Home Automation Podcast Episode #70: An Industry Q&A With Eric Thies
Quality > Quantity
This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Eric Thies. Recorded live on Wednesday, March 27th, 2019 at 12:30 p.m. EST.
About Eric Thies
Eric Thies is Founder of DSI Luxury Technology, a high-end integration firm in Los Angeles that happens to be the most award-winning CI company in North America.
Eric also is a member of The Guild, an alliance of the best integrators in the US. He sits on the board of Azione and also is an underpaid and overworked volunteer for the Home Technology Association, which is his passion project.
Here are some of the topics Ron had the opportunity to discuss with Eric Thies
- Eric’s background and how he got into the CI industry
- The impending correction of the economy
- The Guild
- Latest HTA news
Ron: Hello everybody. Ron Callis here with another episode of Automation Unplugged. It is Wednesday, March 27th a little bit after 12:30 PM you are watching or listening live. Thank you for doing so. If you're watching on replay, thank you for doing that as well. I am going to jump over here to Facebook just to make sure technology is behaving and that we are in fact live streaming in. So bear with me here just for one moment. Let's see if technology is cooperating today and it does appear we are, we are working, which is fantastic. So I hope you are doing well. I hope you're having a great week. This is a big week for me. Tomorrow's my birthday so you can send all of your gifts and presents and cash. Just send that over to my office, go to one firefly.com and find out where to send those, those nice gifts. Uh just joking, but I am gonna actually reward myself this week and I'm going to show all of you how I'm going to reward myself for living another year. I'm going to put up on the screen. So I'm actually going to be spending tomorrow my birthday through Saturday at a first robotics competition. So I'm going to be out there at the West Palm beach convention center. Historically, and for the last six years I've been a, a mentor of a robotics team at a Hollywood, Florida. And this year I'm changing things up that I'm actually going to be acting as one of the judges. And there's, there's teams flying in from all over the world to compete at this event. There'll be 65 robotics, high school robotics teams competing. And if you want to check that out, you can go to first in Florida as you see there on the website. Also as a side note, if you wanna be philanthropic and help yourself on that website, there is a link and you can pay $25 for a raffle ticket and you'll, that donation will go to support the regional event. And you also will be entered to win a free two-year lease on a nice Nissan Pathfinder, which is pretty cool. So that drawing is going to happen at the event this week and and see a pretty good odds, probably one in a few hundred chance of, of winning that vehicle, which is pretty fun. All right, so let's jump right into it. So I have a fantastic guest as you saw on the, the artwork. They're on Facebook. I have the one and only Eric Thies of DSI. Eric, how are you?
Eric: Oh, great. Ron, how are you? Happy birthday.
Ron: Hey, thank you. I'm spending it here with you or today's the pre-birthday. Tomorrow is the the official, but thank you. I appreciate that.
Eric: How old are you?
Ron: How old am I? I don't know. How old do I look? That's a tough one. I'm afraid.
Eric: But your listeners want to know.
Ron: They do want to know listeners want to know. You know, I got to actually figure it out. How old am I? I was born in 1978. So what does that, I'm 41, maybe 41.
Eric: There you go, baby.
Ron: I am a baby and I just keep telling my, at least I act like a child. Most of the time.
Eric: I tell everyone that I keep my youthful appearance because I dress like I'm 14 years old. That's my, that's my trick. It's my secret.
Ron: It's all in the clothes, it's in the wardrobe. Where my wardrobe is, we were talking before we went live is a, is everyone has noticed that is watching these videos, it's gotten simpler and simpler. I'm wearing the same One Firefly t-shirt almost five days a week now. So I just love the lack of thinking involved in my wardrobe selections these days.
Eric: You're like Zuckerburg or that crazy chick. Either one.
Ron: Yeah, she always worked the turtlenecks. Right?
Eric: Right. But the same thing every day. Just like you.
Ron: Same thing everyday. Keep it simple. All right. So Eric, for those of you, if there is a chance they do not know you and who you are first of all, where are you coming to us from today?
