Home Automation Unplugged Episode #222: An Industry Q&A with Josh Christian
In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, Josh Christian, CEO of Home Technology Association shares how HTA has advanced since Josh’s last appearance in this show 3 years ago.
This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Mark Bolduc. Recorded live on Wednesday, Wednesday August 31st, 2022, at 12:30 pm. EST.
About Josh Christian
Josh entered the home technology industry in 1995 when he began working at a locally owned audio/video retailer. Three years later, he moved to a custom technology integration company, where he helped the firm grow into one of the largest custom AV integration companies in the industry. In 2015, Josh joined a low-voltage technology consulting firm specializing in designing and engineering home technology systems, where he stayed until co-founding the Home Technology Association (HTA) in 2017.
- Why HTA certification matters
- How HTA has advanced since Josh’s last appearance in this show 3 years ago.
- The importance of building and leveraging relationships with the different trades involved in the luxury residential construction market
Ron: Hello Hello. Ron Callis here with another episode of Automation Unplugged. I hope you are having a good Wednesday. Today is Wednesday, August 31, little bit after 12:30 p.m.. And I'm just going to check with David on my team to see if we are streaming. I think we are live now. David is going to confirm if we in fact are live on both channels. Today's a big day because today is our first day that we're actually streaming into the One Firefly LinkedIn channel. So for those of you that know, a number of months ago we switched over to streaming here on LinkedIn. Historically, going back many years now, we've streamed into Facebook, and I think Facebook is pretty easy to hate on these days. Put me in that camp and there were lots of headaches dealing with that. So we said, let's try out LinkedIn and YouTube. Just now we've actually got our One Firefly page stream to work. Actually, Dave and I were testing that earlier this week. For those of you that might have randomly been on YouTube, you may have even seen some going live on the One Firefly page a few times because we were going live and testing it and that's pretty cool. It's a little milestone. Why else is today a milestone? It's because my little one, today was the first day of school. So for all my parents out there that are sending their kids off to school, I know that it's bittersweet, you hate to see them go and you also love to see them go because now you potentially get a little more freedom, a little bit more of your life back. But yeah, today is Max's first day of the 8th grade and I know he's excited to be back at school today. We are here to record or to interview my guest. Now, this is my returning guest and I want to say maybe he's one of only a few, maybe the only one, David probably could help us out. That has been on the show a couple of times before. So my guest today for show 222 is Josh Christian. He's the CEO of the Home Technology Association. One Firefly, as a vendor, I believe we're a Gold sponsor. Josh will correct me if that's the right title and term, but we're a sponsored supporter of HTA, big advocates of what Josh and his team are doing for the industry. Previously Josh had been on show 17 and 78. So what I'll do is I'll go ahead and bring Josh on and then I'll go over those specific details just so we capture that audio for the podcast. Those of you that listen to the show via audio, you know that after my little preamble here when I bring my guest on, that's actually when the audio podcast begins for those of you that like to listen to the audio interviews. So I'm going to go ahead and bring Josh on and then we'll give a quick statement of the facts in terms of when Josh was on previously. For those that might want to go back and listen to the some of that content. Here we go. Let's see if technology behaves. Josh, how are you, sir?
Josh: Hi, Ron, doing great. Nice to see you again.
Ron: Awesome! I saw you, I only got audio in my left ear, so I'm going to actually pull this ear out so I can hear the room a little bit better. But I saw you recently because you had invited me to join you for a webinar. We did a marketing webinar. That was in July, correct?
Josh: Yeah. Last month.
Ron: This is still August. I was already transitioning into September, but no, today it's still August. So yeah, that was last month, some weeks ago. Josh, for those that may not be aware, what is HTA and what's your role at HTA?
Josh: Sure. HTA stands for the Home Technology Association we launched back in 2017. We're a consumer facing association that build and define the standard of excellence for home technology integration firms. So a firm that meets our top standard is considered an HTA certified firm. It's different than a CEDIA certification. The two complement each other very well. CEDIA certifies individuals, we certify companies. The three pillars of HTA certification are first, that the company has excellent technical ability with the products that they sell and install. Number two, that they have good customer service and aftercare support. And number three, that they have a very positive reputation in the industry. A way to look at this is in other industries, like food going out and having a great meal. If you see Michelin star rated restaurant, you know you're going to have an amazing meal. Or if you want to buy a high quality diamond and you learn about the GIA rating system or the EGL rating system, then you will pay more for a diamond that is rated by either the GIA or EGL because it meets a set standard versus one where the jeweler says, trust me, this is just as good of a diamond as this rated one. Okay, then why is it less money? There's something a little suspicious there. So we set that standard and we did this. The why of why we did this is because a couple of reasons. In this industry, as many will know, a very small percentage of the industry is really performing at the top level, doing great work, consistently, making clients happy, know what they're doing. Unfortunately, our industry has a black eye because there are so many bad integrators out there that are doing very shoddy work. And the reason that's the case is it's such an easy to get into industry. There's a very low barrier to industry. As such, you've got great firms competing with firms that shouldn't be allowed on the project. When that happens, the price becomes too often the deciding factor on who gets hired. When a client hires somebody based on price, we know what happens. It's always a nightmare at the end. So we're giving ammunition, a way to legitimately differentiate those top firms so they're able to go out there and show like a Michelin star or GIA rating that don't take my word for it, that we know what we're doing. We meet this very tough standard. We only expect 10% of integrators will meet the standard. So it's legit, it's real. It's a great way to differentiate themselves so they get the business when they're the more expensive company.
Ron: I'm going to give a personal example, Josh, so I just came back from vacation, and I feel very blessed and fortunate. I was able to take my family to Paris for a week, and I'm going to tell you my experience with food. So you go to Paris and they're just like out of the movies. There's a coffee shop literally on every single corner in that big city. They're everywhere. I made the assumption that I could walk around. So I did a lot of planning. We did a lot of organizing around what were our museums we were going to visit, what were all the destinations. But you know what we did not do? We did not do any food planning. We made the assumption we could walk out of our hotel and go to any place that probably would be good because they all look the same. We found, I'll just say, a disappointing set of experiences going to bad restaurant after bad restaurant after bad restaurant. It was like becoming a theme of bad food and bad service. Then finally we had a guide, and we asked the guide for some recommendations. They sent us to a place. Guess what? That place looked like every other place, but they had a Michelin rating on the restaurant. We went in. We were able to get reservations, able to get in. And we had food. And the service was spectacular. The food was spectacular. And we realized I felt like a dumb dumb after the trip. I was like, oh, my gosh, why did we not seek out the appropriately rated places? Because if I'm a dumb tourist, which I put myself in that category, I'm a dumb tourist. If I don't do my research, I'm going to think maybe I'm getting a great experience, but it could not have been more night and day. Does that drive with you? Is that how you're envisioning what you're doing at HTA to give that consumer or that design trade partner a way to discern who's who?
Josh: That's a great analogy. Yes, absolutely right. Because if you think about there's a lot of nice people in this industry, the salesperson that meets the client could be a charming person. They're going to know more about technology than the client, 99% of the time, and clients are nervous about getting technology in their home because they know it's confusing. They don't know how much it's going to cost. They don't know 90% plus of the brands that are going in their homes, they're not familiar brands; The TV brands they've heard of, but that's about it. So, yeah, that's a great analogy. And talking to a professional like you did or seeking out that guide, they knew from experience what good places to refer you to, and the Michelin Star has definitely helped. That really set them apart.
Ron: I was so frustrated that we had done so much planning and preparation prior to our trip, but we didn't think about how to figure out the best places to go. Then I was uninformed that here in the US. And I don't know if you like this or not, but I usually use the Yelp app for food, like I'll use it for restaurants. Generally, their reviews are pretty good, and I can figure out where I'm going to go eat. But when I landed over there, the Yelp app was pretty thin. It wasn't populated well. And then we went, I said, well, let's go to Google. What I didn't realize is August is a vacation month for Parisians, and no one updated their Google My business profile. So everyone's listed as open. I bet you we hit six different restaurants that had great reviews, and they were all closed. So we were all of a sudden like, oh my gosh, how do we know where to go eat? That's actually going to give us a decent meal. Then we learned that, let's ask the locals. Let's look for what's rated. We had ultimately a pretty good close to the trip, but now we know for the next time around. Josh I want to tell the audience, just in case anybody wants to dig into this. We had you, first of all, back on the show 17, and I think we had if I'm remembering, I don't maybe you remember I had you on for 17 and 18. I don't know if we had audio video recording issues or if we just had so much to talk about. We booked it twice.
Josh: That's what we did. We had so much.
Ron: So much to talk about. That was back on September 2017. Then we also had you on show 78, which was back in June of 2019. So we haven't had you on in three years. What's happened in three years? What's gone on since COVID obviously happened, and I think, thankfully, we're mostly out of that now, God willing. What's different at HTA.
Josh: Yeah, good question. So we brought on at the end of 2019. So this comes after the last show was on with you. We took on an extra responsibility, an extra role in the industry, which I didn't foresee at first when we launched. So we launched back in August of 2017. So actually, yesterday was our five year anniversary. Just hit me. Yesterday was our five year anniversary.
Ron: You are live on the show. Congratulations on your five year anniversary.
Josh: Yes, thank you. So, yeah, we were on your show just after launch, right? There's so much to talk about because it's this new thing, this HTA thing. So our base is still there. What we stand for is still there and the same. But what we brought on is something that's near and dear to my heart from my past as an Integrator, and that is working with the trades, working with architects, designers, and builders. Something that, when I was an Integrator in Southern California for 16 years, I was pretty adept at. I thought there were more Integrators doing this throughout the country. I thought there were a lot of Me's out there. And I was unpleasantly surprised to find out how few Integrators are doing anything about a messaging and marketing to architects, designers, and builders. One thing is marketing, but the other part of it's messaging. How do you approach them? What do you tell them about your company? And I see this even amongst great integration firms, I have a lot of respect for when I asked them, what's your policy for reaching out to designers and architects and builders? Most of the time, it's kind of uncomfortable. Yeah, well, yeah, we're really busy right now, and everyone is busy. I get that. But we're really not doing anything right now for that. And we really should, but we're just not right now. We're not focusing on that. So what I've noticed, unfortunately, and I won't get in all the details how I know this, but we all probably know the same result anyways. To this day, architects, designers, and builders really don't know a couple of things. They don't know the scope of what Integrators do. They don't even know what that term Integrator means most of the time, because our industry has a naming problem. The consensus these days is, for better or worse, we're calling ourselves Technology Integrators. So we're sticking with that. So they don't know what Technology Integrators do, the whole scope. They don't know when to bring them in, and importantly, why to bring them in early. So what we see is Integrators complaining like they've always have. We get brought to the project too late. And that's true. You are being brought to the project too late. What are you doing about it? What are you doing to fix it? Are you doing something in your company to fix that situation? And unfortunately, 90% plus of this industry is not. They're just complaining about it and expecting something somehow to change.
Well, HTA is doing something about it. So kicking off in early, the late 2019 was the planning. 2020 was the kick off. And yes, you are part of this. As you said in the lead up to this One Firefly is an HTA gold supporting brand so we thank you for your support in helping fund this effort of us taking on this role of a bridge association, a bridge between integrators and the trades. So what does that mean? I'm taking on the role of representing our trades. So I've been doing this through education with the trade associations. I was teaching at the International Builder Show. The IBS show, which is a collocated show in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I was there teaching back in February, taught some classes to the Nari Group, national association and remodeling industry, done webinars with the Interior Design Society writing articles for these associations, educating them on what integrators do and basically the scope of what they do and what's in it for them to bring them in early. So instead of just preaching, hey, bring them in early. Well why? Well, why changes for each of those trades? We are helping them understand what's in it for them and to bring an integrator part of their project early, part of their workflow, part of their design team. When you highlight all the different reasons to do that, the light bulbs go off and there's no logical response back where they could say, no, that didn't make any sense. That's what we're doing a lot of now, a lot of my time is spent building these relationships with these associations, helping them with articles, helping guide their thinking and telling them what they need to know and what they don't need to know. Often when I get involved on these things they ask me a lot of detailed minutiae and I'll say, you know what, you don't need to know that. You need to have an integrator partner that you ask, I could guide you to the good ones, but you need to have a relationship with them. Don't ask me. I'll just guide you to the great person in your industry or excuse me, in your market and you build that relationship because they're going to be a key member of your team and they could come up with some creative solutions around design problems using technology. So build that relationship. That's one part of what we do. The other part is going back to our members and kind of whipping on them a little bit and say, look, get out there. HTA is paving the road, but you got to walk down it and you have to meet the local architects, designers and builders in your community and build those relationships. One of the things we do at HTA is educate them on how to do that. So they're doing it in a different way than I'm using air quotes here the AV guy and I'm using the AV guy as the kind of old school bad connotation of our industry. The person that means well, but not a skilled integrator. That is someone you really want on a custom home. So helping them differentiate themselves so they are perceived by the architects, designers and builders is the true professional that they are.
Ron: When you're interacting with that design community, how are you positioning how an HTA company is different than everybody else? What are the big bullet points of differentiators that you find seem to resonate?
Josh: Well, one of them is the definition of what an HTA certification is on its own. So you had up on your screen a moment ago the HTA certification define page, which is key. That's probably the single most powerful page on the whole website when it comes to showing what the value of this is to an end user consumer or an architect, designer and builder, because the standard is clearly defined. There you go, it's on your screen. Now. All the bullet points there spell out very clearly and plainly what attributes the companies have. If you look at this through the eye of a consumer, it's all common sense. When you read that, you're like, well, of course I want a company that has not been sued a whole bunch of times, and that's been endorsed by other architects, designers and builders in that industry. Peers speak highly of that, have training, that have insurance, that have a license in the states that they have. We're talking kind of common sense, not like they have to walk on water or hear the blind and heal the death and all this kind of stuff. This is common sense stuff. But for those in the industry, you'll know, how many again, air quotes AV guy out there don't have these common sense things in their company. So that's one way there to say we meet the standard and then we get into on that same page. If you scroll down when the company is certified, we have three different tiers called foundation, luxury, and estate. That puts a little finer gradation on what type of projects that integrator specializes in. So, kind of coming back to answer your question, at the luxury in the state tier, one of the minimum things that level of integrator must do is provide design and engineering documentation. That is a key part of the spec. And most of our integrators are in that category. So that is an important thing to do. Certified integrators at those tiers will often talk up their design and engineering documentation, which is very good because most architects, designers and builders have not seen that level of professionalism out of our trade. Our trade looked down upon is like the least popular, least professional of the bunch. And by wearing this on your sleeve, and don't take my word for it that I know what I'm doing, we meet this tanner, not only are we in a certified firm, but we're also at this tier, or they send that link and they could read the further definition of what a luxury or an estate tier certification company is. This is not saying all the integrators at the foundation don't do design and engineering. The vast majority of our certified integrators do. I think there's less than eight or nine or maybe less than that. Less than ten, don't do design and engineering documentation. And as such, we hold them back at foundation level. I don't care if they say, oh, we specialize in half a million dollar projects on up. Okay, great. But if you're not doing design engineering documentation, sorry, you need to do that.
Ron: Break that down for me Josh, what do you call design and engineering documentation? What are the types of documentation that our listeners would resonate with? They'd understand what you're talking about. What are they?
Josh: Good question. The device placement drawings are very key when you're talking about early design. So you get the plans from the architect of all the different rooms of the space where you can take those drawings, make a layer of where the technologies are going to go, get specific where they're going to be in the place, so you can coordinate back with that architect and the interior designers or lighting designers on the project, so everyone knows where those interfaces are going. It's going to help in myriad different ways. Oh, my God. It helps a million different ways. So that device placement drawings is very key. Another one would be electrical requirement documentation. Where is the electrical needs to go, what dedicated circuits are needed, where any grounding topologies needed, all of that. Get that defined. That's another one. Heat calculations are another one. Figure out the BTUs, because I always win this argument with architects when they think, oh, yeah, we don't need to get your trade involved early, and, oh, yeah, you do. I have a series of questions that kind of shuts them up really quick. It's kind of fun winning that argument when I run into...
Ron: Well, expand on that. So make that argument here to me now. Why does power planning matter?
Josh: So I'm thinking back to an experience I had back in 2015 with an Architectural Digest Top 100 firm. And I'm in there having a meeting with all their design principles, all the head honchos of this very story. Firm win tons of awards, do amazing work for billionaires. So I'm showing them design and engineering documentation, some very specific things. They were impressed. They go, this is really cool. This is great. I've never seen this before. Yeah, this is what we can do for you, and you need to bring us in a schematic design phase. And they're like, no, maybe design development or CDs, but not SD as they call it SD Face. Not schematic design. Let me ask you a question. This is a room full of very smart people that win awards, and it's fun to put them in their place in a nice way, in a respectful way, but kind of put them in their place.
Ron: Educate them, they don't know what they don't know.
Josh: Yeah, I said, Let me ask you a question, because I'm thinking back to these amazing homes they built. Have you gone through these projects during the build phase and been surprised that there's racks of electronics in a closet, that you had no idea there's going to be racks of electronics in that closet? Does that happen? Okay. And I'm sure some of these homes have had dedicated home cinemas. Then you get there and there's a projector hanging off the ceiling in a weird spot, and they couldn't hide it in other ways. That happened? Yeah. And then the traffic flow patterns, like, there's an acquisition gets involved, or a theater designer, and they start wanting to change room dimensions and add all the sockets in there. And then there's HVAC issues because there's special air handling for those rooms. Does that happen? It got quiet. What about speakers? I kept going, what about speakers? I happen to know the lighting designer they use. They use a great lighting designer called KGM down in LA. So okay, use KGM for all your lighting design. How many times have you gone on your projects and the Integrator through some Willynilly speakers and just seemingly random places, and the speakers didn't line up with the aesthetics or sight lines of the lighting fixtures that happen? Yeah. Okay. What about going back to that closet? Is it overheated? And every one of the questions they want that kind of nodded, and then I said, okay, SD face, and then they just shut up.
Ron: Okay, we agree.
Josh: But you have to define it to them, because you would think that they would do that mental walk through of the houses that they've been through. And I'm talking about this, but no, I learned a lot from that lesson that they don't connect the dots unless you spell it and define it. When I spelled it and defined it, every one of those architects in that room could not come back with an argument. They're like, yeah, that's happened. I said, well, if we were involved at that SD phase, none of that would happen. Just another story on that. This is another architecture firm, another story, one that not naming names, but they're very well known. We were working on a business, back when I was an integrator. We were involved in a 42,000 square foot, super high-end home. It had a theater in the basement. And what really ticked me off on this, I had done a few lunch and learns about all the stuff that we did earlier, and then they bring us into the project when it's got a basement, which is rare for LA. But it did. It's a giant home. And they were...
Ron: Oh, no, we lost Josh. Hopefully he comes back. Let's see here we have it frozen. Josh, I'm going to have you rewind to give me that last ten or 20 seconds I lost you. You totally froze for me, but now you're back.
Ron: So the basement and start there.
Josh: Yeah. So we were brought into this project by the architect, late, and this is an architect that knew us, hired us on some other work. We had even done work on the architect's own home, and I've done lunch and learns there. So there was really no excuse for them to bring us in late, but they did. What happened was, due to them not consulting us early, when the theater design was crafted, the site lines were wrong and they had to core out. They had a jackhammer out 4ft of the foundation to get the site lines right in that theater. So I had to redo the foundation in that theater. I don't know what that change order cost, but I'm sure it was in the six figures. Again, that would have been a phone call. So I tell the architects, it's a lot cheaper to design with an eraser than a jackhammer. So these are real life lessons, and they go, okay, all right, I would have been in a phone call. We would be able to start or get your plans, figure this out, share this information back and forth, and the end result is going to be much better.
Ron: What percentage of HTA certified members or dealers are running through a design phase with the customer, whether they're again working behind a homeowner's rep or directly with the client, or maybe behind even an architect or designer? What percentage are charging a design fee? So I'm going to be very specific here. Years ago, I used to stand on a soapbox when we were doing engineering for the industry, and I taught a bunch of CEDIA classes. And the idea is, when you're first interacting with a customer, you can be educating them and collecting project scope, and ideally resulting in you being able to share budgeting so that you can get some rough framework of scope and budgets. And then if there's alignment, you can move into a design phase. In a design phase where maybe that device location drawing you referenced could be put together, maybe detailed lighting drawings could be put together, detailed, properly engineered proposals, where maybe there's even engineered schematics or power plants or rock elevations or CAD detailing, maybe some rough sketches of that's been done offline, but it would result in more of a high end, accurate solution for the customer. But that's work. It's hard to justify all that work if you don't have some commitment from the client. And that's why I'm curious your opinion. But I would imagine a lot of integrators say they don't do it because they haven't been paid to do it, and they get this cat and mouse sort of conversation. What comes first? What's your take on HTA members? How many are actually running a paid design phase in the project prior to maybe fully executing the contract with client?
Josh: We don't have a fixed number on that. We ask a Jillian questions on our application HTA certified app, but we don't ask if you're charging for it. So I just know that they do provide because they have to show some of their docs. But I know it's going to be a much higher percentage than general because when I'm talking with these integrators, when they're getting to learn about HTA, that's one of the questions I ask. Do you charge? Not all the time do I ask that, but when I am talking to someone that has a great relationship with the design community, I ask if they do, and quite a bit of them do. So I'd say it's a pretty decent percentage. But it's something we still are really pushing here, kind of getting on the HTA soapbox, is that you should as a matter of fact, our April 20 webinar we had a few months ago, it was titled how to Make Your Design Work a Profit Center. So it was about this topic, are you charging for design? We did a survey on that, and I was trying to pull up the graphic while you asked me that question, and I don't have it at my fingertips, but I did ask a survey of that, and it was a decent percent. We're charging, but not all the time. And not all the time can you I mean, you might if you're in some I don't know. I still think you should always charge for design, but due to the professional level of the integrators we have, a lot of them are doing that design. What I don't have an exact number is how many of them are doing that for free, which I hope not a lot.
Ron: Do you think they should be charging for it? And if so...
Josh: Absolutely. Well, if you think about the profession, let's go back to the professionalism of our industry, or lack thereof. So what an integrator must know, especially when they meet a new architect, designer, builder, is how they're perceived as an unprofessional. You're guilty until proven innocent. And that stinks to say that, but that's the reality. So they automatically have this negative connotation of you because of so many that came before you and kind of messed things up. So now you have a great way to differentiate yourself, show your design and engineering work. They're not used to seeing that. And you explain that to this is why you would want to bring this on early, because some of the things I talked about earlier, right, we could get the dimensions of any specialty rooms done and share all the specs that you need there. So when this gets built, it's right from the get go. We could eliminate wall acne by consolidating some of the controls. I'll make sure the speakers line up if there's any surveillance cameras. And you, Mr. And Mrs. Designer. You Mr. And Mrs. Architect, have a say in the aesthetics of this. I'm part of your design team. I want to make this home look as awesome as you are designing it. And I'm here to make sure that the technology not only doesn't do harm to it, but actually can enhance the look of the home; If you approach them with that angle, now you're starting to talk my language. I will make sure it looks good. I am a professional. I'm a designer. Look at the work, here's sample drawings of a project I did. They're going to understand the time it takes to do that if you can show them that design work. They are used to hiring professionals that charge for design, like lighting designers, mechanical engineers, civil engineers, MVP, if I said lighting designer already. But those are consultants that are brought in on a high end project. We're used to paying for that. Lighting designers and landscape designers don't do all the stuff for free. Why should you? You should get paid for the knowledge that it's taken years to accumulate on how to integrate this technology. What I tell the integrators, if you're afraid to do that, if you're kind of afraid to go out there and charge what you're worth, then make it a very low risk proposition to the consumer. And that is, if you hire us to actually put the stuff in and install it, then we will credit you either all of that design or some of that back. Now you know if you're dealing with the tire kicker or not, but you really elevate yourself to professional.
The firm that I work for and is called back at the time, DSI Entertainment Systems, is now called DSI Luxury Technology in LA. For most of my time there, we weren't charging for design. Sometimes we did, but most of the time we didn't. Then I'm trying to think of the exact year it might have been 2013 or early 2014. We started charging for design a DSA design service agreement. We'd show that engineering booklet and with all the different pretty drawings of most of one of our clients head. But just to say, this is the kind of work that goes into your system. We would charge for a design, and we closed most of those. We said we would credit them back if they hired us. But do we get all of them? No, we got most of them, but they were real clients, and we didn't lose money in design. It actually became a profit center. And here's the thing. Once you get a client on the hook for that, because to do that work, you're spending time with the client, getting to know the dogs name, the kids names, how they live, how they entertain. And they quickly understand why you really do care about how I live in this house. Wow. I didn't realize you're going to have so many questions, but they all make sense. Well, that's what I need to ask you to make sure I give you the perfect system for your needs. So after you have that relationship built with them, you built trust and time. They're invested with you not only financially, but also with time. When you produce the results in the proposal, do you think they're really going to want to go shop around? Some do, but it's a surprisingly small percent. They usually just say, I'm with you, I like you, I trust you. Now you kind of know my family. Yeah, I'm just going to hire you. Another tool, kind of wearing the HTA hat here, another tool we have that will help some integrators and answer a question of a client at the same time is like, well, I don't want to commit to charging or to you charging me a design fee when I kind of don't know what I'm going to get. Okay, that's fair; HTA budget calculator. There are 17 questions. It'll take you less than five minutes to answer their high level questions. You can answer them very quickly and you'll get a budget range. So your budget is going to be somewhere between the low and high there. There you go. So you can either send that link to the client or, as you and I know, wrong because we work together and a lot of integrators have One Firefly websites, which is really neat, what you guys have done if you built the HTA budget calculator into One Firefly websites, which is one of the perks of being an HTA certified integrator. I could tell you from our analytics, quite a few clients use that on our integrator sites, too. So it works as planned. Now, the client knows going in wide eyed what it's going to cost, and guess what? The sticker shocks there. But how great is it to take the sticker shock away from the integrator and put it on the HTA. Deflect it, make HTA the bad guy. And as you can see, you've got it up on your screen right here. This is the budget calculator. When it's embedded in an integrator site, it still has HTA branding. So it's like, hey, don't blame me, blame the HTA. This is the technology budget calculator powered by the Home Technology Association. So smart integrators will leverage that upfront, deflect the sticker shock on the HTA calculator. The clients always going to go, oh, my God, it's more money than I thought. Yeah, it does. No, but be empathetic yes, it does. That's what things cost. When we go through this design phase with you, then we will get to the exact cost. But now through that conversation with that budget calculator, you're getting an idea of where the clients are comfortable on the budget range, which gives you a ton of insight into how you're going to design that system. So what a time saver. It's a great way to be efficient and that way this is another reason that sometimes integrators are afraid to do design because they put so much work into putting proposals together and these designs and the client could walk. Well, what's the cost of that for your staff in your own time? It's a lot of money doing it. The way we're talking about here, you eliminate that risk because you have a commitment from the client before you spend all that time. So the calculator is a friend that allows you to easier charge for design and engineering services.
Ron: For the audience that's listening. I'm on my screen. So if you go back and watch the video on our website or on YouTube or on LinkedIn, you'll see me clicking through and what I'm doing is I'm going down the screen and I'm building this scope. What's really neat is I've got a budget sitting down here and this budget range is a pretty wild swing. Can you talk to us about that, Josh, in terms of how you think about positioning a low and positioning a high based on because your members are all over North America.
Josh: Yes, there is a wide span from low to high, depending on how you answer the questions. That could be easily three X or more from the low to high. It's a feature, not a bug. Some integrators have a little pushback, a minority, but some pushback and say, that's such a wide span. It's not abused to me. I said, no, it's not. Let's think this through. This thing has a lot of work, a lot of tuning, a lot of time from a lot of integrators to make this where it's at today. So we're pretty proud of it. What this includes is professionally installed equipment and all the different questions you've answered. Lighting, shading, everything, whole home control, blah, blah, blah, from really good to excellent. It doesn't cover do it for me or DIY level component. So the loan number, just about every ingredient I talk to say that load number is legit, isn't it? Yeah, it is legit. Not your best systems, which you could put in a system at that price, right? Very few Integrators will say, no, my minimum is less than that, but most will get it. But then, especially if you're on the luxury custom home end of it, as we all know, you can kind of go wild with certain things, right? This is pick on home theater. A home theater to someone is $5,000 and a home theater to another client's, $5 million. That's what's the reality out there. So the span could be in one category quite wide. And this is a brand agnostic tool as well. So if we built it around four or five brands or something well, yeah, I can make it much tighter, but we are making this a brand agnostic tool that we share with builders, architects, designers all throughout the country at different cost of living areas. Because obviously cost of living changes quite dramatically throughout the country. So all that factors into the span. But I could tell you when, again, sticker shock almost always happens with any client in this industry. But when they see what it can go up to and if you're thinking you're dealing with a luxury client, first of all, the load number is probably higher than they thought. But then does that client really want to stay at the very low end of that budget? They're probably not. If you look at the way they live, the cars they drive, the home they're building, the designer, the architect they hired, the builder they hired all the things that make up their lifestyle, do they really want to get the cheapest, cheapest stuff on the low end of that calculator? No. The calculator is antidotes back from our Integrators that didn't lead with it. But kind of use it to save a proposal. Like the kind of retroactively used it to justify why their home theater cost whatever it did. Is they'll come back to the calculator and found out that. Oh. Okay. Well. That calculator did help bring my budget on the theater up to 150 grand. Because before the client had an unrealistic number. It works. So that's why the spans there, because some clients want top, top sound, top performance on the theater. They're going to want lighting controls for every little nook and cranny of the house. So it varies.
Ron: How do you recommend Josh, an HTA certified company position themselves or make HTA important to the audience? Maybe it's a customer or whoever their audience is because I'm just gonna knock on HTA, but I'm going to say maybe that homeowner has never heard of HTA or maybe that architect has never heard of HTA. I'm thinking here I'm in South Florida and I know MAXICON is HTA certified. I know it because I get their emails and I go to their website and I look at their social media and I look at their Google ads and I see HTA put front and center. So talk to us about how this gets into marketing and strategy, because I've had this question posed to me on many occasions from HTA and non-HTA members. How can and or should an HTA member leverage HTA certification in their day to day goings on, whether it's through their marketing strategy and or through their one on one interactions with those prospects?
Josh: Love the question. And you're right, it is the number one thing that Integrators need help with because most Integrators are not marketers by trading.
Ron: They don't always think that way first. They think about designing and engineering for sure.
Josh: Yeah, they love the tech. But marketing and positioning, they have a hard time with. And this is why we have a lot of webinars to keep up our dealers with this. So great question, and I agree with you. A client hearing about HTA ahead of time is going to be pretty rare. I mean, it happens. We get found through SEO, and it's pretty neat to hear when an integrator calls us. I asked how they heard about us, and they said, a potential client asks for HTA certified. That happens, not much in transparency, but it doesn't need to. And here's what I tell the integrators. And this goes for CEDIA. I'm defending CEDIA and HTA at the same time because a lot of people no one knows what CEDIA is and CEDIA doesn't matter. No CEDIA matters, and HTA matters. But this is what it makes a difference when you define it and tell the client what's in it for them. So what we tell our dealers, when you're talking to a homeowner, what you want to do in your sales process very early in that conversation, for example, let's say they got a referral from a builder. Not only did your builder refer you to us, I want to let you know, Mr. And Mrs. Homeowner, that there is a standard of excellence for our industry. It's administered by the Home Technology Association. They built a standard of excellence that only 10% of companies in this country are expected to meet. I'll send you a link to what that means later on. But I want to you know that my company is an HTA certified firm. It's really important that even if you don't hire me, you hire an HTA certified firm because they're really good at weeding out the bad apples. End of sentence, period. Back to me, right back to my integration firm. Blah, blah, blah, blah. The best programmers, go back to your normal conversation. With a few sentences I just said just said something very powerful. What client wants to hear, we're great and everybody else stinks? That never works. But you've just elevated yourself in a legitimate way without really saying negative things about any particular integrator. But you put yourself in this top 10% of integrators, and then you do follow up with that link to the HTA certification define page that you had up on your screen earlier. That does wonders. I could tell you for everyone listening, and I could name names, if you like, of the integrators that say, that works. The other integrator was either kicked out of contention from bidding, or I've heard one of them is your client. I could name names. JW Anderson from Integrated Home. The Integrated Home in North Carolina mentioned I was in a three way bid. I was the most expensive, and the client hired us. And he said the other two integrators weren't HTA certified. Why? Like, they can't meet that standard. It put doubt in the client's mind. If these companies were so good, then why wouldn't they subject themselves to the certification? Our fees to get certified and such are so low. That's not the hold back. It's probably something else holding them back from applying.
What this is intended to do is to steer the business to the right clients. So that little bit upfront is how you first leverage it. And I go back, and when I tell integrators that have this, like, well, they have to know about it first. And I said, no, let's go back to the GIA rating. And I only find about two thirds of men know what GIA ratings are for diamonds. Yeah, I got that with my wife's engagement ring. I said, okay, let's talk about that for a minute. Most of the guys, how did you hear about it? And a lot of the times that they heard about their ratings when they went into jewelers. And it's a very similar analogy between HTA and GIA. Here's why I say that; If you think about us guys, I mean, we got plenty of girls listening to, but think about this from a guy standpoint, right? We're out there nervous they're going to buy our fiancé an engagement ring, and we're not diamond experts. How do I know I'm not going to get fleece, taken advantage of, overcharged, or sold a cubic zirconia for all I know? Because I'm not a diamond expert. Okay, that's us guys. Now, let's just think about your clients. I don't know about what technology I need. I don't know these brands. How do I know if I'm going to get sold something that I need or oversold or undersold? I don't know. So they're nervous, just like us guys buying a diamond. Then you go into the jewelry shop, and then they explain, we sell GIA rated diamonds. What does that mean? Right? It's not a household name. Then they give you the elevator pitch, just like the HTA elevator pitch. Oh, it's a rating system for diamonds. We got color, cut, quality, color cut, karat and all this kind of stuff. They kind of give you a little elevator pitch, and they show you the rating system on a certificate. And you're like, AHA, I want the GIA rated diamond because now I don't have to trust you. I could trust a certificate that some pros evaluated this diamond. And this diamond has intrinsic value because it has this rating. That's HTA right? Don't trust us. We meet this rating. Look at what we went through. That is a massive credibility builder. Cannot overemphasize that point. So we tell our dealers, use that upfront. Here's the logo. Stick it all over your site like you've done. We've worked One Firefly and HTA worked together on the, this wasn't around on our last webinar, the HTA page. That's on One Firefly site. So put on your website the high points of what HTA certification is. Again, credibility builder. Stick the logo on your design and engineering documentation, put it in your proposal. We even make proposal inserts for them. It's like with the logo when they get certified. Here you go. We give it to you at a quarter page and half page on one page, depending on how you do your proposals. But it's already done for you. Keep that. Wear that on your sleeve to continually differentiate yourself. It works. Clients resonate with that and bringing up the tools, like the budget calculator, which is HTA branded, even the embedded one, HTA branded. That also, again, is bringing that brand up there again. So that is a big differentiator. Here's a key one, too. So that's talking to a consumer, talking to a builder and architect designer. I got a point for everyone out there. Then another point for HTA one. So this is a big piece of advice, and I learned this the hard way back at DSI, and it's really interesting to see again how we're perceived versus how we perceive ourselves in the industry. So to all the integrators out there that are doing design and engineering, great. Love you for it. Here's the problem. Architects and Designers, for that matter, still don't think of you as a designer. They think of you as a contractor. They think of someone that they buy stuff from you, you bolt it in, you install it, you leave, and you never show back up. It all supposed to just work magically, forever without a glitch, right? That's what they think of our industry. But we all know that's not right. Change the way you go to market. We're telling our dealers and we're telling everybody here, right, we're on a public show. Change your marketing approach. That you are a three phase business. You've got three distinct phases of what you do. Again, this is not all integrators do, but for the ones that don't, listen up, you've got consultation and design phase like we talked about earlier, right? That is a distinct phase of business. Show your chops. If you don't do design and engineering in house, there are some third party firms that could do this for you. You used to do this back in your past life, Ron and I saw the documentation you did and it was awesome. You don't do that anymore. There's other ones that are doing it.
Ron: Some of my former staff actually have broken off and started and are running very successful businesses doing documentation. So there's viable places to go to. And I think there's even a couple of firms in California there that do it on an outsourced basis as well.
Ron: There are options out there if you can't do it in house.
Josh: Yeah, they could reach out to you or reach out to me. Be more than happy to point you in that direction if you're listening and you want some of those third party resources. So show that work. Show that design and engineering doc. And again, they're not used to seeing this. So your professionalism just goes up dramatically because I've never seen this out of your yeah, I'm the professional side of this industry. I'm not like the 90% out there that are kind of messing up the industry. So that's phase one. Phase two is the contracting phase. They get that already. At some point, I'm going to install this and program it, configure it, commission it, and then important point, we have a service phase, and that is an ongoing phase that's going to last indefinitely and be upfront. Technology is not perfect. It's going to break. It's going to have a hiccup. I mean, how many times you rebooted your iPhone, right? Everyone's going to go, oh yeah, I have to reboot my phone a couple of times a month. Right. The vaunted Apple products still needs to be rebooted. So everyone, when you kind of bring that up and go, oh yeah, okay, so I will be here to service you. And technology marches on, so the high def TV I put in eight years ago is now 4K or eight K and streaming, things have changed, and we're going to be updating and refreshing your electronics as new technologies come out. Be upfront about that. We also encourage that's the whole service is a whole other conversation, but you can do things like Parasol or OneVision, even do that third party and charge for it. That could be a recurring revenue stream for you. But have a defined service policy. This is such an important thing to do because by saying that, again, you have to have that. So make sure your company's got those things.
Ron: Is that a requirement, Josh? To reach one of the certification levels with HTA, to have a service department in place, or to have a service solution, whether it's internal or external?
Josh: Yes, service solutions, yes. We don't dictate exactly what that has to be. We have a lot of customer service questions on the application, and we even tell them because people get nervous at that, like, hey, there's no such company that has answered yes on every one of these questions. You don't have to. We're just trying to get an idea of the type of level of service you offer. Because there's another article on our site that is a great article because it's written to the consumer and say, what kind of consumer are you? If you demand that you have to have 24 hours service and a problem goes down and you snap your finger and you want your integrator to be there, that's okay. But you're looking for a specific type of integrator that offers that level of service. Do not expect that of everybody. There's no right or wrong answer to that. Just what can you realistically do? So we expose what those customer service policies are without a judgment on there, and we just tell a client, make sure you hire a firm that offers a level of service that you demand or that you need and go in with your eyes wide open. So that is a big point, though, because a lot of integrators don't have a defined customer service policy. It's kind of loose goosey. No, define what it is. Define what it is to your clients, because when they know going in, then that mitigates or eliminates very uncomfortable conversations later on when things start breaking, you start giving them service calls. Wait a minute, I thought this was included for our service premium. It's this or you can if you're on a monthly retainer or whatever, there's those kind of things. But be upfront about that. Not only is that great for your customer experience and allow you to potentially sell RMR services. But it also professionalizes the heck out of you when you have that conversation with the builder, designer and architect when you don't want to. Instead of burying your head in the sand. That stuff is going to break. Be upfront. That the stuff is going to break or have a hiccup and that you're there to service it. And this is what my company is like. Here's the key point, too. This is a big one that most clients, and again, the trade, still think of you, again as the contractor. So they think of you like the plumber or electrician, meaning that you do your job and you're gone. You never come back on the home. But when you explain, no, we have the service phase and you're going to see me for years, then they realize, oh, I better make this decision properly. I better not just wing it because I better like this person because they're going to be coming back to my house in the future. So that also helps them kind of take a pause and slow down and say, I better hire the right firm. Because it's not a one and done, it's a relationship. I explained to the trades, it's kind of like an interior designer relationship because the interior design relationship is of the three trades, the one that lasts the longest, right? Because people refreshing their home, doing kitchen and bathroom remodels and things like that, that's an integrator. They're coming in and refreshing and fixing and updating. So when you can market yourself that way on your website and the way you approach yourself to the trades, then they look at you quite differently. You're like, that never been spoken to this way.
Ron: Josh, I want to close on a question. What is the process? If someone listening now says, all right, I think I want to take the plunge and become HTA certified, what's the process and timeline typically look like. Then we'll wrap up.
Josh: There is a link on the website that says Get Certified. It's on the home page about halfway down and then in the footer, and the application is done online. The application asks a lot of questions and you can save and exit. So I'd say, to be realistic, it's going to take about an hour to an hour and a half worth of time. You don't have to do it on one shot to answer all those questions because you're going to probably have to pull up some numbers. We don't ask financials, so we don't get too nitty gritty. It's more like, what do you sell, what types of projects do you do? Who are the ones that can endorse you? Again, we ask about those customer service policies. We ask some detailed questions, but we don't ask for financials. It's not rocket science. Once that is done, then that starts the vetting process on our end. And that could last from two weeks to two months or even more sometimes it depends on how quick we get the responses. Because this is not an application in rubber stamp. This is an application in the deep dive. So we are interviewing people. This is a legit, real thing.
Ron: I'm assuming there's a fee. Certainly you and your team are investing a lot of time on the research side. Is there a fee to start the application?
Josh: Yes, there's a $400 application fee which is charged only when the application is completed. After a quick cursory glance. If we see some major red flags, like for example, here's one, it's happened in Florida and in California. California and Florida both have low voltage license requirements. We've had dealers applied that are not licensed and right away it's a fail. We don't charge them $400 to say, hey, this took us five minutes to figure out you failed. No, we give it a cursory glance. If they pass the cursory glance, we charge $400. Then we do our vetting process. Assuming that that integrator is certified, they pass. Then it's up to them to choose either an annual or a monthly subscription. And it's fifteen hundred dollars a year if they pay annually, or it's $150 a month if they do it monthly. So reasonable when you consider that depending on the size of your firm, it can make you a couple of hundred thousand dollars to a couple of million dollars more a year. And that's not exaggerating. I mean, it's a game changer to efficiency and the sales process and your sales close ratio. This is the biggest thing you can do. There's nothing you can do that's going to bring a bigger change in your bottom line than doing this.
Ron: Josh, folks that want to get in touch with you directly, where do you recommend? Do you want them to call you, email you, go to your website? What's your advice?
Josh: You can email me directly. It's simple. It's my initials. JC. For Josh Christian.
Ron: Josh, thank you again for joining me on Show 222. We'll definitely have to not let three years go by again, shame on us for allowing that much time to go by between having you on the show and clearly you are changing lives and moving the industry forward. So congratulations on your continued success. And if folks are out there listening, you definitely should give Josh a call. Reach out, learn about HTA even if you're not there yet. Learn what's required so that you can strive towards that level of differentiation as a marketer. I love it when the thing that I'm marketing is different and so an integrator wants to stand out and be different. I love you thinking about the HTA for your business and CEDIA certification or a Avixa certification for your team. Like, if you run with those two sets of credentials on your website, you just have a powerful way to be different because guess what? A lot of the other folks that you compete with won't do it. They won't take the time and energy. So it's a smart move. So, Josh, it was a pleasure having you on the show, sir.
Josh: Yeah, thanks. It's great being here. Enjoy the conversation and look forward to the next one. There's more announcements to be coming out of this association on this theme, so we got things in the works.
Ron: Awesome. All right, folks, there you have it. That we show 222 with one and only Josh Christian, CEO of Home Technology Association.
Josh entered the home technology industry in 1995 when he began working at a locally owned audio/video retailer. Three years later, he moved to a custom technology integration company, where he helped the firm grow into one of the largest custom AV integration companies in the industry. In 2015, Josh joined a low-voltage technology consulting firm specializing in designing and engineering home technology systems, where he stayed until co-founding the Home Technology Association (HTA) in 2017.
Ron Callis is the CEO of One Firefly, LLC, a digital marketing agency based out of South Florida and creator of Automation Unplugged. Founded in 2007, One Firefly has quickly became the leading marketing firm specializing in the integrated technology and security space. The One Firefly team work hard to create innovative solutions to help Integrators boost their online presence, such as the elite website solution, Mercury Pro.
Resources and links from the interview:
Josh can be reached directly by email at j