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

Home Automation Podcast Episode #39: An Industry Q&A With Mark Cichowski

Technology & Businesses Summit Events

This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Mark Cichowski. Recorded live on Wednesday, March 28th, 2018 at 12:30 p.m. EST.  

About Mark Cichowski

Mark has been in the industry since 1979. Started selling audio and video equipment before getting recruited by Sonance where he spent 6 years as International Sales Manager and became a founding member of CEDIA.

Mark worked in top management positions for different companies in the industry and founded Clarity AV International, Inc back in 2002, which he still owns. 

In 2009, Mark founded the Technology & Business Summit events. These events are rep-centric, which had not been done before. They are local, focused, education-oriented events, highlighted with exhibits from some of the top manufacturers in the AV, Control & Technology industry.

Interview Recap

Here are some of the topics Ron had the opportunity to discuss with Mark:

  • The importance of having a rep-centric industry summit
  • The future of Technology and Business Summit events
  • Continuing education and CEDIA’s involvement with the Summit events
  • Working on your business and not just in it

SEE ALSO: Home Automation Podcast Episode #38: A Custom Integration Industry Q&A With Aaron Cramer


Ron:  Hello everybody Ron Callis here. Another episode of Automation Unplugged brought to you by my day job over at One Firefly. Hope you guys and gals are having a good day. I am gonna jump over here to my Facebook page and see if that is cooperating today. I recently upgraded my router at my home and I now have blazing fast internet. So I'm hoping that helps us deliver a better experience for you. You folks that are watching, whether you're watching live or in a recording after the fact. If you are watching, don't forget to like this feed stream, post, whatever you want to call it, like it, comment, share it. Hey Sean, I see you Sam. Hey, what's up bud? Thanks for watching. And let me, well actually, you know what? I have some exciting news for everyone here. Today is my birthday. I'm pretty excited about that. So I made it another year, another year older, maybe a little bit wiser, maybe not, you'll have to ask my wife, but today's a big day. And then what else is big? This week, I have robots this week. So for those of you that watch me on or follow me on social media, on Instagram or Facebook, you'll know that I'm a big outside of the house and outside of One Firefly and Automation Unplugged. I'm a robotics mentor with a local public high school through the first organization. And this is a big week cause it's competition week. So we have a big event at the Broward and not the Broward, but the West Palm Beach convention center and be competing with my team in the South Florida regional. So wish us luck if you want to follow the team. It's on Instagram and Facebook at M3 Robo. All right, so let's, let's bring in our fun guest. Today we have Mark Chicowski of Clarity AV International and I believe I got that right. Correct me if I'm wrong, Mark.

Mark: Right on. That's, that's rare when that name is pronounced correctly.

Ron:  Awesome. Well, I even got your last name right. I was like, man, I'm like giving myself a pat on the back. I did it. I didn't mess it up yet. And yeah, a lot of people. Mark probably I don't want to say probably, but maybe know you more so from your technology and business summit events which have been quite the rage and growing in and attendance back since 2009 when you founded those.

Mark: Yup, for sure.

Ron:  For sure. So Mark, how's your day going out there in sunny California?

Mark: It is wonderful and thank you very much for having me and I'm an extra honor to be able to celebrate your birthday virtually with you Ron. This is great.

Ron:  Cheers. I'm cheering, I'm holding my cup of water up to the camera. Cheers.

Mark: I had a little, you know, the balloons and stuff ready, but I don't have a watch that would have really translated on video, so I figured I'd just wish you happy birthday.

Ron:  Oh no, my pleasure. Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule. I think Mark, you and I officially hold the record for the longest game of phone tag. Maybe ever.

Mark: I think Guinness called each one of us and said, I heard you guys were calling for, I don't know how many weeks it was.

Ron:  It was, it was pretty comical. I want to say we exchanged at least 10 plus maybe 15 plus voicemails back and forth trying to get connected back in January, February.

Mark: Here. Here we are. This is awesome.

Ron:  Here we are. Here we are. So Mark, I would love if you would be so kind for you to tell my audience a little bit about yourself. Just kinda your background. You've been in the AV space for quite a while now. You're clearly a veteran. I put in the show notes on the Facebook feed for this show that you were actually with Sonance as International Sales Manager back when CEDIA was founded. And you had a good career before that and you've had a pretty fantastic career after that. So can you tell me and our audience a little bit about yourself

Mark: For sure now, very well worded. So, you know, you've experienced, is that another way of seeing old?

