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An AV and integration-focused podcast broadcast live weekly
Join Ron Callis, Owner & CEO of One Firefly and industry veteran, as he talks business development, technology trends, and more with leading personalities in the tech industry. Automation Unplugged (AU) is produced and broadcast live every week.
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Home Automation Unplugged Episode #230: An Industry Q&A with Sarah Dresher

In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, Sarah Dresher, Owner and Director of Business Development at Luxury Integrated Technologies shares her point of view between ageism and sexism in the AV industry.

This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Sarah Dresher. Recorded live on Wednesday, November 30th, 2022, at 12:30 pm. EST.

About Sarah Dresher

Sarah Dresher founded Luxury Integrated Technologies, in early 2022, as a service and consulting agency for the southeast, representing best-in-category brands. Upon completing her electrical engineering degree in 2016 and later earning a MBA from Rutgers Business School, she worked for Lutron and Sonnen. Sarah also gained experience working directly for a Lutron rep agency in the Carolinas, prior to taking the plunge and founding Luxury Integrated Technologies.

Interview Recap

  • Sarah’s journey leading up to her becoming an entrepreneur
  • Ageism vs Sexism in the AV industry
  • Sarah’s perspective on the role of reps vs a direct sales force in the CEDIA space

SEE ALSO: Home Automation Podcast Episode #229 An Industry Q&A with Dan Ferrisi

Transcript

Ron:  Sarah, how are you?

Sarah: I'm good, Ron, how are you?

Ron:  I am good. Speaking of Lutron, I'm going to lower my Lutron shades and we'll see if I can get them to cooperate now. There you go. Look at that folks, automation live. Sarah, where are you coming to us from? Are you somewhere in the Southeast?

Sarah: I am, North Carolina.

Ron:  North Carolina. Awesome. Well, is it cold there? I'm here in Florida. It's still pretty warm and muggy.

Sarah: Yeah, I can't compete with Florida, but we still get that winter cold. It's still high 40s, low 50s, but that's still chilling for me. That's why I'm in my turtleneck today.

Ron:  From social media, you have been a busy bee. I follow you on LinkedIn and you are in what seems like a different city every week of the year so far. So has travel calmed down maybe for the holidays? Or are you still messing around?

Sarah: A little bit. One more big trip, one more plane ride down to Florida next week for the CEDIA Tech Summits, but after that it's more localized travel in the Carolinas.

Ron:  I probably should know this. Is it in Fort Lauderdale?

Sarah: There's one in Tampa on Tuesday the 6th at the Embassy Suites near Bush Gardens. And the Fort Lauderdale one is at I can't remember the hotel, but I think it's a Marriott in Fort Lauderdale on the 8th.

Ron:  I probably should go to that, so I might buzz over there and say hello. That's on the 8th?

Sarah: Yeah.

Ron:  That's funny. I'm actually going to be in Orlando on the 5th and 6th at a conference at Disney, but I'll be coming home the evening of the 6th. So, yeah, I might be able to go over there and say hello. Typically they hold that, I want to say they hold that in parkland. I don't know. We'll have to fact check that and post that to the show notes in case anybody wants to hit the CEDA Tech Summit in Tampa or Fort Lauderdale.

Sarah: Sure, yeah. I have all the links for you.

Ron: So I see, Sarah, that you are obviously you're no longer with Sonnen, you haven't been there in a little bit, but you are the founder of Luxury Integrated Technologies. So tell us about that business.

Sarah: Sure, yeah. I'm super excited to have made the plunge and started my own business, Luxury Integrated Technologies, it's lit! Really wanted to focus on...

Ron:  I see what you did there.

Sarah: Really wanted to focus on bringing lighting to the AV space. It's definitely a critical time in the industry for that where a lot more of our AV contractors are starting to understand that they should be supplying these fixtures because at the end of the day, if there's controllers not working, it's always pointed back to our controls when it's been fixture or SKUs and things like that. So, really big opportunity, and I'm excited to help these AV contractors in the Southeast understand lighting, how to do, how to spec it, install, the full tilt process of lighting.

Ron:  You have an impressive background. Sonnen, Lutron, an electrical engineering degree. Actually, my son is in the 8th grade. His name is Max, and we just met with his school guidance counselor. Today is Wednesday, actually, Monday of this week. And we're starting that whole process of talking about career planning. Not career planning, but college planning. And we're talking now about what he might want to study. And electrical engineering is actually on the list.

