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Jump Out of the Nest and Soar

Getting out of your comfort zone can bring sudden and unexpected opportunities.

The custom-integration industry can be insulated. Some of us are nestled all warm and snug in our comfort zones, not necessarily taking the steps we need to infiltrate the Design-Build industry that we all talk about wanting to connect with so desperately.

The problem is you can’t just talk the talk; you gotta walk the walk. That means putting yourself “out there” in the Design-Build community. I have been passionately advocating for our collective action in this industry for years, but it wasn’t until recently that I got tangible evidence — a case study, if you will — about what can happen when integrators step out of their comfort zones and leave the cozy confines of the nest to venture out into the wild.

The integrator I’m talking about is Melanie Niemerg of Integral Systems, a firm that serves the luxury residential market in Tampa. Niemerg was presented with two unexpected opportunities at Design + Construction Week in Orlando in early February. As a nearby Florida-based integrator, she was asked to do a brand-related introduction of the Control4-sponsored talk “THINK BIG! Understanding whole-home technology to optimize your K&B Projects” in the DMM Talks Lounge (a collaboration between Design Milk and Modenus Media that featured presentations and conversations centering around design business and residential technology during KBIS). She was also a panelist for “Tech Point: The possibilities for total tech integration with leading tech experts,” in which technology integrators from our world were featured on the KBISNeXT Stage to present the best tech finds at the show. Other panelists included Josh Christian of HTA and Heather Sidorowicz of Southtown Audio Video.

KBIS 2022 Panel
On the KBISNext stage (l-r): Arlen Schweiger, CE Pro; Heather Sidorowicz, Southtown Audio Video; Josh Christian, HTA; and Melanie Niemerg, Integral Systems.

When approached, Niemerg was, as she told me, initially reluctant to put herself in the limelight as a thought-leader on technology. Even though she was previously an educator with loads of experience being in front of an audience, she was nervous.

“I had to remember that, while I’m not out in the field and in the thick of what happens on installations and programming, I had something valuable to offer designers: I could speak in layman’s terms,” says Niemerg. “That can make people who are standoffish more comfortable in the conversation. After all, that was the goal: to give a wide overview of technology and design so that designers could understand that this is an area they need to familiarize themselves with.”

Niemerg did a fantastic job. Beyond the general recognition she got by moderating this panel in both the AV and Design-Build communities, she garnered a couple immediate wins from being on these panels. For one, unbeknownst to her there was a professor from Pinellas Tech College in the audience who had specifically come to the show to see this presentation…with her students in tow!

“The professor was so happy to see a woman speak on technology, and that I was from her city. She invited me to come and speak to her students enrolled in a brand-new program for integration,” says Niemerg.

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Niemerg is now not only aware of the home automation program at the school, but has the connections to actively recruit from the college when she needs employees. With the labor shortage in our industry, we all know how valuable this type of connection is.

“In return, I can help encourage the students of these two programs, as well as get them relevant resources they need to be successful,” she adds.

The second great thing that came out of the show was that Niemerg now had the added confidence and hard evidence of thought leadership under her belt to lay her imposter syndrome about being a “techie” to rest for good. This newfound confidence allowed her to approach builders and interior designers she’d been wanting to speak with for years; she just didn’t know how to make the connection.

“I reached out to an interior designer recently in Tampa who replied back that she is wanting tech in her own new build but also put me in touch with a custom builder she works with,” says Niemerg. “We did a walk-through and now have a proposal in the works. I’ve been wanting to talk to this particular builder for a couple of years!”

The moral of this case study? Make yourself available as an expert and provider of solutions for the Design-Build community. Put some skin in the game, and by doing so you’ll continually remind and reinforce to the Design-Build community the importance of our trade and why they need us! You must be part of the conversation.

Niemerg agrees: “The results were 100 percent worth it and not at all what I saw coming. Saying ‘yes’ to something out of my comfort zone has proven to pay off in wonderful ways.”

Do you want to get out of your comfort zone and let your light shine a little brighter? Drop me a line at [email protected] and let’s chat.

Katye McGregor Bennett is chief strategist and CEO of KMB Communications and an avid podcaster. Podcasts include Connecting Tech + Design and AV Trade Talk.