Home Automation Unplugged Episode #200: An Industry Q&A with Lee Travis
In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, Lee Travis, Owner of Wipliance LLC shares lessons learned from his years in business.
This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Lee Travis. Recorded live on Wednesday, January 5th, 2022, at 12:30 pm. EST.
About Lee Travis
Lee Travis got his start with the custom integration industry through car audio and transitioned to full residential integration soon after. He founded Wipliance in 2006 in Bellevue, WA and later expanded to Scottsdale, AZ, in 2016 with a focus on delighting clients and building leaders. Wipliance has won Integrator of the Year at CES, is recognized consistently in the CEPRO 100 and takes pride in the industry-leading approach for video and online marketing.
- Update from Lee since the Feb 2020 recording of Automation Unplugged show #100
- CES 2022 Update - Live from Vegas
- The importance of video in marketing
- Lessons learned from years in business
Ron: Lee. How are you, sir?
Lee: Good. How are you? First of all, congratulations on 200 shows. There aren't a lot of things that have made it to 200. But you have definitely done it and set a new benchmark in this industry. So thank you for putting this together.
Ron: Well, as you were witness to over the last little bit here, it takes a lot of persistence sometimes to make each and every interview happen. You, my guests and my guests are always very busy people. In fact, you're going to tell us... It looks like you're in a bedroom. So where are you coming to us from?
Lee: So I'm at Mandalay Bay Resort and Hotel in Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show. And yes, we did have some fumbling around between Hotel Wi-Fi, which was not present trying to hotspot laptop, iPad, iPhone, headphones, but we finally got it. Persistence has paid.
Ron: Persistence does pay amen to that, and we already have someone tuning in. Well, there's my wife, she says. Two hundred with a celebration. Thank you, my love. Then we have Thomas. He says, "Good day, Happy New Year to all from Panama. Good to see you, Ron, and congrats on Show 200." I appreciate that, Thomas. And you know what? To celebrate this, Lee, I thought it would be fun; I've got some stats here on things that have celebrated 200. Let me try to go through a few of these. My staff pulled these stats together for me here, so I'm going to go through them. The Brooks Brothers, I guess they do clothing. They celebrated their 200th birthday. Recently, now, One Firefly...
Lee: I had no idea they were 200 years old.
Ron: 200 years old, that's impressive.
Lee: Wow! There probably aren't a lot of businesses that can say that.
Ron: Now, Wipliance, how many years are you guys?
Lee: Fifteen years.
Ron: Fifteen years?
Ron: One Firefly just celebrated 14 in October.
Ron: All right. What do we have next here? Well, two hundred and forty-five years since the signing of the Declaration of Independence. There you go. There's the number 200. TV shows that have made it to 200 episodes; Gunsmoke, remember Gunsmoke?
Lee: I remember Gunsmoke.
Ron: The Simpsons.
Lee: That show has been on forever.
Ron: Yeah, I think they're still running The Simpsons. Simpsons has surpassed the 200 mark. Law and Order, the show Friends, NYPD, Dynasty, and one of my favorite shows; I remember it from my youth, my dad and I used to watch it. I remember I'd be at college, and there'd be an episode, and I would call my dad, and we would talk about the episode. And that was The X-Files. Did you ever watch The X-Files?
Lee: I did. I did see those crime dramas murder mysteries. Those hit the high episodes. But yeah, definitely. Friends, Simpsons, you're in some great company.
Ron: Yeah, I don't know if we're quite at that mark yet, but we'll talk about it. It's fun to think of it. And then in 2010, The South Park cartoon, I think that was on Comedy Central, had their 200th episode, and they, in fact, titled the show 200. So there you have that. Then the current White House was built 230 years ago. So there you go! Two hundred, it's a big deal, and you're here. And look what I have for us.
Lee: Congratulations again on two hundred.
Ron: Oh, thank you. Thank you. This was our show art from Show 100, with you as the special guest, and if you look at that date, we recorded that live on February 26, 2020. Isn't that fascinating? That is almost exactly pre-pandemic.
Lee: That is, yes. And that was a big milestone; 100 was a big milestone. 200 is a really big milestone for episodes of a show. We in the industry appreciate you keeping it going.
Ron: Well, I appreciate it, and I grabbed a still from the show, and I'm just realizing now when I grabbed it, your eyes are closed. So there is a special occasion.
Lee: When I laugh, they close anyway. So it's fun.
Ron: There you go. So then I see that in that show, you put up the artwork. So this time, my wife was actually in here just a little bit ago, and she put up, she went into Party City and got us some balloons, which was a lot of fun. So, Lee, you are in; let me pull this artwork down if I can figure out my control panel. You are in Vegas for the CES show. What's your game plan out there?
Lee: This is my 35th consecutive CES show. As you know, they didn't have it last year, so I can't say thirty-fifth consecutive years since they didn't have it, so it would have been thirty-six years this year. I've been coming to this show since cell phones were, you know, massive, and TVs are still massive, or projection TVs and stuff. So I've seen a lot over all of these years. I came when I was 18 years old. You didn't need ID to get into some of these places or any of the shows and stuff back then. So it probably wrecked me, honestly. But it's been great to watch the show. You know, I stayed at Circus Circus Hotel for $13 a night as an 18-year-old. That was a long time ago.
Ron: My God.
Lee: I was in the car audio industry, and I just feel like CEDIA it's important to support the show, and there's a lot of companies and people that canceled out of it. I've never been to Vegas and seen it as dead as I saw it when I came in last night. But I'm here to support the industry and the show and see the latest in TV and video and technology. As you know, a lot of our industry has moved to the CEDIA show. And so, you know, we hit that every single year, of course, on our team. But I've always loved the CES experience, and I'm still as excited about the technology electronics today as I was thirty-five shows ago.
Ron: Today's Wednesday, January 5th. How many days are you going to spend out there? Like, what's a norm, what's normal for you or what's planned?
Lee: So I used to come to the show and be here for all four days back when a lot of our custom manufacturers were here when a lot of the high-end audio stuff was here. Gaming used to be here; computer stuff used to be here. So these days I'm usually at the show for two or three days. I leave Friday. I'm here at the show for two days and then head off down to Arizona on Friday.
Ron: Any expectations, any big technology releases that you're aware of from any of your vendors that you wanted to put your eyes on first?
Lee: This year, I just don't think we're going to see as much of that stuff. I'm excited to see all the great new video. I'm just astonished that we can still make headway in the video space. Like when you see these new TVs, you just don't think you can get any better, any more real. Obviously, today we're doing, you know, 100 inch TVs and 8K TVs, and that stuff looks fantastic. But you come to these shows, and somehow, they figured out a way to make it better and more real. So I'm excited to see all those products. I'm excited to meet with vendors. I have some one-on-one meetings with vendors that aren't necessarily displaying at the show, so it's still a great time to get business and stuff done. And I've got some other friends in the industry that will be here, so I always learn from peers just like I know you and I talk about business when we're not on camera; it's great to learn from others.
Ron: Amen, amen. I got a few more people saying hello, so we'll give them a shout-out; Jessica says, "Hi, Lee, Thanks for joining us for Show 200 and making it so special." And Lee, I know you are a very busy person and Melissa who's down here on my screen. I know she's very busy, and I really appreciate you guys making room to make this happen. It means a lot.
Lee: Thanks for fumbling through all the hotel setup and trying to make all this work. A little harder to do in the hotel than it was show 100 back in our office where you can control the environment.
Ron: Oh, I think patience and persistence are virtues, and if you don't have those you can't do, you can't be in technology. You can't certainly be trying to stream live. That would be painful for you if that was the case. And I do see that Sean Sturmer and Alex Kamara both said Happy 200th show over on LinkedIn. So thank you guys for tuning in and for sharing those thoughts. Now, Lee, we last talked publicly in this forum. I mean, exactly pre-pandemic, I know that I was actually in Vegas on March 9th, 2020. I was out there for a Prosource show.
Lee: As was I, yeah.
Ron: We were at that same event. And I did my leadership, my quarterly planning session on that same trip, I was planning for Q2, and the news was just starting to break rapid-fire about COVID. And you know, the crazy thing is, we're here two years later, and now the news is still breaking about Omni, the newest strain. And I know that at an expedited rate, friends and family and coworkers all seem to be getting this new strain, but maybe catch our audience up. What's life been like for you? What's business been like for you the last twenty-four months? I know that's a lot of time, and I'm asking you to encapsulate it, but maybe what are some of the biggies for you?
Lee: So for us? I remember being at that Vegas show. I remember we left, and they literally shut off the lights on the Vegas Strip when we left and everything kind of shut down. We had another trip after that to San Diego with our sales team, a special trip and everything was just kind of unfolding. And then, as soon as we got back to Seattle, everything went into the lockdowns, and that second quarter was our worst. In Seattle, they closed everything down, so we were not working on projects. Construction sites were all shut down. That was a really scary time. I mean, I've never been through anything like that as long as I've been in this industry. I've never been forced to shut down my business. So we were closed for two months in Seattle. We weren't closed in Scottsdale, but people didn't want us in their homes. As you can imagine, our audience is a little bit more mature, so a little bit more at risk. So that was our worst quarter in a decade. Then after we came out of that, people got their feet underneath them, and we were working, all of our PBP and our PPE and safety gear. And then, our third quarter was the best that we'd ever had in company history. People decided that they wanted to upgrade the technology in their home so, when they're doing video conferences like we are today, they're not dealing with all the problems that we dealt with the hotel Wi-Fi and all that kind of stuff. That became one of our fastest-growing segments is this home network. Then every quarter since then has broke records. So, people are at home, and they want to upgrade their theaters and their networks and, with what's happened, their security and surveillance. And so it has gone from our worst quarter to record-setting back to backorders. So I feel very appreciative and fortunate as we go into 2022 to have survived all that.
Ron: I agree, and I think it's impressive that you guys have grown quarter over quarter since, and it certainly seems like a trend for our industry; there are some pockets of maybe where this isn't the case, but for the most part, our industry is doing gangbuster business in the second half of 2020 and all of 2021. If you are to look in your crystal ball into 2022, is it more of the same, or is that less clear for you?
Lee: I don't think anything is is predetermined. I remember before we had that last recession, the end of the housing bubble was strong, and everything was going great, and then all of a sudden, the bottom fell out. So I would say that I'm cautiously optimistic. I felt like we were due for a recession. And you and I have had these discussions offline. I felt like we were due for that before COVID happened, and then COVID happened and kind of set the world back. The stock market had a correction, and real estate had correction. Then now, everything seems very inflated again. And with all this printing of money, it just seems like, you know, you've got to pay the price sooner or later. So we've got our businesses in very secure positions so that we can weather any storm. I feel optimistic about the market and the growth and some of the new categories like lighting and those things that I know we're going to talk about. So I feel very good, and our plans are to grow the business. But at the same time, we have stocked away, you know, plenty of gunpowder.
Ron: Got lots of people tuning in here. We have Enrique; he says, "What an incredible achievement, Two hundred and a lot of work. Congratulations to all the One Firefly team." Thank you very much, and we have George Tucker "Bravo on 200". Thank you, George. George has a podcast as well. George, I know you're an audio producer, and George has actually helped us at One Firefly with some projects. So drop that into the notes, George. Let people know how they can follow you. Then Andres Kline, down in here in Miami, says, "Looking good, Lee." So Lee, I know this because we're friends on Facebook. You just took a vacation. You were traveling. Were you in Hawaii, or where were you at?
Lee: Yeah. And the island of Oahu. I took my kids. I've always believed in experiences over things, and so we've done a lot of vacations instead of gifts. My kids, who are adults now, wouldn't remember things I got them three to five years ago, but they remember all the vacations I've ever taken them on. You're not there yet, but when you travel with your kids as adults, it's a whole different experience. You don't get as much time with them; you really soak up that time that you have. It was a fantastic week over in Hawaii, and I got to miss all the snow in Seattle, so it was perfect.
Ron: I saw the picture. I was like, Man, I want to be a part of Lee's family; that looks like a fantastic trip. So congratulations.
Lee: Adoption requests are at about 100 right now.
