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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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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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President of Electronic Services & Concierge Gives Insights Into Growing His Business Through Growing His Team

Automation Unplugged 265 feat. Kevin Nguyen, President of Electronic Services & Concierge. Join us for in show that dives into Kevin’s journey to build and grow his own integration firm from the ground up, his insights into providing customer experience.

This week's episode of Automation Unplugged features Kevin Nguyen, President of Electronic Services & Concierge.

About Kevin Nguyen:

Kevin Nguyen started ESC in 2013, installing speakers and TVs. Previously, he worked for Best Buy for 7 years and a 2-channel audio company for 2 years.

For the first six years, it was just him, working out of his garage. He hired his first employee in 2019, and picked up his first office space just before COVID. Since then, they’ve expanded their team to 10 employees and added a showroom in Lakewood. They’ve taken on new categories, including lighting fixtures, landscape lighting, and they’ve started their first battery project, in Denver, with over 100kWH.

ESC’s clients include builders, designers, and trades around custom home building. Their primary clients are through custom high-end builders that service the Front Range to Summit County of Colorado. Their average system starts at $100,000-$150,000 and their larger systems have surpassed $500,000.

Interview Recap

  • Kevin’s journey, starting with his family’s emigration from Vietnam to the United States, to building his own integration business from the ground up
  • His approach to growing and scaling a business by investing in growing his team through certification opportunities and other benefits
  • His insights into creating exceptional customer experiences

SEE ALSO: Show #263: Director of Control Rooms at Barco Discusses the Complex Command-and-Control Market

Transcript

Ron:

Hello, hello. Ron Callis here with another episode of Automation Unplugged. Today is Wednesday, May 1st, 2024. And it is a couple of minutes past 12:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. So appreciate all of you that are watching live or watching on replay.

Ron:

And I'm glad you're joining us. Today we are, we're here with show 265 and we actually have a super interesting guest. This is a young and very successful entrepreneur, actually someone I just met in the last month or so. And I'm very excited that I met him so that all of you can meet him.

Ron:

And his name is Kevin Nguyen. He is the president of Electronic Services and Concierge based out of Denver, Colorado. And let me go ahead and bring in Kevin and we can get this show started. So let's go ahead and bring in Kevin. All right.

Ron:

Kevin, how are you, sir?

Kevin:

Hi, Ron. I'm doing great. How are you doing? Thank you for having me here.

Ron:

Oh man, it's my pleasure. So I have to ask you, Kevin, am I your first podcast?

Kevin:

Yes, you are. So I don't know if it's a great thing 'cause I'm a little bit nervous.

Ron:

Oh, well, there's no reason to be nervous. This is a pretty easy chat. But I get to say that I discovered you.

Kevin:

Yes.

Ron:

And, you know, I'm sure once people hear you and a lot of your brilliance, then they're going to want to talk to you for sure. Certainly meet you. But just so that our audience knows kind of, first of all, where are you coming to us from? Where are you physically located right now?

Kevin:

We're based out of Denver, Colorado.

Ron:

Are you in your office or do you work out of a home?

Kevin:

Yeah, no, I'm actually working out of my office today, so.

Ron:

I'm looking at this beautiful wall behind you. Did you design this wall? Did you build this wall? The black artwork, the woodwork.

Kevin:

Thank you. I would like to take all the credit, but really we just found a photo on Instagram and we had one of our trim guys put it all together. So yeah, it looks really, really good. We were happy with the results.

Ron:

I did something similar, not the same pattern, but you know so now that I'm talking about it, I'll drop a picture of it in the show notes. But I did something similar in our home office.

Ron:

Well, we have another office downstairs and we did a wall almost exactly the same. A flat black paint and a beautiful architectural trim. And my family loves it. And that's why it immediately caught my eye when I saw that behind you.

Kevin:

Oh, thank you. Yeah, no, this is a home that we're going to be here for a while. And working in this industry has given us a lot of inspiration to, I don't know, we have a lot of wallpaper we're going to put up this year and we have a lot of accents we're going to build throughout the house.

Ron:

Yeah, my current project in my house is a home gym. So I totally, I resonate with those statements. There's like never-ending projects yeah and fun things to work on. Question for you. So electronic services and concierge. First of all, actually, I just want to know the name, Electronics Services and Concierge. How did you come up with the name?

Kevin:

So I started this business when I was around 25 years old. And when I was going through the paces, I just wanted to provide a concierge level when it came to all the services we were offering. And at the time, I was just installing speakers and TVs. But then during the side, I would fix people's computers. I would fix people's Wi-Fi. So it was so broad that I had to call it Electronic Services. And that's what sort of put everything together. 'Cause I didn't know what I was going to do other than just some, you know, I thought it was speakers and TVs and now we're so much more.

Ron:

So let's talk about that. So today, let's just take a snapshot just so our audience understands kind of who you are and what specifically your business is doing today and where you're doing it. What are the services that ESC offers to its customers today? What's kind of the breadth of offering?

