Home Automation Podcast Episode #182: An Industry Q&A With Marc Ayoub
This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Marc Ayoub. Recorded live on Wednesday, August 11th, 2021, at 12:30 p.m. EST.
About Marc Ayoub
From technician to Energy Division Director, Marc Ayoub is a 20+ year CI industry veteran who held several unique roles throughout his career. His journey began in the early 2000s at an alarm company. He eventually joined Audio Command Systems, where he worked his way up to lead technician. While recovering from a broken leg in 2006, Marc took on a new challenge to teach himself how to program Crestron. He also worked closely with management to develop a streamlined design and installation process that significantly improved project efficiency. In 2011, Marc took his first vacation out west, and after giving a 6-month notice, packed his bags and moved to Colorado. Marc soon joined a local manufacturer’s rep agency, CET and Associates, where he took on several leadership roles to help integrators grow their business with products like Lutron, Sonnen, and Lumin. Today, Marc uses his passion for renewables to lead the Energy Division at CET with the ultimate goal to expand renewable energy throughout the country.
- Marc's journey through the industry and the lessons learned
- Who CET and Associates is as an organization and their unique approach to work culture
- Grid resiliency and the importance of renewable and efficient energy
Ron: Hello, Ron Callis here with another episode of Automation Unplugged. Today is Wednesday, August 11th. It is a few minutes after 12:30 PM Eastern Time. We are here for show 182. We are now weeks away from CEDIA. And what did we all just learn? We just learned that Savant just pulled out of the show citing Delta variant fears, and so my friends around the industry, both my manufacturer friends and my dealer friends, are all deciding, go, go, go. I can tell everyone at the moment; One Firefly is still a go. Although it is a delicate situation, and we monitor it very closely, what do we have coming right after the show? We then have the Azione conference, and then we have right after that we have the HTSA conference. What do we have shortly after that or somewhere in between? We have Infocom. There's just a rash of AV industry, custom integration, industry events, and activities that are all slated to happen here in the coming days and weeks, and months.
At the same time, there are all sorts of fear, uncertainty, and doubt hitting you and me and everyone we know. It's not just our industry. It's hitting the world again because we have this virus that is decided to mutate. I'm going to be political here because so many of our friends decided not to get vaccinated, and what happens when a virus is out there? It mutates and mutates and mutates. Not taking a political stance, I'm vaccinated. My family is vaccinated, and I hope for you and your family, you guys are vaccinated. But it's going to be interesting coming days and weeks as we determine how these events go for all of us. I hope we all make smart decisions, and hopefully, I will see you. One Firefly is scheduled to take a record seven classes. These are CEDIA courses on topics from social media, web design, CEO, Google, advertising, hiring, and H.R. We have a really nice portfolio of content that we have produced specially for CEDIA for this show. Hopefully, you will if you're going to go to the show hopefully. You'll be able to hang out with us in the classroom, we have nice registration numbers for the class classes, and hopefully, we'll be able to see all of you there in person, face to face, if you guys can travel and get to Indianapolis. Today we have for show #182, Marc Ayoub, and he is running the energy division. He's the Energy Division Director at CET & Associates, an awesome rep firm that covers the mountain region of the US. And we'll have him describe exactly their divisions and which territories they cover.
I did not know, but I had the pleasure of learning, and you guys are going to learn all about it. Marc spent many years at one of the leading integration firms in North America, Audio Command. He was working directly with John Clancy and the team and will learn all about those experiences. So let me go ahead and bring in Marc and let's get this party started. Marc, how are you, sir?
Marc: I'm well, thank you. How are you?
Ron: I am super well. I'm looking behind you, and I see guitars. Are you a guitar player?
Marc: I am a guitar owner. I hang them on my wall so that I'll play them from time to time, and what ends up happening is that they just look cool in the background.
Ron: They do look pretty cool. I've always. Can you strum a tune?
Marc: I can play things but not well. It's on and off. It's one of those hobbies where I think I have been doing it on and off. I don't know, 30 something years. Actually, the one instrument that I often play that I very much enjoy is the drums, which they had previously been in this room. But because this is my spare bedroom, I had to turn it back into a bedroom briefly. I took the kid out.
Ron: You mention the drums. Have you ever read the magazine Modern Drummer?
Marc: I have not.
Ron: OK, alright. Well, I was going to like, get maybe a couple of cool points in saying that I'm friends with the editor and the owner of that magazine. That doesn't mean anything. You've never even heard of the publication. We have someone saying hello to us, Marc. We have Wes, who says, "Hey, Marc, welcome to Automation Unplugged. Checking in from Raleigh." Marc, you want to know something really cool about Wes?
Ron: Wes is an ultramarathoner who ran one hundred miles this past weekend in less than twenty-four hours.
Marc: So then Wes is a crazy person?
Ron: Well, I think we're all a little crazy. Wes is just a special type of crazy.
Marc: Well done Wes.
Ron: That's very impressive. Alright, Marc, tell us just maybe in your words, what is CET for the few that may not know that name? That's a well-known agency, obviously, here in North America. And what is your role within the agency?
Marc: Yeah, so CET & Associates is a manufacturer's rep agency. We're based out of Colorado and Utah, and we represent all sorts of manufacturers across a bunch of different markets. Originally we started as an industrial rep firm, so heavy gauge wire, various types of conduit ladders, conduit racking, et cetera, for oil fields, industrial projects, warehouses, et cetera. We're also the Lutron rep, the residential Lutron rep for Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico. I believe that's it. Along with that comes a whole host of AV lines that we rep. And honestly, I can't remember them all. We've got a whole lot of them—things like Barcoo, Origin Acoustics, Audio Control, Stewart Film Screen, things like that. We've got a lighting division that works within particular lighting showrooms and designers for light fixtures. Then the energy and energy divisions are the newest division of all, and that's basically me.
As the director of that division, my job is to attempt to further home energy storage, home energy management, and in particular, car chargers. Now, in a market that is still pretty new, and it's still pretty weird. That's my job. My job is to get people to understand what the grid does, why it does what it does, why it sucks, why it's amazing, and how we can make it better with residential energy storage. We rep Sonnen, Lumen, and EvoCharge on the energy side.