Sarah: I thought he would be leading more mechanical like you.

Ron:  I'm the mechanical nerd. He's more electrical and code. So that's his jam. Take us through your background. What's the full story on where you come from?

Sarah: Well, so in high school, I actually really hated physics, and I hope my professor isn't watching, but it was really a struggle for me to visualize these concepts that are not really tangible in the physics world. So when I entered college, I went to the University of Massachusetts Amherst my freshman year, and I actually entered as a math major. Loved math and didn't like physics. So I thought physics would be really required as an engineer. So I stuck with the math degree. And during my time there, I was really guided to different career paths for math majors. And one of those paths is an actuary, and the other one is really being a teacher. And if you look into the statistics, which is funny, because that's really what actuaries do.

Ron:  That's what actuaries are.

Sarah: Yeah. And calculating risk of people, you know, with different conditions and all those statistics and things. But it's one of the highest suicide rate jobs out there on the market because it's super stressful and you're calculating it's kind of depressing.

Ron:  Morbidity rates.

Sarah: Yeah. So I took my freshman year and I got some fun classes out of it. Big D one feel, but I ultimately was also homesick, but I will credit my mom where credit is due. She's like, if you come home, you have to come to engineering school. So we were looking at the College of New Jersey for that transition. It was 45 minutes from my dad's house. Nice quick commute. It was really great school. And the electrical side seemed a little bit more of that ambiguous visualization versus the mechanical was more like a hands on. Like, you could see and take those concepts and learn from them. And I went to go meet with both of the heads of the departments, one for the electrical and one for the mechanical, and the mechanical one wasn't in that day. So I met with the electrical head of the department, and now I'm an electrical engineer. So it's kind of crazy how it all comes together, but that's the story.

Ron:  Did you find that electrical engineering made more sense to you? And I'm just looking at your math foundation and how you loved math and were good at math. Was there something tying the math in the electrical engineering as opposed to other genres of engineering? Because they're all, frankly, very heavy math based.

Sarah: I'll say that TCNJ really did a good job of offering different majors in engineering that allowed you to have that engineering experience and specialize in different things. So I was actually the only person in my graduating class to have the degree. It's called Engineering Management, specialized in electrical engineering. So, like, they're reading all the names, and...

Ron:  They created that degree per Sarah Dresser.

Sarah: And then the next one. Yeah, well, it's not created for me. It was there, but I was the only one that had it that year that I graduated. So it was engineering management, which I think really set people up to go into a career path for, like, a project manager type of role and really develop those skill sets. So I was able to bounce around and take a lot of different classes. One of my favorites being, like, manufacturing processes. So that's more of a mechanical class, but in this engineering management role, you got to go work with the CNC machine and see the different processes that go into building different products and bringing them to market. At TCNJ, I was able to get exposure to a lot of the electrical side, too, with circuits and thermodynamics, which was not my most fun class.

Ron:  I hated thermodynamics, I squeaked by the skin on my teeth to those thermodynamics one and then what you know, I had to do thermodynamics two. Not pleasant at all.

Sarah: Yes, I remember. That was one class I definitely struggled with that. My dad still has my one A in that class quiz on his refrigerator because it was such an accomplishment for that one.

Ron:  Yeah, I definitely got no A's in thermodynamics that did not happen.

Sarah: But it was really fun to connect with the professors on a new level because I actually founded the Robotics Club at my school. So one of the things that we did was we had these little robots that we were able to program, and we had to come up with a couple of different applications for these robots. And one of the things that I was I was an ambassador at the school, so I was giving a lot of tours. One of the applications that we used the robot for was to drive a vehicle to tour the campus and navigate all the different hallways and things.

Ron:  That sounds complicated.

Sarah: It was definitely an adventure. It took a little over that senior year project, right? And from the summer of junior year, but it was very rewarding. It was a lot of fun.

Ron:  What happened after you graduated? So you graduated with that specialized Sarah Dresser, electrical engineering management degree.

Sarah: Yeah.

Ron:  And then where did you go? What did you do?

Sarah: I continued working for I had done an internship my junior year at a company called ASCO Power Technologies. They stand for the Automatic Transfer Switch Company. And that kind of ties into Sonnen a little later on, but with them, they were designing, like, medium to high voltage systems, like backing up hospitals and different bigger commercial projects. My role with them, my first internship was an applications engineer. So sitting with a bunch of guys at a cubicles laying out these systems, to be honest with you, it was a career path that was really boring for me. I just know that I'm more of an extrovert than that role really allows you to be. And so I started looking around the office, and I saw everybody that had any windows or a back office room had these three magical letters at the end of their name, MBA. So that's when I decided right after college to get right into Rutgers MBA program. So I went right from my college graduation in 2016 and started Rutgers right away.