Kevin:

Well, we're a full service low voltage design firm, meaning that generally when you're building a house with a builder, our builder will bring us in and we'll do all the drawings. We get into everything from just the wiring to the speakers, the TV, the Wi-Fi network. And we've gotten to architectural lighting fixtures. We do outdoor, what we call smart backyards, right? The speakers, the TVs, the outdoor motorized trades.

Kevin:

We integrate. I mean, we do so much. We integrate with garage doors, gates, we do it all.

Ron:

What's the typical size projects you're working on in terms of like a retail value to the consumer?

Kevin:

Most of our projects that we're starting today starts between 100 to 150,000. It's sort of about our average size project. And then we have a lot of projects that do go above that. And that number is really not meant to scare any clients either.

Kevin:

I think it's just because we have so much offering that sometimes clients will spend a third of it in just shades or a third of it in just lighting. So when you look at the wiring and the AV, you know, it's not as, or it's still as big, but it's a lot bigger because we just represent so many other categories.

Ron:

Yeah. And one of the faster growing categories in the industry, at least, you know, from what I'm picking up on, is even beyond lighting control, it's the lighting fixture business.

Ron:

And are you, I'm just curious, we don't have to go too far down that rabbit hole, but are you getting into the lighting fixture stuff as well?

Kevin:

Yeah, no, we actually have a few projects we're working on right now. And it's gone to the point where we're actually going to bring in a lighting designer because our client is so excited about, you know, the additional layers of light. And just, you know, the client's built several homes before. So she knows what she wants.

Kevin:

You know, she wants to be able to have the task lighting in her kitchen. And she wants to be able to, you know, read a book without casting a shadow when she's on the couch. So those are the things that we like to listen to with our clients. And then if we needed to bring in, you know, bigger experts, we'll bring in a lighting design firm or. Or other outfit.

Ron:

That makes sense. Where do you guys geographically do your work? Do you stay there? What is it called? The Front Range?

Kevin:

Yeah, we do everything, Denver Metro to the Front Range, which is basically the mountains. You know, we have a lot of projects in Breckenridge. We're working in Vale, Eagle. And our office is actually in Lakewood, which is between Denver and the Front Range. So it only takes us, you know, an hour to two hours to get to Breckenridge.

Ron:

Got it. Do you find that your clients are starting to pull you around the country and maybe other properties that they have? Or is that, has that not happened so much yet?

Kevin:

It's becoming more common and that's why we're in the Front Range. We have a lot of clients who have, you know, vacation homes or ski homes during the season. So we take care of their second or third homes.

Ron:

That makes sense. Well, Kevin, I've got a lot of topics that are based on kind of the business you're operating today.

Ron:

But if you don't mind, let's go back in time and help us understand where did you come from and take this back as far as you're willing to. You have a super interesting backstory.

Kevin:

Yeah, thank you. My family, I was actually born in Vietnam. My family and I, we were refugees. And this is during '88. So my parents, they escaped Vietnam and we moved to the Philippines. And I was too young to remember everything. But I do remember my mom telling me stories of, you know, what they had to do back then, right?

Ron:

I'm uninformed as well. What was happening in Vietnam in '88 that was causing people to need to leave the country?

Kevin:

I don't know. There was still a lot of communism. So, you know, just the way that the country was ran, it was really, really rough. So, you know, we have a lot of Vietnamese immigrants coming to America, whether that's in mostly in California, Florida, New York, we came to Colorado because my brother was already here. So we waited until he sponsored us. And then we decided to move directly to Colorado.

Kevin:

But even then, you know, my parents, we escaped Vietnam. So we went to the Philippines and we lived there for a few years. And what's really interesting is like, I always get a kick out of this 'cause, you know, when here, we always make jokes about, you know, parents saying, you know, I went through two feet of snow, you know, to go to school or I walked, you know, a mile and that kind of stuff. And when you're younger, you don't really understand that. You don't really, you know, understand the scale of it.

Kevin:

But my parents, they spent two nights in the jungle escaping Vietnam. They fed me cough syrup. I wasn't even one yet, but they fed me cough syrup so that I would stay passed out so I wouldn't cry. We wouldn't wake up, you know, the Viet Cong. It was brutal. And it's not, and as I get older, I think about it. It's not like my parents had the best running shoes. You know, it's not like they were training for a marathon. My dad was in his 50s. My mom, she was in her 40s.

Kevin:

It was just flip-flops and you had to take, you know, very, very little and you, you know, it was a life or death type of situation.

Ron:

They escaped there on foot?

Kevin:

Yeah.

Ron:

That, that has to be the stories they've told have to be harrowing.

Kevin:

Yeah. Oh, no. They, you know, we're boat people too. So we had to get on a boat to get to the Philippines. And that was rough. And it took a lot longer and people didn't have food on the boat.

Kevin:

So that, it's, again, when I was in my teens, I was like, yeah, yeah, everybody goes through that. But now that I'm, you know, a little bit older, I really, really understand like what it really, really means to leave your country and have to move to a new country and learn the language, pick up a job, learn how to survive. And I've been really, really blessed just to have that kind of mindset.