Ron: I'm going to ask you a very abstract question.
Ron: I have never owned a Tesla, but I have put my deposit on a Tesla truck. And I think I'm going to get a Tesla truck soon as I'm allowed to get a Tesla truck because it looks cool. I'm a big fan of Blade Runner. Why not? Do I have a choice in terms of what type of electric? I've never owned an electric vehicle. Do I have the choice of what type of charger to put in my garage? Are there different brands or because I have a Tesla vehicle? Do I have to have a Tesla Charger thing?
Marc: There are many different brands, and any brand can charge a Tesla, but a Tesla charger can only charge a Tesla.
Ron: Oh wow. Is it the connector? How is that or why?
Marc: So I should know this. I'm going to get a no wrong, but it's the J1771 standard, or I can't remember exactly, but it's something like that.
Ron: I just smile and nod because I have no clue.
Marc: For anybody listening. If you know the answer, then just, you know, shake your head at the guy that doesn't know who's supposed to know. There's a standard that says every car, every electric car sold in America has to be able to receive this plug, OK? And so a Tesla can receive that plug by regulation. The difference is that Tesla has a couple of extra bits on it because Tesla and so, therefore, the Tesla plug will not fit into other cars.
Ron: I just saw a TV commercial. During the Olympics, I want to say, for multiple TV commercials for multiple new electric vehicles, I saw the TV commercial, I want to say for a new Chevrolet truck, or maybe it was Ford.
Marc: Ford, the Ford F 150.
Ron: The Ford F 150. So you're saying I could have a charger in my garage, which could plug into my Tesla as long as it's not a Tesla charger. Yeah. It could charge my Tesla, or it could charge my new electric Ford F150.
Marc: Yes, or you just have two chargers. That's up to you. I mean, if you're already buying a Tesla truck, the cost of an additional charger is whatever.
Ron: Right. I don't know if it's whatever. Dollars are dollars.
Marc: But, it's stainless steel, man.
Ron: I know. I don't know if I'll be brave enough to do the sledgehammer thing, but if I see others do it, I just might want to say I did.
Marc: A dent of pride in the side of your cyber truck is worth it for the experience of hitting your car with a sledgehammer.
Ron: I think so. I think so. Alright. I have lots of energy topics and market questions, and I want to talk a little bit, but I always enjoy going back in time. How did you land in Colorado, and how did you land running this energy division? I know you've had a multidisciplinary background and take us through it. It goes back as far as you're willing to go to bring us to the present.
Ron: Go to middle school if you want. Seventh grade.
Marc: I'm trying to come up with a cutoff, a reasonable cutoff just for everybody. I guess it's probably reasonable. I'll start a little earlier than that. I used to go to college when I was a young person to get an education that didn't work out very well. But in the meantime, I found myself working for the college radio station, and I had a lot of fun. I went to the Connecticut Schools of Broadcasting, and I thought I would be a big radio deejay. I was not a big radio DJ, did not work out well at all.
Ron: You have a better voice for radio than I do, though. I just do it because I do it. But your voice sounds better.
Marc: Thanks. Yeah. Years later, I realize the lucrative career I could have had in voiceovers and many regrets. But here I am. Here you are. I'm delighted to be here.
Ron: I'm glad you're here. The audience is glad you're here.
Marc: Thanks. Anyway, so that didn't work out, and during that time, I needed to work. I needed a job because people need those things. So I started working for an alarm company on Long Island and fire alarm, burglar alarm cameras, networks, basically that sort of thing. A little bit of speaker selector switches and volume knobs, that sort of jazz. While I was there, I'd been friends with somebody since basically high school who was working at audio systems. And they said, "Hey, you should come work for Audio Command and quit installing alarms." I'm like, "Yeah, OK." I was like 22, something like that. So I interviewed with Audio Command Systems, and I got hired, and basically, I got hired to pull wire because I didn't know anything. In the middle of winter, I pulled wire in cold houses, that sort of thing throughout Long Island and Connecticut. Then through that, I worked my way through, became a technician, did a little bit of service, the lead tech role for a while, project managed some jobs. And then, in about 2006 or so, I broke my leg installing a Stewart film screen. How did you break your leg?
Marc: You know, when you're lifting a thing with two hands from down, load up high, you've got to switch your grip?
Marc: Rotate your hands around and switch your grip. Well, I was doing that on one side of this room on a ladder. And somebody I was working with was doing the same thing, and we didn't coordinate very well. When we switched our grip, he had switched his grip in a way that rolled the screen. This is a full, you know, masking automated screen-heavy thing, a couple of hundred pound kind of thing. He rolled it, and I rolled with it. Basically, I lost my balance. So I fell off the ladder, and the screen landed on my knee.
Ron: Oh yeah.
Marc: Yeah. I sat down on the ground for a little bit with the screen on top of me. Thankfully he didn't drop the screen, so really, the screen was fine.
Ron: That was good that the screen was ready to be mounted. It just needed someone that wasn't maimed.
Marc: Well, here's what happened, because I'm a bit of a fool. As I got back up on the ladder and we hung the screen up, and then about an hour or so later, after we'd finished calibrating it or so, I said, "Hey, my knee's the size of a cantaloupe, I'm going to have to do something about this." I drove home from Connecticut to Long Island in a Dodge Caravan or something. Dodge Caravan. Minivan of AV installers, I guess. I drove home. It took about four hours to get home because it was a Friday afternoon in the summertime, and I got home and put a little ice on it. And then I got convinced to go to the emergency room a couple of days later and found out that I had broken my tibia and fibula, which put me out of commission for a while.
Ron: That's terrible and brave!
Marc: But it worked out, so the screen was fine. And then I had at the time I was at Audio Command Systems. At that point, I had done all the technician things already anyway. I said to my boss at the time, John Clancy, I said, "Hey, man, I'm pretty bored, and I don't think I want to go back into the field. And I've got about three months' worth of summertime doing nothing." I used to live by the beach when I was in Long Beach, so I was miserable because I couldn't even go to the beach. So I said, "Hey, can I learn how to program Crestron? And he said, "Yeah, sure." But really, can I have a Crestron processor? Can you send me one?"