Eric: Lovely Los Angeles, California, where it's about 72 degrees and sunny out.
Ron: Isn't it that way year-round?
Eric: Pretty much. Yeah. It's pretty much.
Ron: I would say people talk about Florida weather, well, some of the lesson form talk about Florida, whether it being, you know, paradise. And I was like, no, you got to go to Southern California. That's where you have, whether that is paradise year round.
Eric: We're pretty fortunate.
Ron: I was talking to actually an integrator that had just visited South Miami last week for a project. He was gonna I guess do and he talked about the terrible humidity and I was like, man, I think it was in the seventies last week and it's March, there's no humidity. This is not really the humidity yet. The humidity comes in, you know, about May and then it's entirely unbearable. But for him, he was suffering, he wasn't used to it. So, Mr Eric, our audience is integrators. It's owners, operators. It is people at all levels of integration companies. It is rep firms. It is manufacturers. It is, it is the CI industry. Can you fill them in on your background? Let's just maybe start there and I've got a, hopefully a number of fun topics for us to engage in. Let's tell the audience who you are.
Eric: Okay. So my first, I'm Eric Thies I run a company called DSI and in Los Angeles, we're a high-end integration firm. That's my main job. That's how I pay my bills. I also am involved in a group called The Guild. I'm involved in a group called Azione, a buying group that you may know and sit on the board of that. And I'm involved in a group called the Home Technology Association, HTA certified. Well, that's me. Now, how I got into this business is my first foray into CI was when I wanted my MTV as a child in the 80s. And I wired my house for cable TV was the only way my dad said I could get it. So I did my own installation, didn't ground anything, blew up all the TVs in my house. When I lightning strike hit, I wasn't good. So that was my, after that, no one would let me use tools. So I went into, went to college at Penn State, go lions. Then I got into retail after that. So I worked for a company called Highland Superstores in Chicago selling AV. That company went under, moved to LA, worked for a company called The Good Guys for a period of time. And then in '94 I started DSI. So I saw a big opportunity in the '94 was when direct TV came out and I saw a big opportunity in the installation market for that product. I was really excited about that. And so originally that's how DSI started. It was started as a basically satellite installation company, probably the first two or three years of business in the early nineties. And then you know, and then here we are now.
Ron: All right, well let's fill in some of the blanks between 1994 in the present couple of years in the the intermediary there as your business. Let's just say you've been running DSI in one form or another for the last, what does that six, eight, 25 years or been a long time? I don't know.
Eric: I don't expect the guy who doesn't know how old he is to be able to do that kind of math. So fair enough. I have really smart, talented people. DSI started in '94 and really I didn't, I, the way Hagai guy just jumped in and he says, hello from LAX. There we go Hagai. So started you know, anyway, so the first three or four years of DSI I wasn't really quite sure what I want to be when I grew up. I was pretty young, 27 when I started it. And you know four years in I said, okay, this is kind of fun. This is going to be my career. I'm going to do this. And then once that switch was turned on you know, the goal was really to say, okay, if I'm going to do this, what is it gonna take to be the best integrator in Los Angeles? So, you know, we kind of looked at what other people were doing and not doing, built a company. Grew it to be the largest in Los Angeles. Won a lot of awards where the most, we have more awards I think than anyone else on the earth.
Ron: I want to come back to that because well, a piece of that is that you actually knew enough early to not only do, you know, to grow your business and make money and be successful, but you knew to actually enter awards, which is a marketing play.
Eric: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
"I'm twisting their arm saying, guys, you need to photograph your projects and you need to enter awards. It's great PR publicity and it's going to help you."
Ron: Like so many really interesting firms around the country as a marketer, you know, at One Firefly, like I'm twisting their arm saying, guys, you need to photograph your projects and you need to enter awards. It's great PR publicity and it's going to help you. How did you know that 20 years ago? To do that? Like where did that come from?
Eric: I mean inherently we wanted to differentiate ourselves in any way possible. And that was you know, that was a way we saw we could prove, you know, there's other companies that have been in the market longer than us, you know, there are companies that we entered the market, they were already in the industry for 10 or 20 years. So we wanted to prove that we were as good or better. And one of those ways is, Hey, we've won a lot of awards. You know, we entered, we had done some nice projects, we kind of got lucky and won some awards. But yeah, differentiator. Well you know I give a lot of that credit to Josh Christian now running HTA, but it used to be with our firm and you know, he was a guy who was like, that's what the job was, you know, differentiate us. Make us different than most of the marketing firm company in certainly the early two thousands.
Ron: And flash-forward, there was a, you've continued to grow the company. There was this little side experiment called Via.
Eric: Yeah. So in 2013, we got approached to be a part of a national rollout, which a lot of people know about. And for those who don't, it was called Via, it was going to be the biggest, baddest installation company in the world and you know, go coast to coast and maybe worldwide. You know, so some of the guys who are a part of it went to be the executives of that company. You know, my role was I helped a little bit with marketing and you know, I stayed in LA and did my thing here in LA at which I was, you know, which I like to do. That didn't end well. That company went into receivership in 2015 so we basically sold the company in 13, in 2015 Via went into receivership and we purchased all the rights to DSI back in 2015 relaunched DSI November of 2015. And our we're, I guess we're on year four of what we call DSI 2.0
Ron: And so what are the common types of projects? Are you entirely residential? Do you do any commercial and what type of, what type of projects do you take on? Just for our audience so they understand kind of what you're looking at day to day.
Eric: We only maybe do about 5-10% on our biggest year in commercial, 90% residential. And we're really focused on ultra-luxury high end. Our target is a project $500,000 or north of that. As a typical project for that, we tried to limit the amount of projects. We do try to say no more than we say yes. You know, our goal is to just work on the most interesting projects with the most interesting architects, designers, builders and clients. And that's our niche. That's our focus. We no longer have grand plans wanting to have a hundred people and you know, running around, it's more about quality versus quantity. And doing really good work for a smaller amount of people. That's our focus.
Ron: By the way, on a speak to our Facebook audience that's live with us right now. If you have questions for Eric I've got a whole list of things I want to jump into and, and discuss with him and let you guys hear his, his thoughts and ideas around. But I also want your questions to be answered. So feel free to type into the comments. Also, if you appreciate this conversation and value it and want others to see it, please like this and share this so that others in your orbit will have an opportunity to ultimately hear this conversation. I did just get a comment, Eric. Liz says, awesome to hear more about Eric and his background. It's great working with DSI and HTA and Liz is actually a member of One Firefly and so she's giving you a shout out. I think she does stuff with you.
Eric: Thanks Liz. You're on the payroll to say that, but thanks.
Ron: She is on the payroll. Yeah, that's, that is true. But Liz, nonetheless, we appreciate you throwing in a comment.
Eric: No, it's helping us make our website more visible to the general public. And she does a great job. I'm appreciative of that and you too Ron, your work is great.
Ron: Well thank you. I appreciate that. I do want to throw up on the screen. I gotta find it. There it is. Okay. Let's see if I can get technology to behave. Of course. It's a little walk. There we go. So Eric, you wrote a story just recently. Looks like this was published March 7th, and this is CE Pro, a magazine on their website. I'm assuming it'll be in print, probably in the next couple of months would be my guess. And it's specifically about a looming market correction. So just at a high level, you're in LA, you're in Southern California, you guys generally have a pretty spectacular, you know, micro economy there that's larger than some countries. So why if you're in such a good marketplace, are you the person that then is talking about upending market correction? What do you see coming?
Eric: Well, I will give our mutual friend Richard Glikes of Azione, you know a shout out here because you know, he's the one that's been talking about this probably a year and a half. And so, you know, I think all of us at Azione and these conferences kind of half listened to 'em, you know, half were saying, Oh, maybe there's something to it after saying, yeah, Richard's a little crazy, who knows? But, you know, now as I talk to more and more integrators across the country about lots of friends that run businesses like mine. You know, a lot of the feedback I'm getting is a little kind of worried about my pipeline in 2019 or 2020. The business is really strong now, but you know, I'm looking forward and, you know, smart guys, I respect the industry are saying that maybe some less opportunities are coming across their desks. And so that got my attention and realistically we've been on this amazing, you know, hockey stick ramp of growth, right? It just cannot go on forever. So, you know, I went through the 2008 recession. It was painful. I'd like, you know, other, you know, some companies that are out there that started after that, they didn't have to live through that. So I guess a contribution back to, you know, my fellow CI guys is that, you know, here's a couple things you should pay attention to now when you don't really need it because the economy is still pretty good. But you might, you know, in six months or a year, you might, you might have some difficulties in your business then I wanted to say, here's a couple of ways to fight that off.
Ron: Could you give us a highlight or a synopsis here of what maybe some of those primary points are?
Eric: Yeah, so, you know, in our business, we're fed by industry partners. So if industry partners slow down they have less opportunities, we have less opportunities. So, you know, one of the things is get more industry partners, right? So go out there, you need to do some marketing, you need to go out and meet some new people that, that you know, if you want to keep your staff intact, right? So everybody's been hiring, hiring, hiring. So let's, in a big overview, let's say you've got three options. You can trim your staff down for whatever this new revenue you've got is, which is not fun. It was hard to find those people again. So that's kind of the third choice. You can be better at closing opportunities that you get. So increase your close ratio. We talk about which you can do there. So instead of having a 30% closing ratio, bump that up to 50, how do you do that? Cause that allowed me to call the difference and replacing that revenue. And you and your other thing is like, you gotta market, right? You gotta get, you gotta get out there and talk about your company. Everyone ignored marketing for the past forever. 10 years. Navy network, right? You got to do something. You got to do something. You know, there's too many. I go, I go, I go out to, I'm looking at some competitors websites that are either a four Oh four messages popping up or under construction or they're in flash. They have pictures of installs they did. And you know, 2002 all this stuff you need to sort of pay attention to. So that's kind of a high level of what I'm talking about.
Ron: So, and I'm on that last point, not to make it self-serving, but I will just zoom in on the marketing concept, you know, because it's, I see that as two sides of the coin and maybe this is the skeptic in me speaking and that is, I see that you could say the market might be entering a recession. I think we might already be in a recession. Right? I think that's a fair statement. We might be there, maybe.
Eric: I would imply a recession because that implies a super deep, you know, I don't know the technical definition, but I think the implication is you know, a serious economic problem. What, I don't know that that's necessarily the case. I just think we're gonna, we're gonna, we're gonna roll down, you know, maybe 10, 15, 20% from where we are and, and still, that's a great place to be, you know, historically. Right? That's a great level of business out there to get. But anyway, go ahead.
"Dealers should be mindful of their brand, the awareness of their brand, their websites, their lettering of their vehicles. Their building relationships and rapport certainly in from a biz dev standpoint, architects, designers, builders."
Ron: What do you say to those? I would think based on that logic argument and the argument you make in this story is that dealers should be mindful of their brand, the awareness of their brand, their websites, their lettering of their vehicles. You know, their building relationships and rapport certainly in from a biz dev standpoint, architects, designers, builders. And that's very logical and I appreciate that. And I agree with that. On the flip side, I am concerned that as markets turn down that many small businesses that are called integrators are then in fact going to say, well, marketing's the thing I'm going to pull budget from. Yeah. Well, what would you say to those people that are listening and, or watching and they go, well, that is what I, in fact, as recent as this morning, I got an email from a client in Texas and he's like, Hey, you know, market's tough. I need to peel back my program and where in my head I'm going, you need to be doing the opposite. Not when times get tough shrinking it.
Eric: But yeah, 100%. So if, if the few need more revenue, you do not stop marketing. That's not what you do. You increase your marketing spend, you get you, you concentrate more on it unless you've got some other way to get revenue, that doesn't cost you anything. So it's counterintuitive and you know, I think it's I think it's being penny wise and pound foolish to cut your marketing span on a down economy I mean it just doesn't make any sense. And that's when you need a ramp.
Ron: I concur. I don't have it up, but I'm going to pull it up now, but I'm going to ask you to start describing kind of your role and how you envision HTA playing out for our industry. You birthed that idea, I think with some others. You've gained sponsorship and support from leading manufacturers and as you mentioned at the onset of the interview, Josh Christian, a former employee of yours at DSI, is now leading the charge at HTA. Can you describe what that is and your role in that?
"You really gotta differentiate yourself and you gotta make them, make a client understand that you have a better company than this guy. And I think HTA certification is a great third party validation to say, no, these guys are the real deal. They are worth more money. Hire them."
Eric: Yeah. So for those who don't know what HTA is, HTA is Home Technology Association and myself and you know, many others recognize the, the need for some sort of industry standard in our industry. You know, there's so many great companies out there and they're losing jobs to really not great companies, terrible companies. And the consumer perception of a lot of us integrators is that we're very much the same, right? And they really don't know how to differentiate between a great company, a good company and a terrible company. And usually it's a referral from their cousin or their interior designer or their architect or whatever, and they just roll with it. A purchasing decision could be hundreds of thousand dollars just based on a referral well without ever really looking at the qualifications. And it may be a great guy that got referred to them and he might be really great at doing, you know, hanging a Sony TV with a Sonos soundbar and making backwards. But you know, if he was walking into a $8 million estate, that's all sorts of automation, DCI screening room, he's out of his league. Right? And it's very hard for that guy to say no to that level of project and income. And you know, he could be a great guy. He can be a hard worker, he could be honest, but just out of his league from delivering deserves or needs. There needs to be a standard of, you know, just a standard industry, you know, do, you know, technology, you know, do you service your clients and what's your industry reputation? Right? We need at least that standard in industry to separate the good companies from the bad companies. A lot of bad companies out there. And that's why largely, you know, customers are very dissatisfied with electronics. And I got very frustrated with walking into a client's home and then you're saying, you know, I don't want any technology in my house. My last house was a nightmare to work. Only my 14 year old kid could operate it. I couldn't turn anything on. And particularly with, it was a control system. So many bad control system experiences out there. So really bad for our industry when there's so many people out there delivering bad experiences. We needed a way to give consumers, you know, a tool to see some sort of dividing line of who's good, who's bad, you know, certification standard. A bunch of people worked on this and developed it. I'm not really taking any credit for it. And it's a great standard. It's, it's really, really good. And so anyway my, my role in it was I was one of the ones that started, you know, lit the fire to make this happen. My role now is, you know, Josh Christian is the kind of runs this thing and I'm his humble servant. I do a lot of work for him. Unfortunately, I don't get paid, but you know, I don't know, maybe someday, but it's a passion project of mine. I'm happy to devote the time to it. It's we're having a lot of fun and you know, we, we trying to get the word out that there's a standard, there's a way to differentiate yourself in our business. And you know, this ties in right in to this downward economy, right? So if the economy is going down and these a lot of guys will come and trunks lenders out there that are cutting prices, cutting prices, cutting prices to get work, well, how do you compete against that? Because you can't come to their level of pricing. You really gotta differentiate yourself and you gotta make them, make a client understand that you have a better company than this guy. And I think HTA certification is a great third party validation to say, no, these guys are the real deal. They are worth more money. Hire them.
Ron: The budget calculator has gained so much buzz out there in the marketplace. I can tell you from my perspective, it's a hit.
Eric: Yeah, it's really cool.
Ron: What is it? As I have it up on the screen, people see me clicking around. And why did you guys conceive to, to add this and make this available?
Eric: To anyone that visits it? So overall with, you know, any customer who's building a house, they have a really good idea of what things like kitchens and bathrooms cost and pools and things like that. But they are incredibly clueless about what technology costs. And usually when you deliver those prices, it's just bad news. It's really bad news to them. Cause it's always, yeah, on average about three times more than they expect to pay. They start to doubt you and then they want to shop and to make sure, you know, you've got the best price or you're being fair to them or you're not ripping them off cause they don't understand it. So there needed to be a tool that client could use to go and say, I want this, this, this, this, and then it spit out a range. Okay, well those are the things you want. And if your house is this big, it's from here to here. Right? This is your budget range. HTA obviously gives that and here's a bunch of people that are really good at delivering that level of project. So the tool is fantastic to get that conversation of price out of the way. So you know, a lot of dealers, you know, I'm sending my clients in this before our first meeting, I'm saying, okay, before you meet me, before we talk about it, go there. It's really easy. It takes like five minutes to build a budget, click off a bunch of stuff, let me know what it came up with. And then, so I want you to have a kind of understanding what these things cost before we talk about it. And so, you know, a client will show up because, Oh, okay. Well, you know, based on that, I think I'm in the 200 to $350,000 ranch. Okay, great. Are you comfortable with that budget? If that's what it costs, I guess that's what it costs this thing, spit it out, you know, Home Technology Association. If they say it's that, I guess it's that. So yeah, let's talk about that range and what I can get. And so now it's not me delivering the bad news, which is wonderful, right? It's, it's a valid organization that gives a budget and takes price. You know, it doesn't completely take it out of the equation, but it becomes less of an obstacle in your conversation. You really start talking about what they want and features of products and fun stuff. Not about price.
Ron: Eric, I've got a question here, I'm going to throw it up on the screen. Joey Joseph Kolchinsky from OneVision. Joey is saying, Eric, would you consider including service support in that calculator would help client understand total cost of ownership and set the industry up to talk about support more confidently?
Eric: We definitely have considered that and it's not in this version. You know, part of the thing is there's so many things we could include, right? Include lighting fixtures and, you know, all sorts of, all sorts of other services. We try to want to, the goal was to really boil it down to the essential things the clients think about. Service and support is a super important item. But you know, yeah, it's been considered, will it make the next version? I don't know. Joey, you know.
Ron: Question for you. Just to stay on that topic, Eric, just out of curiosity, you know, we installed, we as an industry install these systems, these systems, you know, cost a chunk of money and we make clients happy and we make their lives better. These things do need to be serviced. Is the analysis of the way that integrators are prepared to serve the customer after the sale, is that part of the grading system that you guy or I say you guys, I know you're one of the founders, you're not running it. Is that to your knowledge what HTA is looking at or is that a factor?
Eric: So important? Yeah, so important and it's a big part. So in fact, you know, Joey, Joey of OneVision was one of the guys we reached out to say, Hey, you know, what are the most important things we should be looking at a firm, you know, in terms of service. So, so HTA looks at your, your service policies, you know, whether you have after hour service or not. You know, every aspect of how a client services or how a dealer services a client is looked at. It's one of the three main components of certification. Super important.
Ron: Awesome. Well, we don't have a lot of time remaining. So I want to jump to a couple of more topics if you will allow me, Eric.
Ron: You are also a member, a founding member of The Guild?
Eric: Well, not a founding member, but I am a member. So the three founders, the three founders of the Guild is a Dennis Jakes of Maverick who everyone knows and some fear.
Ron: I've been trying to get him on the show. We've had him scheduled a few times and there's been scheduling conflicts, but hopefully I'll have to get Elizabeth back on that to try to get him
Eric: It would be a great show if you can get him on. Dennis is so incredibly smart. But Dennis of Maverick the guys at Opus, Peter and David of Opus and in Connecticut and Kim Michael's of Electronic Environments, those are the three founding members of the Guild. They started at, I don't know, quite some time ago. And it was, it was kind of a information sharing site for those guys in the Northeast. They'd run into each other on projects, but they weren't really competitors and they wanted to all smart guys, all their upgrade businesses and you know, they wanted a vehicle to kind of more formally share information and kind of open the kimono to each other with best business practices. And, and that's how the Guild started. And then you know, Dennis has friends and Kim has friends and David and Peter have friends. So, Hey, why don't we get this guy and this guy that this guy? And, and you know, I had known those guys for quite some time and we were friends with them. You know, they they recruited me into this organization.