Kevin:

So my parents taught me well, even though I was probably the biggest painting in the ass growing up.

Ron:

Say, most kids are, right?

Kevin:

Yeah.

Ron:

What were the professions, if you don't mind me asking, what were the professions of your mom and dad when they were in Vietnam before they needed to leave and set up a new life?

Kevin:

My dad was a tailor. And then my mom, she lived in a village, like a country village. You know, back in the day, we didn't have cell phones, TVs, or anything like that.

Kevin:

So they didn't even have a doctor in her village. So yeah, she just lived in the countryside.

Ron:

Wow, that's amazing. Did you have an entrepreneur role model in your teenage years, in your younger years?

Kevin:

To be honest, I didn't. I mean, when my parents came here, you know my dad was sewing clothes, then they decided to start a house cleaning business.

Kevin:

And they would go to these houses and sort of for very, very little, they would clean people's houses. And I watched my parents just sort of save, you know, to try to get us out of low income housing. So I got to see that experience, but I really didn't. I wasn't around really any entrepreneurs that taught me how to grow a business or start a business even.

Ron:

Oh, that's, that's fascinating. The lessons you learned so early are, that's so unique.

Ron:

Clearly helped forge who you are today. So what, when you, you landed from the Philippines into Colorado, what, what, what happened then?

Kevin:

So by then I was around five years old or shortly after, that's when I started kindergarten. And I remember very little bits and pieces, but we lived in low income housing up till I was about 11.

Kevin:

And then that's when we, you know, bought our first house and lived in Denver. And then that's when my life really, really started. You know, middle school, high school, not knowing what I wanted to do. Especially in college, I didn't know what I wanted to do. I wounded up working for Best Buy for seven years. And Best Buy was a really, really great opportunity for me, just 'cause I learned what it's like to, you know, work for a corporate.

Kevin:

And then along the way, I found out that, you know, the corporate life wasn't for me. Broke off on my own. I worked for a really high-end two-channel audio firm that just focused on, you know, the super expensive high-end speakers and amplifiers. And I really, really enjoyed working there, but something just didn't click right for me. So that's when I finally started my own business, installing speakers and TVs.

Kevin:

And when I did that, to be honest, I didn't even know what I was doing. I didn't even know how to start a business. I didn't know how to apply, you know, with the Secretary of the State. I literally Googled "how to start a business." And I hired some random firm in Kansas City to help start my first LLC. That's how we started. And a lot of it, we sort of picked up along as we go.

Kevin:

You know, I always say I didn't really come from the industry, as in I didn't get to work for, you know, a low voltage or a home automation firm. So I didn't carry a lot of those practices over. Everything I did really started from the ground and we went through a lot of trial and fire to try to get this business going.

Kevin:

But then along the way, we met a lot of great manufacturers and great people that took a huge interest in what we had to offer. And we scaled from two to 10 people now. And we're on year 11.

Ron:

That's impressive. What would you, when you reflect back on your, you know, the fact that your parents came here as immigrants and that they really had to rebuild their life from scratch, what is it in that experience or observation from what your parents went through and you went through that you think have led to your success today?

Ron:

Are there any of those, that background that you think maybe actually gave you an advantage to do the hustle and the work necessary to make a business work?

Kevin:

They were real hustlers, that's for sure. I mean, it's just, they were very, very hardworking people. And even though they didn't really understand, you know, sort of the opportunity that America has to offer. They just always, you know, kept their head down. They just focused on taking care of the family and just even, you know, for the longest time, living paycheck to paycheck.

Kevin:

You know, they really, really taught me how to build the American dream, which this right here is my American dream. And I, to be honest, I never thought I would ever even get this far. I thought that, you know, it'd be just me and maybe one other person just going to houses and just helping people mount speakers or mount TVs and install speakers.

Kevin:

So I think my parents really, really gave me, I think, great insight on what it means not to give up ever. And no matter how hard things get, just don't give up. Don't give up on yourself.

Ron:

What's an example maybe in your past 11-year journey where you almost gave up, but didn't?

Kevin:

Well, hopefully I don't get too emotional about this. But, you know, last year, I lost my dad three years before our wedding. So last year was probably like one of the hardest years for me. You know, dad was a huge inspiration. I was going through, you know, a lot of business growth. We had a lot of employees. We actually had more than 10 employees last year and we had a lot of service department or a lot of departments, logistics service try to just really, really keep the ship going.

Kevin:

And there was a part in there where, you know, after my dad had passed away, and we were still going, my wife, Lynn, and I, we have all this wedding planning, trying to figure out like all the hotels for our guests and pick out the final details, learning how to run a company, and then also trying to keep everything, you know, like going.

Kevin:

I just remember there was a part where, you know, I was, I was at the viewing and I was just, you know, everybody's coming in to just sort of, you know, give their condolences. But in between the viewing, I was on phone calls, you know, trying to make sure that we make ends meet, trying to make sure that the business can survive. I mean, literally, hey, I'm so sorry for your loss. Thank you. And then I just go back to work.