That way, I can learn how to program. So he sent me an M.C. Touhy, and I just monkeyed around all summer until I had a pretty decent handle on Simple Windows and how to do it and what was what. Then, when my leg healed sufficiently to return to work, I transitioned into the design department of engineering.
Ron: Were you programming Marc in Simple Windows, or were you programming in System Builder? The time frame where you were doing this, what was your software?
Marc: This was 2006 ish, and System builder is a dirty word. I programmed in Simple Windows. I did not program in Simple Plus; I was never that good or interested, and I don't think Ping existed at the time.
Ron: In '06, that would have been maybe a sketch on someone's notepad. But it wasn't a real thing.
Marc: Yeah, not not a real thing. I just transitioned into the design, and this is kind of like a general philosophy of mind is one of the advantages that I had been in design was that I knew what it was like to be in the field. I had received these designs in the field and thought, well, it's not a good idea, we shouldn't do that. So I started to apply my knowledge of having been in the field very recently to design. Then little by little, I transitioned over into actual programming were because, basically, John said, "Hey, man, we don't need a programmer right now. But when we do, we'll let you know." And little by little, I was able to start working my way in, and I would go on these little jobs, do service calls, and maybe adjust the program that existed, that sort of thing. That's how I learned.
Then eventually, I transitioned, transitioned into the programming department properly, where I did the same thing I did in design, where I did I applied what I had learned previously. I said, hey, look, this is great. But, we've got four programmers, and everybody's doing it differently. That doesn't make any sense. We should have the same program. John had been programming up to that point, Owner of the company basically still being the primary programmer and his program was solid. It was good. It was template. It was with the hire of Mike Grady as the lead programmer, basically. It was John and Mike and a couple of other programmers in the department. We started developing the template based on John's original program. We literally called it the template, so it became my job to go out into the field and implement the template and then test the template and then figure out how to make the template better. We did that over and over again and again. Having applied my recent time in the field and engineering, we developed this system of how the engineering should mimic the programming, and the programming should mimic the engineering, and we should talk to one another. The drawing should be the same in zone one should always be the kitchen and zone two should always be the living room, and so on.
We started standardizing our process and our procedure. We basically got it to a point where I didn't have to go to job sites anymore. Instead, I would preload Arak, pre-load touch panels, keypads, ID, test them in our office, and then we'd ship them out, and they'd get installed. Occasionally I would do some upgrades or tweaks or adjustments remotely.
Ron: Audio Command for our audience may or may not know Audio Command as a business, as an integration firm. I want to say, founded by Robert Kaufman and Jonathan Flamm, that business has been around at that point. You're describing the late 2000s.
Marc: Oh, yeah. 30 plus years.
Ron: 30 plus years. Yet what you're describing is really some refined systems and processes that were 30 years into the business, making the design and deployment of a Crestron system better and more efficient, and I'm betting more profitable for the business. I'm getting better for the customer. I'm just curious that change that started to happen sounds like during your tenure when you were there. Did it just happen, or was it being directed by somebody?
Marc: No, it just happened. And it's weird because I was part of a group of employees basically that started around the same time. Like in any organization, at any time period, there are some knuckleheads, and there are some knuckleheads, right. And roughly speaking, the nonknuckleheads got together and said, hey, when we were in the field, this is what sucked these three things. Right. When we get out of the field or have an opportunity to make that adjustment, why don't we just do that? So we made despatching better, we made engineering better, we made programming better, and we all sort of did this all together, kind of organically, just through our own experience. Fundamentally that's how that business operated. We succeeded despite ourselves, and we succeeded because of ourselves. The people in that organization are some of the best I've ever worked with, if not the best, from a technical perspective and an innovation perspective. Because, if you've ever talked to John, he's probably brought it up a place, started out making their own control system with relays and Star Trek-looking button panels by the bedside with telephones built into them.
Ron: I've been to the HQ. I don't know the New York geography that well, but I've been there. I've been to the office, and I've had pictures of me with all the old patched panels that Robert and Jonathan and the team engineered back in the 70s and early 80s. It's crazy. I know exactly what you're saying. You did that. How did you transition? How did you end up leaving that organization and land in Colorado?
Marc: Yeah, after about nine years of ten plus hour days, five days a week, weekend phone calls, I had never taken a vacation. I was burnt out. I was losing my mind, sitting in New York, traffic in a commercial van, trying to leave Manhattan at 5:00, knowing full well that your 15-mile drive will take four hours. It had taken its toll. I remember sitting at the entrance to the Midtown Tunnel getting ready to leave Manhattan. On another day of traffic, winds were blasting because that was the reasonable thing to do. Apparently, a repetition of 22 minutes worth of headline news, weather, traffic, and commercials over and over again at high volumes, smoking cigarettes on both sides of my mouth, white knuckle on the steering wheel, freaking out, pissed off. I realized at that moment, like, hey, man, if you don't cut this out, you're going to have a heart attack real quick.
Ron: It doesn't sound like a healthy state.
Marc: No. At the time, that's how I worked it. It was coffee and cigarettes. Hurry up. Faster, more. You can take lunch. It was nonsense. I finally decided to take a vacation, and I did. I came out west, and I traveled around New Mexico and Arizona and Utah. It's just amazing. Relatively speaking, it was peaceful. It was calm. It's another universe compared to New York has not done much travel before that. I fell in love like a lot of people do. I think when they go on vacation, they go, hey, I want to live here now. I kind of did that. I said I want to live here now. It took me a couple of years to figure it out. I planned it quite, quite thoroughly and decided that I was going to quit ACS. I was going to at the time. My girlfriend convinced her to quit her job at Chase Bank. And say we're going to move to Colorado and not get jobs, we're just going to go.