Ron:  What was your what did you do in MBA? Was that in engineering or business?

Sarah: In business, just to understand a little bit more of the skill sets, like the finance side, and just understanding how to make the PNL and get really things a full scope of that business. Most people kind of discouraged me from doing this early on. A lot of people said, you find value in your MBA after you've had X amount of years of experience and going back. But in true Sarah Dresher fashion, I feel like I was able to accelerate a lot of my learning curve because I surrounded myself with these people that were vice presidents, CEOs, all these guys that are running these different companies. There was Bristol Meyer, Squid, like, all different organizations that were at my MBA program that I got to collaborate with, work on projects, and get their insights and really learn a tremendous amount. So I found it tremendously valuable and I definitely would recommend plus, I think it's really hard to go back.

Ron:  Yeah. I don't know how many college kids are listening to my podcast and might take that advice, but I certainly think there's a tremendous amount of value in anyone continuing to grow their knowledge and going back to school, leaving one's job, if you're a professional and going back, was this a full time program or was this like a part time program?

Sarah: I full timed it, I did and I did it while I was working, so, like, right out of school transitioning to Rutgers. I also worked at ASCO for another summer, and it was almost like an internship program, but I was a product manager for them and did a lot of competitive analysis and things like that on the different systems that were out there. That kind of led into an opportunity in that sector, but it wasn't really happy with where I was there. Kind of took that fall semester off, but that allowed me to visit the Rutgers Mega Career Fair, where I meet Lutron and hear all about their Sales Leadership Development Program. And it was exactly what I was looking for at the time.

Ron:  I went into maybe a version of that program back in 20 I'm trying to think 2000, dating myself. Yeah, I am that old. And you you went into that program in what year.

Sarah: It was the summer of 2017

Ron:  Summer of 17.

Sarah: Yeah. And because I was not in that graduating class from 2017, and I had that time in between that one year out of college, I started on the inside sales team for budget blinds with Lutron in February of 2017. So I did several months of already onboarding and getting to know Lutron, and it was a lot of fun, and it actually really prepared me for the Sales Leadership Development program.

Ron:  At what point did you decide sales was your path? I'm just listening to you, and you said you were into math and you even considered being an actuary, and here you are a few years later, and you're entering into I think anyone listening to this would acknowledge one of the industry's best manufacturers and certainly most sophisticated in terms of sales leadership and training. When did that light bulb a pardon the pun, go off for you that you kind of recognize sales might be your jam?

Sarah: I think it was just the lack of satisfaction that I also felt in the engineering role. I didn't feel so much fulfilled because I didn't feel like I was sharing my ideas with anybody else. And I feel like sales allows you to get this new level of communication, build these relationships that really last a lifetime, and it's been a much more rewarding career path for me.

Ron:  That's awesome. So what did you ultimately end up doing at Luton?

Sarah: So did the budget blind thing for a couple of months, did the SLDP program so you graduate like the following year and then they ship you off to your role somewhere in the country. I was blessed with Texas, I really was.

Ron:  That's a good market.

Sarah: It's a great market. So I had the total market plus Mississippi for all the residential business. Originally it was going to be very focused on the distribution raw to select, had just come out at the time. I coined myself Sarah Select and you know, did the whole fun stuff out there and was so excited to be a part of the team. My boss was Colin Smith at the time and Colin Smith is still to this day a great mentor of mine. But he ended up leaving about a month after I made the big move. And it was really world shaking for me because it grew from just a role of just being this distribution channel focused salesperson to hey, you now have Ras channel, which is Lutron speak for all of our Direct dealers and RWSP, the Windows systems providers, all the work rooms. So it became a much bigger number and had to really understand where to focus my time and efforts to really make a difference in those numbers.

Ron:  I found coming out of college. Maybe I was 21 and coming out of college and with Lutron going and calling on Ras dealers, integrators electrical contractors and AV firms, I found that although I was full of spit and vinegar and ready to go out, and do whatever I needed to do to hit my numbers. I found that it was very hard to have these tenured, experienced business owners and operators take me seriously. That was my life experience in doing that. I'm curious what you experienced.

Sarah: Well, being a woman is a little bit different in the AV space. I feel that people either want to meet with you just because you're a woman or they just don't want to give you the time of day. It's definitely something where I've felt that I've had to prove value early by expressing what I know and my background. I've tried to stay away from that because I just want to be able to provide value and show why I'm in the room and not have to give my whole resume every time I meet a new customer. But I think more so than being a woman, it's been more ageism has been more of a pushback, I think in the space over the gender side of things.

Ron:  I think that's super interesting. So maybe that's what I was referring to. Maybe it was ageism that I was feeling when I started in the space. And that said, I looked back at me today and at that person, and I think I had a lot to offer and I think I also had a lot to learn. And so it's challenging. And at the same time, I think calling everyone, listening here to the podcast or watching the show, if they're in the industry, they know that many of them are business owners. And there's a lot of challenges that one encounters when now you know you're running a business.

Sarah: Oh my gosh. For all of our small business owners out there, absolutely.

Ron:  You buy lots of lessons frequently, certainly when you're early in your career. So how did you make it? So you were down there in Texas, your fearless leader and boss. He sailed on weeks after you joined. What was that like?

Sarah: It was a little scary, but he wasn't going far. It was an interesting switch. He went to the rep agency that was at the time, the Lutron rep in the market. So instead of me working for him, he kind of worked for me. And that was kind of our little spiel that we did together. And it worked. It was nice. And he was always still there. So it was an okay transition where I felt the next role that was offered to me after explaining pressing that I wanted to move back to New Jersey and start a family and try all that direction in my life was a role for budget blinds. And this was at a time so this is 2019. We had just acquired Ketra Palladium Shading. The wired solution had just launched the market. So I was really getting my feet I wouldn't say toes wet, but like my feet submerged in the sand on these high end custom projects in the custom world in the residential luxury space. And I loved it. I found such a passion for making these technologies seamlessly integrate and have it not intrude on design. It's a skill. It was a lot of fun. And so being pulled to a new direction of Budget Blinds, which is more of a serena shade sale, felt like under utilization of my skill set at the time. So I decided to take an opportunity that had landed in my lap, which I am very glad that I did, which was to move over to Sonnen and work for Jessica Weiss on the energy automation team.

Ron:  The infallible Jessica Weiss. She might be tuned in. David will have to tell me if she's making I know she said she was. I told her that you were coming on and she's like, I know, I'm going to watch it. She's jumping into a meeting with a big client. I know she'll be watching even if she isn't watching here, live here. So tell those that may not know what is Sonnen?

Sarah: So Sonnen is an energy storage system company that really started to pioneer in the CEDIA space, the energy automation category.

Ron:  Got it. And you had a territory responsibility when you were at Sonnen?

Sarah: Yeah, it was only six months, but for the first six months it was from Texas to now my southeast territory here. So it was everything from Texas to the coast all the way to Tennessee. So the true corner of the Southeast United states.

Ron:  What's your vision just to stay on that for a moment, what's your vision about the role of energy storage with Integrators? Right, so Integrators, you're serving and selling to Integrators today with lit Luxury Integrated Technologies. So you've now been immersed in this industry for a while. What's your vision of where battery storage fits into the equation? Just looking out into the future, predicting the future.

Sarah: Okay. I think that there's a lot of solutions out there that can be the right solution for the clients. I think that some of today's products on the market are not catered for an ultra high end luxury space. They don't have the right amount of power storage, they don't have the right amount of pass through to really give these guys the priorities that they're looking for from their storage system. For instance, like a luxury home would want to have everything operate. The whole point of getting $100,000 battery would be I don't want to feel this at all. And that's just not something that's capable, I think, today without multiple batteries and with that comes a lot of planning. Which is why after that first six months of being just a salesperson for the EA team, Jess switched my role and promoted me for a national level of specification manager. So I was really focused on working with the reps that we had to grow our specification presence and get on these projects earlier. Because with the battery and it's foundational to the home, everything that we do in our AV world relies on power and network. So if the power is bad, I mean, the quality of everything else is going to be bad. So I do feel there's a space for it. I think that some of these newer products coming out might be a better fit for the solutions and I think they're going to continue to develop. But right now with the way the world is and the news and just how politicized I think the topic is in general, it's just so polarizing. It is in the market at least.

