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Check back here often for the latest news on our new product releases, awards, recognitions, and other exciting achievements.

Home Automation Podcast Episode #129: An Industry Q&A With Ken Vanemon

In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, Ken Vanemon, of Sapphire Marketing, shares the status of the audio video marketplace in New York City.

This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Ken Vanemon. Recorded live on Wednesday, July 15th, 2020 at 12:30 p.m. EST.

About Ken Vanemon

With over 25 years of experience in the Consumer Electronics Industry, Ken has worked in various roles from Operations Manager at Best Buy to Independent Manufacturers Sales Rep at JVC.

Ken joined AV manufacturer rep, Sapphire Marketing, in 2008, and represents their New York/New Jersey region as Sr. Regional Sales Manager.

Interview Recap

  • Status of the audio-video marketplace in New York City.

  • Ken’s strategies to stay sane while taking care of clients during these strange times

  • Ken’s thoughts on whether salespeople are born or made

  • How Crestron Home is helping dealers create a more customizable smart home system


SEE ALSO: Home Automation Podcast Episode #128: A Custom Integration Industry Q&A With Rusty Deeble


Ron:  Hello, hello! Ron Callis here with another episode of Automation Unplugged brought to you by my day job at One Firefly. What is today? Today is Wednesday , July 15th. It's a little bit after 12:30 p.m. and I am going to jump over to Facebook just to make sure that looks like we are live. It does look like we are good to go. Awesome. Well, thank you for signing in and joining us today as always. It's been one of those days here in the United States. Today's tax filing day, July 15th. Normally it's April 15th and so the federal government. I want to say because of COVID, pushed that to July 15th. But nonetheless, it's been a scramble this morning dotting our I's and crossing our T's. And One Firefly, we do business and I have customers and I have employees in many states. And what you don't realize when you talk about or when I talk about the luxuries of having a remote and virtual workforce is that I have to pay state taxes in all of these states where all of my employees are based. And it means that my tax bill from my CPA is probably much higher than most businesses that do business in a single state. And it's been a bit a little bit crazy today but I've settled down. I'm super excited to bring you guys a longtime friend of mine and really industry veteran and rock star the one and only Ken Vanemon from Sapphire Marketing here for show number 129. I'm going to go ahead and click my screen here and I'm going to bring Ken into the screen and get you guys introduced. What's up Ken?

Ken: Not much. Happy Wednesday tax day. Sorry to hear it's been a hectic day for you but I don't have that problem. So we're all good.

Ron:  It's not one of my more favorite days. The days you enjoy more than others. The days where you send the federal government and your state governments lots of money. That's not fun.

Ken: Yeah it is not fun. And let me say first off thanks. Number 129 I'm honored to be here. I've been watching what you've been doing and as you and I know we've been in touch for a little while and guess what? I'm glad we were able to make this happen.

Ron:  Yeah I've been eyeing to have you on and we've been getting our schedules aligned. I want to say for a long time and I'm glad we were able to make it happen now. Thank you for taking time.

Ken: Oh my pleasure. Again hopefully everybody's safe.

Ron:  We're safe. My family is safe. If you watch the news I don't care what channel you watch. But if you watch the news you'd think that there were zombies walking around milling around your house here in Florida. I think we are. I'm not trying to be derogatory but this is what I've heard. We're the new Wuhan. We're worse than Wuhan was at its peak. Miami is the new New York City in terms of hot spots.

Ken: You and I talked about that. We talked about that back in April when I called one morning. You and I were both walking and I was sharing with you I so appreciated that you would let me vent a little because it was it was tough times back then and everybody's still trying to figure it out day by day.

Ron:  Here in One Firefly land our team is located around the country in the US and in Mexico and my team is still safe and healthy to my knowledge and my family is still safe and healthy. I do think that just simply being quarantined and being stuck in your home for extended periods of time. I think that that is wearing on all of us. It's certainly wearing on me I'm trying to get out and get my walks in every morning just to keep sanity. But what are you doing to keep your sanity? Are you keeping your sanity?

Ken: I've been on that list for a long time. I'll do the same with you. I really have got to start the morning and try to clear my head and as we've been talking, I can only do this day by day right now because it's literally here in the northeast. Things have started to reopen and you can only take it day by day. The sanity is trying to remind yourself that you got to keep yourself sane and taking care of yourself because I do find it as you said earlier this has been a mental journey not really a physical drain. I'm used to being on the road four and five days a week and I think I'm at about one hundred and thirty days of just working from home which I'm learning to adapt to just as everybody else. Right. Every day I learn something a little bit different to try to relax and become a little saner if that's even possible.

Ron:  If that's possible. All right. I don't want to make an assumption that our audience knows you or knows what you're doing and or even knows where you're at. Why don't we start there? Where are you physically located right now and what do you do? And I want to go back in time and always enjoy learning about how people got into this crazy business. Yeah, the floor is yours.

