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

Press & Awards

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

Home Automation Unplugged Episode #242: An Industry Q&A with Tom Manna

In this week's episode of Automation Unplugged, Tom Manna, President/Founder of Digital Home Systems, Inc. shares his extensive management background in electronic marketing and computer-based organizations.

This week's episode of Automation Unplugged features our host Ron Callis interviewing Tom Manna. Recorded live on Wednesday, April 26th, 2023, at 12:30 pm EST.

About Tom Manna

Tom's extensive management background in electronic marketing and computer-based organizations, combined with his passion for cutting-edge technology and dedication to customer service, make running a customer-centric boutique home technology firm a natural fit. In 1999, he founded Digital Home Systems, which quickly gained a reputation for its sophisticated digital platform and unparalleled performance, simplicity, and elegance.

Today, DHS is known for providing high-end clients, architects, builders, and interior designers with a range of products and services that seamlessly integrate technology into a home's design, including home theater, distributed audio, security, data, communications, and control. DHS's custom-designed systems represent the perfect combination of best-in-class technology, flawless performance, and understated elegance.

Interview Recap

  • Tom’s start in custom integration back in 1967
  • Tom’s passion for live performance music
  • Lessons learned and how they could apply to our current economic cycle.

SEE ALSO: Home Automation Podcast Episode #240 An Industry Q&A with Eric Pyle


Ron:: Hello, hello, Ron Callis here with another episode of automation unplugged. Today is Wednesday, April 26th. It is a couple of minutes after 1230 p.m. Eastern Time. I see some people already jumping into the feed here. If technology is cooperating, we should be streaming live on Facebook and LinkedIn, and YouTube.

Ron:: Using my favorite new software here, StreamYard, is such a pleasant experience compared to some of the stuff we've used in the past. And thanks to my team for, of course, getting this set up every week. And I am getting word that we are live, which is pretty awesome. A couple of quick updates just for all of you that are watching live or watching on replay.

Ron:: If you are in Chicago, Chicagoland, I'm actually going to share my screen, and let's see if I can do this. There we go. This is my One Firefly LinkedIn page and of course, the message is One Firefly is at the CDA tech summit tomorrow. So tomorrow, April 27th, there will be the tech summit.

Ron:: And make sure to go out, and show your love, Josh Strempko from team One Firefly will be there at the event. And definitely stop by say hello, harass him a little bit, you know, have fun with it. And what else has been going on? Just came back from a week in Las Vegas, and we and that was Steven and myself.

Ron:: We were out in Las Vegas at the HTSA event. And it was held at the JW Marriott. And I just want to say it was a fantastic event. We were happy to be there. We were happy to see everyone there. We did roll out a really neat benefit, which I'll talk about now in case I have any HTSA people that are tuning in.

Ron:: As a reminder, HTSA hired One Firefly to produce four beautiful, well, if I say so myself, beautiful, new videos for hire. And in doing that, actually, let me make sure. So I say I just brought you in. Hey, Tom, how are you?

Tom: : I'm great. Having a little coffee.

Ron:: I appreciate it. I'm sitting here riffing. I was like, wait a second, I think I just brought Tom in.

Ron:: But at the HTSA conference, we rolled out these beautiful new hiring videos. It's a benefit for any HTSA member. So don't hesitate to reach out to the HTSA staff or the staff here at one firefly to learn more about that. Again, it's a free benefit to those members that they can incorporate into their websites and marketing. But Tom, I clicked a little early.

Ron:: So sorry, I didn't give you the proper introduction, man. So that was that was shame on me. Let me do this now for all of our folks that are tuned in and listening. So this show 242. Tom, I was telling you just before we went live, that this month of April is officially our 6-year anniversary of doing automation unplugged. And here you are. Thank you.

Ron:: And you're my guest in this celebration month. And for folks tuning in, this is Tom Mana. He is the president and founder of digital home systems. Tom, thanks for joining us.

Tom: : Thank you.

Ron:: Where are you coming to us from Tom?

Tom: : We are at our world headquarters in rye brook, New York.

Tom: : Yeah, which is, let's say, 5 minutes ten minutes over the New York City line, Westchester, and we're in Westchester County. So we're sandwiched in between New York City and Connecticut, and we work in a very, very calm area called Metro, New York, our clients are not discriminating at all.

Tom: : And we go to the Hamptons and we go, we go wherever we need to go. We will go out of state if there's an opportunity there, and we think we can do a bang-up job for the client.

Ron:: What percentage of your work is there in the New York metro area versus the occasion where you need to leave the area or leave the state?

Tom: : If we include the Hamptons and obviously New York City, Westchester and Fairfield county, Connecticut.

Tom: : 90% of our work is there, 95% of the work. But we have gone to Cincinnati to South Carolina, Charleston, keyword area.

Ron:: So I'm sharing for our viewers, our folks that are watching, I'm sharing your website, and I'll click around a little bit. So folks can get a look at that. What are the typical types of projects? Here on your website, I'm seeing residential.

Ron:: Are you guys fully resy, or do you do dabble in any commercial stuff?