I figured out the math. I said we have this much money. We can do it for this long. Let's cut that in half and travel, have fun, go hiking and biking, and do all the things that we enjoy. Then we'll find jobs, and that'll be great. I gave John six months' notice and said, hey, man, I'm out of here because this is nuts, and I don't want to do it anymore. Thanks very much. I'll train whoever you want me to train. I'll do whatever you need me to do. But I'm out of here in six months, and then I just and I just literally left. It was weird. I stopped working, and I literally drove the car. I did not have an apartment in Colorado, but I had a friend who lived in Colorado and Denver. I stayed with him for about a week until I found an apartment. Yeah, I just did that. I had a summer and a bit of winter just driving around the country.
Ron: Your girlfriend was down for this as well?
Marc: She said she was at the time. We found out later that she wasn't, but ultimately I'm pleased with the way everything worked out. But nevertheless. Yeah. We just traveled. We had a blast, and then it was a rough time to find a job. Sure. And I thought, OK, well, the last thing I'm going to do is go back to AV because it's the worst in the world. I hate it. It's the dumbest place. I hate all of the people. I hate all of the technology. None of it smoke signals from now on, no TV, no radios. I was a lunatic. It's time to find a job. And I immediately copped out. I immediately copped out because I had not figured out what I wanted to do other than riding my bike and hiking mountains. I couldn't figure out what to do for myself. So I copped out, and I contacted somebody I knew at Savant, actually. And I said, "Hey, I'm in Colorado. Who's the Savant dealer in Colorado? At the time I was in New York, by the way, I'd been doing Crestron, but we'd also done some Savant, in fact. John and I had gone to Cape Cod to sort of tweak their interface to match ours because we didn't want to use it until it worked and what we can do in Crestron. So I'd done Savant for quite a while as well. And so I said, screw it, I won't do Crestron, I'll do Savant. Let's try that out. Through a bunch of people, I ended up getting hired on Essentials in Colorado, which at the time hadn't become Essentials yet. It was on its way to becoming Essentials. My saving grace was I figured I'd done everything else in AV that I can think of. I haven't tried selling. Let's try selling.
Ron: How did that go?
Marc: It didn't go well.
"Selling is generally not something that you just try out."
Ron: Selling is generally not something that you just try out either. Well, I'm curious about your opinion. What didn't work out about it?
Marc: I think it was. First of all, I was hired as the Tru Fig salesman. And if anybody knows what Tru Fig is. Nobody wants it.
Ron: Oh, man, you are getting you're going there.
Marc: Yeah, I mean, it's tough. It's a tough sell. It really is. And I had no experience at all. For that matter, I knew AV. So I could probably speak to the technology quite well. Tru Fig is a flat outlet. That's cool.
Ron: You were cuddling on the design community, the architects, the designers.
Marc: Yeah. Which was the precise opposite of my personality. I didn't care for parties. I didn't care for chit-chat. I didn't care about your feelings. I didn't care about what you thought about space. I cared about whether or not the wires were connected properly and whether or not the system worked appropriately. Here I was calling on kitchen and bath designers, trying to get them there by an extraordinarily expensive.
Ron: Maybe you were misallocated.
Marc: Probably. Yeah, but it worked out well because then it was like, hey, this was a good trial. I started making a little bit of AV sales, which went OK, but I really just wasn't happy with it. So I transitioned into the design department. Which quickly became managing the design department, and it was difficult because it was we had become a fairly big company at that point. We had multiple offices. I was hiring people and managing their behaviors, which was new for me in that regard. But I think I did all right. Without going into too much detail, I didn't get along, let's say, with my direct supervisor. One day he fired me.
Ron: Huh? Had you ever been fired before?
Marc: I had never been fired before, and I didn't quite understand. In fact, he told me I got fired for being a poor communicator, which I thought, like, you could have made up any number of reasons you could because I'm a jerk. There might have been a lot of other reasons that you would have believed. But, no, look, I'm a fucking asshole, and I'm perfectly OK with that. I know that people don't like that about me. Fine. You could have said, Marc, you are just the worst person I know and get out of here. I would be like, "Yeah, that's alright. Yeah. But, I defended it by the excuse.
Ron: How did you feel? What day of the week was it?
Marc: It was Friday.
Marc: Yeah, it sucked. It sucked because, first of all, it never happened. Second of all, it had a team of people that I was managing, and they didn't know they were right there. They didn't know anything was going to happen. The whole lot of them were like, what is going on? So I just put my tail between my legs and walked out the door. Literally, a couple of hours later, I got a call from the owner of CET. He said, "Hey, don't talk to anybody else. Just see me on Monday morning. We got something for you." And what's interesting about that is that I had been now working in the design department of a major integrator, working with CET & Associates regularly, as they were the Lutron rep. We did quite a lot of Lutron. And these guys were great. I knew they were great. And I thought to myself in the back of my head for quite a long time, I don't know exactly what I would do it or at the agency, but I think this is the place to be. Like these guys, they get it there.
They're reasonable. They're friendly. It just seems like a really good environment. And then, sure enough, next thing you know, Monday afternoon I had a job offer at CET & Associates, and I took it, and I was delighted. And I was there doing the commercial lighting, design, and project management for Lutron. I had never done that before, but honestly, controls are controls. A Lutron keypad is a Lutron keypad.
Ron: Actually, I want to go into CET and their culture, but before I do that, walk us through. When did you join CET? About what year?
Marc: It was 2016. If anybody can hear the beeping in the background of the emergency alert system is being tested. So I'm sorry.
Ron: It's pretty faint, so I don't hear it, but I appreciate you letting us know. You joined in '16. When did this new energy division launch? And thus, you're the person running that effort.
Marc: Yeah. That's a funny story, too, because actually, I did get fired twice. CET & Associates had the lighting Lutron Commercial Lighting Division as well as the residential. We think in 2021, maybe around 2018, they decided that they had the opportunity to expand their residential territory with Lutron. And so, in doing so, they decided to give up the commercial side. So I was basically told, like, hey, this has been great, you've done a great job, thank you very much, we love you, but we're done with commercials, so you're fired. Didn't go exactly like that. I'm kind of making that part up. Right. But it very quickly went to. But we love you, and we want you to stay, which I thought, hey, that's cool. That's positive. Yeah. We've got this thing called Sonnen. We want you to try to figure it out. I thought, well, I have no idea what this is, but it sounds pretty cool, and I love working here so much, but effectively I will do whatever you want me to do. I was literally like, sure. You need if you need me, I will figure this out. Yeah, you need me to sweep the floors. I will do that because I love it here, and I love you, ridiculous people. Thank you. I started figuring out Sonnen, and that's effectively how I got to where I am now.
Ron: I want to go into Sonnen and batteries and energy in the home. But I want to talk about the company side of this because you said you love the people you work with, you love the company, you love where you're at. Yeah. What makes this company special?
Marc: I can't say that it is the only company like this because it sure as hell can't be right, but it is pretty rare where you have owners. You have long-time employees, 12, 15, 20-year employees, and new people who all have a similar philosophy about approaching the world and approaching work. It's sort of unheard of. Let's take a step back to audio command systems. Great company, great people. Right. But there's a lot of divergence in philosophy about how to approach the world. That has its advantages sometimes. But it is mostly disadvantageous because people aren't cohesive in the way that they approach their work. CET & Associates, we all believe, roughly speaking, that the most important thing is to do good work and take care of our customers. And they will pay us for that. Instead of, hey, if we sell this thing, we'll make a lot of money. We don't think that way at all. We don't compete with one another. We help one another. We have multiple salespeople who have multiple territories and multiple lines that they focus on with multiple clients. And I am happy to take any meeting. Any quote requests, any programming, help, whatever from any one of them and vice versa, and because we all believe that quite literally, we just operate as a team. Quite honestly, like Doug, the owner says all the time, like a family. And it's just a lovely place to be.
Ron: Yeah. I think there's a lot of families that maybe don't operate that way.
Marc: Yeah, I know. We're pretty good. We're pretty good. Our motto is 'you before us,' and we actually mean it.
Ron: You before us, there are some other common quotes or things that you were filling me in on before we went live, and I actually wrote them down, but just for our audience, and I think they're pretty special. What are some of the other common languages or whatever you want to call mantras within the company?
Marc: Yeah, the unofficial slogan is making friends, make your friends money, make more friends, make them more money. We don't, and it's the money's in there, right, but we're not chasing the money, we're chasing the friends, we're trying to make sure that you as our customer, whether you're the technician pulling the wire to hang a TV. Or whether if you're the owner of the dealership, the integrator. Or you're the manufacturer, know regional, or whoever the hell you are. Our job is to make sure that we're taking care of you and that you believe and we believe truthfully that we are friends because the goal here is to have a long-term relationship with you. It turns out that if you do that, people pay you, and everybody makes money. It's amazing.
Ron: It's amazing. I'm going to say this for everyone listening. We're happy for you, Marc, that you're so happy where you're at because it does sound like I've been hearing you know, I was mentioning before we went live, I started my career at Lutron, and certainly, along the way and my life journey, I've heard the name mentioned many times. Still, I've never I want to say I don't think I've ever met anyone that worked there. It's high. Nice to nice to meet you. Glad to hear it's such a fantastic company. What is what are you trying to do with energy in the home? You've got business owners listening. You got people in the CI space. They're trying to maybe some of them have been at arm's distance from this topic. What does it mean to design energy solutions in the home? How do people make money? Who's interested in this? Educate us. Bring us up to speed. It's a lot of questions. And I might even have more, but yeah. Give it your best shot.
Marc: Yeah. From a fundamental perspective, the big view. It is the only thing that exists today that makes renewable energy actually possible. Because you can get solar panels on your roof, put a windmill in your backyard, you can buy renewable energy credits. Still, all of that is meaningless because you're not using the power when it's being produced. It's meaningless, so a simple example is you got solar panels on your roof, right? You got a lease from the solar company, and you're psyched because your utility bill is lower, and you're producing some amount of power during the day. That's great. But you're not home during the day. Maybe you get home at night, turn the lights on, put the oven on, make dinner, you watch TV, do whatever. All of us collectively use most of our electricity in the evenings. And in the evenings is when solar doesn't produce electricity.
Suppose we don't have a method to store the electricity that we produced in the day. Then what the consequence of our renewable energy push is that we turn on coal plants at night. We turn them on fast and hard for a little tiny percentage at the peak of our usage, and they are extremely inefficient, they're super dirty, and they're really expensive. So that's why electricity gets expensive in the evenings in some areas of the country.
Ron: How prevalent is that, Marc, the turning on of the coal plants designed to address those peak energy demands?
Marc: Everywhere in the country every single afternoon.
Ron: No way.
Marc: Yeah. Yeah, it's crazy that the grid, as a thing, as a giant, the complex machine is an instantaneous demand machine. Suppose you turn a light on in your house. Immediately, like instantaneously, the power generation company has to make more electricity to get to you. If they don't, then there is effectively an underload on the lines. Or rather, an overload on the lines and the grid can get physically damaged as a result. Now, one light bulb will not break the whole grid, but fundamentally speaking, that's how it works and vice versa. You turn that light off. They have to slow that turbine down real quick because if they don't right, they're pumping more power onto the grid than the grid can handle. So it's a constant, delicate balancing act. We put solar on a roof, and we generate electricity, but it often doesn't go anywhere.
Quite often, we dump it to the ground the grid receives it. It goes back maybe a couple of miles to a transfer station, and they literally have rods in the ground that drain the energy because they can't use it. And then a night when we actually use the electricity, well, there's no solar because we just dumped it to nowhere. They turn the power plants on, and it sucks. It's a completely ridiculous thing. It didn't occur. Nobody sat down with a piece of graph paper and said the grid would operate in this reasonable way. No, like everything else we do in the U.S., we all just made up our own story and pieced together this giant monstrosity. This is how it operates.
Ron: Does every state do it in its own way? Or was it federally driven?
Marc: At one time or another, yes. That's part of the reason why we have this random conglomerate of things now. We have three fundamental grids. We have an Eastern, a Western, and a Texas so that we can hit on that. The Texas blackouts happened during the winter freeze because they could not get power from either the eastern or the Western grids. We like all the power in the world coming from the West at that time. We could not give them power because they were their own grid.
Ron: That was by their own choice. Right. At some point, they went private?
Marc: Yes. They went their own way to reduce dependence on federal regulations, which seemed like a really good idea until they needed it. Then they ran away and cried about it, yeah. Not the people of Texas, the people of Texas suffered the numskulls at the top who put themselves in that position or the ones.
Ron: Yeah, and there was a lot of suffering that happened in Texas. That was just this past winter. Right?
Marc: Just this past winter. Here's the thing, too, is as an industry, we sell speakers and TVs and ridiculously expensive projectors and all sorts of things that nobody actually needs. Every last bit of it runs on electricity. Not a single bit of it is then dependent on a happy electron coming into your house in the right way. The battery is there to act as a three-tiered concept. Right. It's safety. Your power goes out. You still have power, right? You can operate your heat. You can keep your food in your fridge called security, which is kind of the same thing, but also literally security cameras, security system, gates, doors, whatever and comfort.
Hey, man, if the power will go out for six hours, but I have this battery that'll keep my fridge going, my lights on, and my AC running, that's pretty awesome. It does so effectively by charging from the solar panels you already have on your roof or that you're going to get because it's a good idea only if you have the battery.
Ron: Within your energy division at CET, what is the portfolio of product solutions? Is it Sonnen, or is it Sonnen&? What is the tool kit that you dip into?
Marc: The tool kit from a CEU perspective is energy storage and energy management, and transportation. But what that is, Sonnen as a product in residence. It is looming as an energy management system that operates to both monitor and controls the loads in your house so you can actually turn them on and off via this system. And then the car charger solution, the EVO charge, which charges cars.
Ron: I would imagine that car charger piece is probably an exponentially growing demand.
Marc: Yeah, well, I mean, throughout the country here in Colorado, for instance, we have requirements from various organizations, whether it be the FCC or fire codes, things like that, where it now requires some minimum amount of car chargers in any new construction application, whether that's a hotel or a parking lot for a park. A state park. Yeah, it's happening, and it's happening quickly.
Ron: I was reading, and I want to say I captured it on social media. Last night, I saw a from the President of the United States on his social channel, a summary of the primary initiatives from the new infrastructure bill that just passed. I want to say in the last day or two.
Marc: Regulation can create jobs.
Ron: There was a big piece in there for EV. I'm not read up on the latest. I didn't come prepared.
Marc: Yeah. The super specifics. No, but fundamentally it adds funds effectively for the expansion of the EV charging network.
Ron: That's what I was reading. Yeah.
Marc: The biggest problem, in fact, maybe even the only problem we have right now with electric vehicles is the ability to charge them reliably and frequently and whatever we want and however we want. It will take a shift in the way we think about it because we're also used to it, and I do the same. I don't have an electric car. I'd love one, but I don't have one. I go to the gas station, fill up. You keep driving. Yeah. We need the ability to do that fairly quickly. The only way we're going to get there is through a comprehensive network of chargers.
"There's a perception that an electric vehicle is green. The idea is I'm not burning fossil fuels in the engine, the combustion engine in the car. Still, you're using electrons generated at some power plant, and that power plant may have been and likely was developing some output level. That is all the bad stuff that causes greenhouse gases and the greenhouse effect."
Ron: I want to ask you this question might be controversial, but it comes from my 12-year-old son. Because there was a debate in our household, you were actually at this point two years ago. I think I've mentioned this once or twice on the show as to do we get a Tesla or do we get something else? And I end up getting a BMW, BMW SUV because of the verdict of this debate. And it was there's a perception that an electric vehicle is green. The idea is I'm not burning fossil fuels in the engine, the combustion engine in the car. Still, you're using electrons generated at some power plant, and that power plant may have been and likely was developing some output level. That is all the bad stuff that causes greenhouse gases and the greenhouse effect. Do you have an opinion that I mean, is that right? Is that accurate? The argument that an electric vehicle is better for the environment and for people who want to be green is it really green versus a gasoline vehicle?
Marc: The only thing that's truly green is if we shut everything off and go back in the cave. Fundamentally speaking, right? There's no such thing as a silver bullet. Other than just giving up on society and going back in the cage, but I don't know about you, but I love indoor plumbing, and I think air conditioning is pretty sweet, and I like the Internet. It's a really good chance that that's not going to change.
Ron: Well, I'm going to throw you a bone because I think I have some of the answers, and I think you have the answer. OK, if I've got solar on my roof. And I store the energy in a battery. So if I charge my battery with a battery with electrons from the sun, yeah, I think that's pretty green.
Marc: It's pretty green. It's pretty green. And it's a matter of efficiency. Right. Even if you're charging your vehicle from a coal plant. You do so in the middle of the night. You don't have solar, but you plug your car in overnight, and you're charging from a coal plant. A coal plant is roughly 40 percent efficient. Which doesn't sound like a lot, but it's actually a lot because an internal combustion engine, on average, is like 28 percent efficient if it's like a really good one, a new one, you know. If you just look at it from the perspective of efficiency and how.
"If everybody in the country plugged their car in overnight, we all had electric cars, but we were only burning coal. We'd be better off of it than if all of our cars burned gasoline."
Because we think of it from a power perspective, you're just generating power when you turn the key in an internal combustion engine, you're generating kilowatts, but you're doing it via gasoline and pistons. How are you getting your kilowatts? Are you getting them from your gasoline engine or your coal plant? Well, if you're getting it from your coal plant, it's better. It's not good. It's not objectively the solution, but it is better than OK. From that perspective alone, if everybody in the country plugged their car in overnight, we all had electric cars, but we were only burning coal. We'd be better off of it than if all of our cars burned gasoline.
Ron: I'd never heard that argument. Do you defend that? And I'm not asking you to do it here, but do you defend that like white papers and research? Because that seems like my 12-year old I'm going to take that argument back to him, and I'm going to say, here's what I just learned.