Ken: I am basically located in a little town called Mt. Arlington, in northern New Jersey. When you get out here it's a beautiful part of New Jersey. I've got deer and one of the largest lakes about five minutes from my house. I work at Sapphire Marketing, so I'm the northeastern Regional Sales Manager and I cover all of New Jersey down to Philadelphia. I cover Manhattan when I'm able to get there and I'm a manufacturer's rep. I have some great lines, Crestron, Digital Projection, Salamander and I've been at Sapphire for 13 years.

Ron:  It's so funny. Why don't you tell them when we met.

Ken: You had worked for Crestron and I'm not quite sure I recall because I am getting a little older but somehow you and I got connected and we met at a diner in Manhattan to have breakfast and you shared some pearls of wisdom about Hey I'm leaving to go do what you're doing now and you're coming in and let me just sort of give you a little bit of what the world might look like as you step into your role. And we had a great breakfast. That's where our friendship started and literally as you and I were talking before we got on this. I can't believe 13 years has gone by like that. It just felt like yesterday. I was excited to see right before we got locked down you brought your entire company to our Crestron New York Design showroom and I looked around the room and went, wow! How many people do you have? That felt really good to see because you and I were literally talking about One Firefly on a napkin at that breakfast meeting which kind of blew me away. But kudos to you!

Ron:  I appreciate that and it's been a long journey with a lot of the metaphor of riding a bike. There's been a lot of falling off the bike and a lot of skinned knees but we're starting to cruise a little bit now. One thing I'll share with our audience is you have always been one of those people that would just regardless of what was going on in the world and through the entirety of the last 13 years you'd call me randomly and say Ron, how you doing? There's no business interests there. We don't do business together we haven't been in many years. But you'd say Ron I know you're out there making a go at it. And what's working, what's not working, and how you doing? And that's just really special to do that. It says a lot about you and the human that you are.

Ken: Well I appreciate that. And in this industry I consider you, everybody's got to find a mentor or someone that you respect. And I think one of the reasons that I felt like you had a good perspective on the globe because as I watched you grow One Firefly, you had pulses on markets that I didn't. I know my little micro-world right here but I don't know what that is and I've watched you mold and adapt and change. Sometimes we got a chance to work together. I know some of my partners that I work with, I refer to you, you help them. And I think if I can give you one of those little things that we talked about earlier about a nugget is you've got to maintain some of those relationships. Because one thing I know for sure things change. People find themselves in different positions and while we might believe our world in this industry is small. It is a small industry but there's a lot of people that come and go but there are still people like you and I that find a way to hang on. While I value our friendship, I still think that hey maybe there's some opportunity that you and I can do that. It's just sort of how I go about the world and what I do every day.

Ron:  We keep promising each other that we're gonna work together again one day we just don't know exactly when or where but we know it's going to happen.

Ken: And here we are right? We're kind of working together.

Ron:  That's right. And then a member of the one Firefly team he just posted a comment. It's Wes. He says, "I thought I recognized Ken it was New York City welcome to Automation Unplugged." For those that are watching and listening I would do a team event. Historically we've done a couple of events a year. Fortunately, we got a team event in right before the COVID madness and we brought the whole team to New York City and we did a lot of different industry activities. One of those was we spent a day at restaurants and toward Crestron and toured both the New Jersey facilities as well as the New York City showroom and Experience Center. And then you were very kind enough to drop in and actually speak to the team a little bit about Crestron. I thought that was pretty cool.

Ken: Happy to do so. I was excited to see what all you've got going on. Keep going.

Ron:  Ken, bring us up to speed, how did you land in this crazy business? Let's go to the time machine and you've been doing this for a little bit. A little bit longer than me. I'm going to keep telling myself that.

Ken: There you go. Well, we look good for as old as we are right? I got into this by accident. And everybody's got that story. I'll dial back out of high school. I always loved music and I spent 10 years you may not know this, I spent 10 years on the radio as a disc jockey and always loved music was always around it. And this industry with A.V. and all the cool toys. I had moved from Pennsylvania originally but I had migrated out of high school. I went to California and went to Chicago. While I was in Chicago I just needed a break. I was selling computers, the computer market was just starting to change and I actually drove by a Best Buy and I thought I'm just going to check this out. I didn't have a clue about what the retail world would be but it was the largest Best Buy at that time in the country. It was in Schaumburg, Illinois. I interviewed, I became I think it called a Product Specialist at that time and worked under a gentleman named James Luke who at the time was the only commissioned salesperson for Best Buy. And we hit it and in a very short period of time I worked my way up through I got nominated to be in their management program. Long story short is the Bose guy would come in every Saturday and do this little demonstration with AM5s and he'd stack them up to the roof and he would play them and sell them by the boatloads. Well at the time I had also a competing brand called JBL and I started doing little packages like the Bose guy did and all of a sudden the JBL manufacturer came into the store and said What's going on in the store?