Ron: I bet they are. Talk to us about lighting. I know you guys are big Lutron dealers amongst multiple other brands, control for different brands. But in a Lutron space, I was just curious kind of what are you seeing in the lighting and shading in the Ketra, the tunable lighting space. You've been at the forefront of that. I'm going to transition that also into video production because I want to talk about video with you, and then I know you want to flip the script and ask me some questions for the audience. So we're going to get there, folks. Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Keep it clean. Keep it clean. But talk to me about lighting and shading and kind of what has you excited right now. What are you saying?
Lee: So, like networking was to our industry, you know, a decade or so ago, I believe that lighting for a number of our dealers is the largest future potential we have in the next decade. So much has changed with lighting, even when you and I were trying to figure out where to do this in this little hotel room; as we got to the window, the lighting got washed out and got really cold and color, so we tried to figure out how to warm that up a little bit so that what's left of my tan can still look like a tan.
Ron: It looks like you have a super tan right now for what it's worth.
Lee: Thank you. But I think either we're educating people or people are realizing that they don't always know what makes a room or a space feel good. But when you show them the lighting, the experience between lighting and then when you bring in music together, that's what creates a great, you know, outdoor experience, a bar experience. They obviously turn up the lights and turn off the music when they want you to go home and play closing time. So the same thing is true when you want people to feel welcome into your home. The lighting is really important. Back when I grew up, we had a single booth light on the ceiling and then now, today, what's considered nice is four cans and the fan. But we're realizing all these layers of light at different colors, and different heights can really make a space phenomenal. So being on the lighting team committee within Prosource, you've got to be part of a team that's driving the front side of that and being Lutron Black Diamond dealer and doing stuff with Ketra and shades and everything else we're doing with them. Very excited about that. We shot a video series, which I know you're going to ask me about it at the LTC center in Dallas. So we're going to be releasing these videos over the first quarter, and it goes through with David Werfel lighting education, which I think will be beneficial for a bunch of dealer friends that are excited to see those and ensure those. Then we did a tour at the Ketra facility and did an interview there. So I think you're going to see a little bit more talk show host format like what you're doing here, where I'm trying to get this knowledge in the lighting industry and share it with not just our clients but with the industry in general and help raise the tide. So I'm excited about lighting its potential. Then a lot of dealers are talking about it, learning about it. So it's exciting times.
Ron: Anybody that has followed your business on your website or your social platform knows that you guys produce some amazing video. And I know that you and Melissa are heavily involved in the design and the development of that content. Talk to our audience why you continue to do that. Why do you continue to do that and then maybe get into the mechanics? How do you do that? How do you make the Wipliance approach to video?
Lee: So, you know, they say that pictures are worth a thousand words I remember in early years showing potential clients pictures of completed theaters, pictures of really nice installs, pictures of all sorts of projects that we've done and that works both as an idea book for some people. Just like if you're building a home or doing any kind of a project. Now, if you look at what's happened in the world, you want to search anything you go to YouTube, and there are a million how-to videos on how to set up a sound studio, how to do a million things. So if pictures are worth a thousand words, then a video must be worth a million words, I'm not sure what the mathematical equivalent of that is, but in my business, we're storytellers. And you know, whether it be about lighting or about networks, you're telling a story about what that benefit is. Clients don't really care at the end of the day, the frequency response and all these other things. Does it sound good? Does it look good? Does it feel good? And most people are just uneducated on what's available and what can be done. So video is a great way for us to tell those stories. Anyway, we just we feel that's a great way to get that out there, and so as you know, from doing these recordings, it's not easy, and there's a lot that goes into it and trying to get things right, like lighting and sound and background. And how does it look? When we look at some of the early videos that we did, we're just panning. They were basically like video photos. We're panning theaters; we're panning installs; we're panning equipment racks. Then we felt like we needed to bring the human element to it, and so then we started getting me on camera and talking about it and talking about projects. I know you and I have laughed over some of this stuff before, but we look back to some of the early videos, and I had this what's the right way to say it online? RBF... And I would talk probably like at 200 miles an hour, and so I had to start slowing down and taking pauses so we could do some editing. So, Melissa, as you mentioned, thank you, Melissa. I know she's listening in, but basically, between Melissa and our video guy Rich and myself, we basically concept the videos. If you hired a video production company to do it, it would probably cost for sure it would cost a fortune. We wouldn't be able to release as many videos, and Melissa's probably got the math and could tell us the background how many videos we've actually done. I don't actually know how many it is, but I know that we have at least a dozen still in editing right now, and we're trying to release a video every few weeks or so. Then I know there are some questions I'm going to have about what we can do with this video content on the road for you. Because if you look at what's happened with reels and talk and all these other things, once you have all this content, how can we remix and reuse it? So I have questions for you on how we can repurpose what we have. So we'll get to that.
Lee: Are you ready?
Ron: Let's flip it. Let's go. Let's go. What you got?
Lee: So I want to know what you think in 2022 are the next things that dealers like I and other dealers that want to market their business and take things to the next level should we be, we have a LinkedIn page, but should we be doing more there? Should we be doing reels? Should we be doing Tik Toks? And what should we be doing that I'm not asking you about?
Ron: Well, I think if you are at the forefront, I mean, I even remember a Prosource event, I'm going to call it three or four years ago where I was presenting to the room, and I was talking about forward-thinking strategies and actually put your website and your content on the screen because you figured out years ago that video mattered and that video was relevant, and that video could be incorporated into your marketing. You know, if you think of when you watch, you know, I don't watch much TV these days, but when I have, and I know, I'll just say my parents, if they're watching TV, a lot of times they're watching home garden TV, they're watching home remodeling TV. People love to see other people's spaces, interior and exterior. It's eye candy. It's, frankly probably at the core genetic level. People just want to be in other people's lives, and video is a powerful way. You mention it to tell stories. So what do I think is relevant for our industry as a whole? It's to embrace video. It's to figure out video, to figure out what video means for your business. At One Firefly, we've been doing some video production on our websites for our clients, and we're ramping that up in 2022. But then, when you get into the tactics, the strategy is to do more video. Guess what? If you're listening or watching this, look around to your competitors, most of them won't do it. So if you simply do anything, you're going to be different, and marketing is about differentiation. So that's a feather in your cap if you're doing anything. But then when you really say, "Well, what could I do: in your case, you have a stunning set of fully produced video and B-roll. There's an enormous number of ways to utilize that video that are probably today are industry-wide, is not utilizing videos, and you mentioned social media. If you look at Instagram alone and you just look at the different channels within Instagram, a lot of people maybe think of Instagram as a singular platform, but Instagram, you mentioned it also has this newest format called Reels. Well, reels if you load video to reels, and if you follow me on on Instagram, I just posted, I got a drone for Christmas, so I've been shooting drone footage and cutting little videos together with some music and posting it on reels and personally, there's no business objective to it. It's getting hundreds and thousands of views. It's exponentially greater organic reach when you post content into reels, and you then look at stories on Instagram. Stories exponentially greater organic reach naturally through the algorithm that they're putting that content out to the world. You have IGTV exponentially greater organic reach. So a lot of people think singularly of posting a piece of content to a page or to your feed on Instagram, or I say on Facebook, but I'm saying on Instagram for the moment, there are multiple other channels and then when you really get creative with your team about the types of videos. The purpose of the videos, the strategy in the videos, you and I have talked about how good you are on camera. You're comfortable on camera, talking about technology, you're comfortable. We'll leave whether you're good to the side, you're comfortable. I see Melissa laughing, you're comfortable on camera, and you're very good, and you make this stuff easy to understand. Well, if you really were to run with that, and for those that are listening or watching that fit that personality type, they're comfortable doing that. There's such opportunity in the world at large to share what our industry does and share it with your passion, and you do it through these channels that give you exponential reach. You don't have to pay for a professional TV production crew to do a commercial on TV. You have all that distribution available at your fingertips on your phone. So I think the world wants to consume what we do. We work in beautiful homes and beautiful businesses. We work with the coolest technology in the world, and most people either want it or aspire to have it in their life one day. And I think it's there, and it's just untapped potential for our industry. I could give you a similar rant on Facebook and LinkedIn, but I think video at large, there's whole video creation strategies that need to exist within businesses. There's video distribution strategies that need to exist within businesses. That's what you and I, just on Christmas Eve, you and I were just kind of shooting the shit, my show, so I can curse, shooting the shit, and we were just talking about video and kind of where could it go for our industry? I think we're just at the beginning; I think we're at the beginning of the first inning in terms of how to use video within our space.
Lee: Well, I don't know if it's our attention span, but these short video segments, I mean, when we cut these company videos, we're always trying to, you know, should it be, two minutes should be three minutes. How will people watch? How do you kind of set the hook? How do you tell the story? How do you get them interested? But obviously, stories, reels, all those things are very short. But yeah, you noticed that that's how the platform pushes out that content; it seems now to be reels, stories and then posts. Then obviously, that stuff copies over to Facebook. I haven't. I haven't done TikTok yet just because I don't need another distraction, because if you've watched these things, you can go down a rabbit hole and find yourself 45 minutes later. I don't know how many reels or tik to that is, but, you know, been there a while.
Ron: I've never been on Tik Tok, and I'm aging myself. I'm Gen-X. I just haven't downloaded the app. I've never done a Tik Tok, but I have right because what all the Tik Tokers are doing is they're loading it into their Reels feed on Instagram. So if you look at your Instagram Reels feed or just your general feed. Most of that is is produced or that kind of music dancy stuff. I'm aging myself here by saying that dancy stuff on Tik Tok, and I say I'm not for or against TikTok. I'd say I'm neutral on it. I think there's untapped potential on Instagram across multiple channels, untapped potential on Facebook Stories and untapped potential on Instagram or not Instagram, but LinkedIn. LinkedIn is going in the direction of video. We're streaming this show right now, live on LinkedIn on my personal profile. We haven't quite got the software to work on the company profile yet. LinkedIn has not made it easy, but if you look at uploading video, all of the platforms, and we haven't even talked about YouTube yet, all of the platforms are strongly valuing either natively produced, so natively from their live feed injection or the uploading of video into their content feeds. They're giving that type of content significantly greater organic reach. If you didn't put your business hat back on as an integrator serving a local market, well, if you start producing videos of your projects and you put that into your feed, what's going to happen is your customers are going to watch it, and your customers are going to share it. I was talking to Melissa just before the show that she is now seeing the videos for your clients shared with their circles of influence, and she's saying that's now being very in a very accountable way, being tracked to lead generation. I don't know, Lee; I'll bounce it back to you if you want to speak to that kind of the feedback that you're getting from your customers.
Lee: Well, what we find is that right now, we host all these videos on YouTube, and we're trying to learn from you and learn from others. How do we improve our audience and viewership? And is there an ad component you do there? I know we're going to talk to you about those in our meeting as we set up our goals for 2022. But when clients want to know, when we're telling them about landscape audio, now you're in Florida and there's a bunch of that and we do a bunch of that in Arizona, we do some of that in Seattle. But when you tell somebody, "Hey, let's put in some landscape audio," and they're like, "what?" Here's this video, and we send it to them. We have a whole video that tells them what and shows them, more importantly, what landscape audio is how it blends into the landscape. The same thing with these lighting ones that we have coming out, the same thing with these theater ones, we can say, Oh, you need to see this video. You can watch this specifically in a minute and 30 seconds. And they watch these videos. And I think it brings up our average ticket as well because the customer sees that experience in someone else's home or a commercial restaurant bar or whatever the case is. They're like, I want that. Just like you would see in a luxury magazine, you see gorgeous watches and cars, and you know, all these other, you know, handbags and everything else you might see in, you know, people are visually stimulated. And video is that next level from photos.
Ron: You're hearing, you might be getting it through the mic, outside of that window downstairs on the ground floor, my pull contractor is putting in my deck. I go back to the process my wife and I went through, and it happened over November and December of 2020 when we were doing, like a lot of folks are doing, we said we're not going to travel. So let's make our yard better. Let's make our house better. So we decided to upgrade our pool and deck. What we did, and really she did most of the research she was on Instagram and YouTube for all of the best pool contractors in South Florida, and she was watching their pictures and their videos. Our finalist list came from her research on Instagram.
Lee: You see it all the time, people look for interior design ideas, and they start either following a bunch of people on Instagram or videos and look, these people up, and they look at their projects. So that becomes your portfolio.
Ron: It does. Now you asked me, what are other methods that I think are on the forefront for exploration for our space? I think one of those areas that we're very interested in we're beta testing, we're researching. I'm hesitant to say it's an answer. And if it's an answer, who is the answer for because we're still conducting the research, but that is the LinkedIn advertising space. So if you think about the architects, designers, the builders, the C-level executives, all of them are on LinkedIn, whether they're on Facebook, I'm going to have people debate me. They're going to say they're not on Facebook, OK, but they're almost all on LinkedIn for professional purposes. So that's the reason a business should be posting on LinkedIn. That's the reason your industry or local market-facing people should be personally posting on LinkedIn, maybe sharing company posts on LinkedIn. But that's also why LinkedIn advertising is so interesting, because it's so well-defined in terms of who's there. Those are the people that generally you as an integrator, either want to be liaising with from the, you know, the DNA community or you want to have as a customer, a future customer. So I think LinkedIn advertising has us very interested. We're in active research in beta with various clients around the country. We did a similar set of research a number of years ago, you know, because you were at the back end of that research project, and that was really the Google ad space. And what role does Google ads have for an integrator in improving their overall visibility and search? Well, I think LinkedIn equally is very interesting. Now what I already know to be a fact is it's much more expensive. It's much more expensive than Google or Facebook. But then, if you say, "I don't care what it costs, I care what I get." What LinkedIn tells you and I is that LinkedIn advertising delivers a much higher rate of quality conversions. What we're doing as an agency is we're testing that now to say, "All right, well, do we see that prove out in the data?" Because if it does, then you're going to see our agency add that to our toolkit. I would recommend it for those that are listening; if you have experience with LinkedIn ads, drop it into the notes would love to see that. But that area has us very interested because I think it's generally untapped.
Lee: I know when you and I first started working together, I know you were talking about the Facebook ads and the real value play there, and that worked out to be on a cost basis, much lower than the PPC that we ended up testing through Google and those things. So I'd be interested in your feedback on LinkedIn because at the end of the day, it's really all you care about is the results, right? If you get a bunch of views but no business, that doesn't do you any good if it gets a few views and a lot of business, that is good.
Ron: Well, if it costs forty dollars a click versus a Facebook ad click, which is about 50 cents. Right? If you only look at the dollars, you're going to say, well, Facebook's better, less. But if you look at well of all those clicks, how many converted in the case of giving you a call or filling out a form, and of those conversions, how many bought something? That's now where you can actually look at your net profitability on those purchases. Compare that to your investment and the strategy, and now you can calculate a true return on investment. So we've stayed away, we stayed away from LinkedIn ads for the longest time because it was, it is so expensive to advertise in that space. But the reality for us is we just have clients that have been growing with us for years, and they say, "Ron, what else?" "What's new? What else can we be doing?" And so we said, "Well, we've stayed away because it was expensive." But if it's better, then it's better. So I'm not willing to stand on a soapbox and say it's better is not my message in this video, but. I am here to say that it's a very interesting space and it's worthy of analysis. We'll talk in the future months about kind of what our findings are there.
Lee: Well, you guys have done a great job based on our lead tracking; since you guys do all that on our website, it's very informative to see where these leads come from and track the source and listen to all that. So you guys do a great job giving us those metrics. So those leads, I feel like we have a really good handle on where they come from; when they come in on the phone, we're trying to do a good job on that front, you know, making sure what's the lead source. We try to capture that literally as soon as the phone call comes in as the client, how they heard about us.
Ron: It's important for our audience to understand that, and what you're referencing directly is we've been doing Google ads for you guys for Wipliance, I may get this wrong, but I want to say we've been doing it since approximately June 2020. In a Google ad strategy, what you can do is you can use a Google technology called Google Tag Manager. So if Google Tag Manager is properly configured on your website and the key is properly, because there's a lot of improperly configured Google Tag Manager accounts that we run across when we're working with our customers. But if it's properly configured, what's really neat, you know, the data geek in you and me, we get to know if that click led to a visit and if that visitor did something we want them to do. We can, with finite detail, track it and we can actually record that as what's called a conversion. That is only half of the data that you and I need to know if that's where I should be spending my money because what I also now need is need you to be organized and be able to tell us if you guys made contact and if you made contact wasn't a legitimate lead. And if it was a legitimate lead, did they buy something? And if so, how much? What's even better is, I want you to know your profitability on that job, because now you can really say, Well, here's what the business secured to their bank account, net, net, net, and here's what the business's expense was to invest in that strategy. Now that full cycle is a very cool capability to have accountability and trackability, it's also expensive. It takes time; it takes energy. So Google gives us the luxury of that sort of accountability. A lot of the other methods that I still strongly advocate and you guys practice. I mean, I think it's a really good idea to email your customers regularly. Why? Because if you love on your customer for life, they're going to send you lots of your future customers because they're going to refer you. Well, how exactly do you put a return on investment calculation to that you might have been emailing your customer for 24 months before they finally referred you? And did they refer you because of the newsletter, or is it just a matter that you stayed subconsciously top of mind? I would present that there is a concept of just staying generally in front of your prospects and your customers and your website and your social platforms and your email and even snail mail, maybe postcards or other communication. There are ways to stay in front of them that are like the foundation of a strategy for an integrator. Then there are, I want it now, and I want to know if what I'm investing now is delivering fruit. That's where your paid strategies partially come in because this is calculus. This is not one plus one. This is not basic arithmetic; t's complicated. I say partially because I can track a lead with a LinkedIn strategy or a Facebook ad strategy, and I can track that to a sale. But there's also, and it's funny because Andre Klein was just he commented a bit ago.
Lee: I'm going to see him later.
Ron: And you're going to see him later.
Lee: Yeah! He's here in Vegas.
Ron: 00:44:36.350 Oh, OK, awesome. You're going to see him over at the origin facility or...
Lee: Yeah, I don't know if we're headed over there next to the show floor, but I'll see those guys shortly.
Ron: Awesome, well, those guys are obviously rock stars, and when you Google, most forms of solutions in our industry and I'm here in South Florida, and they're just down in Miami, so clearly they're targeting this area for me. I see their Google ad placement. I see it on any search I do in South Florida. It's nuts. So I'm not clicking on those ads. Andre's, I'm not clicking on your ad and spending your money, but I see it, and that brand placement is being put in front of me for all of these searches. That is also one of the values of I'm going to pick on what sometimes is a dirty word. These paid strategies like Google, because there is a benefit, I believe, and I would challenge that you guys believe that if someone does a search, they find you above in the ad or at the bottom of the page in the ad position, but they also find you organically in between. You know, Lee, when you do a search, and you're going to go buy a new toaster. All right, you want the best toaster out there. It's got to toast four pieces of bread perfectly, just the way you like it.
Lee: Any type of bread.
Ron: Any type of bread, including bagels and bagels are not allowed to get caught. You're going to conduct searches, and you're going to get Google ads, and you're going to get organic results. What do you click on?
Lee: I go for the organic results.
Lee: Because I feel I feel like the organic results have earned that attention, and the paid is trying to get there. But I know, you know, since you guys have been taking care of all of our stuff, and I don't know how long that's been, but you helped us concept, that strategy from the beginning, and you said, Hey, this SEO takes a long time to develop this in Crock-Pot. This pay-for-click is microwaved. So we want a combination of both. So you can get some business down over how many years it's been. I don't know if it's been three years or four years.
Ron: I think we started working together in 18 or so, maybe 17. Melissa, when was it was 17 or 18?
Lee: But you guys have really helped us build that, that presence. In the beginning, it was more than microwaved and pay per click. But now, through your concept of having us do the newsletters which roll into the blogs, which the videos feed and our whole program altogether, now you'll see us still having to pay per click, but you'll see us top organic listings in most of the categories that we've tried to be from positions as low as 50 before. Now we're in the one to three-pole position P2P3.
Ron: You know, the principle I advocate is page one dominance. So I ask skeptics because I'm talking to people all day long, every day, and some people are engaging us because they're curious. Some are already, you know, they have friends that are succeeding, and they want to be like those friends, but they'll come to us, sometimes skeptically, in terms of why they should be spending money on marketing when maybe historically they sent little to none. Business is good, and life is good. So who am I to tell anyone they should do something different if they're happy with their business and they're happy with their life? I don't believe then; if you don't want any change, then why institute a new variable? Because now something's going to change or has the potential to change. So marketing is a thing to do when you are trying to achieve an outcome. That outcome could be growth; it could be winning certain types of projects. It could be providing certain types of solutions. It could be putting you, the business owner, in the driver's seat versus the passenger seat. You're putting yourself in the position to define your destiny. I want to do these types of projects. I want to do projects in these markets. I want these sized projects; I want to do residential, I want to do commercial, I want to do more Lutron, Ketra. I want to do whatever I want to do; it's a personal choice. Then a marketing strategy, its job is to simply help you realize that, well, how much do I spend a little bit or a lot? You should spend at the rate that's tuned in to what you're trying to achieve within the time frame you're trying to achieve it.
Lee: So when you use that word, spend, not invest, and my experience with most dealers is that they're like, I have all the business I can handle right now, so I don't want to advertise then wasting money because then I would get more. But as we even know, from when you started handling all of our online marketing stuff, it's taken two to three years for us to get to market dominance page one. So if there is a recession or a slowdown in the future, where do you want to be or not? You don't start building your house the day winter comes, and you need shelter. You start building it in the summer so that it's finished so that you have shelter for the winter.
Ron: I'll give you an example. There was a client that started working with us in the summer of 2020. They were a ten-year-tenured business; they are in the Midwest. I'm not going to name the city because I don't want anyone to try to figure out exactly who I'm talking about. They were in the Midwest, at the center of the country. They originally signed up with One Firefly in what's kind of a more of a middle to long-term strategy of growth, emails, logs, a little bit organic social media and a little bit of review work. Kind of a good place to start. About three months into that engagement, we got, I don't want to say, a panicked call, but a very fearful call. I had a one on one with the owner, and he was genuinely scared for his business because he was not sure he'd make it that fall. He's like, I've been in business ten years. Life has been good. But this COVID thing is knocking my business for a loop in my local market, for a loop. I don't know what to do. We ended up pivoting that business entirely away from the slow and steady build-it with SEO because he didn't have time to take two or three years. He didn't have time to invest. He believed that it would benefit him. Call it 18 months from now into the future, but he had to turn things around dramatically, immediately in the next 90 days, or he would not be able to make payroll. In that case, we pivoted to an "I need it now" microwave strategy. I'm going to use that from now on, the crockpot or the microwave.
Lee: Well, when you need dinner for your kids in five to seven minutes, you don't have time to get on the stove and get the Crock-Pot heated up. You need dinner now.
Ron: In his business, we pivoted into Facebook ads and a Google ad strategy exclusively, everything else was cut, his money went there, and I'm very happy to say now, and I was just actually on with his account manager in Q4. His business has never been stronger, much like yours, you're saying quarter after quarter record growth. He made it through that time. So now I'll inverse it, and I'll say a lot of you and a lot of businesses in our industry are booming. Their cup runneth over with work. Well, when times are good or when you have the opportunity to invest in your business and your digital presence, because for anyone that's been around for a cycle or two, you know, the good times do not last. Its cycles, there's good, and then there are times that aren't good, and then there are times that are good, and you're just riding these waves. So when it isn't good. And guess what? That will happen again. We all know.
Lee: It will. It will.
Ron: Then you can't implement an SEO strategy or some of these organic social strategies and have them make a difference quick enough in your business to matter. I mean, they're good things to do, but they aren't going to put out the fire that's burning your house down. There are other strategies you have to implement that might help; they're not guaranteed to help, that might help.
Lee: It's just like this lighting stuff. Dealers that are already booked in the business. They're like, "Why should I get into and learn about lighting? My business is already doing great." But if you look at how the market has changed with some of the products in the industry and just take the camera business, how Ring and Nest have cannibalized some of that security camera business and made it more mass market. You always have to be looking for what's the next business trend? Where's my growth going to come from in the future? Some of these things are a race to the bottom. TVs, I remember when we used to be twenty thousand dollars. Now you still spend 20 grand, but it's a 100 inch TV. So it's from a revenue standpoint, as products become more affordable, you have to look for those new revenue opportunities. So people want to build that bridge today before they get to the canyon.
Ron: I agree. I'm mindful of time, Lee, and I know you have a show to get to. Do you have any more questions for me, sir? Anything else?
Lee: Well, after you said 14 years for One Firefly and 200 episodes of Automation Unplugged. Give us your top three things that you've learned in that period of time.
Ron: Oh, I think philosophically, well, if you're talking about from the shows. All right, I'll go high level; that's a very high level, a broad question. I think that.
Lee: I'm giving you lots of room.
Ron: Yeah, you're giving me tremendous room.
Lee: Since we didn't rehearse this. I'm giving you a lot of room.
Ron: 00:55:01.660 You're giving me a lot of room. Hopefully, I don't hang myself. I think number one, the principle is that as I've gotten better at getting great people on my team and helping them understand very clearly where we're trying to grow as an organization and the impact we're trying to have on the people's lives within our team and our customers. As I've seen my role from CEO really transition into, you know, chief visionary officer, make it very clear where we're going. I bring fantastic people onto the team and make sure they understand clearly where we're going; the better and better I've gotten it that, the faster and stronger this business has become. So people first.
Lee: I know you, and I agree on that. I mean, our success is 100 percent based on our team. I know Melissa's listening; I'm not sure if any of the rest of our team is here. They're probably all out busy doing projects and that kind of stuff. But we have phenomenal people. I know that's something you and I talk about over wine, offline, is how do you attract? How do you build, and how do you retain fantastic people?
Ron: For those who don't know on occasion, Lee and I'll get together, you know, seven eight o'clock on a Friday, at least it's wine time for me. I don't know what time it's in Seattle, but apparently it's wine time in Seattle.
Lee: It's happy hour.
Ron: It's happy hour; there you go. It's happy hour. So people first, the better I've gotten at understanding that and practicing that, bringing them on, retaining them. The rest is really a demonstration. Last year 2021, we grew twenty-five percent top line. Our bottom line grew more than that. So the business is continuing to accelerate forward because of our people. I think the other is I'll just say the next is when you get clear about where you're going, getting very tactical around what exactly the objectives are that need to happen within the year. What are the big things that need to happen in that year for that outcome to occur that one year, three year, five-year goal?
Lee: So on that note, how many of your clients? I know we do this quarterly, but how many of your clients have meetings with you and or your team to talk strategy and planning and that kind of stuff?
Ron: Less than 10 percent. Shocking.
Lee: What would you say the growth rate is of 10 percent versus the 90?
Ron: There's no doubt, and I'm speaking specifically about annual planning. We meet with our clients every single month. Everyone that's an account managed by One Firefly has an account manager and has a monthly cadence of meetings. You specifically and a handful of our customers that are very mindful about thinking in terms of the year and what objectives you want to have accomplished for the year, and how the One Firefly team is going to collaborate with your team to help make that happen. I think that that collaboration and that investment of time and energy from you and those that are similar to you, there's no doubt that that translates to performance in the marketing strategy and an understanding from our team of what your expectations are of us. Whenever you can have a set of managed expectations, it's really a healthy foundational piece for the relationship now to not discredit the balance of our customers, most of them are talking with their account manager, but often that window is more about the next 90 days. Like, here's where we're at, here's what we want to accomplish, here's what we just accomplished, here's what's going forward. But I do think that annual planning, brainstorm this or spitball this, we One Firefly could likely take a leadership role and advocate an annual planning discussion with our clients, and we have not done that, and that is something that we likely could do in a proactive manner. I would say up until now; we've primarily been doing it in a reactive manner with our businesses and customers that think and operate that way.
Lee: I only bring it up just because I know in this industry, especially as busy as we all are. Everybody's so busy being busy that it's hard to take that time to do that planning, but I find it pays off in spades. So whether you guys drive it or your clients drive it, or even people who are not your clients or not your clients yet. I just think it's really important. I just think you need to invest in marketing before you need to invest in the market.
Ron: It's one of my big takeaways of business in 14 years and the show of 200 episodes. And you practice you guys practice this, and we practice it, and we're getting better at practicing it, and that is, in fact, setting goals, and it ties back to then having discussions about, there's H.R., and there's marketing, and there are sales, and there's hiring. There's all the different avenues that tie into you being able to hit a business objective. Often when we are talking to our customers, I think it's pretty fair to say they all don't define their annual goals as a business, or their one, three, five-year goals. It's not the framework for a lot of our industry. A lot of our industry are in business because they love technology. They're in business because they like bringing joy to their customers by designing and installing, and servicing these technologies in their homes or businesses. It's not necessarily because they're trying to grow 20 percent or because they're trying to enter this new market, right? That is not always what's driving them. Now, if you ask me, would they be better business operators if someone held them accountable to define those goals and then helped measure their activities working towards those goals? I think they would. I would say all is a strong word. Many of them would be much better businesses if they did that. I don't see that as our job; I don't see that as my personal job; I talk enough about how we do it at One Firefly, and hopefully, my goal is some of that rubs off on the audience, and some of them go, "Huh? Maybe there's something to having an executive leadership team." "Maybe there's something to having defined goals." "Maybe there's something to having quarterly planning sessions." When you do that, I mean, the success for us has been top-line and bottom-line growth, which for me as an owner is priceless.
Lee: You guys do traction.
Ron: We do.
Lee: Yeah, so we do as well, so just for anyone listening out there, reading the book is a fantastic first step, but I know we got our leadership team at Wipliance engaged in that two years ago and then obviously, we kind of went into that COVID time period and all that where we all lost a little bit of time. But you know, we did those meetings remotely for a long time and just brought it back in person just last Monday, this week. We're already on our 2022 goals and setting our rocks and doing that kind of stuff. So for other businesses out there. Traction is a great way to get some traction in your business.
Lee: So, did you give us that third thing?
Ron: You know what? You're going to squeeze that out of me, aren't you?
Ron: That third thing, I think that it's a principle of patience and persistence. You don't get to stay in business for 14 years if you aren't somewhat patient, but you know you have to have the ability to grind because running a business is fantastically hard. It's one of the harder things I could ever imagine someone trying to take on. Then if you set the bar that you have to, you not only want to run a business. But the bar is that business actually has to be a good business, meaning that business has to actually make money. Because there's a lot of people that are in business and what they are is they're self-employed, and there's no knock on that. That's your goal. But I call a business an enterprise that ideally makes money and ideally doesn't require me to operate it. Now I'm not there yet. I'm working towards that. I'm working towards the idea that One Firefly is this engine that is primed and helping people worldwide grow their businesses, and it doesn't require Ron to be injected into this department or that department. So the engineer in me loves that project because it is so damn hard to actually make that business succeed in that way. But that's for me what some of my drive is. It's just simply the mechanics of running a great business that grows makes money, that our customers love because it helps them, that our team loves because it's a fun place to work, and they feel that they are behind the vision and mission of the company and that the enterprise mechanically is a functioning sound business. I mean, that takes just a lot of study, and that takes a lot of hard work and fortitude.
Lee: When speaking of reels, don't know if you've seen that reel where it goes, "I got tired of my nine to five job, so I started my own company, and now I work 24 hours a day," and there is just profanity after that. Have you seen that one?
Ron: And I work for a maniac, myself.
Lee: Yeah, yeah. So I'm not saying you're a marketing guy, but you basically broke the three down to the three P's, people, planning and persistence.
Ron: There you go. Is that yours, or is it from a book or what does that methodology from?
Lee: No, that's what you just said. You said it's hiring and building and creating the vision for your team, that's people. You've talked about planning and strategy and those things, so that's the "P" in planning. Then you talked about persistence. If you own your own company, you've got to work when you don't want to, and you've got to grind, and it takes persistence. And you know, you can't stop at first "no," you've got to keep digging in. I know we hadn't rehearsed or even had time to talk about any of this.
Ron: We were too busy deciding if we were even going to go live.
Lee: Yeah, if we could even get in, the hotel Wi-Fi did not cut it. So we tried hotspots. We tried everything else. But anyway, yeah, as a recap, that's what you broke down without planning it that way; it's people planning and persistence.
Ron: I think you nailed it. Then I'll flip it on you, and we'll close there. You're 15 years in business, and you actually ran businesses prior to Wipliance. What are your big principles, maybe that you would leave our audience with, maybe a takeaway or two?
Lee: I just think you and I are on the same page, and I know that's why we connect when we don't even need to because we're like-minded in that way, and we learn from each other. I learn things from you in categories I don't know anything about, like robotics and crypto and that kind of stuff. So I like that we can share knowledge and intellectual stimulation back and forth. But I agree with you. I mean, I think those are the keys, you know, a lot of people make New Year's resolutions, and that's just something we do all the time, is that planning part. There's nothing more important than the people, the planning and then persistence. As the owner of the company or as someone who wants to be a leader in an organization, so someone listening who's not that. Every company out there, yours, and to do a little shout-out, Jordan and Kendall are awesome and obviously handle our specific account for you.
Lee: But every owner out there who's listening will agree with me. They're dying for people in their organization to step up and say, "I want to grow, I want to lead, I want more responsibility." When people say, "Hey, how do I make more money?" It's tied to two things, revenue and responsibility, the two levers, right? You could be in sales and on the revenue side; you could be in management on the responsibility side. You could be the technical side is responsibility. But at the end of the day, CEOs of corporations that make a lot of money, I guarantee their company has really large revenue, and they're responsible for a lot of humans. Like I said, I know you agree with me because we've talked about it. But company owners and leaders are dying for people to come into their organizations and people already in their organizations to step up and say, "I want to take on more responsibility or create more revenue." And you know, you and I are always going to coach those people, but it's great when they come on their own accord and say, "Hey, how do I level up?" With this younger generation, as you and I have talked about, it's all about gamification. They're used to, you know, no different if you're tracking your mileage, you're leveling up, it's the same thing.
Ron: Yeah, I completely agree. I think we're all looking and that's I think an area maybe for I've tried to have some shows on this topic, which is just the people side of business and not only the recruiting but the growing and the nurturing of our people because you want to get great people. But then you got to have a great environment where they actually have an environment where they can be cultivated and grown and personally and professionally. I think that I know I've focused a great deal on that. I know you have focused on that. Our industry at large, there are some businesses that I know are very good at that. Many, I think, could use some improvement in that area. What's a signal for me that tells me that? It's when they keep telling me that business is so hard and they can't keep their people and this person left for this reason or that reason, and I'm not talking the normal. Every business has attrition or has people on their teams that leave for a lot of good reasons. But when people year after year after year seem to not be able to kind of get that movement forward. I would challenge, it's almost always the leader has not built the environment and the vision for that company. He has not cultivated their people. He or she has not cultivated their people because it's really hard to grow and expand a business and do great things if you're always bringing in fresh people and bringing them from the ground up, and if they don't know the legacy knowledge of the business and your customers, it's just; I would challenge unnecessarily hard.
Lee: I agree with you.
Ron: It gets a little bit easier, maybe a lot easier when you get better at taking care of your people because if you take care of your people, they'll take care of the customer, right? If the customer is happy, the business is good, and you're personally going to be good.
Lee: That's something Richard Branson preaches, you know, when people say, "The customer's always right," He backs his people. If you build the people, they'll take care of your customers.
Ron: Amen. We're going to close on that. You have a show to get to.
Lee: I do.
Ron: How can our audience that are watching or listening? How can they get in touch with you or learn more about Wipliance?
Lee: They can go to Wipliance.com. They can find us on Facebook or Instagram. I'm pretty easy to find as Lee Travis on social media and those things. I won't shoot up my email or mobile number around here, but I'm pretty easy to find as well and any of our great team members. So we're always trying to help everyone in the industry, everyone in general and just do the right thing to do.
Ron: Awesome! Lee show 200, we did it, believe it or not!
Lee: Show 200!
Ron: Thanks, guys. Thank you, Lee. Appreciate it, sir.
Lee Travis got his start with the custom integration industry through car audio and transitioned to full residential integration soon after. He founded Wipliance in 2006 in Bellevue, WA and later expanded to Scottsdale, AZ, in 2016 with a focus on delighting clients and building leaders. Wipliance has won Integrator of the Year at CES, is recognized consistently in the CEPRO 100 and takes pride in the industry-leading approach for video and online marketing.
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.
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Lee can be reached directly by email at