Ron:  I see the concept of energy storage, the premise around saving energy, that's had some flows depending on who's in office.

Sarah: Yes, I think so. And you notice that a lot of the things tied to these solutions are also tied to like government incentives, right, and making sure, like you're tying it in with solar so you can get your tax credit at a federal level and at some level of state level. So I just think because of all those, the word I'm looking for is I guess all those different facets, right? All those different things that tie into this. It's just a little bit more of a hurdle to get it into our space the right way. But I think it will be here eventually it will, and we'll have those solutions. But I think with government policies changing and all those leaders and different things changing. I think it'll come. It'll just take some time, and I think there might be some better solutions that condition your power, and making sure you do it at your system level versus a whole home solution might be a better way to get going and start at least pushing that power message out there.

Ron:  So your business today is a rep firm. When you were with Lutron, you were managing reps, and with Sonnen, were you managing Reps? Was that part of the model?

Sarah: Yeah. So when I got the promotion for a National Specification Manager, Jess also gave me a little caveat where I managed all of the reps.

Ron:  Small little detail there.

Sarah: It was so much fun. I think for me, that was my sales team. These guys were a part of this mission we were on to actually create this category, and it was super rewarding to build those relationships, and I'm still close with a lot of them today, which is nice.

Ron:  So tell me about your vision. Am I connecting the dots and say you went from there and ended up landing where you are today, running your own agency?

Sarah: Almost, one little bit. I left Sonnen in 2021, so last year around like June maybe May, but moved on to become the local Lutron rep in the Carolinas, which at the time was a company called Core Essential. So I did about a year with those guys, really focused on the South Carolina and North Carolina major markets with Lutron and the 25 other lines that we represented. From there, I moved on to try and create my own thing, and it started as a service consulting agency and really working with the relationships that I had, really grown strong and seeing where are these small businesses, these AV dealers, needed help. We have everything in the market from the guy that's been around for 35 years in the space to a one man shop. And I found that a lot of the one man shops that actually do put out these really great projects and have to subcontract a lot of their work, but they need more support in different ways than a business that's been around for 35 years. They have that team that's dedicated to doing different things, layouts, design, and they'll have those resources where a one man shop really doesn't. So I came up with some custom packages trying to create value that I brought to the table as a rep and just seeing if people found actual value in it. The only way to get paid if you don't have lines feeding you that money is to charge for that service. So LIT really started as that service consulting agency. We were doing lighting design plans for several dealers on either an hourly rate or a project fee, and even some we started to move over to a subscription type model where they were able to say, hey, for this month gold, silver, that kind of thing. Different levels of service, but subscribing to that service just to have me in their back pocket if they needed anything.

Ron:  Is it still part of the model today?

Sarah: I've shifted a little bit more away from that. My goal is now having all of these lines that I'd rather support and provide that service for the guys that are doing my lines. For ones that don't want to get on board the lines train, that's definitely more of a service charge, but we're definitely open to discussions with clients.

Ron:  So what lines do you have today? Are you allowed to disclose that?

Sarah: I can disclose a majority of them. There's several that are coming.

Ron:  In the works.

Sarah: Yeah, there's been a lot of movement here in the Southeast recently, which has definitely opened a lot of doors for LIT. But we have six audio lines. We have, and I'll actually shout them out Architettura Sonora, which is beautiful artwork, landscape speakers, and you'll notice with everything that we've selected has been very catered to a design centric focus. So that way they're different in the space, a little unique. Definitely need a lot more support from someone like me, like actually going out and pushing and starting to make their brands known. They're not as known in our world yet, but they definitely bring a lot to the table. Gray Sound is a high output out of a small aperture speaker, high fidelity, sorry. Then we have Nakymatone, which is our invisible speaker line. We have Zero-Ohm, a transformer. That can help, it's not really a transformer, it's a box, a magic box that allows you to run your speakers like eight ohm for 70 volts. So you can have daisy chained a lot of speakers and put that in your rack. We have an Officina Acustica. We have Waterfall Audio, which I'm super excited about. We also have Klus Design. Klus is one of the leading tape extrusion leaders out there in the lighting world. They're really known more in commercial specification, so I met with them and bring them into the AV space. And now we have a direct path for dealers to get on board with clues. Task Lighting is another one more of my builder grade, contractor grade tape, but has some really great solutions and high quality. They have like, flex sheets as well for like, backlighting, like our countertops and backsplashes and shining light through. So we have a few unique solutions and we just signed this week with a company called Xpot and it's more of a wiring solution.

Ron:  That's Mark and Susan.

Sarah: Yeah. You know, Mark and Susan?

Ron:  Who doesn't know Mark and Mark and Susan?

Sarah: That's fantastic. They're great team over there. Super excited to be on board with them. We're getting trained up next couple of weeks, so I'm excited to work with them.

Ron:  Many years ago, I want to go back to like 2010. Mark took me on a Jeep ride through the desert. And I think that video is still on YouTube. One of my most watched videos on YouTube is I'll have to find it. I'll put it in the show notes. But yeah, I've known Mark and Susan for a long time. They're great people and have been doing a lot of great services both in terms of products and services. His wife Susan has been doing accounting support and back office support for many, many integrators across the country for as long as I've been in the space.

Sarah: Wow, long time.

Ron:  Come on, I'm not that old. That hurt my feelings, so that's awesome. So you had mentioned that your name, LIT, was a kind of a fun way to reference light, luxury integrated technologies. But you mentioned bringing light, but you're going to be a full service agency, or are you going to kind of lean towards audio or lighting or what's your vision there?

Sarah: Yeah, so a lot of the partners that we've selected have been very strategic. We've really focused on brands that are easy to do business with, is one of my key things that I look for. Is it easy to decipher, easy to tell a contractor, hey, this is how you get your pricing. Can I service my dealers? Or is it you take several days to get back, there's no service. A lot of the things that I think add value from a rep agency besides education and training in the local market, I think is also taking that customer service burden off of everybody else, all the dealers in the space. So one of the things is like, hey, I got this. Let's say there's a bad fixture or something. You would have to call that manufacturer. You should be able to call your rep and have them take care of everything for you if that's the line that they represent. So that's one of the things that I wanted to make sure was there. The other thing was they have to be design centric. Being a luxury, I'm really focused on the tippy top of the pyramid. I'm not wide net approaching my market. I'm really being strategic about the partners that I'm bringing on board. That includes the dealers as well as the manufacturers. So really trying to give the right dealers involved in the space and with these lines.

Ron:  What is your take, Sarah, to put you in the hot seat. What is your take on whether a manufacturer should be direct with their sales team or whether a manufacturer should have a rep agency? Kind of what's your feeling? Because you've now seen both sides of it. So you've been on some manufacturers teams, you've been managing reps, and now you are a part of that side of the field. What do you think the right call is?

Sarah: I think it's an interesting topic. I think that in my opinion, coming from both sides, I see tremendous value in reps. There's a lot of history with local representation. The roots are deep, the relationships are much deeper. I've always found that as a manufacturer, I'm not able to get as deep and involved on these projects. So I still think that the reps bring a tremendous amount of value. There's been a lot of shift lately, and I think it's due to the pandemic. I think we have this time in our world here where everything kind of shut down and everybody was stuck in their homes and doing a lot more things online. And because of that, that really drove a lot of manufacturers to create these new online certifications and being able to get their guys going with these investments right and getting these trainings out online, it really became, well, what is my rep doing? I made all these investments from a manufacturer side, so I can definitely see why manufacturers might be seeing that trend. But I think as things start to open up, that pendulum is going to swing back again and they're going to realize we're a little out of touch with our customer base and that's because we don't have that local support that makes sense.

Ron:  Is there a trend? So are you calling what am I hearing you say, is that because of COVID there has been a trend with manufacturers away from reps and you're then theorizing that pendulum will string back in the other direction and maybe reps will become more in vogue?

Sarah: I think that's been some of the bigger names in the space have started to see that swing in the landscape across the country. But that's what I mean, where it's starting to swing. Some markets have already seen that impact. The Southeast has not, thankfully, but we'll see how that trends. It's typically more at these larger lines that really have a lot of revenue behind them at a high level.

Ron:  Just from these interviews on the podcast, I can validate that there's a trend in our industry towards lighting becoming more of the conversation, more of the percentage of total revenue for the businesses that we work with at One Firefly and certainly that I interview here on the show. What do you see there? What's kind of your thoughts from your vantage point? Clearly you've started a business, you've made reference to lighting being a big part of it, and let's say there are people listening where lighting is not currently a part of their business. What would be your opinion or maybe advice for them or at least what should they be considering?

Sarah: I think they should also consider that the fixture world has been around a lot longer than home theater, audio, video worlds, and there's a lot of fixture companies out there that just don't know what CEDIA is. And I think because of that, we've been really limited in the offering that we know about. And that's kind of one of the things that drove me to pay for my plane ticket and go out to Light Fair which is a big commercial lighting show back in July. And that allowed me to really walk this floor. Now granted about 40% was strictly commercial things, right? I mean definitely had no we're talking like Ballard Street Lighting, definitely not the residential space. But when I was able to attend and look at this with a new lens that I think was really done before, I found a lot of lines that really have some great offerings and have these differentiating factors in our space. One of the things that and I'll credit Colin with teaching me this, Colin Smith from Texas Lighting but people want to partner with people that are best in class in their category. I think we've seen a trend where a lot of these bigger organizations are putting everything under one umbrella. Whether it's a buying group or a big automation company they're all putting them under one umbrella and it's really hard to decipher. Well, what are you best in class with anymore? And there are certain companies that definitely have great products but are we the leader in tape? Maybe not. There's definitely a couple of personally I would say that Klus has been doing that for years but they've just been leading on a commercial side and they've dabbled in our space through all of their OEM partners because everybody buys their channels. But it's just interesting to see that we don't know any of these names because they're not in a buying group or part of these getting bought up by these automation companies.

Ron:  What's the typical margins on lighting fixture products compared to say the AV products an integration company would be selling?

Sarah: That's an interesting topic too. I think that people look at our space a little bit differently. Like historically in the fixture world fixtures went to market through distribution. So there was always that two step of margin that you had some room with I think where fixture manufacturers and I hope I don't make anybody mad but have gotten a little greedy and have marked up from what they're selling to distributors even higher to dealers and have really cut into that margin. Where I see honest and open business is where they set up dealers at their distributor level pricing and they set them up because they're going to sell that much tape. I mean we have jobs that gosh they're like $60,000, $100,000 just in tape lighting. It's a substantial just to do and that's much more low voltage right than your typical and I would argue that your recess downlight is still low voltage. I mean we're talking like nine watts, right? But in the grand scheme of things, I think tape is an easy step for integrators to get involved with first and then expand even into the recessed canned world.

Ron:  Got it. So is it generally true that lighting fixtures is as profitable as the other gear or is it generally less profitable? More profitable?

Sarah: It's certainly more profitable. I mean, we're filling a lot of holes in the ceiling. We're filling a lot of feet of tape. I mean, you could put tape and I'm sure everybody has seen the adaptive method and all these different layers of lighting. When you go into the American Lighting Association and I'm a lighting specialist, so I've gone through and I can do all those design things, when we actually start to look at the different layers of light, there's a lot of areas where we're missing it from a design side because they're not experts in the lighting world. So they turn to electricians most of the time, and we have a good handful of electricians out there that know what they're doing, but a whole another handful of, hey, I'm just going to get whatever is cheapest at the distributor. And then we get these beautiful luxury homes with really not so good quality light. It really impacts not only how you feel in the space, but how you look in the space and how your stuff looks in the space. So there's definitely a lot of implications to the design that come out of that. So my whole mission is really to we work with a lot of dealers in the Southeast, but our biggest focus is working with architects, designers and builders to help educate them on this and show them the different ways of lighting homes properly, as well as what fixtures to really look at.

Ron:  What advice would you give to those listening that have not historically called on, let's say, designers or architects? Should they do that? And if they do that, how should they do that?

Sarah: It's a good question. I think, if they're not doing that. Absolutely. I think the earlier you can get onto a project, the better, because when we're planning out these things, it's so much harder to retrofit solutions. And speaking from a Sonnen experience specifically, it was super hard to do anything retrofit. But now if we're doing and we don't plan that we're going to have automated shades, now we have to figure out where am I going to put a battery powered shade? And the whole mechanism that holds all that together is going to take up space where we could have planned to have a pocket for a shade ahead of time if we knew we were going to put shades up there. I think it's definitely important to start calling on specification, if you haven't already. I think a good way to reach out to people is just to say you're there to help. You are there to make sure that their design intent is realized and being that helpful resource will allow you to really be that person. Typically, the reps that have done it well in the market, it's always been the representative. And historically, I will say it's been Lutron reps. And because Lutron really had a great strategy with continuing education credits and calling on this channel for years.

Ron:  I completely agree. I'm mindful of time. And speaking of lighting. Lightapalooza is around the corner. It's in the new year. I don't have the exact date. So I'm curious, do you have the dates? Are you going to that?

Sarah: I do plan on attending that.

Ron:  And we can drop the dates in the web page. We drop all that in the show notes so you and I don't have to.

Sarah: No worries. I think it's like the end of February timeframe. Out in Arizona, if I'm not mistaken, but it's interesting because that show used to start, it was called Tomapalooza the first year from Tom Doherty from HTSA, and it's kind of transformed to more of an industry event. So I'm actually really excited about that.

Ron:  Are you going to it?

Sarah: Yes.

Ron:  All right. You want to tell from your perspective what is it and why should people listening maybe attend that?

Sarah: Yeah, sure. I think that it's the only show in our space that's really focused on the lighting solutions for AV guys. It really is showing you who knows us, who's out there. I think you'll see some new companies in there, which is going to be exciting too. And allowing you to really get a hands on touch with that manufacturer, I think is going to be invaluable from bringing on that lighting world. A lot of dealers that I've spoken to and this is kind of rained through even for my Sonnen days, is bringing on a new category. You want to feel like the expert. You don't want to not know what you don't know. And that's always been the way the AV dealer kind of works. We want to understand it all so that when I talk about it, I can answer all the questions on it and really stand behind that product or manufacturer. So I think it'll be really a telling year. I think it's going to be a big year next year for lighting and more. You'll see more fixture companies getting into our space and learning about CEDIA and the opportunity with us, as well as learning how to do business with us, which I feel is we are all small businesses out there. Now knowing that I have to wear all hats and be the marketing person and the finance person and all these things, the struggles are definitely real. So you really need to partner with companies that maybe aren't in the buying groups, but are really going to service you because they will be able to save you money on time and labor, which is most companies biggest expense right now, is on the labor side.

Ron:  We'll close with this. What has you most excited about 2023?

Sarah: Just the official launch of LIT. I feel like it's been a really hard year. We've done so much; certifications, a lot of that ramp up phase. I'm excited to really get out there and be on the road and build this business, get some more sales going.

Ron:  Awesome. I know I'm rooting for you and the team here at One Firefly knows, likes and respects you, Sarah, and so we got your back and I know everyone listening and watching now you know Sarah, so you have to reach out to Sarah and say hello. So speaking of that, Sarah, how can people get in touch with you? What would you advise?

Sarah: Sure. So I will provide my email and then I'll give you my phone number, Ron, afterwards. So I don't like, grab my phone number all over the internet.

Ron:  Is it that phone number? Do you want it in the show notes? Do you want people reaching out or do you want them to go to your website?

Sarah: Yeah, I mean, it's on the website as well. So you can go to the website, it's just lit and then the full word southeast.com. That's our website. It has our sales contact in there as well. We have a This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Or you can contact me directly at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Ron:  All right, now I'm sharing for those watching the video here, or for those that are listening, I've got on the screen your website and in your menu I see this word, F-P-H-R-O-N-T-I-S-T-E-R-Y.

Sarah: Phrontistery.

Ron:  All right. What is that?

Sarah: It'll actually give you the pronunciation in there because I have had feedback that people don't know at all what this word is. But little fun story. Somehow, randomly, my email got subscribed to a word of the day and every day I get a new word of the day. Don't know how I got it on this list, but I can't get off of it. And this word popped in and it just gave me this idea, which ties back to the conversation that we've had. Reps really bring a lot of value from an education site as well. So I wanted to bring that to the market. So the phrontistery is a place of thinking and a place of learning. So this is our learning and education page on our website. So we have all of our calendar for upcoming trainings and events, as well as a downloadable menu of all the courses we offer.

Ron:  Phrontistery, I'm going to try to use that in a sentence this week.

Sarah: All right, challenge accepted.

Ron:  Love it. Awesome. All right, well, Sarah, it was a pleasure having you on the show. Thanks for joining us here on Show 230.

Sarah: Thank you. Thanks so much. Pleasure, Ron, talk soon.

SHOW NOTES:

Sarah Dresher founded Luxury Integrated Technologies, in early 2022, as a service and consulting agency for the southeast, representing best-in-category brands. Upon completing her electrical engineering degree in 2016 and later earning a MBA from Rutgers Business School, she worked for Lutron and Sonnen. Sarah also gained experience working directly for a Lutron rep agency in the Carolinas, prior to taking the plunge and founding Luxury Integrated Technologies.

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:

Sarah can be reached directly by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.