Kevin:

And, you know, there were a lot of times I want to give up. But again, you know, my dad really gave me a lot of experience on not to give up. And so we just kept going. And then here we are. This year, we are so excited. We're so excited because we have so many opportunities. We have a lot of clients who are here to really, really support us in a genuine fashion. And they just want to see us grow.

Kevin:

We're meeting with more architects than we ever have. We're meeting with builders that just absolutely love what we have to offer. I mean, I think, you know, if I didn't go through the hardship today, it feels so easy because I don't have to deal with, you know, the hundreds and hundreds of, you know, fires I had to put out last year. So I think that's the best thing about not giving up because once you do weather that storm, you get to really, really appreciate all the little things.

Ron:

Well, my condolences for your father passing. I can guarantee you that he is very proud looking down on you and seeing what you're doing, both in terms of your business and your family. Certainly impressive.

Ron:

When you think back to that journey from one person, just you to 11 people today, what are a couple of things, ideas, practices that you think or you believe helped you break through and ultimately scale the business, i.e., from the standpoint of there are gonna be people listening or reading this on our One Firefly website or they'll be tuned in somewhere across the internet and they're gonna hear this.

Ron:

Just as you were mentioning before the show, you'd listen to the John Heyman Control 4 interview or you had listened to, you'd listen to Ryan Lee and you had picked up a tip or trick. Some people are going to listen to this and they're going to go, "Man!" They're really going to lean in to this part of your, your discussion. What are some things that you think led to your ability to add that next employee or ultimately take that next, you know, step function increase in revenue?

Kevin:

I think from a just a much higher level, you know, when you're looking down on everything, like just imagine you're in the sky and you're looking down in this whole entire city. And even though we have our day-to-day practices of that one little thing more that we can improve, you know, I always say, and this is what I've really learned is that you really, really have to invest in yourself and you have to invest in your team.

Kevin:

You have to invest in your team's growth. And whether if that's more pay, or whether it's more opportunity for them to get certified in things, or whether if, you know, you're taking on new projects you've never done before, you have to be willing to set the time and also, you know, prep to go in and really become experts at this. You know, I think at one point, as I was growing, we were taking on a lot of brands, a lot of manufacturers, and you don't necessarily need that.

Kevin:

You just need to be really, really good at, you know, a handful of products or a handful of solutions in this case. So even though we offer a really, really big menu, most of our clients are coming to us because they know that we're the experts at, you know, what they're looking for, and they're leaning onto us for that. And I think that sometimes as you get bigger, you're looking for the next shiny object or you're just, you get a little too scattered because you're trying to do everything.

Kevin:

And the truth is, you don't have to do everything. You just need to really, really invest in your team, invest in yourself. And like, and when I say invest in my team, invest in ourselves, you know, we have someone who's gonna get CTS certified. We have someone who's gonna go and get ALI certified. We're really, you know, investing in our team to do that. And although there are outside resources, you know, and I'm sure you've been through it before too, Ron, you're really gonna have to go in and figure out the formula yourself before you could replicate that and teach it to your team.

Kevin:

So that's the thing about growing is you almost need to learn and understand the formula yourself rather than depend on other team members to discover it for you. It's sort of like your life lessons is like, you know, the life lessons are obvious, but you don't know it or you don't figure it out until you actually go through it.

Ron:

What would you say to the business owner that's hearing you talk about investing in your team?

Ron:

And they go, yeah, but if I spend all that money on certifications, they're just gonna leave me and they're gonna go to my competition. And I've just aided my competition. What would be your rebuttal to that?

Kevin:

It's very possible. And I think one of the things that we're really focused on is, you know, staying authentic. And when I say that is, you know, at one point, I was also, you know, focused on what my competitors were doing.

Kevin:

I was just, you know, I want to always have that one up on them, or I wanna know what's happening. And honestly, that doesn't matter. If you have a great culture, and if you invest in your team, and if you're honest with your teams, because the truth about business ownership is you have a lot of peaks and valleys and a lot of valleys. And if you're there and you have the right people who support everything that you're doing, in a way, you're taking care of them too. You're taking care of the family.

Kevin:

And for the people and the techs who say, hey, I can make more elsewhere, that doesn't really faze me at all. I was like, you know, if you think you could do better elsewhere, I do wish you the best. But hopefully, before you do that, you could sort of see what we have to offer. And I think that's sort of also why, you know, with our future roadmap, we're not looking to scale very big. We're focused on just, let's stay with 10 employees or less.

Kevin:

Let's focus on not super high volume. Let's just focus on our existing clients. We're not trying to double our volume. We just want to be really, really good at what we do. And then we're going to give our team members the opportunity to invest in themselves and make more money. As a business owner, you don't always want to just pay them more just because they worked for you another year. You want to pay them more because they add more value and they can take a lot off your plate.

Kevin:

And I think that's important. So I do have a lot of guys in our company that wear many hats. Our elite tech also is our service tech. And that's okay. You don't need to have a dedicated service tech and a couple more dedicated part-time techs. As long as you have the right resources and you don't burn them out, I'm pretty positive, they'll stick with you.

Ron:

You've mentioned the word company culture. What does that mean to you? And why is that important?

Kevin:

It goes both ways because I always say you need to also be able to walk the walk. And you know I've had challenges before too, where I haven't been able to build a great company culture. And I learned that when I was growing a little too fast. I think now it's more of providing the support for your team.

Kevin:

And you know we have a great team where we don't blame each other or we don't point fingers when things go wrong. We figure it out together. And if, you know, we make a mistake because every company makes mistakes, just like in construction, there's always surprises. We just figure it out together. And I think when our team members don't have to look behind their back a lot, I think everybody's more relaxed and everybody's more willing to get the job done.

Ron:

You and I met, Kevin. What was it? Last month in or maybe now it's May. Today's May 1st. So it was, it would have been in March at the Azione Conference. And that was your first time I met you at the Azione Conference. So was that your first time attending Azione?

Kevin:

Yeah, yeah, that was my first time attending Azione.

Ron:

So just for those that are listening that don't know what Azione is, so what is Azione? And just for full disclosure, I sit on the board of advisors for Azione. What is Azione? And then ultimately, what was that conference like for you?

Kevin:

So Azione's a buying group, but in addition to a buying group, it was really meant for a lot of dealers to sort of come together and share, you know, best business practices. And I think Azione really strived to put manufacturers in front of these dealers to have real one-on-one conversations, right?

Kevin:

Like, what's happening? What certain products you work with? What do you like and what you don't like? And it allows the manufacturers to also be better. So I signed up with Azione just for the benefits. But, you know, when I was meeting everybody and meeting all the dealers, I really, really got to enjoy hearing everybody's stories. And it felt like I'm not the only one for the first time, right?

Kevin:

But then I was also able to sort of sit there and really, you know, pick up a lot of the practices that some of these bigger companies or these smaller companies that are very, very successful, what they're doing. And it really, really gave me great insight on how we can improve our company. So it was a wonderful experience. I would recommend Azione to a lot of dealers who are still, you know, trying to pick out all their brands.

Ron:

Yeah, I'm a big fan of Azione, but really just the category of buying groups in general. The idea that you fell... you know, as being a leader within a business, it can be a pretty lonely place. And you can feel like you're trying to solve lots of problems and you're by yourself trying to solve them. And the reality is there's a community of people very similar to you. Now, there's people similar to you, people smaller or earlier in their journey than you.

Ron:

There's people that are more mature in their journey than you. But there's an entire ecosystem of people that are, frankly, ready, willing, and able to lean in and help and guide and support. And I think that that's what all of these buying groups really bring to the table. And that's one of the things, in addition to closer relationships with manufacturers, and, you know, that's certainly very valuable.

Ron:

But I, my personal opinion is just the face time of, you know, dealer to dealer, you know, discussions, whether it's formal or informal, or it's at dinner, or at the bar in the evening at the hotel, or wherever it is, I think that's where a lot of just big, big things change or ultimately are memorable for you. I know when Firefly, as an agency owner, I network with different marketing agency owners, right?

Ron:

So I'm in what are called masterminds, and, you know, some of them have retreats, some of them are virtual. But there's just a lot of value in like, maybe I'm having an HR issue. Well, I'm not the only one having an HR issue. If I share what that HR issue is with others, there could be wisdom or advice that's shared, or maybe it's a packaging or pricing or a service delivery issue. There's just a lot of value in not having to solve or figure everything else out by yourself.

Ron:

There's just other people ready to lean in and help you either solve your problem or at least share with you what they've done. And so I'm curious, you went, this was at this point, this is about four weeks ago, four or five weeks ago. Is there anything that really sticks out to you as, as at least not without naming names, but at least a memorable takeaway from the conference, something that you're like, man, I can take action with that?

Kevin:

Yeah, I think there was a really, really great dealer that I had a lengthy conversation with, and I'm drawing a blank, but just shout out to him. He was explaining about being a technology design expert. And that's sort of where I got that from. And it goes back to sometimes we get caught up with all the bells and whistles and all these extra features and all this other stuff.

Kevin:

And sometimes the client's not looking for that. The client just wants something that's really, really easy to use. And when you're working with the builder, you're working with the architect, what we're focused on is just making sure that, you know, the speakers line up with the cans, and it looks really, really nice. And we offer, you know, design options to allow our clients to have a really, really nice experience that they could also show off to their friends and family.

Kevin:

And I think it just really, really reminded me that sometimes we get, you know, caught up with pushing a single control system that controls everything. And that's not what everybody's looking for. You know, we have a lot of, and especially with some of our clients too, whether if they're young or older clients, they're so used to their iPhone that having two or three apps is okay.

Kevin:

And if that gives you a better experience to control your lights, your shades, your music, we would go that direction. And I think it really, really taught me to listen to my clients more. And that's why we're technology design experts now.

Ron:

Oh, that's it. So this going by the statement of technology design experts, that's really was a takeaway from the conference. Are you kind of using those words and speaking that way?

Kevin:

Yeah, yeah, we are. It's all words.

Ron:

No, words matter!

Kevin:

Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's all words. But I think it really, really allowed me to create or to think a lot more creatively. And when we meet with our clients now and we meet with our architects, we meet with our builders. We really are focused on just introducing solutions that really bring out everything in the home.

Kevin:

And it's not as much as, "Hey, we're the expert. You guys need to listen to us because we know everything," and we don't.

Ron:

That's interesting. We just had somebody stop in here. I think you know him. Josh, this is from Josh from team One Firefly. He just posted on LinkedIn. He's like, "What's up, Kevin? Technology design experts for sure." So.

Kevin:

Thanks, Josh. Thank you for this shout out.

Ron:

That's cool. So I want to go a little bit deeper. I know you said you had listened to that show with John from Snap and, you know, obviously big news. Snap has just announced that they're being acquired. So that's super interesting. But one of the conversations or one of the talking points of the dialogue with John was around the customer experience. And I am going to say I agree with John that a lot of integrators are focused on getting the job and installing the job and hopefully getting that last payment.

Ron:

But not enough integrators, and I'm not calling anyone out, but just not enough integrators are focused on delivering an exceptional customer experience so that at the end of the install, the customer is delighted and ready to refer. There certainly are businesses that have a reputation for doing that more often than others.

Ron:

But just a super high level, maybe 10,000-foot question, Kevin, do you agree with that sentiment? And if so, why do you think our industry has that reputation?

Kevin:

I think sometimes our industry, or if not our industry, just dealers, you know we do tend to try to do a little too much as in going back to the whole statement of trying to control every single thing that's in the house. And if it winds up creating more complications, it just goes back to, I think that's where it decreases the customer satisfaction.

Kevin:

And this is what we call an active system, right? It's not like it's the old analog days. This is the new tech that requires new network updates, just like your Wi-Fi system. There's always new content, new streaming apps. There's a lot more digital stuff. And if you put the client in a solution where they could only go in one direction, well, that product or that solution may not be the best solution two years from now, 10 years from now.

Kevin:

You know I was meeting with a builder yesterday that you know in the past, they've been around for a while. And you know I'll go two ways with this too. This builder, you know he says that more than half of his clients are repeat clients, which means you know it's generations, families of generations. So grandparents, the kids, the grandkids all build with them. And they've been able to maintain that customer satisfaction.

Kevin:

But at the same time, they've also had parents invest in a $500,000 AV system or even a million dollar AV system. And five years later, it's like they have to re-spend that kind of money to get that kind of system again. And the kids sort of shy off away from it. And you know the kids these days, they're—as in us, right? They're more savvy with their tech. They're used to having two or three different apps. And that's where I was going with earlier, where you don't have to always have a single control system for everything. It's okay to have two or three.

Kevin:

We try to be more brand agnostic. And again, it goes back to we focus on the experience and the solution and it's easy for our clients to use the system in two to three years from now. It only costs a handful of products to improve their system. I think their customer satisfaction is going to be, it's going to stay maintained versus install it that one time. "Thank you. We'll see you in seven years."

Kevin:

So I think from a product design standpoint, we need to be a little bit more fluid. And then also from a customer service experience, we need to offer a better solution to take care of these clients.

Kevin:

And what I've also learned from the Azione is, you know, and just as a business owner, I've always done this too, is like, even though we're not open 24/7, 365, we offer that support. If that client calls you on Christmas Eve or the day before the Super Bowl and something's not working, take that call and take care of them. Versus, you know, there are other companies out there where they only focus on operating in a very specific window.

Kevin:

So I think as a small business owner, this is sort of, maybe that's the concierge in our business name. We do still take those calls. And even if they're super frustrated, we're gonna take care of them and then we'll revisit on what we can do better.

Ron:

No, that makes sense. Do you theorize, Kevin, that designing systems that are more app-based, and I'll just, I'll point to my own home.

Ron:

Like, so I have a Lutron battery-powered shade system in my house. Love it. Wife loves it. And we have, I'll just, I'll pick one more system. We have, for example, like Sonos, right? So I have some zones where I have Sonos amps driving higher quality speakers, and in some zones, I'm using Sonos speakers. And it's two different apps. I don't need anyone to help me service it or deal with it. The stuff always works.

Ron:

And we've lived with that little configuration for almost four years now, four or five years. And we love it. And we love it. And so I equally could have done, you know, one of my friends in the industry's whole home controls packages. And if done well, I probably would love that too.

Ron:

So I'm just curious, do you have an opinion that the singular system or maybe the systems focus or specialty type apps and solutions generally lead to more customer satisfaction? Or does it depend? Is there more to it than that?

Kevin:

Well, I'll back up for a second. When I was saying multiple apps earlier or multiple systems, we still do a lot of really, really big control systems that can control like—and especially in houses where the client has a ton of TVs—video distribution is important. Or wherever there's a project where we just have a lot of equipment, control systems are still very, very important and we still do that a lot.

Kevin:

It's just in addition to that, if the client still loves their Ring app and they want to be able to use the app to go back in time and just see who left the package there, we'll put a ring camera in there, but then we'll do the nicer cameras everywhere else that has the better technology.

Kevin:

I think what happens is sometimes certain control systems, they want to have their own video doorbell, they want to have their own security system, they want to have their own products. And it's a much watered down version than what the consumer is used to, right? It's sort of like you love your Sonos app, but if I told you you have to use five different separate music services in addition to your Sonos app, you're gonna like the Sonos system a lot less.

Ron:

Yeah.

Kevin:

But people love, you know, we're a Sonos dealer too. We notice our Sonos clients love it because they could use the Spotify. They can use Apple Music right inside their app. So that just goes back to there's so many different ways to skin the cat, but just being aware.

Ron:

I also don't have a very big house. So just for clarity, I'm not in a 15,000-square-foot, mountain, you know, lot that would warrant a bigger, more sophisticated control system.

Kevin:

Right. But what I'm saying is that like, you know, you don't have, like for the mid-size projects or even the smaller projects, you know, you don't have to push a specific control system if that's, if there are better solutions out there with two or three apps, that's all I'm saying.

Ron:

No, that makes sense. We got a couple more people saying hi. We got Jason D., says, "Kevin and ESC Rock, the Sound Tech team." Thanks, Jason, for giving a shout out there.

Ron:

And then we also got Brandon, he says, "Very nicely put." So I'm assuming maybe that's it. Do you know that Brandon, Kevin?

Kevin:

I know that Brandon.

Ron:

You do know that Brandon.

Kevin:

Yeah, no, I know him personally. So Brandon, he's actually, he's my lead tech.

Ron:

Oh, he is.

Kevin:

And he was the second employee I ever had. So he's been with me in the very beginning. I used to subcontract his dad to help me with the bigger systems. This is when I was working by myself.

Kevin:

I brought Brandon on as a total greeny. You know, he had to work for a really, really big electrical firm. And then he sort of jumped on the low voltage industry. And yeah, and here we are. So he is our longest seasoned veteran with ESC.

Ron:

Got Jeremy saying, "Kevin is great." Man, you got your fan club here, Kevin.

Kevin:

Thanks, Jeremy. So Jeremy is with a distributor. And he also helped me in the very beginning too, when I was trying to figure out my products and how to, you know, when you look at the business side, right, I didn't know how to even sign up with the manufacturer. So, you know, we had a lot of distributors that really helped us out.

Ron:

There we go. We got Brad from OneVision jumping in. Thanks, Brad. Thanks for listening in. When Kevin speaks, you got to listen.

Ron:

So I'm, I'm curious, Kevin, when you look at, you know, 2020, so you've been scaling your business kind of over initially this COVID surge, right? So COVID, you know, came about in 2020 and the home technology space or really anything to do with home construction, although we were maybe all initially really scared, it generally led to a nice surge in business in 2020, '21 and '22.

Ron:

And I wanna say for some people in parts of the country, we're pretty well off of that surge and maybe things are back to pre-2019 levels of business. What's 2024 looking like for you in business, maybe just in comparison to recent years?

Kevin:

2024, I think we actually have more opportunities than we had even during COVID. I think, I mean, people are definitely more cautious as in, you know, they want to make sure whatever money they're putting in, it's really, really well spent. And they don't have to worry about paying, we call it, everybody calls it the COVID prices. You know, I, you know, we had our wedding last year, so we call it the COVID, the COVID prices that made our wedding 30, 40% more. I don't think you have to worry about that as much anymore.

Kevin:

But I feel like we have a lot more opportunities. We also have a lot more legs to stand on before we were so focused on doing super high-end residential, but we also have a lot of repeat clients that, you know, wanna add a Sonos system, who never had a Sonos system before or AV system.

Kevin:

So we still take care of a lot of our projects that are, you know, below $100,000. We have many of those. And then we also do commercial as well too. So we have a lot of the legs to stand on, and we have a lot of support.

Ron:

Love it. Kevin, I'm going to put your website, actually the visual of your website. I'm going to put that here on the screen. And I'm going to just show our audience some of this. Look at this, this video. Is this one of your projects?

Kevin:

Oh, so you'll get a kick out of that, Ron. Back to sort of the American Dream here. So that is the first video, a really close friend of mine, he was the best man in my wedding. This was the first video that we took together and he wanted to sort of do videography. And we shot everything off of like an iPhone and a really basic camera. And then we upload. And a drone. 'Cause I see a flying shot.

Kevin:

Yeah, yeah, and a drone. So, but yeah.

Ron:

Look at you on camera. Were you nervous?

Kevin:

We didn't hire a production company. We just did it all ourselves. And we had to figure out how to put the music and stitch the videos and do everything together. But it goes back to sort of that is what makes business so exciting is that if you have the opportunity to try to figure it out yourself and you could find the joy in, you know, the challenge, it's awesome. Yeah, that's shot with an iPhone right there.

Ron:

I tell my clients all the time, particularly when we're, say, doing a website or some marketing project, I was like, man, if you will just, an iPhone has an amazing camera, an amazing, it'll shoot amazing video for what it is. Get a little $150, you know, gimbal, and you could go shoot really great content, both for your website and for social media.

Ron:

And, you know, you don't need to go spend a fortune on a video production crew if you just will acknowledge that you work in really cool projects and capturing some of that and putting that out on your website and in your marketing, it's going to help you ultimately drive business.

Ron:

Now I'm going to give you a little tweak. Look at that. You are hosting this on YouTube and YouTube does do these commercials. So I won't get into my, I'll take my marketing nerd hat off in a minute, I promise.

Ron:

But there are other video hosting environments like Wistia, W-I-S-T-I-A, that'll let you put this into your site and it'll give you a little bit of a, I would say, a more streamlined video presentation format. You could do that or we can help you do that.

Kevin:

No, that's really good to know. And I think something I was sharing with you too, Ron, is, you know, we're planning on creating a lot of content this year. Projects we've worked on, but then also sort of part of building your house, just hoping to give a lot of advice and content to our clients who are building homes.

Ron:

I love it. I think that you and all of your peers in the industry, some of the best marketing they can do is to photograph and video their team and their office and their showroom and their job sites. And just share with the world what you guys do and what you believe and how you operate every day, because you guys do such amazing work in amazing, beautiful, stunning places that already will do so much to the consumer or the prospect that's at some stage of their buyer journey that what, you know, what your marketing really is to do, it's to help that person out there in the wild gain trust in you and ultimately gain the confidence to make contact.

Ron:

And so if you lead with your people and your projects, what better way to do it than that? It doesn't have to be so hard. It doesn't have to be so expensive.

Kevin:

Yeah, no, I agree with you 100%.

Ron:

I'll step off my soapbox now. This isn't a marketing show by any means. But Kevin, I do want to thank you, man, for jumping on the show and sharing with all of us your journey.

Ron:

You know, you have an impressive story. You're a hardworking, a successful entrepreneur in our industry. And there's so much wisdom you did share here. If anyone was tuned in and watching or listening, and they want to contact you directly, Kevin, where would you send them?

Kevin:

My email's Kevin at ESCDENVER.com.

Ron:

For those that are watching the video or watching the show here on the stream, we do have it streaming across the bottom of the video. It's Kevin at ESCDENVER.com. Are there any other handles, Kevin, you would want to give out to have people get in touch with you?

Kevin:

We're pretty active on Instagram. So it's ESC_HomeAutomation. So we do a lot of live stories just with a lot of our projects that we're working on, starting from, you know, the rough phase all the way up to the end.

Ron:

Awesome. So if you're tuned in, folks, check out Kevin's feed on Instagram. He's showing you how to do it. He's doing great dealer-produced content that is for sure going to help that customer or prospect either have content that's shareable with their friends, or to help people that are considering hiring ESC gain confidence and trust to ultimately bring them on to work on their projects.

Ron:

So well done. Well done, Kevin. Your future looks very bright. And I just want to say thanks for coming on the show here. This is show 265. Thank you, Kevin.

Kevin:

Thank you, Ron. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to, you know, share our story.

Ron:

Awesome. All right, folks, there you have it. That was Kevin Nguyen. He's the president of Electronic Services and Concierge. And he's based there in Denver, operating in the Front Range there and from Denver out to the mountains. And it sounds like he's doing a lot of work in some of the additional cities there, the resort cities and towns in Colorado.

Ron:

And what a neat inspirational story from, you know, from parents that had to essentially evacuate a country in order to survive, wearing flip-flops and carrying their babies with them to immigrating to the U.S. And Kevin and his family, ultimately building a family, but getting his feet on the ground and now putting himself out there as an up-and-coming leader in the integration space.

Ron:

That's why I do this show. It's why I do Automation Unplugged because there's so many just really cool people and stories in our industry. There's a lot of diversity and backgrounds and stories from the people that make this industry what it is.

Ron:

That is what I love. That's why I've been here for 25 years serving this industry. And that's why, God willing, I'll be here another 25 years plus serving this industry. So I hope you all enjoyed the show and we got action-packed, action-packed. Yeah, we're gonna do live action Automation Unplugged. No, we have a lot of guests scheduled for the months ahead. Two to three shows every month now through the summer. So just continue to stay tuned.

Ron:

And again, if watching live isn't your jam, then just download the podcast. You can just search Automation Unplugged in Spotify or whatever your preference is. And really appreciate it. The show is brought to you by our day job here at One Firefly. So that is what enables me to be able to do these interviews for all of you. So I hope you enjoy it and I will see you next time. Thank you all.

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: