lighting, and real-world uses of virtual reality from Modus VR.

The conferences are also where HTSA predicts the product trends that will shape the industry in the near-term, and this year was no different. What was different is that the current trend is not a new product category to add, but one that is already in clients’ homes.

“There’s a general confusion out in the market regarding streaming and the content clients are receiving,” says Robbins. “There’s a confusion of what am I subscribed to, what aren’t I subscribed to, what offers me higher resolution in both audio and video, and how can I max out the performance of these products that are being specified and engineered into my home. Our plan is to be more familiar and be a guide to our clients — not only in providing technology, but also in providing content to their lives.”

The opportunities in streaming and content were covered at the conference by industry veteran Marc Finer, founder of Communication Research and former exec at Sony along with HTSA’s Tom Doherty, director of technology initiatives.

The Summit also featured plenty of opportunities to glean sales knowledge from Keith Esterly, chief learning architect for HTSA, who was once again teaching members the benefits of his Relationship Science program.

HTSA Spring Conference 2022 - Education
HTSA members during the Relationship Science Roundtable.

“We had an influx of new members this year” says Robbins. “And after his presentation, several of those new members thought that Keith was a hired keynote speaker!”

In addition to his dynamic Summit presentations, Esterly is a road warrior, bringing his three-day intensive sales training course to dealer member locations across the country. These are popular, and Robbins relays that he has heard members breaking through to tough clients before Esterly even leaves the premises. As expected, he is booked with on-site visits through the rest of 2022.

Although this was first meeting of the entire group, in February HTSA held a special lighting training program called Lightapalooza in Dallas for more than 200 members who were interested in getting their certification.

“We had people sitting in a room three days in a row for eight hours each day receiving intensive lighting design training from Tom Doherty and Peter Romaniello — more than 24 hours of total education,” says Robbins. “It far exceeded the expectations that we had for the first year of a dedicated lighting program. The people that did attend were excited about what they got out of it, and the principles of our members who sent team members were very satisfied with the outcomes.”

For every live event HTSA does, the philosophy is the same, according to Robbins: “We have a very finite period of time that we get to spend with our vendor partners and with each other. So, we really try to maximize that time, particularly after nearly three years of mainly virtual interaction. And I think that most people would agree that we did just that.”

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Anthony Savona is the content director for Residential Systems and the VP/Content Creation for Future plc’s B2B — AV Tech Group, which includes industry-leading brands such as Systems Contractor News, Sound & Video Contractor, AV Technology, AV Network, Mix, and TWICE