Tom: : We do like commercials. We do a lot of restaurants. And you know what's big is these multi-unit dwellings, these MDUs that are popping up all along the New York Central, the train line area, it was in the past, you know, it was a great place for younger people to rent an apartment right by the train and then hop into the city. It's less needed since we're in post COVID. But you know we, most of our businesses there, we do hospitality well, so we've done these multi-dwelling units, more of the common areas, the gyms, making a community experience.

Ron:: This theater I have on the screen now is this in an MDU project?

Tom: : No. That's in some way. That's a big theater.

Tom: : That's a private theater. It's 22 seats. That's up in Stanford, New York, which is. South of Albany. New York City. Okay. Yeah, that looks like yeah. That was a nice, that's a nice project.

Tom: : This was an 18,000 ft² home. And then the add-on was the theater after we finished the home and it was a nice project. That is, that is not an inexpensive theater that theater is supposed to a half a million bucks.

Ron:: Wow. It's hard to do theaters in Manhattan proper, right? Because there's generally isn't the real estate in the city. So you have to go out to be able to do jobs like that.

Tom: : But I'm going to say it's about ten years ago, maybe 15 years ago. We were doing work for the COO of coach at the time. Leather, and he purchased a brownstone, which Walt Disney's daughter owned. And he did a marvelous renovation and the architect and designer brought us in.

Tom: : And we took a bedroom and we made it a 8 seat theater. And it came out really nice. A nice cozy room. Not so small. In on Clark avenue.

Ron:: What are some of the biggest challenges of doing projects in New York? You mentioned and you said it jokingly that the clients can be discerning.

Ron:: I imagine some of the clients maybe could be a little more demanding than in other parts of the country. I don't want to be you know, I don't want to judge people unfairly from where they live or where they're born, but it's possible.

Tom: : Hey, we don't have the monopoly on people who.

Ron:: Are discerning.

Tom: : Yes, discerning. Thank you.

Ron:: Well, people politically correct. What are some of the other challenges of doing work in that area?

Tom: : Logistics. Logistics is the number one challenge. So as the crow flies in a vehicle that should take us 20 minutes to get into midtown Manhattan. Not that. Well, you throw that out the window unless you leave at 5 in the morning. So we usually have to leave an hour and a half travel in and maybe two hours out.

Tom: : We can't get into most buildings before 9 or ten. We have to use the service elevators. You can not come in the f

Ron:t door of any building. It doesn't matter what it is. So we have to wait and usually logistics. We're carrying the equipment in and you're online with all the traits who are going into that building for the day. And so logistics, logistics, logistics, parking, parking, parking, you have to have your game plan together, you have to have your list of materials ready to go.

Tom: : You have to have your tools set and depending on what you're getting into, we could need concrete tools. Most of the walls in New York City are concrete. Most of the ceilings are concrete. So there's no such thing as running a wire inside the wall. It's channeling. So other than logistics, it's the it would be the construction, the construction materials.

Tom: : We did it wasn't in the city, but we did when we were 23-year-old company and I think this was year two or three, we did a house enlargement and we come to find that the whole house is built out of this concrete block. And it happened to be the same block they used on New York City subway. So that was a real wake-up call.

Tom: : So even that building structure made its way up into Westchester county because it's proximity to the city.

Ron:: That sounds challenging. But you find a way, right? I mean, there's wonderful integration businesses all throughout New York and New Jersey. And despite all the challenges, logistics and construction and I go back to logistics because I've just heard the nightmares of getting to the job site and getting up to the unit.

Ron:: It can be quite hard. There are some of the best and the brightest and most successful integrators in North America are right there in your backyard. So you're rubbing elbows with, you know, some of the best and the brightest for sure. Do you see that or feel that?

Tom: : Am I frozen? I can't tell.

Ron:: No, you're a little choppy.

Tom: : All right.

Ron:: I hear you fine. Your audio is coming through perfect.

Tom: : Okay.

Tom: : I'll tell you a story about that. When I was transitioning out of the I was in the corporate world for quite a while. And I think we're totally down.

Ron:: No, no, no, I hear you fine.

Tom: : Okay, fine. I was in the corporate world for 22 years in sales and marketing for consumer pet. It's good companies. Stuff that's told in the grocery store.

Tom: : So I work for nabisco and standard brands, Clorox company. As I was transitioning out, hey, this is the corporate guy. I was a senior vice president of sales of a $1 billion company. And shit, I'm going to teach this excuse me. I'm going to teach this industry something. Yeah, I got humbled real quick. I got to tell you, and I'm still at all.

Tom: : Of the entrepreneurs that are in this business. And corporate guys got nothing on the people who work in our industry, the owners of our industry, and who have pioneered this rapid pace of growth. So I thought I was going to, yeah, no problem. I got this. Well, no, I didn't get that.

Tom: : But I learned a lot and the industry by and large is welcoming a lot of associations and to join and learn the business. But literally, I know nothing other than what I did along the way as a musician and hobbyist in the business.

Tom: : But I knew, hey, plus and minus, white and black, black and red, I got this. And the technology I did have, I remember going into ADI, it was one of the national distributors most people know for alarms. And when I decided to do this business, it was there was no industry called custom integration.

Tom: : We were the AV people. And at the time, separate companies did alarm. And a different company came in and did your phones. And a different company came in and did your audio. Maybe some video. Noting is networks. So there was a homeowner at the time, and this is back in I started this business at the end of 1999.

Tom: : The homeowner, if they were doing a sizable project, had to go out and hire four or 5 independent traits to do what this industry does now. And I said, wouldn't it be a great idea if, all right, I'm going to do alarms? I'm not I'm not doing them. I wasn't doing anything. But what do I want my offering to be? And I thought, well, it's got to be alarm. It's got to be an audio video. It's got to be communication.

Tom: : It's got to be you know a one-stop shop. And that's what our industry was doing at that time. And. Got into it that way. And we rolled with the times. We went through hellish times and great times. We went through 9-11 , which basically shut down our business for the better part of a year. Because most of our clients were affected by 9 11.

Ron:: And then let's zoom in on that just for a minute out of curiosity. And then I guess we'll kind of jump around a little bit. I want to cover that. When 9 11 happened, that was in 2001, right? Yep. Yes. In 2001, what, what did happen to the business? Like, did all the work go away immediately overnight?

Tom: : No. But all work was affected overnight.

Ron:: Okay. Was the work paused?

Tom: : The work was paused for two weeks or at least a week in most cases. But we've, you know, we had clients who we literally lost. You know, Westchester County is the bedroom of New York City of investment bankers, lawyers you know, our client base.

Tom: : In the city. And clients on those floors of those powers. Yes. Yes. Yes. And Friends, and client Friends, clients become friends. Yeah. So yeah, look, everybody knows. It wasn't any different in any other part of the country. You know, New York, is very affected because you have 8 to 10 million people going into the city every day. And that just comes to a screeching halt.

Ron:: So let's go back in time, Tom. Tell us, how did all this begin? How did your love or passion and you mentioned you had a career in the corporate world? So take us from the beginning. I mean, heck, go back to childhood or as far as you are willing or game to go back. When did this love or passion for this stuff like, when did you know that there was something there? And then what was the trajectory or path that ultimately brought you to launching your business in 1999?

Tom: : I think I came out of the womb with an interest in wires. And sound. And being male, we're very visual. And video and visual. As you might have guessed, by where my business is, I grew up in The B

Ron:x. My accident wouldn't give that away at all, but just to clarify. And a quick story.

Tom: : My father was a Garmin cut. He was a factory worker. And he worked really hard. My whole, my whole family was in the garment business. Actually, my grandfather, his father, designed coats and make coats for Shirley Temple. A lot of our younger people don't know who that is these days.

Ron:: But the Shirley Temple, like the famous actress. And she ultimately became ...

Tom: : Tempo black.

Ron:: And a conversation, yeah.

Tom: : New York City, yeah. Anyway, dad's leaves the house 6 comes back at 8. He's tired. He wants to eat. Well, I had it in my mind that I was going to had a nice little stereo in my bedroom. We lived on the second floor of a two family house. So we did not own the house. We rented it. So I had my room in the towards the back of the house and the kitchen was next door, and then the living room was towards the front of the house.

Tom: : And I said, to myself, self. I want to hear, I want to hear music. I want to hear when I go into the kitchen and when I go to the living room. Now, I am probably about ten years old. At this time. And I got a spool of wire and hooked it up to my speaker output of my techniques, quadraphonic, receiver, and ransom wire into the kitchen and ransomware into the living room and made little speaker brackets and I got a couple of pairs of speakers, of course, because as a hobbyist, we all collect it.

Tom: : We still do. And I got the speakers up in the corners in the kitchen and in the living room and had it going on and my dad walks through the hall and I got probably Led Zeppelin on and I was told to kind of quiet it down like immediately.

Ron:: But what year would this event be? You were setting up multi-room audio. Which decade?

Tom: : I'm old. This was probably in 1967. Holy bananas. So you were one of the OGs in setting up multi-room audio in 1967.

Tom: : What's an OG? Old guy?

Ron:: The original gangster. Original a gangster or old guy. More than an old guy.

Tom: : Yeah, I'll tell you one more story. So you know I was born in 1957. So that's when we moved into that apartment.

Tom: : And they went all out, they bought this beautiful walnut Motorola, two-piece console. On the left side, it was the stereo fortune with a bunch of big speakers. But in the console, in a piece of furniture, all the technology was hidden. What's past this prologue, right? And on the other piece of furniture, they joined together, and they actually had a wiring, a wire jump to use the speakers in the TV side of the system, or the console.

Tom: : So you had this beautiful console with Tambor doors that hit the screen, and it was a black and white TV. So by the time I came along, I'm the baby. My brother's ten years older. My sister is 7 years older. You know, we need a color TV. I mean, you know, of course. Black and white were the 50s. And you know we're in 64 65 color became a thing.

Tom: : And my parents went out and bought a Magnavox. You know, whatever it was, 21 inches, 27 inches at the time, CRT, color TV with rabbit ears and everything. And they put it on the top of the console. And I'm looking at this and going, no, no, you know what? The section in the console where the black and white CRT fits looks just to be about a little bit bigger than the whole cabinet for the color TV.

Tom: : So yeah, I did it. One of my favorite things growing up was watching the TV Repairman. As a matter of fact, I have two of those vintage boxes, the butterfly boxes that the tubes go in. Anyway, took off the back, pulled out the CRT chassis, held my breath, but greased up to having it and slid it inside, and you want to know something? It looked pretty damn good. So I was doing custom integration. At the same time.

Ron:: That's amazing. And how long did your fit would your parents say about the color TV retrofit?

Tom: : That went over much better than the speakers, you know, and the wires take around the house. They love that.

Ron:: That's amazing. So I imagine as you, you know, went to school and then college or after high school, whatever you did, I imagine it wasn't obvious how to enter a career in the audio video business.

Ron:: And so you did not go down that path because that was that even a thing or an option at that point in the state of things?

Tom: : No. I tell you what everybody, okay, this is the early 70s. B

Ron:x, New York. It's not The Bronx that you picture today. It was very suburban. We were on the borderline of Westchester County. And everybody had a garage band, everybody.

Tom: : Music was, you know, we just passed the 60s. Now we're coming into the bands of the 70s, the Eagles, et cetera. And everybody wanted to be a rockstar. Of course. And. That's how I learned about amplifiers and speakers, and I built a couple of sound systems for bands.

Tom: : And in college, I had a sound company where we did outdoor and indoor sound. But I didn't do that. As a matter of fact, I have a cousin who's 6 months apart from me. So he chose rock and roll. I chose a college in the corporate world. Anthony, has toured with everybody imaginable, Clapton, Ringo, Neil Young, the older bands. Even the new bands.

Tom: : I went and got into marketing, and then I got into the consumer packaged goods world when they came out of college. I went to work for what became Nabisco. It was called standard brands in the Clorox company. And I did that. I was in the corporate world for 22 years. I joined. So I joined a startup in technology and that was really my start to go over to the dark side, the interesting side, if you will.

Ron:: And what was that startup?

Tom: : It was Catalina's marketing. This was in 1986. Let me set the let me set this story for you. 86. Barcodes just came out. Grocery store POS systems and point of sale systems were just installed in the masses.

Ron:: All right, so just out of curiosity, at a grocery store, prior to a POS, like when you buy your groceries, what would you do?

Tom: : The cashier would ring it up on an old-fashioned cash register that would be like an old adding machine. And that's the way they did it.

Ron:: And there was no centralization of that data from each cash register?

Tom: : Not in the 50s and not in the 60s and not in the 70s, it started coming.

Tom: : But the POS really came at the end of the 70s at the beginning of the getting sophisticated in the 80s. And then companies came and said, how can we make more money with this information? Because everything that's scanned in a grocery store ultimately gets looked up and either they throw that data away or they well, they started saving the data. And that's when the barcode became the magic.

Tom: : It used to be the Nielsen set-top boxes to see what you were watching and whatever. This is going back. I mean, this is during the days of the crank-up funk now I'm only kidding. But. The companies called that you know now, everybody knows Nielsen. There were three information companies, Nielsen, information resources, IRI, and Sammy. Don't ask me what Sammy stands for.

Tom: : But those were the three big scan data houses. And they started using scan data to develop market strategies and see where your strengths and weakness areas in the country are. And so there were a few guys on a boat and I was not one of them that said, hey if we put a PC. Now, PCs would just crank up in the early 80s.

Tom: : But if we put a PC in a grocery store, we hook it into the POS system, and we could put a printer at the register, and if we are real-time and somebody comes in and buys Pepsi, and I went to Coca-Cola and said, how would you like to give a coupon for a free 6 pack of Pepsi to that Coke user since we knew through the scan data that there was a good degree of loyalty?

Tom: : And it was a polarized marketplace. And so somebody came in, bought a 6 pack of Pepsi, Coke said, oh, I got one. Here, misses Jones on your way out. We give you the checkout coupon. For a free two-liter bottle of Coke. And that was the beginning of one-to-one elect

Ron:ic marketing. And then from there, historical data was then collected, not only real-time data.

Tom: : And more sophisticated means of targeting households. Came about. And that was the infancy, if you will, of what's being done on the Internet now, data, data is king, knowledge is king. So at the time, I joined the company. Well, when I left the company, this system was installed in 10,000 grocery stores, plus across the United States. Wow. This was a big network.

Tom: : It is probably one of the largest grocery stores for sure. You know, the grocery chains had their own systems, but now we tied the grocery chain. Wait, we didn't tie them together. Together, we had the information from an industry basis. And that was my entree into a technical networking technology, wire business. What was the title? This is a super nerdy question.

Ron:: What was the type of PC you were putting in in the late 80s? Like what were the specs of the PC?

Tom: : You know, I was on the sales and marketing site. It was, I can't tell you how much ram it was, but it was like, it was, it made today, it put it this way.

Tom: : A cell phone of today is probably a thousand equates to a thousand computers equate to a thousand PCs, which probably equates to the technology in a single cell phone. Oh, yeah. So, you know, so.

Ron:: When you would go into stores at that time with that capability, so I mean, I want to make sure I'm going to repeat. So I understand.