Marc: Yeah, I don't have the white papers ready, but there is a tremendous amount of research. We are fortunate here in Colorado to have national renewable energy labs nearby. Anecdotes are fun. But data is data, and data on efficiency is the data on efficiency, and if I can get the same amount of power by using less fuel and get the same amount of power for using less fuel. Now, you said earlier that if I got solar panels on the roof and I got a battery in my house, and I can charge my car through that, I didn't burn single fossil fuel to get it. But there's a whole other argument, right? What did you mine to get the gas from that battery? How much cobalt is in there?
Ron: We have a comment on that theme. I'm going to give Ivan credit. I want to say, Ivan, remind me where you're. I think you're in Texas. But Ivan Gomes says, "Also, the process to create batteries are not the most environmentally friendly." Can you speak to that, Marc?
Marc: Yeah. And no, they're not right. Because, again, if we're not going back in the cave, we're doing something to the earth. It's a matter of efficiency. How we're doing it to the Earth right now, I believe, and I believe reasonable people believe that our current issue is carbon dioxide. It's greenhouse gases. That's where we are today. We need to reduce that quickly and now. We might actually be a little bit late to the game. In fact, we probably are. But mining cobalt is a terrible idea. We shouldn't do it. But until we build ourselves a fusion reactor that generates all of the power we need for the entire globe without emitting any, you know, harmful toxins or radioactive waste, we need energy. Yeah, mining rare earth elements from battery manufacturing are still bad for the environment and. Two things mitigate that as a problem, not eliminate it, but mitigate it. The first thing is, is not by using cobalt. Cobalt's a bad one. We should use less cobalt. My sales pitch, because it's true, is Sonnen utilizes iron phosphate instead of cobalt, magnesium or manganese, rather. It is a slightly less harmful mining process because iron is abundant, and we've got a lot of it, and we can use it in various ways and recycle.
That takes me to the recycle. Batteries are recyclable. Even NMC batteries, nickel, manganese, and cobalt batteries in our phones and laptops are recyclable. We just have to have the desire to recycle them. Right. We live in a universe that we've created for ourselves where it is cheaper to pull it out of the ground than recycle it. We will keep pulling it out of the ground until we can't anymore. And then we will figure out how to recycle it for cheap. But we won't ever recycle for cheap until it's cheaper than pulling it out of the ground.
Ron: Is there a business around? We've been doing electric vehicles for a few decades now, but I want to go back. I know my dad at one point had a Prius. Do they still Prius?
Marc: I think they are.
Ron: I remember my dad was so excited the day when he got a Prius like it was like one of his big wins in life was, and he got that Prius.
Marc: Simultaneously, the most innovative car in a long time and the least interesting car in a long time because it straddles that line really well.
Ron: I totally, totally agree. But is it common for this slate? And I want to say it's growing at a pretty fast rate of electric vehicles. Are people taking the batteries? And this might be so out there out of the left-field, you might not know the answer. But I'm curious, are the batteries in electric vehicles recycled today, or are they generally taken to the junkyard?
Marc: You know, specifically about electric vehicles? I don't know. One of the things that we're trying to do on the residential storage side with Sonnen is we're trying to basically get partners throughout the country that are willing to and capable of recycling the batteries. And ours are 100 percent recyclable. So we're just trying to make those relationships. That way, we have that ability when we need to. Our batteries specifically are also fairly long life. The truth is, is that if you were to buy one today, you probably would need to think about recycling it for like 40 years.
Ron: You tell me about the safety because I remember I don't remember the details. Jessica that used to be with Sonnen. She's here at One Firefly now. She's educated me.
Marc: You guys should know everything.
Ron: She does. But she's not here. I got you. The safety of the Sonnen battery, it's got a pretty good companion. If you compare it to other types of batteries, it's got a lot going for it, right? Yeah. The lithium-ion phosphate, it's the lithium battery, but it's using iron phosphate instead of manganese cobalt. The things that are advantageous about that are mining and recyclability. Right. The other thing that's advantageous about it is its longevity, designed to be a longer-lasting, more deep cycle battery. The consequence of that ultimately is that they do not go into what's called thermal runaway. If you want to drive a nail through a battery cell of a lithium-ion phosphate battery, you're going to ruin the battery, and you've probably voided a warranty, and it won't work anymore, but you will not catch fire. NMC batteries, which is and honestly, we use it in everything, cars we use in phones by a laptop that we're doing this on as an intimacy battery.
If I put a nail through that battery, this will catch fire, and it will not stop burning until it is out of fuel. The Sonnen battery doesn't do that. In fact, if you burn it, it won't cascade and burn. Additionally, it'll take just whatever paper bits and plastic bits that are around it will burn. But yeah, so fundamentally speaking, it is a safer battery. The reason for it doing that is because that was the choice of Sonnen. And they said, "We're going to put these exclusively in residences." They don't need to be light. They don't need to be small. We're not propelling a car, and we're not putting a phone in your pocket so we can go with the chemistry that's a little bit bigger and a little bit heavier, but as a consequence, will last longer and will be fundamentally safer than the other available technologies.
Ron: I'm mindful of time, but I'd love to, if you don't mind, go there for a minute or two. What's the business opportunity for the folks listening around, getting into the energy space? How do they bring this to their customers, what they are selling, and how do they make money?
"We are uniquely positioned to sell things that people don't need for lots of money. Fundamentally, we don't need big TVs, projectors, and crazy speakers, and we also don't really need batteries. We should probably have them, and I bet we will need them in a couple of years. But in the meantime, we are uniquely positioned to sell new things to early adopters."
Marc: Yes, I guess it depends on your business as an integrator. You are uniquely positioned, and they say you, but also we like it's the whole thing, right. We are uniquely positioned to sell things that people don't need for lots of money. Fundamentally, we don't need big TVs, projectors, and crazy speakers, and we also don't really need batteries. We should probably have them, and I bet we will need them in a couple of years. But in the meantime, we are uniquely positioned to sell new things to early adopters. The fundamental pitch is that we are going to keep your house comfortable, we are going to keep it secure, and we are going to keep it safe because your power is all of those things, right? Your comfort is your air conditioning, your heating, your TVs, your stereo, your lights, your food, and your fridge is your safety and your security. Your security system is your security and your safety, your ability to communicate with the outside world. I live in the mountains southwest of Denver, and my Internet connection is spotty at best. If any of this is made through, that's pretty cool.