Ron:  Okay. No, come on now.

Mark: No, but actually it's funny you say that because I have been in the industry for a while. I will say, and I'm very proud of this whole industry and what I've done. I mean, I started this industry in the 12 volt or in this industry in the 12 volt channel way back in '79 when I lived in Jersey. A really good experience is kind of coming up the ranks and working at a retail shop and it just stayed in my blood. So here's how I'm dating myself wrong. And so back in '79, I'm dating this really nice gal and her brother, this is really going to date me. But I got to say, cause it's funny, he was upgrading his eight track to a cassette player. Huh? In his car.

Ron:  So you were the guy to call?

Mark: I was, well, no. The thing is that I wasn't the guy to call. He actually said, would you like to put the eight track in your car because I'm getting rid of it. So he helped me wire it and run the speakers to the back. I went, this is kind of fun. And literally a week later, coincidentally, a friend of mine that I was going to a college with, he said they had a part time job at a local HiFi shop, was I interested? I interviewed and they hired me on the spot. I worked that afternoon selling some car stereos and haven't looked back since then.

Ron:  Wow that's amazing.

Mark: Yeah. So a lot of fun. So yeah, so I did that and like I said, I'm from Jersey and I came out and got to California in the early eighties and I worked for Federated Group, which is a major retailer here for quite a while. For those of you that are old enough to know that that company is before the Circuit Cities came into town and certainly before Best Buy. And now we're through the retail ranks. And then I got to know the guys at Sonance. And so the owner, Scott and Jeff, when they had their own integration from down in Southern California and a guy named Dave Donald, who many people probably know that are listening to this presentation, he's been in the industry for a while and I knew him through my retail days and he worked for Sonance and so Scott and Jeff used to come in and got to meet them. And after I left Sonance about a year later, Scott called me out of the blue and he said, look, Mark, we sold our integration firm and we're going to do these loudspeakers full time, which everybody knows that it's Sonance and Dana Innovations, you know, we're looking for somebody to run International. And it went right over my head. Ron, I didn't know what he was talking about. He goes, well, if I know anybody, you know, I'll let you know. I'll let you know. He goes, no, you dumb ass. I said, Oh well I don't have any international experience. He goes, neither do we. So, so literally they had three models at the time. This is in 1989 right around the CEDIA formation. And they said, you know, here's our product, here's the world, here's a credit card, have a good time. And it was amazing because if you think about it, you know, there's no internet at that time and it wasn't that distribution of, you know, custom audio wasn't even really a term. So I was, you know, out there and trying to find out how to get this product distributed internationally. You know, Canada, Australia, they speak English pretty easy. But you know, going over to Europe and trying to find dealers in that. So, you know, I would maybe find out where the B and O dealers were because they're kind of high end and I kind of took my case and I went around the world and showed speakers. But it really wasn't just talking about Sonance. It was really talking about the whole emergence of again what we call custom audio or multi-room or even home theater because you know, 5.1 systems, they didn't exist back then hardly at all, especially outside of the US so when I would go into see these people and you know, typical Hi-Fi store, the tower speakers sitting all around and they got their receivers there and I said, what if you could sell six speakers instead of two? What do you mean? And so the whole concept of teaching the international community more about custom and whole house audio and surround sound, that was really, almost more of the focus than just a product because that emerged obviously after CEDIA got formed and that whole channel just exploded. So that's really how I transitioned from, you know, what was HiFi, what I did into the custom world. And you know, of course as the CEDIA channel grew and expanded and you know, the Crestrons of the world got huge and all the others did I just kind of, you know, thought along with that and did that for several years.

Ron:  So Clarity AV International, which you founded, I'm looking here at my notes in 2002 and you still own today?

Mark: Yes.

Ron:  Is that the parent company behind the technology and business summit? Is the technology and business summit product which we'll go into is that the way that it's known to the marketplace?

Mark: Right? Clarity is the corporation behind it. And when I started the tech summit, I mean, just to give you that bridge after I worked for Sony for a while, I was in the wireless phone business for a short period of time. I was the Nextel agent and I was away from CEDIA for a few years and back in 2002, I hadn't been to CEDIA for probably maybe about three years and went back to the event and Hey Mark, how are you doing? Are you doing an international work? We could really use some help. So I just went around and I saw a lot of people I hadn't seen in a few years and we caught up on things and several manufacturers said the same thing to me. And I'm saying, you know, this international business of helping other manufacturers go into you know, the overseas market,

Ron:  This is helping US companies go into overseas versus overseas come domestic.

Mark: That's right. Helping our companies. Triad was one of my clients for many years and then some other ones. So these guys were saying, Hey, we could use some help with your context and your knowledge of international. I said, this is a business. Literally a 30 days after CEDIA was over, I formed Clarity and I was in business and I had multiple clients that I was doing really as selling as an international rep or selling for as an international rep. So these companies will hire me. I would you know, determine what they had, what they what they needed, where they could go. And I still had many contacts from my Sonance days. And so I was out there working with several manufacturers, helping them develop their business overseas. So that was that bridge between, you know, what I was doing with Sonance, and then the in between part when I had the wireless company and getting back into the CEDIA channel. Then soon after that, literally less than a year, a couple of the manufacturers that I was working with internationally said, Hey, you know, we appreciate the work that you're doing for us internationally. We could use some help in Southern California because we don't have a rep there, are you interested? And I said, well, this sounds interesting because you know, it's a good product. There's some opportunity. But if I try to do both, I'll do both things really poorly because there's not enough time in the day. Sure. But they were patient and I said, look, I will look around for somebody to help me maybe hire somebody to focus more on the domestic. I'll oversee some things, maybe take some key accounts and about,

Ron:  Uh oh folks, looks like we have a technology glitch in the matrix.

Mark: How about now?

Ron:  Let's see here. Oh yeah, you're back.

Mark: Okay, good. So what I was saying is that, you know, we had the opportunity for Socal manufacturer's rep firms. So I started a rep firm. It was, it was Clarity AV still, but it just for the domestic work and a hired a full time guy. We developed that business and we kind of got a little bit bigger. I used to participate at the EHX you remember those Ron?

Ron:  Yeah I do. I cut my teeth on those events. In the two thousands.

Mark: So you know when I got the rep firm going and I saw EHX was around there, I talked to some of my manufacturers that weren't displaying. Cause of course I supported the ones that were in the local market as a rep in long beach. And I said to the ones that were to said, you know, why don't we just get a little booth together and the three of you, cause there was three of them at the time, you split the cost, we'll do the grunt work and we'll get you a presence there. And it worked. We had a little 10 by 10 that worked into a 10 by 20. Then I partnered with one of my men, one of my manufacturers, and we backed up to each other to get the bigger booth, get towards the front of the show. And three years into it we had a 10 by 40 pavilion and a 20 by 80 full booth. Excuse me, 20 by 40 booth was with us with about six lines and two of our other brands. And we were in the second row and that really got our name out there. Our manufacturers loved it, we had some good traction. Well when that ended, that was around 2008. I was looking for a way to expose our company and our brand to more people. And I was at an Ipro conference. And for those of you that don't know, Ipro, it's the professional rep association of our industry, a really good organization, they have an event for all their members every year. And there's a guy named Rich Green that was speaking, which again many of you probably know, he's been in the industry for a long time. He's really great on future stuff coming up there and how to integrate it. He's an integrator up in the San Francisco area. Many, many large clients, one of his claim to fame is, I know he did work for Steve Jobs back in the day. So I listened to him speak and it was so compelling Ron, the information that he had to tell everybody, I'm like, the dealers need to know about this. And that was still, you know, with CEDIA having the big shows around the country and we understood that CEDIA was a great event, but many people just didn't go to CEDIA for a variety of reasons, you know, travel costs, etc. And so I was looking around the room and I saw two other reps that I didn't really know that well and I had an idea to do a local event because EHX was gone. But combine it with some education. Rich Green. I forgot to turn off my mobile phone. That was a horrible phrase.

Ron:  By the way, Hagi from Access Networks just jumped in and he says, yo.

