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Classes in Session

Growing Integration Firms Seek Education Programs that Work

Capitol Sales Company hosted its 12th annual Dealer Education and Technology Showcase in late March in Bloomington, Minnesota. More than 90 vendors and manufacturer representatives were available to educate and demonstrate their products to more than 325 dealers in attendance.

Knowledge is power. Because every residential installation is unique, the greater an installers awareness is of the options available, the better their service will be to their client. In turn, the likelihood will increase for improved margins and future business from referrals.

Among the manufacturer training, road shows, online classes, and training brought onsite to an installation company, a key concept is the ability to think critically about a job to make the most of it for a client. This means knowing the technical aspects of the product, what the coordinating products are that would maximize the potential of the initial product, and how to run a business with employees who can carry out all of these initiatives. Manufacturers and distributors know that maximizing educational opportunities and making lessons convenient and worthwhile for the CI professional means that their products will be installed properly, with the best potential for further sales.

The more knowledge our dealers and installers have about our systems and how to program them, the more empowered they are to sell them, said Crestron Electronics CTI training manager, Randy Surovy. The better trained they are, the greater the value-added component they can offer to their customers.

For dealers, this means a better installation, fewer callbacks, and more satisfied customers. It also keeps the door open to expand systems in the future. Crestron believes that education on all technical aspects of their product is crucial.

All our products are integratable and designed to work together seamlessly, Surovy said. A customer may start with an audio distribution system. If their dealer understands the lighting products we offer, he has the opportunity to return to that customer and say, You have this great home theater. Maybe you want your lights or heating automated. I can add on to it.

Crestron trains dealers to grow their businesses using its products while at the same time generating a satisfied customer base for the dealer and installer. In the interest of investing in the industry as a whole, there are non-Crestron-specific trainings on a variety of technologies or business issues in the market. What benefits the installers businesses eventually benefits the manufacturers businesses.

The Distributors Role
As a distributor, Capitol Sales Company is able to see the big picture for integrating products from a variety of companies. Capitol makes it a priority to emphasize the business aspects of installations. At the same time, it offers specific training on the nuances of the technologies.

You have to know features and benefits. Thats old school retail, said Curt Hayes, president and CFO of Capitol Sales Company. To be able to pull multiple manufacturers together and provide that solution for the end user, its more of a technical education.

Enhancements to the sale, whether it is a remote control or additional cable, also have profit benefits to the dealer, Hayes noted. Installers are small business people for the most part, he said. An audiophile may not have had a lot of business classes, so we think its important they understand how to get paid.

As a home automation manufacturer with a broad market philosophy, Control4s training means bringing installers, sales people, and the customer up to speed on a broad market solution for the digital home. We invest aggressively in the training, said Will West, CEO of the company. We provide complete workstations as well as training in multiple locations around the country.

Control4s Business Training
Control4 reasons that there is a need to adjust the ideology about how an installer approaches his residential business, and the company has initiated education to address the issue. The market is changing. Dealers have an opportunity but also a necessity to scale up in order to survive, West said. When we teach about the use of our products, were not just teaching about the ins and the outs. We teach about the market and what can be accomplished from a business standpoint.

According to West, the typical custom integration business is between $1 million and $2 million. Generally, the custom integrator channel would do between 10 and 20 jobs per year, but they would be big jobs in rich peoples homes where it is difficult to clear a substantial margin. If a business learns to scale and do 1,000 small jobs, they are going to make more money because they can get in, get out, and do only what was promised without being beholden to a customer paying in the area of $250,000.

In terms of subject matter, the curriculum for installer education must be updated constantly to keep up with emerging technologies. On the programming side, installers want to know how to do it more efficiently, Surovy said. They want the tips and tricks to make programming jobs easier.

Capitol has been educating since about 1991 and has expanded its online component over the last three years. Online streaming video education is new this year. The distributor has 58 classes available to its dealer base with about 325-330 dealers attending this past March in Minnesota. We filmed 18 of those classes, Hayes said. At CEDIA we introduced them on our website as video stream training. Not everybody can go to CEDIA. Not everybody can come to Minnesota. If youve got five or six installers or estimators, theyre not all going to be able to go to those functions at the same time. Offering the classes online gives them the ability to do that.

CEDIA remains a mainstay for education among installers. John Goldenne, president of Digital Home out of Chicago, sees CEDIA as the best way to see whats out there. The problem with a lot of the rep firms is most of the manufacturers like to give you at least a half day or day of education on products, he said. I dont want products. I go to CEDIA to see products. I want hands-on training. How do you get from point A to point B to get it to work? For installers, you need to learn how to do that fast.

Goldenne picks his rep firms based on how well they support his company in training for products. A couple of our rep firms will come out and personally train. I feel that is the most valuable because were always busy.

Si Lewis, president of Hidden Connections in Alameda, California, sees CEDIA classes as way to raise the bar on the quality of the people in the industry. CEDIA is by far the most valuable source of training for us in the industry, he said. For me personally, the CEDIA Management Conference is the best money I spend all year.

At CEDIA EXPO, Lewis enjoys Rich Greens Future Technologies class, which looks five and 10 years down the road. It has allowed me to position the company to be strong, he explained. When plasmas came out, when structured wiring came out, we were already trained and ready to go on those technologies.

According to Lewis, education, particularly around CEDIA, has expanded from addressing the company as a whole to now addressing individual needs such as classes for the installer, classes for the sales person, classes for the financial officer, business owner, designer.

I thought they were a little premature in calling it University, but thats exactly what were looking for now, he added. We need CEDIA University graduates to hire. Theyre few and far between. I could double the size of my installation team tomorrow if I had qualified people.

Education doesnt stop after class. A culture of teaching can be fostered within a company. Its something that Goldenne has applied to his business. Internally, we have meetings in the office with the guys to discuss products and problems such as Comcast or Internet problems that come up when youre out in the field, he said.

Joy Zaccaria is a freelance writer based in New York City.