But it's my only method of communication with the outside world. I do not have cell phone service. I do not have a landline. There is no cable here. I do not have a satellite dish. So my Internet goes out. I got a problem. The only reason the Internet goes out here is when the power goes out. These are the things that you consider as you sell these grand systems into people's homes. You're integrating these things, all the electricity works, and you can keep it running indefinitely with a home storage system and solar panels. Really fundamentally, you're still on the grid, but you're basically off the grid if you do it right.
Ron: Do you find people putting batteries into homes without solar or like, for example, are they storing it from the grid and just doing it that way? Or is it usually tied to solar?
Marc: No, I think the earlier adopters of Sonnen and other battery systems were just concerned about a backup scenario. Right. They didn't care about anything else. They wanted to use it as a generator replacement. And it does that just fine. The only real problem with that, of course, is that you're charging from the grid, and you're just charging when the grid is not available. So you're not really using it to its full potential. But, yeah, I mean, you got a battery bank in there ready to keep your fridge going when the power goes out. But if you've got solar on your roof, then you can use that battery at night when the sun goes down, and you never pull from the grid, and you also have a backup. It happens quite often, actually. In fact, I have one project in particular in Colorado where it is specifically backup solar exists, and it's tied to it because why not? But it exists purely to maintain a certain pump 24/7 because they built their house on the side of a river. And that means that their house will flood if they don't have a pump running.
Ron: Holy moly. That's non-negotiable. Yeah. That was their thing. It's like, hey, we need it, we need a solution for this. And so the solution is you get this big battery, and if this cataclysm occurs where the power goes out long enough, you have solar. And if, for whatever reason or another, you've got a generator too that plugs into the battery, which will always keep the battery charge. So at the end of the day, they will never lose power on that pump. Got it. Alright, we're going to close on this CEDIA. Are you guys going to CEDIA, and is it going to happen? I've been doing this line of questioning, by the way, for the last maybe since January. Suppose you think about it, that we're three weeks, two weeks, three weeks away from the event. Are you guys is it going to happen, and are you guys going to going to CEDIA?
Marc: We are. We are operating as if CEDIA is going to occur. And I am not going personally, but we're going, and we're doing the thing. Now, if CEDIA doesn't happen, then OK. We know how to communicate with our customers via the Internet, phone, and face-to-face conversations. I think the thing that people miss about CEDIAs besides just getting together and hanging out is the ability for dealers throughout the country to see manufacturers face-to-face, like who the heck are you? So, yeah, from an agency perspective, yeah, we're ready to go. But if we don't go, then, you know, we'll be fine.
Ron: You'll be fine. Yeah. Awesome. Marc, I've really enjoyed spending this hour with you and getting to know you and about your background and, of course, about the energy business for those listening that want to get in touch with you, learn more about you personally, or learn more about CET or about Sonnen or some of these other things you represent. How would you recommend they get in touch?
Marc: Yeah, so I do not have or care for any form of social media whatsoever. The fact that I'm even on Facebook right now is kind of weird. But my email is
Ron: That's it. Well, this is it. I'm glad that we could break the news here and get Marc onto both LinkedIn and Facebook simultaneously. Oh, putting chills up his spine. We have actually had a listener here from Sonnen. Adam Weinstein.
Marc: Mr. Weinstein. Hello, sir.
Ron: He's been tuning in. Adam, thanks for that. Then we got one more. We got some hook them horns from Ken Davis. The bike emoji thing tells me which Ken Davis that is. What up, Ken? I see my team's already dropped your email here into the show notes. That's excellent. Mark, it's been a pleasure having you on show 182 of Automation Unplugged.
Marc: Thank you.
Ron: Alright, folks, there you have it. That was fun. Mark has had an interesting path, and I would challenge that he understands this industry better than most because he's gone all the way from pulling the wires to programming the systems to managing teams to interacting with all levels within the integration business. And now he's out there forging new paths. He's been at it for a while on the energy side of the business. And you guys are noticing that here intermittently every three or four months or so. I have a guest talking about the subject because I think it is a subject that our industry is poised to really own. We are the integrators, and we integrate all sides of technology. I definitely do not struggle to look into the future and see an electronic or an electronic vehicle or electric vehicle charger in every garage. And it does not seem far-fetched to see a world where batteries are in the house. If you lose power, you have a brownout, or whatever that event is, you have a battery. It certainly seems pretty logical to me. I know some integrators are out there forging these paths, and I love learning about it. I'm a lifelong learner, so that's why I do the show. So on that note, I appreciate you all joining me for the show. Definitely check us out on all the socials.
Follow us if you haven't already. Subscribe to the podcast again. If you're on LinkedIn or Facebook, you're watching the live video or the replay, but we are in audio-only. If you are like me and you're a listener of podcasts, I do it on my morning walks, then definitely subscribe, and you'll hear Mac and all the other interesting guests that we have on the show all the time. And so, on that note, I'm going to pull up our little closing artwork here. I'm going to sign off, and I will. I'll see you next week for show 183. Thanks, everyone.
Marc Ayoub is a 20+ year CI industry veteran who held several unique roles throughout his career. His journey began in the early 2000s at an alarm company. He eventually joined Audio Command Systems, where he worked his way up to lead technician. While recovering from a broken leg in 2006, Marc took on a new challenge to teach himself how to program Crestron. He also worked closely with management to develop a streamlined design and installation process that significantly improved project efficiency. Marc soon joined a local manufacturer’s rep agency, CET and Associates. He took on several leadership roles to help integrators grow their business with products like Lutron, Sonnen, and Lumin. Today, Marc uses his passion for renewables to lead the Energy Division at CET with the ultimate goal to expand renewable energy throughout the country.
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 become the leading marketing firm specializing in integrated technology and security. The One Firefly team works hard to create innovative solutions to help Integrators boost their online presence, such as the elite website solution Mercury Pro.
Resources and links from the interview: