“I didn’t like to do the typical things that little girls do, such as play with dolls, in fact I didn’t like dolls at all! I did beg my dad for a football for three Christmases straight, to no avail,” said Rochelle A. Howard, the only girl of five Chicago children, and a once self-professed tomboy who has done everything from appearing on a national televised game show (Know Your Heritage) to finishing first runner up in a national beauty pageant. Now the president and CEO of Country Club Hills, IL integration firm, Ellehcor Home Automation & Design, Howard’s effervescent eclecticism (she also has a penchant for fast cars) and professional success has not been without personal tragedy and pitfalls.
“I am an ‘overcomer,’” Howard said. “In a nation where gun control is a major controversy today, I can personally relate. Two of my brothers were victims of gun violence; my immediate older brother, and my immediate younger brother were both shot to death in separate incidents, one in 1995 and the other in 2005. Our family was and is close knit even through the illnesses suffered by both my parents.” [Her mother’s illness resulted in her death.]
Entering its fifth year of operation, Ellehcor has two distinct business tracks in residential and commercial integration that encompass home theaters, media rooms, whole-house systems, houses of worship, office projects, and classrooms. Faced with the responsibility of helping her father raise her two surviving brothers, Howard left campus life at DePaul University. She persevered, however, going on to earn her undergraduate degree and later an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management. It was an education that placed her on track to achieve her dream of running a Fortune-500 company, before her upward trajectory came to end during the sweeping devastation of the economic downturn that began in 2008.
“It was quite difficult to find another six-figure generating job in the economic slump,” Howard said. “Another person who actually sold me a lot of my high-end audio video gear made a life-altering suggestion to me. He said, ‘You know so much about this stuff, why not open your own shop?’ I had already been pondering opening my own business, but I just wasn’t sure what. So when he said these words to me, it was so astounding that it rendered my speechless.”
As a life-long gadget lover, Howard’s opening of Ellehcor in 2008, was not that much of a stretch. In junior high, she had worked for Radio Shack and became somewhat of a local tech whiz, installing surround sound systems when they were an anomaly. She was so good at integration, in fact, that her district manager offered her a store of her own at the time. Howard declined.
Entering its fifth year of operation, Ellehcor has two distinct business tracks in residential and commercial integration that encompass home theaters, media rooms, whole-house systems, houses of worship, office projects, and classrooms. The success of this relatively new firm comes back to Howard’s work ethic and focus, which has included seeking advice from industry veterans.
“I have learned a great deal since my entry as a business owner in the CI industry,” Howard said. “The main exception is that there are very few women in this industry at the operational level. Sure, there are women working at companies in accounting, marketing, or other areas, but in comparison to the number of men actually installing, teaching [about], and selling the product, the number is very small. I had the opportunity to sit and chat with George Feldstein, president of Crestron Electronics, at CEDIA last year, and he shared some of his valuable wisdom and insight. I am grateful for that exchange. I also met and spoke briefly with Dean Kamen, the creator of many things, but one notable creation, the Segway.”
With custom integration still facing economic challenges as the global economy struggles to return to pre-2008 conditions, Howard is optimistic about the continued health of an industry of which she is fiercely supportive.
“We are evolving technologically, and people are not earning as much as they once did, but just like any other time, the economy is cyclical, and we will rebound,” Howard said.
“One main advantage for CIs is that some of the best high-end products are not available through retail outlets or online,” she continued. “The fact that companies like Meridian, Paradigm, AMX, Crestron, and others have limited and closely managed sales outlets are key. One cannot simply walk into a bigbox store and purchase these products.”
This limitation, she said, protects a dealer’s profit lines and helps limit oversaturation. “This model also allows these manufacturers to closely manage dissemination of the product and have an idea of who is presenting their product to the end user,” Howard explained. “Stronger MAP pricing and strict compliance to those guidelines would also preserve dealer longevity.”
Ellehcor Home Automation & Design
Country Club Hills, IL ellehcor.net
Specialty: Wholehome and wholebusiness systems automation and integration, including system design, retrofits, and product sales.
Markets: Residential, commercial, hospitality, healthcare, education, houses of worship
Dealer for: AMX, Crestron, Fusion Research, Harmon Brand, Kaleidescape, Lutron, Meridian, Middle Atlantic, Niles, Peerless, Pioneer, Runco, Sanus, URC, and more