They're selling more systems out of the store than anywhere in the country. And they pointed in my direction. As the retail world you're working weekends holidays there's no life. Right? They came to me and said hey how would you like to be working for JBL direct? I want you to go just around Chicago and make sure everything is set up it works fine and teach guys on the floor how to sell how to how to sell this and why this is the better speaker. I got a life back. I wasn't working weekends and nights and holidays and I ended up being able to move back to New Jersey closer to home and I had six people that would go around and do that. And then by working with JBL, I ran into Audio Associates which was a major rep company here in metro New York. And the guy there happened to be the sales manager, worked at JBL and he said hey I've got a sales job for you and I said I'm not a sales guy. I'm a trainer I don't know how to sell. He goes you do know how to sell, come work at my rep company. Spent seven years there another manufacturer hired me and then I came home from the studio one time and one of my customers called me up and said, "Hey do you know Marla Suttenberg she owns a company called Sapphire?" and at the time I went, they're the Crestron guys right? He said Yeah she needs a guy like you. Marla and I had a three-hour lunch. She literally called me on the way home and said What do you need to come here? And that was 13 years ago. Here I am.

Ron:  What was your first day? Do you remember that day or the month that you joined?

Ken: I joined in November. I think it was November 7th 2007.

Ron:  That's amazing. I quit Creston on October 31st, 2007. We got connected. I don't remember how that happened but I ended up meeting you and I had that breakfast there in New York City. It must have been within weeks or months of me departing to start this. Yeah, that's a wild and crazy story. I have a question. You've spent a career selling. Do you think that salespeople are born or made?

Ken: I'll answer that twofold. I think a salesperson is a person that can communicate, touch base, I feel like I say this all the time. I could get dropped into a room with 50 people that I don't know. And within five minutes survey it, start to know who I can talk to, who I can approach. As I told you earlier, I'm not a salesperson. I can show up. I think some of the things are really simple. If you're a customer I got to look at what value can I bring to you and how can I make your life easier. And I didn't start out 20 years ago to be a salesperson but here I am. I've been able to provide for my family and have a good life. But I was told early on when I started at Audio Associates by a gentleman that said look there's three things you need to do. You need to show up. You need to do what you say you'll do and if you're not gonna be able to do that, you need to tell your customer that you can't do it. And I kind of thought at the time that seemed pretty trivial and pretty simple. But here I am 20 some years later and that's what I do. And I think most people don't know how to do that. You and I were talking earlier there are some people that just aren't self-motivated. I'm self-motivated I get out of bed every morning. Nobody needs to call me and check in on me. I do that on my own. That's what I do. To answer that maybe in a long roundabout way I think there are some people who are really good at sales but I would say that they're not really selling they're communicating. They're able to communicate that and it makes people feel comfortable. The old adage can you sell me a pen? I've got to find out if you want a pen first. That's my sales 101.

Ron:  What's your perception of your integrators and a lot of our audience are integrators, business owners located around the world but operating within this space. Do you think that they need to hire amazing salespeople or do you think that they need to know how to grow or groom great sales habits and that leads to effective results?

Ken: I call on a spectrum of dealers in my marketplace. I have guys that are literally one-man operations and then I've got people that have 50 people. I think each one of those goes to the market a little bit differently. Because if I'm a one-man shop, I'm the sales guy I'm the guy designing it I'm the guy installing it. I think there are still some people, call it sales if you want Ron. But it's more about how do we communicate this technology.

"All salespeople are not created equal. Some perform at a higher level."

Ron:  I'm going to put this out there. So let me clarify. I know sales and I am a salesperson right? I'm a CEO and I'm an engineer and I'm crazy but I love the art of selling. But sales as a word is a dirty word. I want to put the dirty word aside. A company holds a certain individual accountable to achieve new business. And the techniques that that person operates under whether you read book A B or C or practice the challenger sale or practice the consultative sale or whatever your technique is. When I say a good salesperson, someone that consistently puts the winds on the boards that they're expected to put on the board. That's however you do it. But all salespeople are not created equal. Some perform at higher levels. You perform at a higher level. I've watched you for your career. You do that consistently so you have that perspective. For those that are listening and they want to achieve growth or they want to achieve certain revenue outcomes in tough climates. You could argue maybe COVID for some is a tough climate. I know for the residential technology market it's actually pretty good right now. I'm just curious. I always love to find out how people think about effective sales operations within companies and I know I didn't prep you that I'd be asking you that in advance. I just thought you'd be an interesting person to get your perspective.

Ken: Good question. I think you know I was here in 2008 when the world collapsed. We still keep going. I think my technique is more about I look at every dealer as a partner and even my dealers perform at different levels. My success I think has been creating a relationship to where no matter what. I'm not the guy calling at the end of the month for a PO. Don't get me wrong, POs are nice but I've always taken the path that if I'm doing something to help my partner feel that I'm part of their business. It could just be a conversation or a hey let me bounce this off of you, what do you think? I find myself over the last three months, Ron, being able to do that because everybody is trying to figure it out. Some dealers have a plan. Some dealers have no plan. And I feel blessed to be able to feel that they could come to me and say hey what do you think? What are you seeing out there? Are there techniques? It's pretty simple to ask yes or no questions right? Hey can I help you? I've got something I'd like to sell you a look at. Can you do that? And I think maybe my success has been because I've been that guy that has religiously performed for them. I'm in a unique position where I'm able to have that ability to ask that question. And I've been told by a lot of guys in the marketplace hey you know what. By far you're one of my best reps. And I always ask why is that? Because you make my life easy. You just take care of what I need to take care of. You recognize I've got other things to manage. And so that's been my success. I do read books. I'm reading a really good book right now written by a hostage negotiator. Called don't split the difference. It's really interesting cause he's taking his techniques and work them into a sales process. I'll pass the book along to you. I'll make sure you have it because I'm really into it right now. I don't want to be able to go out there and do some kind of Jedi mind trick on anybody but I think as you said, you took away the sales term. I never ever wanted to be associated to be the fast pace car sales guy. Never want to do that. But yet guess what? The reality of it is my business card says I'm a salesperson. And I am and I do sell things and I get paid because I sell things. But I think you can sell, I call it almost like a consultative sell.

Ron:  Selling without selling.

Ken: Yeah. And I want to be able to do that because I didn't want anybody to ever feel like I've sold them. In fact, I've probably left money on the table because sometimes every now and then you'll know that you've got a product that just isn't ready yet. And you say to the guy hey give us three or six months it'll be good but don't buy it right now. And I didn't get the immediate sale but I looked at that as if I sell that now on it causing issues. His trust in me down the road six months from now is not gonna be good. And I value that and I literally whether you're a fifty thousand dollar customer or a million-dollar customer, I treat everybody as a partner. And I would like to believe that might be a secret. I don't know maybe a year from now I'll be writing a book with you and I'll get your input on that.

Ron:  That's it. You and I should write a book, that would be fun. I don't know if anyone will read it.

Ken: But then we could say we have a book.

Ron:  We have a book, we can say we're authors. Speaking of selling in challenging markets you've maybe been in the toughest market in the country at least as it relates to the United States to try to put wins on the board. You're serving the northeast. What is it like? I'll be specific. What's it like in New York City trying to do. What's the life of an integrator like right now in New York City?

Ken: Challenging and let me just step back to March because here's the part that you and I talked a little bit about this. I was in a meeting on Thursday, middle of March and I went to a Starbucks. I normally go to and that morning they didn't have the condiments out. And I said behind to the guys, where the condiments? He goes oh you can't touch them now I have to do that. I drove home that night I thought wow I've known about the virus but I really wasn't paying attention to it. That Monday morning New York was ground zero. We didn't get a ramp-up things just shut down. I literally received a call from Marla that said you cannot go out of your home right now. My dealers were the same way. Job sites shut down. It wasn't a gradual, "Hey let me get this done before we shut down." New York got locked down. Fast forward three months. We're open but we're open to the point of there still are some residential buildings where if you don't live there, they won't let the dealer in. Trying to get an elevator to go up, vertical living in New York City which is what it is, can be very challenging on its normal time. Now, two people limited to an elevator How do I get product into the building?

A dealer six months ago closed the job saying OK in my mind I'm going to have five techs on this job. Now they're being told they can have one. And I'm having those conversations on a daily basis. They are literally trying to figure it out on a day by day. I think I had one dealer last Friday that had he only brought back five techs in his whole company out of 15. Two techs went to a job site on a Friday. Monday the client called and said hey I need to give you a heads up someone in my family tested positive. My dealer now has to remove two of his techs for the next 14 days, challenging. And in the meantime over the last three months they've been trying to stay alive being shut down. To say that it's been challenging by any means is an understatement. And everybody's got a different level of that. But I have found that there's still good things right. We're busy. We're off to a new year at restaurant. July is coming out of that and you know I kind of summed it up as people took a nap in metro New York for three months and they're now starting to wake up and things are starting to happen and some buildings are starting to open up. Everybody's got an individual situation whether the GC owns the project or the homeowner. You've got to be flexible. Everybody's got new rules to play by and I know that the term new normal has been going around out there for a while. Every day is a new normal because something changes every day.

Ron:  Across all of your manufacturers you represent, you are calling on. Is it accurate that you're calling on both the residential and the commercial side of things?

Ken: I would say an 80 20. And it's interesting because through all of this at least for Metro New York, consider that you have 200 employees in a building in New York. Nobody wants to go back right now. The company is going hey well let me do this. I'll open up a small office in New Jersey or open a small office in Manhattan and the people that need to come to the mothership they'll come to the mothership. I won't say commercial business is dead because it's not by any means it continues but it's changing. Residentially, some of the guys in the residential world are saying hey I never really thought about the commercial side of it but you guys got some really cool video technology that maybe now that people and CEOs are working from home. Maybe we get them out from in front of their 13-inch screen on their computer and we put in a little bit better system that can give them a better experience so they can still do their video calls, stay connected to the mothership. I'm seeing new channels of business sort of evolving and developing and dealers that never thought about that. I'm going hey if you don't have chops in the networking world you might want to consider that because everybody is now getting a better network because there are seven people at home working instead of one. That's sort of how I'm seeing it. And it's exciting because while you can buy into the doom and gloom there are a lot of good things going on. I could tell you right now I don't have the ability to not find an extra hour in the day. My phone is constantly ringing, constantly following up, projects that were on hold are now coming back to life. That's encouraging. Right? As you said everybody across the world, I'm sure it's different in different markets but I think New York was sort of early and now we are coming back out of it. We've done the right thing and I'm hoping day by day we're getting better and better.

Ron:  I haven't followed it closely. I'm assuming the infection rates in the New York area are going down at this point?

Ken: Oh, significantly dropped to before. Early on when we first started. I know New Jersey being that we're in New Jersey, New York sort of does whatever and then New Jersey follows. But the New York, New Jersey, Connecticut area since they're also tight have really. It was not easy to lock everybody down in terms of I think I only could put a thousand miles a week on my car Ron to give you an idea in the last hundred thirty days I think I've filled my car up twice. I go to the grocery store. I come home and have only seen one or two of my dealers. They've been comfortable. We meet outside. We sat six foot apart. We both wear masks. We talk about business. I think we need it as humans, we need that interaction. I'm sure since you do this so much more. The Zoo burn out. The teams burn out. I don't wanna be on too many Zoom calls per day because it just gets crazy and I feel like I'm working harder being at home. I look forward to getting back out and being on the road and getting to travel a little bit and I miss the city. I truly miss the city I spent three days a week in the city. I miss my partners and knock on wood most of them have all come out of this and they're all starting to get back to business.

Ron:  I don't know that you can answer this or that it's a fair question but I'll ask it anyway. When is New York City New York City again? New York City is one of my favorite places in the world to visit. I love New York City. I don't know what it's going to become.

Ken: It's a fair question. I don't know either. People have been asking me hey when you gonna go back to the city? I've got some great restaurants and favorite places I love to go. I love riding the subways. I love walking around especially in the summertime. I don't know I'm going to have to play that by ear right now. I've talked to a couple of my dealers that have started to go back to the city. They said it's starting to come back to life. It will never be the same. I mean I think the reality that we'll have to come to is that today is what it is. It's not going to go back to be what it was before March. It's not. There are some businesses that won't make it. I see every day another business that just can't survive it. But New York is New York and this market is this market. I think all we can do is just keep looking forward and keep moving and try to stay as positive and hopefully things will get some more positive and this won't be such a day by day change for everybody. I got to go into that otherwise I will drive myself absolutely insane.

Ron:  You gotta get out of bed and stay positive because the alternative is just no fun. And it's a choice and on that note there's actually a couple of comments here so I'm going to drop them on the screen just to give these folks shout outs. We got Carlos. He says hi from Mexico, excited to learn more about the experience acquired from the industry and he's definitely going to be dropping those nuggets along the way Carlos. And then we got Mackenzie. She goes, "That sounds extremely challenging but I love your positive attitude and optimistic outlook through all this craziness to experience this in New York would be crazy." She's in Salt Lake City. Ken goes, "Yes it's crazy."

Ken: And you can choose. We have choices right. As you just said earlier I can choose to be crazy or I can choose to look at it from a different perspective and perspective is always good. And I tell my 15-year-old , you and I were talking about our kids earlier. I wish I could tell you Ron that I have a playbook. I don't have a playbook. No one I don't think has a playbook that's sort of the frustration that a lot of people feel. I've thought, I'm going to create my own playbook. I got to do what I feel is right and I get to dictate whether I want to cross the street or stay on this side. And I'm trying to remain safe. I do things that I think are smart. Well at least my kid may tell you that. I think if we all can stay positive and help a little bit and just realize that it's another one those things where we're all in this. It's not different. And I felt maybe because New York got hit hard first I can share some of the things with it and I got out of bed. Day by day by day and again as you were saying, I pride myself in what I do and it was struggling to see what I wasn't able to do. I couldn't feel like I could help my dealers and I wasn't putting up the numbers as a sales guy to do what I do. But I was blessed. I still have a job which a lot of people out there don't. This industry, crazy as it is, continues to keep moving forward. And I'm blessed to be able to say that hey you know what? I decided I was gonna get through this. I'm still getting through it and we're all going to still get through it. It's just gonna be day by day now.

Ron:  Amen, I agree. Let's stay on that positive note. Tell me about some of the brands that Sapphire represents and some of the particularly in demand or cool tech or solutions that you're seeing. You're hearing buzz about in your marketplace. You represent a bunch of cool brands. What's buzzworthy out there?

"Crestron has a new product platform called Crestron Home, in a nutshell it's the happy meal of automation."

Ken: Crestron has a new product platform called Crestron Home and in a nutshell if you don't know much about Crestron, it's I'll call it the happy meal of automation. It doesn't require any heavy lifting from a programming standpoint. It's been around for about eight months in the version that it is today Ron. But it's been that product. Timing is everything I believe. And Crestron has dipped their toe in the sandbox over the years but now this product is for real. People who have been on the sidelines that have been around Crestron for a long time know that we've come and gone from this are now calling up and saying hey OK I've seen it. I've heard about it, eight months. It's out there every 45 days. There's something new coming to it and that's been exciting because more and more people I think are gonna be spending time at home. Realize that maybe their older Crestron system could be updated now. It's got a really cool slick gooey UI and that's been hot. That's literally every day I'm making a phone call.

Ron:  I'm going to go on the way back machine back when I used to know Crestron, I knew some stuff. It's now 13 years ago it almost makes me laugh saying it's been that long. So many of the dealers I have watched and paid attention through some of the other iterations of Crestron but I know that many Crestron integrators like to custom program their jobs. They like to use their custom UI. I don't remember the name of the software. What is the name of the software that they recognize?

Ken: Simple Windows.

Ron:  Simple Windows. And they're stuck in delivering their solution. How have you found or who have you found is responding in the way that's positive to adopting a more configurable type environment that is Crestron Home?

"You're always gonna have that client that the project just needs customization."

Ken: You're always gonna have that client that the project just needs customization. That will never go away. That's always that unique thing. The beauty behind that is that not every dealer needs to deliver that level the solution and not every dealer can. I think Home came about that. Guess what? When you and I both use our iPhone we know how to use an app where it's predictable what the experience will be. I may have apps that you don't have but we all know how to use it. That's the beauty behind Home. It's got a slick UI whether you know anything about Crestron or you don't. I could give it the grandmother test. She could turn some lights on and find some things and that's been a path that the thing out there about Crestron is we can do anything. But the old adage of less is more. That's what Crestron Home delivers and we've hit a home run with it. I got to be honest with you. And that's not a sales pitch. We've hit a home run with it. And I myself was a little like oh boy down this road before. But we've done it. We've got 60 engineers dedicated to it that it's constantly being updated. Day one it wasn't 100 percent out of the box but we knew what the road map looked like. We could take a lot of feedback, we've beta tested it with external partners. They're testing it before we release it. Those are all new things that we weren't doing 13 years ago when you were here. And we've learned along the way that it's the newest thing and I'm hearing from people that had older Crestron that now they go hey all the kids are gone. We don't need the Maserati. We're happy with the Lexus. Can I get the Lexus? Absolutely. And that delivers it and the sandbox for the Home platform is monstrous. You can do 200 lighting loads. I can do 30. It's big.

Ron:  Does this change your distribution model? I guess perhaps you could only speak on behalf of the way Sapphire Marketing is handling this in your territory. Is this changing who is able or you're willing to do business with as Crestron?

Ken: Yes and no. I haven't gone and just said Hey now I've got what I'll call the you know the tinker toy version of Crestron so I'm just gonna go open up everybody. That's not what I'm looking to do. I'm replacing some other solutions with this product. I'm trying to minimize the dealer having to be dealing with five manufacturers when I could say hey look I can take that one room solution for you instead of you selling another remote. Why not put a base system in and now we can show some value to the client and maybe add a light switch here and put that heart of the system in and dealers are going, "Oh that's great. I like it because I get to see you when you show up and I know it's a good product.".

Ron:  I have a question. Sean just asked. He said "Distribution. This is still only dealer direct. Correct?"

Ken: Dealer direct. Crestron today does not go through distribution. We are a direct dealer. And that's a conversation wherever he's located. He should reach out to his local dealer because to answer your question of how's my marketplace changing? There are people who've been watching this and seeing it start to evolve and look and say hey maybe the other brand that I have maybe I can move more business over there because Crestron pretty much touches everything that you can put into a house from lights to shades to your AV to your HVAC. And we work with third party people. This platform is allowing dealers to do that. And the biggest thing is, they don't have that programmer staff which most dealers. I'd say probably 80 percent of my dealers don't have that guy because they've got to have enough jobs going on to keep them busy and he comes at a price.

Ron:  What's the model there just to peel the layers back? They don't have a programmer, do you then cross-train all the installers to be able to configure?

Ken: Yeah and this is a beautiful thing. If you've got five technicians that can go out and basically deploy the simpler solution. You've just increased your workability for your team fivefold. And this is exciting because the dealers that are still doing Simple Windows now look at this as an entirely different channel where they would have passed on a project that might be say a fifty thousand dollar automated because they couldn't tie up their programmer for a smaller job. This is where I'm going back to all my partners and saying hey you know those jobs that you just don't want? Let's look at how we can do this and hey your lead tech can be the main guy that can go out and just deploy this project and I really have enough. I've got a lot of partners now on this that say that things that would take them three-four days to do through the traditional way they're now deploying projects in a day to two days and the clients are like you're done? How is that possible? That wasn't what happened the last time.

Ron:  What training is required for a dealer to be able to do this? Does every Crestron dealer automatically have access to this and what is that process?

Ken: We've moved right now unfortunately with being locked down we're not doing any training at headquarters but we've created a lot of online videos. Ron this is literally simple configuration where you download the app. It walks you through the steps and then we've also got some really good field resources which we have never had. I've got three what we call subject matter experts I've got one in Florida, one here, and one out in the Midwest. And those guys will come out to help a dealer sort of deploy the first project. During COVID being locked down I think I did twenty-five webinars with my top integrators and it's about a two-hour hands-on. We load up the software, we walk you through it, we show you and we're there to help the dealer deploy a good solution.

Ron:  You mean really there's no programming. You're really configuring a job in a couple of hours?

Ken: Literally configuring a job in a couple hours and the beautiful thing behind it is while I'm at the house and you'll know because you used to have to upload and wait and change. If I want to change a lighting scene I do that on the fly. Press hold like a preset in your car. Game over, it's done. I can leave the job fully functioning and not have to worry about the program or doing an update or anything like that. I'm just finding the feedback to the clients that are starting to live with it goes this is exactly what I wanted. I wanted to be able to have a little bit of control of my own and if I do want to do something outside the box I can still contact my dealer and the beautiful thing behind it is Crestron's been around for almost 50 years. There are so many jobs out there that I've got dealers literally making a living doing upgrades just reaching out and saying hey let's just get you into 2020 with a new interface and new third party solutions that you didn't have the ability to have 13-15 years ago.

Ron:  That is cool and we got Tomas Wing from Panama. He says, "It's a fairly simple platform, Ron. Faster and very user friendly." There you go and that sounds like a Crestron dealer preaching.

Ken: There you go.

Ron:  I think you owe Tomas a twenty-dollar bill in the mail Ken. By the way, Tomas did comment. He says he loves the Ken and Will show. Why don't you tell the audience what that show is and how they can find it?

Ken: Back when we got locked down my counterpart, Will Sexton is based in Arizona and I think just one day we called to vent to each other. He's living with Crestron Home in his house. I don't have it so I said he we should just jump on here and do a quick little video. Do a good cop bad cop kind of thing and just talk about some of that because what happened was we did such a major update to Home right when we got locked down here that we were afraid that it would get lost. We were excited as the sales guys were excited about it we just didn't want it to get lost in the madness going on in the world. We just decided we would take two or three topics involved and Crestron Home and do what we're doing here and just talk about it and it was sort of tongue in cheek. We started calling it the Ken and Will show we were doing it about once every week and a half two weeks because it was so much out there. Unfortunately, we went through our year-end with Crestron and so as sales guys we had to stay focused on that. But back to Panama, we will be coming back. Will and I just spoke yesterday and now that we're into a new year we really want to refine it because we feel like we can talk as normal guys about what it is and Will being able to live with it. He's experiencing it firsthand so it's a really good little platform. We've had fun with it.

Ron:  I don't know if Randy or John are listening but I think Ken needs some Crestron Home in his house. I think Ken has earned it. I think there needs to be a large set of boxes and packages on his doorstep this week. And let's create your list Ken. Let's figure out all the technology you want and I'll make sure it goes up the chain.

Ken: I appreciate that. I'm pretty simple about that and that's funny. Here I am trying to sell stuff that I don't even live with. It's not because I don't want to.

Ron:  There was a time earlier in my career I worked for Lutron before Crestron and I have no idea if they still do this but Lutron as a young salesperson, they literally would send us suitcases full of demo product for everything that we were expected to talk about. I outfitted my homes with Radio RA and I had Graphic Eyes I had so many cool lamp dimmers, I was giving them to family members. I was spreading the love. But I could speak first person about it because I lived with it. And I know Crestron doesn't do that and I think they should hook up all their salespeople with cool toys. I'm totally getting you in trouble. So I'm going to move on to a different topic.

Ken: It's a good point.

Ron:  This is the video conference camera that lives in the living room or office and tell everyone listening what that is?

Ken: Again, Home Time sort of evolved out of this. John Clancy. Everybody that was locked down and it was a great partnership with Logitech, Zoom and Crestron and it's just higher quality. You've seen all the videos on Facebook and all the other social media is about how you know people's screens are locking up and people just this was sort of one of those things where it was like how do we take what is obviously going to be the foreseeable future for people that are working from home. How do we make that experience better? And guess what? In my mind it was the trifecta Logitech makes an amazing product. Zoom from what I was told didn't really recognize the residential market before COVID hit. All of a sudden everybody now we have Zoom contests about who can have a better background. Everybody knows what Zoom is. And again kudos to Randy. Randy recognized that and said you make a product we make the product. We got to find some way to be able to do that. And it's relatively early but more and more dealers are starting to realize that I'm doing the CEO's house. He needs a better experience. And I'm hearing that category in itself will become a little more expanded for Crestron and so Home s a beautiful little solution for somebody that doesn't want to be sitting in front of their computer and still be able to have the ability to do what you and I are doing right now.

Ron:  Other brands. What else is cool and kind of buzz-worthy out there right now?

Ken: I also represent Salamander and it's interesting because they're seeing a phenomenon with their seating sales. Some of these conference rooms are no longer going to have the round table around them. They're taking the tables out putting in some really nice theater-based chairs with little tables on them and everybody's six feet apart which is really interesting. I never really thought about it. We were on a conference call yesterday it was just it was absolutely like wow I wish I would have thought of that. And so for those guys they're local it's quality. Getting the Italian furniture in five days instead of 14 and 18 weeks and they're adapting, they're doing that. That pivot of Oh my gosh. They're saying that they're seeing more theaters being built which I'm hearing from my dealers. Because let's face it. I think that this isn't going away anytime soon. People are gonna be staying at home more. Why not have some quality time and I'm seeing that across the board with Digital Projections another one of my manufacturers. They are going to get more inquiries about projectors because theaters are being built which six months ago a year ago I don't know when I could tell you the last theater that I was involved with. Things come full circle I guess.

"I haven't heard home office being a topic pre COVID. Now it's in the top three list."

Ron:  Yeah I agree. I think Home Theater and Home Office. I've mentioned this in a few shows from all the websites and other marketing we do for integrators. I haven't heard Home Office being a topic pre COVID. We had developed content for it. No one asked for it or anyone wanted it. It wasn't in the conversation. Now it's in the top three list.

Ken: And it's a conversation that I'm having every day because someone will call me up and go hey I need you to help me understand what that category looks like. What do I need? How do I get into it? And I know there are some additional new products coming from Crestron that will allow that to be a good better best. If you have only a commercial grade but you just need something for the Home Office. My home office for the last hundred and thirty days, because there have been multiple people working from my house, has been my bedroom. That's just not my home office I'm moving some things around the basement. I'm going to create a home office. I need to do that. I'm sure I'm only one of many out there that are running into the same situation just as you are right?

Ron:  Absolutely. I've got Tomas he just posted, "The new commercial furniture from Salamander is awesome." He's digging what you're throwing down.

Ken: Tomas, I appreciate that.

Ron:  That's so cool. Ken, where can those that are watching or listening learn more about you or follow you on the socials? What would you direct them to?

Ken: Well, I'm on LinkedIn on the look. Though more just staying in that world because there's just so many things out there. But I am expanding that. But go check out We have our own page out there, we've just updated that. We're becoming much more into the social media world and someone's now managing that. Reach out to me touch base with me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. I'd love to be able to maybe it if we just need to chat. I don't know what's going on in Panama but I'd love to talk to anybody out there that feels I might be able to offer some perspective. I'm always up for that.

Ron:  And where can folks catch the Ken and Will show? The Ken and Will show right now we just pretty much do a little 30 or 15-minute video, we will launch it out there. We've been putting it on LinkedIn. Stay tuned I'll let you know so maybe you can let the world know we're going to sort of refine that and try to take it to the next level. Don't know exactly what that looks like but we're definitely talking about that.

Ken: Awesome exciting. Ken, it was a pleasure to have you on episode number 129 man.

Ron:  129 man. Good to see you.

Ken: Please do this, make sure everybody continues your family stay safe you stay safe as well as the family at One Firefly. We'll do the same, next time you're in New York. Hopefully, we can meet again in the hotel lobby and have a different level of conversation than we're having right now.

Ron: Amen man I look forward to it. I was just having that conversation with Danielle just this past weekend that we would look forward to traveling, look forward to going back to New York. Hopefully, it's sooner than later but that said I think we all need to be patient and wear masks and stay socially distant and let's beat this thing so we get back to life as at least in some frame of what we formally knew.

Ken: I'm there with you and this was a pleasure. Enjoy the rest of your week and I'll let you know when I get back to the city what's open and what's not.

Ron:  OK. Awesome. Love it. Thank you Ken. All right gang. There you have it. If you have not already done so go to your Spotify or your Apple podcast or your favorite podcast environment. Don't forget to subscribe to Automation Unplugged. I'd love you to leave a review of the show that would ultimately help us in the algorithms get that content out to more people. That would be a lovely thing. And on that note stay safe. Wear your masks, keep your distance, and we'll see on the next show. Thanks everyone. Be well.


Ken is currently Sr Regional Sales Manager for Sapphire Marketing. With over 25 years of experience in the Consumer Electronics Industry, Ken has worked in various roles from Operations Manager at Best Buy to Independent Manufacturers Sales Rep at JVC.

Ron Callis is the CEO of One Firefly, LLC, a digital marketing agency based out of South Florida and creator of Automation Unplugged. Founded in 2007, One Firefly has quickly became the leading marketing firm specializing within the integrated technology and security space. The One Firefly team work hard to create innovative solutions to help Integrators boost their online presence, such as the elite website solution, Mercury Pro.

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