Ron:: You had a PC tied to the POS. You knew if they bought a Coke, and your system then knew if, in this example, I might be reversing your example, but if they bought a Coke and if Pepsi was your client, then pep a Pepsi ad or coupon would be printed out on their receipt.

Tom: : Not on the receipt. We had a separate register. Excuse me, not a register. A separate printer. At the register.

Ron:: And that would be handed to the customer and I would imagine almost every big brand in the country became your customer.

Tom: : They did. They did. And it was right in the middle of the Cola wars. And we had both Coke and Pepsi wanting to buy and I was not it was not a founder of the company. Wanting to buy the technology.

Tom: : And roger Enrico was the CEO of PepsiCo at the time. And he wanted to buy it all. So we sold in 13 periods, and we were category exclusive. So if Pepsi owned the period, one of our 13 cycles, Koch was locked out. So. Being Roger Enrico, he couldn't have all 13 cycles. He could have ten.

Tom: : And he turned around to us and said, Nah, I do it all, or I do nothing, otherwise it's mutually sure to distraction. So, that was just that was the exception rather than the rule. And every large company Procter & Gamble, Clorox, Nabisco, Stouffer's, you name it. They were on our system.

Ron:: That must have been a pretty neat feeling to be and at that point was at that point in your career.

Tom: : You were VP of sales of that company? I started as a territory Rhett with Catalina at the time. We did 15,000 in sales, in total, I did ten of it in New York. Not solely, but that's how big it was. I mean, it was only two of us in New York at the time. And when I left, I was senior vice president of sales and the company was approaching $1 billion. And listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Ron:: What was that ride like?

Tom: : Unbelievable. Work hard, play hard, work hard, work harder, work harder, play harder, and then burn out.

Ron:: I need a vacation.

Tom: : Anybody who's done a corporate startup and then you're public and you have a 35 PE and you've got to keep that going. Well, it's not the best sales environment to be in.

Ron:: I was going to say, because that PE is, I mean, that has to be most of the weight of the company and the stock value sits on the director of sales shoulder.

Tom: : Yes. Yes, yes. And I had a mentor, Helene Monet, who taught me very well. And it was like following Eric Clapton on stage. So I didn't do quite as well as the master.

Tom: : But yes, it was challenging.

Ron:: So bring me to 1999. You started this integration business. How did that happen? Was that directly from corporate America right into you know what? I'm going to follow my passion or what happened there. I was sitting in I was in bed in California at some consulting gig that I did as I was deciding what to do.

Tom: : And I said you know, I need to do something else. And all right, so you're told, if you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life. What do I love? Music is my passion and delivering music is a passion. Guys, are visual videos my passion?

Tom: : So I'm thinking and I say to myself, self, you know what? When somebody just renovated a home at the time, you know, when a person does a major innovation you know, they need to bring somebody in for an alarm. And they need to bring somebody else in for the stereo system.

Tom: : And then there's the TV appliance store or whatever. And so all these businesses, the homeowner had to find 5 different people. And then you get you know everybody pointing at each other when something goes wrong. And it was back then I said, there's got to be a better way. There's got to be one throat to choke on this. I need one person to come in and coordinate these systems.

Tom: : Well, you know, it was a tremendous idea that I came up with right now.

Ron:: You invented this idea of integration, single-handedly .

Tom: : I'm just like Al Gore. So. Yeah, I and, hey, I was an executive. Oh, you were a big shot selling corporate America.

Ron:: Selling this little AV speaker and sleeping on TVs. This is easy. Yeah, there you go.

Tom: : So I got this. I'm going to tear it up. Well, there was a need. And I did get into the business. And I found what entrepreneurs really were. It was mind-boggling how aggressive, how smart, and innovative people in my industry are industry were still are.

Tom: : And corporate executives, they're all great people. And they don't have anything over the American entrepreneur. And unless they are American entrepreneurs. So that was the industry. And that's why I got into it.

Ron:: Yeah. No, knock against our corporate.

Tom: : No

Ron:: Friends. But I agree.

Ron:: I talk I'm actually writing a piece of content right now. Tom, for an industry publication, it'll be published pretty soon. And I'm writing about the state of the economy and the recession. And I started to write about, you know, the hard work, the work ethic, the grit, the determination, the sleepless nights, the anxiety, you know, and I'm defining what it is to be an entrepreneur in our industry and likely in many industries.

Ron:: And maybe all industries, you know, running a business and employing people and taking on the weight and responsibility of taking care of your people and their families. It's different. I'm not willing to say it's better or worse. Because I think it's everything to find the situation that's right for them.

Ron:: But it's definitely when you find a good entrepreneur that's doing it and successfully growing, successfully being profitable, successfully having happy people successfully is making happy customers like. That needs to be, you know, acknowledged and celebrated because it's hard as hell to do that well and to do that well consistently over time. And.

Ron:: I want to say that's entrepreneurship, certainly. All I know is American entrepreneurship. My friends in Canada, I know them. I would define them in the same way. And I know there are folks listening to this from all over the world. So there's no knock on those businesses. I just don't know them as well. As I know the entrepreneurs here are in our backyard. But anyway, that's my die tribe. I'm just totally agreeing with you.

Tom: : Oh, I totally mutual admiration society. I totally agree with that. And. Said another way, there are brilliant people in every industry. And it's a different cat that takes something from nothing and makes it something. So I think General Patton, I'm not going to have the I'm terrible quotes, but.

Ron:: That's me too, by the way. We need to chatGPT or Google for that.

Tom: : But I think there's a saying by, I think it's patent.

Tom: : There's no worry, more tenacious than the American businessman, the American entrepreneur. So you know you're right, it's a battle. And talking about I mentioned a name before Liam Monet, she taught me the most important lesson. Your people are everything. And you don't look at the company as the people immediately around you.

Tom: : You always look at the company in terms of how many mounts are you feeding. And how many families are you responsible for? And the kick, the kick of all kicks is, I started this business with 18-year-olds and 20-year-olds , and that was 23 years ago. Well, Ed, 23 years to that, and I've seen these guys, ladies, mature, have families, prosper, and that's why we do this.

Ron:: Amen. I don't think it could be said better. To take care of our people and watch them prosper in their communities for their families, I think that that's definitely my pride and joy of mine. It sounds like we have that in common. As we look on the horizon, I'm going to look out a little bit and I'm only going to say God help you if you're watching the news, but it sounds like there might be a recession coming. It sounds like maybe we're in it now. I don't know. It's a little weird and wonky. It definitely, I think I can say this with absolute certainty.

Ron:: 23 won't be the same level of business or the same situation as 21 and 22. And at least here in North America, 21 and 22, we're pretty gangbusters for at least the residential CI business. And you started in 99, so that means you went through the ups and downs of the Great Recession, right? So that technically started in December of 2007.

Ron:: I was brilliant because I started my business in November of 2007. So I said, let me just try to time this perfectly to like go into some pain and misery immediately. And so it was a December of O 7 through July of O 9, officially. And then unofficially, it took another three-plus years for housing to start to recover.

Ron:: And I was researching recently, actually, for the article I'm writing, housing didn't recover until 2020 from pre-Great Recession construction levels. So it was hard, although I would say after 12, our industry really, I think, boomed and did quite well. I'm saying all of that, Tom, what were your experiences in that Great Recession? And what were lessons learned that might be attributable to what might be ahead for us here in North America?

Tom: : A, nobody has a crystal ball. I remember, and this is not a political statement. I remember on a TV show, Trump said, and this was in 2007, 2008, he predicted heaven in 11. Heaven in 2011, meaning by 2011, we would have been out there. But I agree with your numbers. It was much later. And we do have something else in common.

Tom: : I started this business. Let's call it January of 2000. And there's a lot of licensing that has to get done. And it was me and my dog. Bosco.

Ron:: It's a good name for a dog.

Tom: : Yeah. He's a chocolate lab. Anyway, so the first year we're getting our act together me and Bosco. And then I hire my first two employees. And we're starting to get some traction. And the terrible, terrible, devastation. We all went through a 9-11 hit.

Tom: : And there was the Great Recession, but in the metro New York area, in particular, and we're not special, but because ground zero, if you will, in the magnitude of the number of businesses and people affected, 2001, I felt the same way and out. I'm thankful that I was not and did not have family involved, but we did have friends and clients involved and lost them too.

Tom: : And yes, then imagine that. I mean, you know what? People go to a funeral for 8 months. And they weren't really worried about getting a new iPad or getting a new stereo. So that put the brakes on immediately. And it lasted a while. We didn't go down to zero, but we went down pretty far and you got to then be creative and try to look at your product offering and see what we can do.

Tom: : So we started doing more security systems and surveillance systems and a little bit more maintenance work. But we made it through. We made it through. It wasn't easy. And neither was the 2008-2013 stint. We're in a recession now. So again, there is no crystal ball. COVID hits, and what happens to our industry?

Tom: : I remember sitting at this desk I'm at. Saying, okay, well, here's where I say goodbye to the business. Well, I couldn't have been more wrong.

Ron:: We were all like opposite wrong, weren't we?

Tom: : You know what? There's got to be a little good to come out of trials and tribulations. And it was the best couple of years we ever had in our industry ever had. Why? Well, everybody went from one lifestyle to a new lifestyle.

Tom: : What was their new lifestyle working from home? What do you need for working at home? You need computer networks. You got three kids in the house. They all want to stream. Dad's home, trying to work Mom's home trying to work. And nobody can everything bogs down because what we're going off of is a simple cable vision or Verizon modem for the whole house. Ain't going to work. So networks, TVs, theaters, and so on and so forth.

Tom: : So you got to make, hey, when it's raining or whatever, again, I'm not good with quotes, but thank God our industry really responded. And, you know, something that we're not recognized for, we were first responders at the home. We were not, we were not restricted. As a matter of fact, we were asked to stay in business to provide security to communications. So we never stopped for a day before COVID.

Tom: : Literally never did. And so we were all w

Ron:g. Now we have a recession. Excuse me. Not a recession. We have inflation. We are teetering potentially on recession. And you want to know something? You asked me a year ago and I was extremely nervous about it.

Tom: : The economy. And I still am. Don't get me w

Ron:g. We're paying too much money for so many things. But you know when you look back when shut off when you shut off the pipeline and then you turn it on and everybody wants the same thing and has a lot of money in their pocket. Well, that's what happens. So you know we're working through, again, no political statements. We're working through natural cycles you know.

Tom: : I'm a big believer. Yeah, the individual has a little bit to do with what happens, but the cycles, the cyclical nature of the economy, of the consumer, really will dictate. And we started off great last year, we had a great year last year. This year, starting off a little slower, but we are still busy.

Tom: : And we're still on track for a not-as-good a year as 2021, 22, but it's happening. And people spending there's still a lot of home building, there's still a lot of new technology people are interested, I got clients who we've done their homes two and three times. And they say there's a genuine interest in technology.

Tom: : And I think what we started back in 1999, 2000 and other people in the industry in there longer than I, we have finally seen which, you know, we're finally seeing smart homes. Now, Google is not a smart home. Amazon is not a smart home.

Tom: : You know, advertising could be very misleading. I remember the advertising for, I don't know, Alexa. And the young teenagers on the lawn and the daughters up in the bedroom and the guy goes, Alexa, turn on the sprinklers to get the bow off the well, you know what? Alexa can't turn on the sprinklers. There's got to be a whole infrastructure. It can be done.

Tom: : But we're just entering that phase. We're just entering the phase of a truly smart home, which is responsive and predictive. You're not smart unless you can kind of plan ahead a little bit. AI is coming into everything. We're going to hear AI till it comes out of the wazoo.

Ron:: And I think in that regard, I think AI is I think less will be accomplished with AI in the next 12 months than we think, but I think far more will be accomplished with AI over the next 5 years than we can remotely imagine.

Tom: : And everybody's screaming with their hair on fire about the dangers of AI. There are dangers in nuclear weapons. There are dangers all over.

Tom: : We need to make sure it's a society. I think Elon Musk said it well. You got to be able to unplug the power. It's as simple as that. So that gets us off into attention that we could say for another time.

Ron:: I'm going to do some AI shows here in the near future. So maybe I'll have you back and we'll riff on that.

Tom: : I'm optimistic that we will harness it in a powerful way. And it'll really affect our industry because the predictive nature of the systems that we put in will get greater and greater that you'll have self-healing systems. Many of the networks like access networks are self-healing , in nature, and now we're seeing many of the automation platforms become the same. And that's a result of AI.

Ron:: Well, actually, I'll stay there just for a moment, and I'll ask you, what do you know or what can you share?

Ron:: The idea that control systems, you know, we don't need to name all the normal names and suspects in our industry. Do you know that they are finding ways to incorporate AI into their software or the system's functionality ? Or are you predicting that that will come just because that seems reasonable and logical?

Tom: : Well, the whole industry is moving that way.

Tom: : You had a problem back in the suit. We go back to the 60s. You call them, with your phone, you call the telephone company. And then alarms came along. Now, you didn't have to call anybody if you had a fire in the house. It is called the central station. Send the fire trucks.

Tom: : Well, now with the sophisticated smart homes and the advent of one platform oversee, smart homes are now monitored 24/7 and not in a not in data collecting way but in a very secure system diagnostic way. And there are firms now that do 24/7 monitoring.

Tom: : We have, we can bring up on our screen and have three, 400 clients, and we know the status of the different systems in their homes. And we can even set up that Monday morning when we come in you know, hey, you got to get to Mr. Jones House on Beechwood. Now, because they had a problem over the weekend, et cetera. So a couple of things have to happen. And I thought you were going to go a different direction, but there's voice recognition.

Tom: : And that's been very slow to come. Because nobody talks like Alexa wants to hear. But there are developments being made in that, and AI helps that. And yes, AI, again, I mentioned access networks. I mentioned you can hear the term self-healing more and more. Self-healing systems, self-healing network. Your iPhone is self-healing . I mean, they find a glitch, boom.

Tom: : They send out, they sound out to fix and we're over the glitch. So, yes, it's in its infancy from a smart home basis. But I think we'll see you know we're not going to be, we're not going to be on the bleeding edge of it. There will be probably other industries that will figure it out you know. We didn't have Tang. I don't know if you've been Tang. It was an orange drink, but we didn't have that until we went to the moon because that was a powdered orange drink.

Tom: : And so you know we'll get some innovations in AI and that will be able to adopt it into our business.

Ron:: You, last month, you mentioned you were in Scottsdale for the ASEAN conference. And you and I were both there. We were built there in Scottsdale.

Tom: : We actually were sitting next to each other at the final lunch.

Ron:: Yes, we were. Yes, we were. And so I'd love for you to maybe impart your wisdom or experience around being in groups.

Ron:: At a high level, it surprises me the number of folks that I interact with regularly that don't even know what the buying groups are or why to be in one, or what the benefits are. And I know you've been in them you've been in a number of them today. You're in ASEAN. Do you need to share from your perspective? Why are you in a group and why should maybe folks that are watching or listening that aren't in a group? Why should they consider it?

Tom: : You can't go through life without asking for help. If you do, it's going to take you a lot longer to get to the way you want to go. Our industry is very competitive. I mean, do you know how many integrators are in the metro New York area? And so what the groups do, whether it be or as he owned or HTSA, these are all different buying groups or associations, it's brain food.

Tom: : It's as simple as that. If you want to create the wheel all by yourself, go have it. If you want a shortcut, a ten-year growth process down to two years, and you want to listen to people in your industry, it's only going to happen where people congregate not only in a classroom setting but also more and even more importantly, social settings.

Tom: : I've learned more at dinners at HTSA and as he owned meetings, what to do, what not to do, and what to stay with. So it's knowledge. You can't sit in a cubicle, a four-wall office, even as the owner and CEO of this company, I still go on-site . You got to feel the pulse. And that's the same thing when you buy. I don't join trade associations or buying groups for discounts.

Tom: : It's a nice benefit. I buy it for the brain power of the people you're going to meet. I am flawed as to, just from this past as you know, the level of sophistication and thought and systems and accounting and analysis for ROI, I mean, and you can't learn this by yourself overnight. You'll save yourself a lot of time and join an association.

Ron:: Amen. I think we're going to end it on that. Tom, that was brilliant. I think a brilliant way to put it and I completely agree with you that there's tremendous value in learning from others. And one of the best things you could ever do, whether it's a hobby or whether it's your business is don't be afraid to raise your hand and ask for help and just listen to others and frankly you can fast-track your own success and you can be a contributor to other success and that feels good.

Tom: :The only stupid question is the one that goes unasked.

Ron:: Amen. Tom, for the folks that have tuned in and I appreciate you being a great sport time. Your audio's been wonderful. Your videos have been a little clippy. I'm sure that's my software, but it is what it is. How can the folks that have tuned in? How can they get a hold of you? Where would you send them?

Tom: : A post office you'll see my picture, no. I'm only kidding. I'm the most wanted poster.

Tom: : Yeah, that's a date a joke, right? Very simple. Info at digital home systems dot com. You want to get in touch with me personally. Tom at digital home systems dot com. Our office number is 9 one four 9 three 9 7000. And you could do a smoke signal. I might see it, whatever. But feel free to reach out what you see is what you get.

Tom: : And I'll try to give you the most direct and honest answer I can if you have questions.

Ron:: Awesome. That's brilliant. Tom, it's been a pleasure having you on show two 42 for our celebration month. This is our 6-year anniversary here at the show. And it really has been a pleasure to have you on. Thank you so much, Tom.

Tom: : Thank you. Take care, Ron.

Ron:: All right, folks. There you have it. Show 242.

Ron:: Again, apologies for a little bit of the video issues, Tom and I worked this out. He was actually coming through crystal clear and then the moment we go live, it goes a little sideways. That's just doesn't technology do that sometimes. You got to roll with it, you know? Murphy's law.It's the nature of things. But Tom, Tom was a ton of fun.

Ron:: I actually have spent some time talking to Tom learning about kind of his background in marketing and I mean, he was really in marketing, dealing with big data, and then activating that data to provide, you know, benefits to the manufacturers that were participating in programs and bring value to the consumers. He was doing this back, I want to say before the Internet, but in the 80s, maybe the Internet was around, but it really wasn't being used widely.

Ron:: I know that I went to college in 1992. And at Virginia Tech, my dorm was the first dorm on Virginia Tech's entire campus to get the Internet. So just to give you an idea. So Tom was doing these networked systems intelligent marketing systems tied to POS systems, I just think that stuff's fascinating. So I really appreciate him coming in and sharing that.

Ron:: And of course, he's running a wonderfully successful business now. In New York. And was a lot of fun having him on. So on that note, stay tuned. We have a full list of awesome guests lined up for the months of the head. Months ahead. And if you would like to be on the show, reach out. You can reach me, Ron, at one Firefly.

Ron:: And go to our website, engage with the live chat agent, and tell them that you'd love to be on the show or if you know anyone that would be good for the show. Don't be shy and share that. And we'll just keep the interviews coming. If you have not, if you're watching this on one of the streaming platforms, don't forget to go and subscribe. If you're on LinkedIn, follow our page. If you're on YouTube, follow our feed. And if you're on Facebook, follow us there.

Ron:: And if you're watching and you haven't subscribed to the audio podcast, it's really simple. You simply would, I'll give you, I'll give you an example, one of the many vectors you could receive it. If you're on an Apple device, you just download the podcast app. And then you'll search for automation and unplug. You'll find the show. And then you click on the three dots above the show and it'll say follow a show. And then you'll see all the updates that come out every couple of weeks as we put out new shows.

Ron:: So on that note, I'm going to wish you all a do, have a wonderful week. And I'm going to sign off and I will see you all next time. Thank you, everybody.


Tom's extensive management background in electronic marketing and computer-based organizations, combined with his passion for cutting-edge technology and dedication to customer service, make running a customer-centric boutique home technology firm a natural fit. In 1999, he founded Digital Home Systems, which quickly gained a reputation for its sophisticated digital platform and unparalleled performance, simplicity, and elegance.

Today, DHS is known for providing high-end clients, architects, builders, and interior designers with a range of products and services that seamlessly integrate technology into a home's design, including home theater, distributed audio, security, data, communications, and control. DHS's custom-designed systems represent the perfect combination of best-in-class technology, flawless performance, and understated elegance.

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: