The HTSA buying group is celebrating its 20th anniversary—but not by looking back and reminiscing about the good old days. This year’s spring meeting location, The Ritz-Carlton in San Juan, Puerto Rico, reflected a celebratory spirit, but also a renewed energy from its members and vendors led by the new executive director Jon Robbins. The group has added new dealer and vendor members, a new Masterclass Series for in-person training, and enhanced communication tools.
Jon Robbins, executive director of HTSA
Robbins, who led the meeting following his first 120 days at the helm of the organization, was hired for his proactive leadership style and in the hopes that he would inject his infectious energy into the veteran organization. As a founding member of the group, and more recently an employee of HTSA vendor member Netsertive, he already knew the organization inside and out and is passionate about its role in the industry.
“We needed new energy in the group, and Jon has never been accused of lacking energy. He’s a great hire,” said HTSA board member and Gramophone CEO, Brian Hudkins. “I don’t know if HTSA has colors, but if anybody bleeds the HTSA colors, it sure is Jon.”
Hudkins said that members and vendors have appreciated not only Robbins’ energy, but his communication style, as well. One his earliest initiatives was to start a Saturday Morning Java email where he communicates the most important HTSA business of the past week, every week.
“Jon is a proactive person,” Hudkins said. “We were reactive, but the attitude that Jon has brought in is that we’re going to lead from up front and try to weave together member and vendor members as one team.”
The spring meeting was attended by 270 people, even though there are only 65 member companies. That number included families of members and vendors that were encouraged to make the trip, but also multiples from member companies and vendors. It’s an indication, Hudkins said, of HTSA’s hospitable vibe (and clearly the choice of tropical location).
“With HTSA, there’s always been a sense of community,” he said.
High attendance numbers are all the more significant, Hudkins said, because HTSA conferences aren’t free. The way Robbins described it, this approach makes sure that each member (along with the vendors) has “skin in the game.”
“We are committed to this channel,” Robbins said. “There are no free rides. Everybody is here because they want to grow their business and grow their organization.”
There was even a reappearance of industry veteran Jeff Hoover, CEO of Audio Advisors in West Palm Beach, FL, a long-time HTSA member that rarely made the meetings.
“I’m here because of Jon,” Hoover said. “He’s a really good guy who’s been through a lot with his own business and has a great perspective. I wanted to come this year to show my support for him.”
The opening session of HTSA's 20th anniversary meeting
Hoover brought with him three other members of his family that are now part of his company.
“When I saw Jeff here with his kids that are now part of the business, that spoke volumes to me about the kind of sense of engagement that he’s feeling,” Hudkins said.
The message of the meeting may have been about a renewed sense of energy, but just as important was the collaborative attitude of attendees.
“It’s all about the sharing of ideas and best practices,” said John Smith, from Sound & Vision Inc., in Columbus, OH. “The thing we like about HTSA is that there’s typically only one dealer within each market, so you’re not worried about sharing anything you don’t want to with your competitors.”
Robbins noted that his role as executive director is collaborative as well, whether that’s with the HTSA board of directors, members, or vendors. Before he took on his new position, the board asked him for his assessment of the organization. There was, he said, a sense that the group had become complacent in recent years, simultaneous with “new competition developing in the group space.” It has been his goal to help HTSA regain what he and other members felt was lost momentum.
With Robbins and a new board in place, that momentum does seem to be picking up again. After losing a few vendors and one member, three new vendors have been added: Atlona, Savant, and Sennheiser. New members will be joining as well, but only where there’s a good fit of markets or culture. Manufacturer-hosted headquarters and factory tours are now more encouraged as well, with the first hosted by Sonance in San Clemente, CA back in February.
Another new initiative is also in place to help members and vendors grow their businesses. The HTSA Masterclass Series was custom created for HTSA to take an in-depth, hands-on approach to identifying best practices of key business elements, and to provide insightful training and practical tools for all members. The first Masterclass Series, titled "Sell More Audio," takes place May 10–12 in Kennesaw, GA.
HTSA families gathered for dinner on the beach to celebrate the group's 20th anniversary
HTSA, in partnership with Nationwide Marketing Group, is holding this first Masterclass Series event in part at Nationwide's PrimeMedia Studio facility, and in part at the Embassy Suites in Kennesaw, GA, outside of Atlanta. At this event, which is partially sponsored by digital marketing specialist Netsertive, a participating group of more than 100 HTSA members and vendors will go through an intensive multi-day program to learn action steps designed to help drive the add-on sales of higher margin, high-performance audio in all systems sold and installed by group members.
The focus of Sell More Audio is to provide a 10-point sales and marketing strategy that identifies each area of the member's business that needs to be addressed to successfully roll out a company-wide initiative to sell more audio products. By the end of the course, members will possess a step-by-step action plan that will help them implement a new process for their team to drive higher margin, high-performance audio attachment sales.
The Sell More Audio Masterclass has been in development for more than four months, and is based on input from high-performing HTSA dealers and vendors, including detailed case studies of select members' audio businesses. The program was created in conjunction with The Deborah Smith Group, a consulting firm specializing in sales and sell-through programs.
"We have found that our vendor partners are particularly enthusiastic about this initiative and many have rushed to assist us in the program design," Robbins said. "The fact is, this program will not only benefit HTSA members and vendors, it will also, in accordance with an HTSA core value, help grow the overall high-performance AV channel."
The group plans on offering more modules in the HTSA Masterclass Series on other key business topics in the future.
But the big picture of HTSA is one of renewed energy and cooperation. “A lot of this messaging has been about collaboration,” Robbins said. “We check our egos and talk openly about how we can sustain and grow this channel. I can tell you that when you sustain and grow, the dollars take care of themselves.”