Ron: Is this really an idea-sharing and a knowledge-sharing group? Like, you know, I'm, the word that's coming to mind is like a club or a, almost like a skull and bones group where you gotta know someone to be invited and to go through the initiation is, is that what it is?
Eric: Yup. We have secret handshakes,
Ron: Secret handshakes, nice event that no one knows about.
"Until now, it has been kind of a behind closed doors type of thing. But at some point, you know, we said, we share business, we share clients, we share industry partners. Let's establish this formal relationship between our companies. So that we can more easily hand off clients from city to city."
Eric: Yeah and up until now, it sort of has been a kind of a behind closed doors type of thing. But at some point, you know, we said, well, listen, we share business, we share clients, we share industry partners. Let's sort of establish this formal relationship between our companies. So that, you know, we can more easily hand off clients from city to city. You know, but the primary, you know, everyone asks me just another Via, roll-up, a sub merger? It's not that at all. That's I think the number one question. It's, it's really a group that, you know, of likeminded guys who are very into high-end CI work and craftsmanship and, you know, great customer service and we're all like-minded guys that want to get together and make our businesses better. And by you know, we just share an enormous amount of information and our people also share with each other. So I think it really started with the buying groups. You'd go to a buying group conference, you'd meet the owners, you'd have great conversations and then you'd go back to your organization. And it's hard to like share that with your people. And this gives us a deeper level of sharing cause our programmers talk to each other, our project managers talk to each other and designers talk to each other and we can have a little educational sessions, you know, just for our group, it's just a deeper level of buying, grip, networking and information sharing with a smaller group of people. That's really what it is.
Ron: Got it. And I appreciate you sharing and you know, bringing our audience up to speed on what that is.
Eric: Nobody cares.
Ron: Well, you know what, it's, it's interesting and I think people, I think people care. Eric, go ahead. If you're listening and you care, type into the chat and let Eric know that you care, it'll make him feel good. And it is about Eric feeling good. So go ahead and come on. Joey, help me out making comment about The Guild. Yeah, exactly. Say what's going to happen is people are gonna listen on the replay, Eric, and then we're just going to be, have so many comments about them and wanting to make sure you know, they care about The Guild. But all jokes aside, you and I, Eric are going to be in Bonita Springs, Florida next week for the Azione conference and you are on the board. And I was voted into the board just this year and that's interesting. It'd be my first board meeting next week. So, you know, first in-person board meeting. What in your opinion, for those listening what is the role of a buying group and if people are listening and are not in Azione or ProSource or HTSA or Nationwide or one of BrandSource source or one of these other things, who should consider joining a buying group? And what are the main takeaways from your perspective?
Eric: So first of all, I think really we've got three excellent buying groups in our industry. They're all really, really great. You know, it's hard to make a wrong decision and, and I think everyone should be in a buying group.
Ron: Hey, by the way, Eric, Joey fulfilled his commitment to me. I love you Eric. And The Guild seems to be doing great things.
Eric: Thank you Joey. So one, get in a buying group. If you're not in a buying group, getting a buying group and there's two primary reasons, you know, the obvious one is that you can, deals are negotiated on your behalf, you just can't negotiate yourself for the most part. So it's the easy button in terms of getting great pricing, right? You might have to shift your brands a little bit to support the group, but overall I think there's a big benefit there because you know, you don't, it's a lot of time and energy negotiating all these deals with, you know, we'll see. I guys may deal with 50 companies all in. It's just a lot of time and energy. You just can't get that kind of volume pricing in any other way. So that's, that's an easy one. The more that that sort of the hidden benefit are, the more valuable I think asset is networking with other guys in your industry. Commiserating fine, you know, getting educated, finding out things that you could be doing better. Sharing information and the, and that's my favorite part, you know, so you know, I love going to these meetings and hanging out with other dealers and you know, complaining about rich people and you know, things we do, you know, you know, whatever it is,you sort of, leave those and go, okay. I'm not alone. All right, this is, this is pretty fun.
Ron: Eric, a couple of rapid-fire questions and we're going to wrap up. One, looking forward for the next 12 months, what has you most excited?
Eric: From a, from a technology standpoint, what are we talking about?
Ron: I'm just leaving it very open-ended. What has you most excited about this industry, this business, your business technology. I know there's clearly concern about the economy ahead. You've expressed that in your article and you're trying to help others and I think that's awesome. Yeah, I appreciate your message.
Eric: To me, that's a fun challenge, right? So, you know, it's going to be what's going to be fun for the DSI side of me, right? But that component of me is that, you know, we're, we're, we're taking, we're anticipating this time to make some big structural changes in our company and improve our processes and procedures and really invest in how our company runs. Which is a fun exercise and it's, you know, as an entrepreneur it's always fun gilding something and I feel like I'm doing a new build, right? So that's going to be fun this year. And also I'm kind of excited about doing marketing, which I quite frankly ignored for the past, I dunno, at least three years. Haven't done much, haven't invested much time, money, energy in it. And I really enjoy it. So I'm looking forward to getting back into that and, you know, creating more business for myself than I know what to do with.
Ron: Amen. Your mouth to God's ears. And for our audience, if you were to offer, I know you've already offered a bunch of advice, but I'm going to kind of close on this point. If you were to offer a singular, let's say you know, two or three points and I'm going to speak to the, maybe the smaller business, the younger business that maybe hasn't gone through an economic shift in their business life yet, maybe their business was born after 2008 and so they don't, they don't know what it is to be, you know, have the times of milk and honey and have that pulled back a little bit. What would be a couple of just, you know, very specific pieces of advice.
Eric: Don't be overly optimistic. Right? A big problem with us with the, when we went into 2008 recession was we were, we were naive to think that, you know, we could recapture the business that was going to be lost. No one could, it was impossible at that time. So don't be naive if you aren't good at sales and marketing and where you see your head and self heading into a dip and you don't see as many proposals and projects coming your way, make the necessary cuts to your staff, right? This is the time to improve your staff. Everyone, you know, most likely if you grew your staff, you hired some people that weren't really the greatest cause. You need to get some jobs done. Don't hang on to people like that. It's not doing your company any good and it's not doing the rest of your employees any good. So that's a big one. Spend some dollars on marketing. Get your website in order. Meet industry partners, do lunch and learns. Do whatever you need to do to get yourself out there in marketplace a little bit more and get HTA certified. Come on, differentiate yourself. Tell people you're the best.
Ron: And, and apparently free Bob Craft. Is that what I see over, over your right shoulder there?
Eric: I mean, come on now.
Ron: Let's get the man out of jail. He's not in jail, is he?
Eric: I don't know.
Ron: I don't know, but it is funny, Eric, it is a, it has been a pleasure to have you on show number 70 for Automation Unplugged. I really appreciate you taking time and carving time out of your schedule to join me.
Eric: Happy to do it Ron.
Ron: Awesome. Thank you. And I'll see you next week.
Eric: You will, look forward to seeing you in Florida.
Ron: Likewise. All right gang, there you have it. The one that only Eric Thiess he is an icon in our industry. He has seen it all done at all. He is I think a really interesting case study in craftsmanship and really owning your craft and being an expert and his reputation precedes him. And I'm honored to have had him on the show which is, and I'm honored to, for example, be sitting on the Azione board with Eric at a very powerful, it's pretty cool. So on that note gang I will have next time I will have the full lineup of all of our guests for the month of April. We will not be doing a show next week as I will be traveling. And I'll be at the Azione conference Tuesday through Friday. So I'm sorry, I will miss you, but we will catch up the week thereafter. And again, if you're listening on replay don't forget to like, and share this content with your friends. And until next time, thank you everybody. See you soon.
Eric Thies is the founder of DSI Luxury Technology, a high-end integration firm in Los Angeles. Eric also is a member of The Guild, an alliance of the best integrators in the US, sits on the board of Azione and also is involved with the Home Technology Association.
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.