Mark: Yo Hagi, big supporter of the tech summit and we're a big supporter of him, so thank you. So we had a lunch together with the two other reps and I said, guys, I have an idea. I want to kind of go a little bit old school, do some tabletop displays with our manufacturers. Nothing too fancy. So there's a one-on-one environment different than a large trade show and also have Rich Green come to speak to educate the dealers. But here's the rub. We're going to work together even though we're competitors, you know. So they looked at me a little weird at first, but they went, I think I can handle that. So we did it. We put this together. We had about a hundred and something dealers come, we had about 26, 27 exhibitors show up and it really worked well. Ron, we had a lot of bodies. The energy was good. Rich did his presentation, which really went over, we had a packed house, so we did it again and then we were talking. I said, why don't we just talk to all the reps in the territory? We're all competitors, but this model seems to work. So we got in a room and we had about 9 or 10 of the rep firms and Socal, and I tell you, it was really squirmy, as you can imagine, right? It was unprecedented. All these competitive rep firms were in the room together and I kind of leading the charge, I said, guys, you know this tech summit that we've done has really worked. I want to have all of us work together, but it doesn't matter if you think so and so took a line from you two years ago. It's not about us right now. It's about building the industry. You've got to leave, check your egos to the door and let's make this event happen. And it did. And it worked great. In fact, it actually bonded the reps closer together that really didn't know each other because again, we're all competitors. So that expanded and I still have my rep firm at this time.

Ron:  You were a Southern California rep and you then ultimately you know, took your machete out and carved your way through the forest and put together an all rep or all lines event in order to give dealers one place to go to see basically all of their options at a local level. That was the kind of local level and that had not been done before?

Mark: Not in this way. That and the reps, you know, ego aside being a rep for so long, the reps know where the bodies are very, I mean, they know the dealers, they know where to find that. They have the relationships. And that's not to say others don't. I mean, manufacturers of course know him cause it's their customer, but their reps are out there, you know, pounding the streets all the time so they know where all these dealers are and who they are. And they get a lot of you know, street time with these and face time with the dealers.

Ron:  By the way, Mark, Ken Erdmann just jumped in and he says, hi guys. Came across this by accident. Happy I did. Ken, we're glad. Happy you're here as well. Thank you sir for watching

Mark: Ken. Big CEDIA guy, big industry guy. Love to have him listen.

Ron:  The man for sure. And then we have Hagi posted a few comments. He says well organized events. And then he says, Oh, he's given you some feedback Mark, so you have to call him afterwards. He says said we need to step up the venue in Socal. So I think you, you and Hagi need to have a conversation. I am going to be there as well. Thank you. By the way, Mark.

Mark: Hey, let me tell you, Hagi and others this sincerely. So yes, Hagi I will get in touch with you about that. I want to see what that, what that actually means. But one of the things that we're probably most proud of as the tech summits have developed and evolved is the feedback from people like Hagi, dealers, reps and otherwise. But actually taking the feedback, this is something that was a wild hair Ron, you know, this is something, I just had an idea, let's see if it works. And it's really grown and grown and has really evolved. So whether it's the venue, the schedule, the content, we are always looking at ways to make this thing better. So we really do sincerely welcome that.

Ron:  Well speaking of that, let's talk about some of the evolutions that have happened or maybe some of the evolutions that you're going to be testing out this year even. Cause I know in a offline conversation with you at some of your some of your events you are going to be trying some new new ideas out. Can you shed a little light on that and maybe even furthermore talk about different locations around the country and how they might differ?

"It's really a turnkey model. The model works. We just have to make sure the reps get together and they all get along and drive this thing."

Mark: Sure. I'll bridge that out a little bit because the right around that middle time of, you know, being into the texts I was for a few years, I sold my Socal tech firm and focusing on business development with some other companies. But right around the same time, a few reps from other territories like Florida and Great Lakes, they say, Hey Mark, we've heard that these tech summits have been successful. Can you replicate that for us? And as I thought about it, I hadn't thought about it before. I said, it's really a turnkey model. The model works. We just have to make sure the reps get together and they all get along and drive this thing. So that's how it went from just Southern California into the other territories and the evolution. So that was just a bridge to see how it came to be across the country. So with that said, we have events this year in 10 different cities and 7 different events. So we have events. This is just by calendar. Texas is actually next week. So you, Texas people that may get a hold of this if you're not registered already, come on out to the Texas events. All the events are That's where you can see them all.

Ron:  I posted a link here. Let me see if I posted the right link. Yeah, you know what? I saw it a moment ago and now I don't see it. So let me post it again. Maybe I deleted it.

Mark: But we did tech summits in Texas, tech summits in Florida, but tech summit events, regardless of where you are in the country, you'll see all of them listed there. Then you can click and you'll go to the individual site for those events. But we're doing Texas next week and then a month later we're doing a Florida event and I'll get into that in a second Ron cause that's some of the evolution that you were talking about. Then we do Southern California the third week of May. Then the Great Lakes is June 14th. That's a single-day event. These other two are two-day events. Then we fast forward through the holidays and I mean the summer vacations and then of course CEDIA. Then we jumped back in and October the first week of October we're doing New York, New Jersey. Then we're doing at the end of the month, our first event ever in the Atlanta area in the Southeast. That's at the end of October on the 30th. And then our last event of 2018 is in Arizona on November 15th. So we've grown quite a bit and have a lot of different events that we have had around the country. And a lot of this is because the reps in those territories are interested. And then to your point, Ron, of the evolution of the event, besides, you know, keeping up with the technology so we can have proper educational events and you know, whether it's networking or business tools or sales development or RMR service, I mean, we have so many great subjects. The other thing we wanted to do is address the convergence of the markets and convergence is almost become an overused term, but it's really the one that applies the most. And as I've seen these texts on this develop and other channels getting more interested in the traditional AV world security guys, lighting general technology, IOT, things like that. I wanted to find a way to do another event that's a bit outside what the technology and in business summit parameters are and those parameters are, it's a rep driven event number one. I didn't mention that before and that's a huge component that I just want to put a little exclamation mark on. I mentioned the reps before and how the reps got together, but that is really what has made this different. It's gotten people there, it's gotten the right people there. And the beauty of the tech summit is that these are for people who again, they're not going to CEDIA and that has nothing to do with CEDIA. CEDIA is fantastic. In fact, they've been a partner with us since day one and they still are a partner with us in many different ways.

Ron:  Does CEDIA offer some of their educational content at any of these events?

Mark: Yes. We don't say that it must be a CEDIA class, but CEDIA sponsors all the all of the education for us and they always have a presence there with the table to help us promote the events and be part of it. So we have offered CEOs in the past. And you know, without getting too far ahead of myself, we're speaking with them about developing something a little bit more formal with how we're going to offer CEUs. Maybe have the first class at a tech summit and then that encourages dealers to not only go to CEDIA, but some of them, it's amazing about how many aren't members. And it's kind of disappointing because some of these people obviously at the tech summits cause they want to be educated and see the products, but they aren't CEDIA members and it'll go to CEDIA as much. Cause I think it's maybe they don't really know how much they have to offer. So that's a whole nother question.

Ron:  It's a whole nother conversation. But I do think it's worth exploring how to get the people that attend the summits to ultimately better learn about and better understand the value proposition from being a CEDIA member. But I agree there's so many folks that participate in this industry that aren't necessarily a subscribing member to CEDIA, although they may attend a trade show.

Mark: And I know when it really comes down to, I think it's either a misperception of all that CEDIA has to, if you dig in, there's this quite a bit. So there's my CEDIA infomercial a little bit. But going back to what we did for Florida. I looked at this and I was trying to find a way to have other channels and even manufacturers who typically they don't participate in the tech summits, maybe come into the fold to get their product in front of more people as well. And also get an audience of dealers that are from these parallel channels. So literally Ron, I was putting these words on paper, security and lighting. I was trying to, what do I call this thing? Cause it's really not a tech summit. It's the evolution of the tech summit. So it's called the Castle Summit. And where that came from is castle stands for converging audio, video security, technology, lighting, entertainment. I had all these words on paper and went, Holy cow, that spells castle. So that's what we're calling it. It's a fun little way to do some marketing of build your castle and this and that. So we're calling it the Castle Summit and we're doing our first one this year in Florida, the first week of may in Fort Lauderdale. But the other difference in this structure, in addition to doing more outreach to the security and lighting manufacturers that of course the dealers is we're having a multi-day event in one location in Fort Lauderdale rather than doing one in Fort Lauderdale and one in Orlando for example, like we've done in the past because we're expanding the education dramatically. So the first day of the event is actually education only, which we've never done before. We've only got so much time in the day when they do these tech summits and typically we do a keynote in the morning and then four education events throughout the day two in the mid morning and then two in the afternoon. Well, a lot of manufacturers want to do education, but we tried that in the past and frankly it failed because there wasn't enough time in the day. Dealers were on the floor, they were going to general session seminars so they wouldn't go to the manufacturer training. So day one of the Castle Summit in Florida is going to be rep and manufacturer training and each rep firm that's participating got released basically a two hour block of time. And so they're allocating that maybe 30 minutes for one company and 30 minutes for another or a whole hour for another company. So it's going to encourage people to come back multiple days. That's day one. Day two is going to follow the same structure as the other tech summits, which is a keynote in the morning. And then there's two morning classes and then we shut down the classes completely after the morning class is over. And the reason for that is that in other instances, we saw some of the events that just looked like the floor wasn't as busy and I don't want to pick on EHX but EHX was one of them because they had such good classes and so many of them, a lot of people didn't think the floor was busy. So we are consolidating

Ron:  But if you're a paying vendor, you've put money into having people and resources there. You want as many warm bodies to talk to as possible.

Mark: You hit it on the head. So after our class is over at 10:45, we open up our doors instead of at 8:00 like we used to cause it wasn't enough traffic. We only open up the doors at 10 o'clock and we go until 3:30. So that condensed time is really focused on the exhibitors. We get a lot of bodies in there. The energy is good. Of course we serve lunch in there as well and we have really good experience from this. Last year when we changed that format and that time to get the traffic on the floor, everybody liked it. The dealers were in and out of there and efficient time. They got to go to classes, they got to see the exhibitors, they got a nice lunch. Many of them stayed for the afternoon class and then we shut it down at 3:30. And that allows, if it's a dealer wants to go to lunch or dinner with a rep or a manufacturer, they have time to do their afternoon, evening activities. So we've consolidated the way we have the day over the years to this form. And it really worked well last year. So we're doing the same thing. So back to Florida..

Ron:  Based out of feedback, do you have like a forum or a methodology of getting feedback from your vendors and your reps so that you work on improving each event or year over year?

Mark: It's not so sophisticated because I find that if you do something like a survey, you know, the responses are hit and miss. I'm on the phone a lot. I talked to them, the manufacturer, So I say what'd you like? What did you do? What'd you didn't like? And I take lots of notes and that's how we evolved in this past year, 2017 we changed the format to what I just described and it worked like a charm. So we're going to continue it.

Ron:  That is, so you've got Texas next week?

Mark: Correct? Yeah, we we set up on Monday. The event is on Tuesday. That's in Houston. Then Wednesday is moving day between Houston and Dallas. And of course setting up that afternoon, evening for the Dallas event. And then Thursday is Dallas.

Ron:  Thursday is Dallas. Now how many just I, and I know a past performance is not a guarantee on future performance, but approximately how many companies integrators or, or interested parties end up attending these events? Or let's say Texas.

Mark: Yeah. So for Texas last year, this is what I go by and these now the numbers that I give you are strictly integrators. I don't count the reps or the exhibitors as part of the totals. Yeah, cause the attendees. So we had about 165 170 in each location last year. That's about the balance. And it was pretty 50/50 actually between Houston and Dallas almost right down the middle this year we're expecting closer to 200 for each event. Cause usually the second year jumps by a bit. And if preregistration is an indication we should hit those numbers. Now comparatively, a market like SoCal and Florida, which are, you know, have been doing it for a few years and people kind of got used to it. The word gets around, Hey, you got to go or why'd you miss it last year, those numbers, I mean Southern Cal boy I think in LA we had close to 300 people and Orange County wasn't too far behind, but that 200 to 300 per city is usually about the amount of integrators that we get. But the most important thing to realize as a participant or as a manufacturer or as a rep is that, you know, my running joke is that the dealers that come to these aren't there for the free pens. I mean, they are there for most of the, many of them there for the whole day. They go to the classes, they interact with the exhibitors and the reps for hours throughout the day. Some of them stay for the afternoon classes. So this is a single-day event. And the other beauty of this is that whether you're a one-man band or you're a company with 10 20 30 vans on the road, many of these large companies are sending their people to these local a tech summit events because they're not spending the money to send them to the CEDIAs or the CES is because it's expensive. They can get the person out of the field for a single day, they get educated, they get to see products they probably would never see before. They get a free lunch and they're back in the office by late afternoon and they're on the road the next day. So it's one day rather than multiple days in hotel and plane expenses.

Ron:  Yeah, it seems like a really great way to improve face time with your vendors and your reps and at the same time be very efficient and cost effective about doing so.

Mark: Yeah, it really is. When you walk around the floor, Ron, I mean the, the people huddling up over a product or a brochure. I mean that's some of the rewarding part that I get out of it. I see the interaction. This is a really one on one environment and it just really forges the relationships more strongly with all three components. You're the reps and manufacturers and the integrators.

"There's so much value in getting out of your comfort zone, getting out of your office, getting out of your normal day to day habits to to go do something different."

Ron:  No, there's so much value in getting out of your comfort zone, getting out of your office, getting out of your normal day to day habits to, you know, to go do something different. Such as attending an event like this where you can learn, learn something new. And even if you know, maybe everything about the product, just that quality face time, at the end of the day, we're a technology industry, but where people doing business with people. So just getting out of the office and shaking hands and asking someone how their family is and how's life. I mean, that's just, that's priceless.

Mark: That's true. And, and, and there's no cost to the dealer. You just got to get there. We, you know, we don't charge for lunch. We don't charge for the education. So you've just got to get there. And then not that it applies to, you know, to the dealer that they really don't or aren't too concerned. But it's also very reasonable for the exhibitors because it's not a fancy setup. You know, there's not a lot of the, they wouldn't have a lot of extra little fees. I mean some of the places that you have to have these events, you know, the big convention centers, you know, there's all these, you know, costs that you have to incur. We keep it small and we keep it tabletop and we actually limit the size of what a manufacturer can put together because that also creates a level playing field. So whether you're a massive, you know, million multimillion dollar company or a small manufacturer, you kind of have that same presence there. And again, it reinforces and it's very conducive to that one on one time. That's so important.

Ron:  So Mark, I always with my guests when I can and when I remember and when I think they might be to comply. I'd love, we're wrapped. We need to wrap up here shortly. We're at 32 minutes. I'd love for you to think about maybe that integrator out there and that's looking to grow, is looking to improve. What are maybe a couple of pieces of advice, I'm sure at this point you've met many hundreds or thousands of technology businesses of all shapes and sizes. What are some of the areas that you would recommend they look at or spend a little more time improving in their business that would overall make them a better business?

"Work on your business and not in it."

Mark: Well, without sounding preachy, I mean, the first one that always comes to mind because integrators were so darn busy, is, you know, to work on your business, not just in it. And you know what I mean by that is, you know, continue the education, continue to learn, you know, look at what's going on out there in the marketplace. I talked about convergence before and you know, there's people like, you know, Julie Jacobson that talks about the IOT and how to embrace that. Not be scared of it or you know, we're not going to have, you know, 20 Amazon Alexa devices around the house to take place of a Control4 system. I mean it's just not the same thing. But consumers, that's what they're facing. They see that, they see the advertising. Why am I spending so much on this? You know, I think a lot of dealers have to learn more about what else is happening in the industry and provide their customers more modern solutions. Meaning that the same old, same old that maybe worked even two, three years ago isn't working today as much because the consumers are more keyed into all this cool technology. You know, they think a few apps on their phone is going to, you know, control their house. And that's really not the case unless you have the back end behind it. So, you know, one of the tidbits that I would, you know, really want to encourage dealers to stay on top of is their business. Don't get ahead of yourself and so busy where you're really not learning what's going on out there. And I'm not just, you know, promoting the events. I'm talking about, you know, going back to CEDIA, I'm going back to, you know, getting education from the industry magazines, you know, the CE Pros or resi systems, the technology integrators, you know, keep on top of all these other things. Seeing the kind of stuff that you know your company does. Getting their company out there in social more effectively. You know, admittedly I'm not so hot at social like we talked about earlier Ron, but you know how important that is. A referral business is great, but if the referral industry is not just a, a wealthy person, they'd be talking to another wealthy person down the road. It's getting your name out there in multiple ways. So I guess get out of your shell a little bit whether you're successful or not. And that's tough to do because right now it's pretty darn good out there and the economy is good. You know, business is probably good for a lot of integrators, but it's kinda I think one of our old CEDIA members had, I had a classical dig and the well before you're thirsty. I think that kind of mentality needs to hold true and then stay on top of all the cool new technologies. I mean, yeah, you mentioned the guy before, you know, a guy like that with, you know, with the access networks and his company. I mean, that kind of product is, is equally as important of the AV gear and a lot of dealers have embraced that. But I guess maybe get out of the get of the old school mentality and look at what's coming. That helps.

"You and I talked to integrators every day of the week. And so many of them are so busy being busy that they forget to slow down and work on their business. And that's maybe a more effective way to actually make money."

Ron:  Awesome. Mark at Sage advice. If you're out there listening like this post comment, tell Mark you agree or if you disagree make that comment as well. I'd be curious what your thoughts are. But Mark, I agree. And I think that you and I talked to integrators every day of the week. And so many of them are so busy being busy that they forget to slow down and work on their business. And that's maybe a more effective way to actually make money. Yeah. But Mark, thank you very much for being a guest on Automation Unplugged. This was episode 39. I really appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule. You've got a big event next week and carving that time out for my audience. That was great.

Mark: No, thanks for having me. And then like you mentioned to Ron, I'm not sure how they communicate, whether it's through your site or on the post, but I sincerely mean comments are welcome. If you've been to a tech summit, if you haven't been, if you're a manufacturer rep listening comments are welcome. That's how we make these things better.

Ron:  What is the best way someone can get in touch with you, Mark,

Mark: If they want to make it simple, there's the This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. So just like the website. So with This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. that that'll get to me. I mean I have my private emails, but that's the most general one that have always fiddled down and is easy to remember.

Ron:  Awesome. And I've got the tech summit events link on the comments here on this video. And so anyone that's interested in learning more about the events, just click on that link and you'll see that. And I'm assuming it'll be obvious as how to navigate to get to that email address.

Mark: Sure. Well, thanks again for having me, Rob. This is a fantastic thing that you do and you know, we've got to know your company a little better recently and it's it's good. It's good that you're doing this for the industry. Well, and I appreciate it.

Ron:  You are welcome my friend. Ladies and gentlemen, there you have it. Latest episode of Automation Unplugged. I appreciate you spending your afternoon with me. And Mark even if only for a few minutes or maybe you're listening to us after the fact and you are, maybe you're driving between appointments, something to that effect. I, I appreciate your attendance and you're paying attention to our, our guests in our show. That's very nice of you. I really appreciate it. And if you want to hear or or see different guests, please email me. I'm Ron at One Firefly. And if you want to stay up to date with One Firefly or what's going in One Firefly land, please subscribe to our newsletter. You can simply go to and subscribe to our newsletter there. And you also can see all of our past shows, all we have 39 in the can now. And all of those, if you go to the menu, if you go to learn, and then you go down to Automation Unplugged, you'll see our page with all of our past shows. So everybody's there on that note. Make it a great day. Remember you get to make the decision how your day's gonna go and how your week's going to go regardless of what happens to you. So make it a great day. I know that I am, I'm going to go play with robots the rest of the week and I will see you on the flip side, so thank you everybody. Hey, thanks Mark. Appreciate it, buddy. All right guys. Be well. Take care.

Show Notes

Mark founded Clarity AV International, Inc in 2002. In 2009, Mark founded the Technology & Business Summit events. These events are rep centric, which had not been done before. They are local, focused, education oriented events, highlighted with exhibits from some of the top manufacturers in the AV, Control & Technology industry. His previous experience in the industry Mark started in 1979 as he was selling audio and video equipment before getting recruited by Sonance where he spent 6 years as International Sales Manager and became a founding member of CEDIA. He worked in top management positions for different companies in the industry.

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:

You can also learn more about Clarity AV International at Be sure to follow them on Facebook.