This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Chris Subbiondo. Recorded live on Wednesday, March 14th, 2018 at 12:30 p.m. EST.
Chris is originally from New Jersey but is currently based in Virginia, where WSC Audio Video is located. He joined the Navy at 18 and after serving four years, he started doing installations as a DirecTV technician. Eventually, that evolved into TV mounts, then home theaters, then the smart home automation of today.
Chris was the 13th person in the United States to obtain the newest PCNA certification. He is the Owner and CEO at WSC Home Audio Video, which has achieved platinum dealer status with Control4. WSC has been voted best of Angie's list and home advisor every year for 5 years in a row now.
Here are some of the topics Ron had the opportunity to discuss with Chris:
SEE ALSO: Home Automation Podcast Episode #36: A Custom Integration Industry Q&A With JB Fowler
Ron: Hello everybody. Ron Callis here with another episode of Automation Unplugged. It is 12:30, just a little bit after 12:30 on Wednesday, March 14th. We have been apart for a couple of weeks. Let's do it. A bit of traveling last week. And despite my best hopes of getting a show in on Wednesday, wasn't able to make that happen. So here we are happy you're with me. Thanks for watching. Whether you're watching me live or you're watching me on a recording later on. Appreciate ya listening and tuning in. Got a great guest. Chris from WSC. We're gonna talk to Chris and learn about him and his business terms of travel. You know what let's actually come over here to Facebook. Let's see if technology is cooperating and let's see if this is working. My voice sounds a little bit raspy. I'm fighting off the allergies. It is allergy season and I am I, I think I've had this my whole life. I get attacked pretty hard. So I'm on meds right now. My eyes are itchy and my voice is crackly, but I'm going to persevere. And all right, let's go ahead and jump right to it. Let me bring in Chris. Chris, how you doing man?
Chris: I'm doing all right. Ron, how are you?
Ron: I am super duper, you know, last week I was away. I was over at the Pro Source show in Nashville and and then I flew back for less than 24 hours to Florida. And then I was off to the Orlando FRC robotics event with the high school kids that I mentor. So Wednesday through Sunday was pretty much eaten up with robotics. So I'm still in recovery mode from all that action.
Chris: I bet. Pro Source looked like it was a hell of a lot of interesting things going on there today. Or rather these last few days I was half tempted to go there because of we've been tossing around a couple of different ideas, like D Tools, I point things like that. And so it was tactically go there. Unfortunately, I was not able to make it.
Ron: Well, I always recommend for all of my friends and customers, anybody I run across. I think in terms of a buying group, I think much of the benefit, you know, aside from the obvious which is simply your rebates or programs with your vendors is certainly in the peer-to-peer networking that happens at the gatherings. So, you know, it's I think where really, the good stuff happens. You know, you get to rub elbows with your peers and you get to learn from each other and help each other. So hopefully the next one you can carve out the time and get over there or wherever. I don't know if it's in Nashville, again, I'm not quite sure where it is next time
Chris: With my luck it'll be on the west coast again.
Ron: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Well, let's get you, it looks like we've got an audience forming here on Facebook. So again, if you're out there, thank you. Please like this, share this. Give us a comment. Say hello. Tell Chris you like his shirt, you know, make a comment. And we want to know you're out there, so please do so let's get Chris formally introduced. So I met Chris, well actually Chris, you tell me when did we meet? A year, a couple of years ago.
Chris: So we met, it would've been about a year now. Yeah, Tim Stevens from Control4 told me to reach out to you and you know, cause I had been through a couple of different marketing companies, none of them seem to have the right ideas in mind and he's telling me to reach out to you and it was one of the best decisions I ever made in my marketing life.
Ron: All right, I'll slip you 20 bucks later.
Ron: That's funny. Well, let, let's tell the audience about you, if you don't mind. You know, I put in the show bio or on the notes that people would be reading as an intro to watching the show that you got your start. You actually, looks like right out of high school. You went into the Navy. You're from my neck of the woods. You're down from Southeast Virginia. I'm from the Hampton roads area city called Newport News. So I have a lot of Army and Navy and Air Force family members. And it looks like you went right into the Navy, but can you kind of talk about your background and how you ended up landing in the CI channel?
Chris: Yeah, so I'm actually originally from New Jersey. And when I was 18, I joined the Navy as fire patrol, which is basically the electronics that an electronics technician that works on weapon systems. Sort of always kind of had a technical background being, you know, when I got out of the Navy I first started up as a Direct TV technician which, you know, I didn't even know that I was going to like it when I was actually applying to the job I remember I was applying as an electronics technician for here in Virginia to a place in New Jersey. And when we talked about the entire job over the phone when I got there by an Electronics Technician, they meant Direct TV installations. Now, it wasn't exactly what I was expecting, but I gave it a shot anyway. And it turned out that I absolutely loved the installation of things. I got to play with electronics and toys and everything else. It was enjoyable. From there I graduated into doing TV mounts and then eventually I started doing home theaters. Then I started designing home theaters. Then I just want to put us right around 2009, I had a little bit of a setback when the housing market crashed. Unfortunately I had lost my job working at the time. And so I decided to go back to school. I got my Bachelor's degree in Accounting and right about the time that I finished up that degree, I had the epiphany say, I have all of this technical experience. I have the schooling background, let's take a shot at this. And I talked to my buddy Shawn, him and I started telling WSC Home Audio Video, July 26 2011.
Ron: Now the WSC name, what does that stand for?
Chris: Woulda Shoulda Coulda.
Ron: Woulda Shoulda Coulda. Are you serious?
Chris: No, it's Wuestewald Subbiondo company. Okay. So Sean's last name is, Wuestewald my last name is Subbiondo then company.
Ron: Got it. And Sean is still your business partner?
Chris: That's correct. Yes. He deals with all of the installation, the project management side of the other business now.
Ron: Okay. So let's talk about that. So you decided to go and start a business with a business partner or you both just started to start the business with each other. What was the plan of attack there? Was it to divide and conquer, distribute roles and responsibilities and was it, you know, just, it was a good buddy and you said, you know, let's figure it out and go for it?
Chris: You know, it's funny. So Shawn really didn't know much about this industry. You know, I had to teach him a lot of a lot of the ins and outs of the industry. But he did have very sound, solid business ethics and you know, we made it work. I started teaching him installations and eventually taught him sales. Now, you know, we're much more like ACEs in our places, I deal with a lot of the sales and customer service side of the business and he deals with the installation project management and you know, after service after job service department. He is very, very good at what he does. I don't really get in his way. I don't really ever have to he is just like, he doesn't get in my way. I continue to feed business and he continues to he continues to crank out results.
Ron: Got it. Understood. Now tell us a little bit about the business. How many people are on your team and what sort of roles are they in?
Chris: You know, it's funny cause you know, we started with it was, it's hard to believe that we started with just the two of us cause you know, fast forward to, you know, six and a half years to where we are now. I employ six technicians and administrative staff and it's kinda surreal and I mean I already knew that we had a good model for things, but, you know, people want to work with us and it's kind of relieving knowing that there are people out there that still take service seriously.
Ron: So you have six technicians is that three crews?
Chris: Six technicians and admin staff. So I have my sales assistant and I have the Admin Executive. And then I have four technicians.
Ron: Four technicians. So you're running two crews?
Ron: Okay. What does a typical project for WSC look like? I know I read in the notes here that you're a platinum Control4 dealer. That means you're certainly doing some projects you know, it's a pretty good volume. What does a typical project look like for you?
Chris: You know, it can be hard to say, we seem to get a lot of people that want to do some really interesting things, which, and that's really what the customer integration channel is all about. It's about developing something that you know, is maybe similar to something else but may not have been done before. Like in our typical projects. So we started out as home theater, really home theater type company developed into, you know, smart home integrations. And so most of our jobs are home theater. They are their whole house audio, networking distribution, smart home wiring. Yeah, pretty much what you would expect out of a company like ours. But we have some, we get a lot of interesting clients. Like we just got done at working with with a customer who we were able to successful views it Control4 and an Amazon Alexa to give them 100% control over everything in his household because he doesn't have the use of his arms and legs. And, you know, these are sort of life changing things for people.
Ron: How did he find you? How did that person find you and know to ask you to do such a thing?
Chris: So actually it wasn't him that found me. It was an organization. There was an organization called called Hope House, which is right here in Norfolk. And they were trying to find somebody who might be able to give that kind of voice control to Jesse, which is the customer. And Jesse was a great guy. He's, you know, he's very smart. He's wheelchair bound. He's doesn't really have the ability to use his arms and legs, he has a degenerative disease. And so everything we had to do, we had to take into consideration that you can't just open up an app in the event of an emergency. So we put in a Control4 system, a Pakedge network, everything has the ability to have the, you know, the electrical cut from it via use of PS09s. And and you know, so ultimately if he ever has a problem we could fix it. And because of Pakedge we get notifications about there's a problem before he even knows there's a problem, which is great because he can't just pick up a phone and call us and tell us there's a problem. We have to know that it's there and act proactively.
Ron: Interesting. Now speaking, I'm looking at my notes here for you and I see that you became I guess one of the first people in the United States to become PCNA certified, what is that and what does that mean?
Chris: So PCNA is Pakedge certified network administrator. So it is the first residential network based certification. Now there's only been the Cisco certifications and the Microsoft certifications out there for those, you know, for the commercial side of business. This is a certification specific to residential and like emulate commercial. And it was announced by Control4 at CEDIA 2017 and and I was among the first to complete the course.
Ron: Do you lead with that in your marketing? Do you tell your customers about that? How do you use that to your advantage?
Chris: I don't, you know, I don't have it in my marketing just yet, which we need..
Ron: Maybe you need to talk to your marketing company. Maybe we need to work on that.
Chris: My marketing company. I really do need to get that on the front page of the website. But I'm very, it can be difficult to educate residential customers that their whole networks, they require quite a bit of horsepower, quite a bit more than than ISP provided router or something that you were buying a Best Buy it and be able to provide for them. You know, I mean you can, you have a router and if you're just, you know, streaming on a couple of devices it's really nothing crazy, then you might be able to get away with something like $100 or $200 router. But if you have a house that's 4,000 square feet or better and you've got four children and you, your wife and you know, all four children all have an iPhone, an iPad, the laptop each and you know, each of you have TVs in all the rooms. It's a lot of devices on the network and it adds up quickly. Everything these days are not getting less connected. They're getting more connected. I mean, I had a customer asked me the other day if it's possible to integrate their toasters so the toaster can automatically make them toast when they wake up in the morning. And well that's great. We got a good laugh about it. The fact that matter is, is we're not that far away from that.
Ron: Right. What do you find the customer's awareness of the importance of the network and therefore the robustness, the appropriate robustness of network hardware and the attention to network design and installation. Do you find that they get it or that it requires a bit of selling or education?
"I find that most customers are less informed than they should be. And it can be challenging explaining to them why their free or $100 $150 router is just not going to cut it."
Chris: I find that most customers are less informed than they should be. And it can be challenging explaining to them why their free or $100 $150 router is just not going to cut it. And what makes it so difficult is that everything that is a network that, you know, that causes problems, they just attributed to, Oh well that's just technology. Like you get the spinning wheel on your Netflix because it's thinking and that's not, that's a big deal that it's spinning because your device is struggling to keep up with the program you're trying to do too much and that can be an issue. But it's easily resolved by having the right technology in place.
Ron: Now as an integrator, you have your choice of which manufacturers to partner with and you've chosen to partner with Control4 for automation and perhaps lighting and other categories. And you've in fact grown your volume with them pretty significantly. You know, if there's other integrators here listening, maybe people that are earlier in their startup phase and are just trying to figure out who to partner with, what were some of the processes that you've gone through that helped you delineate, Control4 is the right company for us?
Chris: So, jeez..
Ron: I know it's a heavy question.
Chris: Yeah. I mean, I don't know, trial and error. I mean, we'd first, where we had first gotten on board with URC and I want to, I don't want to necessarily knock on the URC product, University makes a fantastic product. It just wasn't for our company. When we discovered the Control4 we were using URC and I had a customer that we installed an entire total Control4 system for them and they said, Chris, we've had Control4 in the past and we just want to go back to Control4. And I couldn't convince them otherwise. Now, luckily this customer was great. They ended up trying, you know, paying us to go to the Control4 training and get Control4 certified just to do their job. What we didn't expect is that for us, Control4 was everything we were missing. I mean, it just hit us and it was perfect for our company. We loved it and we never looked back. Now, like I said, I'm not saying Total Control was a bad product. It was great for us. I made made huge strides with the new Total Control 2.0 platform. It looks really good, but I have a lot of faith in Control4. It's just, it works. It's remote. It's remote support. I can't tell you how many times a composer express has saved me a trip out to the out to the customer's house because they said something like their Roku is no longer functioning. And I go on there and I realized that the Roku was no longer being seen by the Control4 network and all I have to do is reset the Roku box. Well, if I've got a Pakedge network in there, I can reset the room or I can just say, Hey, Mr customer, do me a favor and unplug the Roku and everything starts working again right there. Five minute conversation truck roll saved, get back to doing business.
Ron: How has it impacted you? Control4 has been on a bit of a acquisition path the last few years? Right. They've purchased Pakedge. They'd purchased Triad speakers. They've purchased just recently in December. It was announced they purchased Ihiji. What's your read on that?
Chris: I think that they're looking at it like these are the products that customers want and if they're going to continue to be on relevant home automation and maybe like commercial automation type company. They're looking at it and saying, these are the types of products that we need to work on that we need to acquire. If you think about it as an integrator, I always tell my customers that, Hey, you could do your security monitoring with us. We could do your security and installation, we could do your cameras, we can do your audio, we can do your video. We can do everything for the customer. Or they can hire ADT. We can integrate with them or they can hire another company to take care of their cameras. We'll agree with them anyway, but when it comes time for service, when there's something broken, who do you call and we've always professed this, the customer saying, let us take care of it all. Not because I want to make more money because obviously I'd like to make more money or input. It really has to do with servicing them properly. It has to do with making it easy for them. If they press one button and that button doesn't work, then they press one more button and that button calls me. All right. All Control4 is doing is looking at the same exact way. If there's a problem with the receiver call Control4 if there's a problem with the speakers, call Control4 if there's a problem with the network, call Control4. It's the same exact thing. So it makes sense that they would take this approach because that's the way we think as custom integrators.
Ron: Couple more topics I want to touch on here. By the way, if you're out there watching live, thank you for watching and please give us a like I see some likes being thrown up there and please give us a comment or a question for Chris. I'll be happy to try to read it off to him and have him address it here for so it's recorded for posterity sake. Chris, you are also doing security monitoring so, and I know that unfairly cause we made some security signs for you recently. So not every integrator in the resi CI space is in security. You've chosen to add that. And how long have you been doing it and why is that a part of your mix?
"We've been doing security for about three years and like most companies we looked at it and said, Hey, recurring monthly revenue, why not? While the RMR is certainly nice. It's not the reason. The reason simply is one phone call for our customers."
Chris: We've been doing security for about three years and like most companies we looked at it and said, Hey, recurring monthly revenue, why not? While the RMR is certainly nice. It's not the reason. The reason simply is one phone call for our customers. I don't do that many security installations for somebody who is just looking to get security done. It is mainly as a service to our customers that are getting larger projects done and they want it to be smooth and seamless and one phone got it.
Ron: Understood. So you don't go out and chase security business, but you'll sell security services and contracts to your customers that you would normally be providing automation services to and such.
Chris: That's correct. That's correct.
Ron: That makes sense. So what do you see as the area of most interest or growth for you moving forward? When you look forward and you look at all the categories of business that you could be chasing and going after, what has you excited? What has your attention?
Chris: Automation in general is exciting every day trying to do things that, you know, may not have been done before. You know, listening to a customer, say, Hey, can I do this? And I can't tell you how many times I've had a customer say, Hey, can you make it do this, this, and this? And I'm like, yes. And they're like, great. And they sign off on the contract and I walk out of that meeting and say, man, how am I going to do this? I've gotta try and figure it out.
Ron: But the constant challenge is what excites you?
Chris: I am, I'm very excited by constant challenge.
Ron: Are you one of those guys, Chris, that when the pallet of product arriving from Control4 or somebody shows up in your warehouse, you're like a kid on Christmas morning opening all the boxes?
Chris: If I said no, would you believe me?
Ron: I wouldn't believe you. I wouldn't believe you. There are businesses of all different shapes and sizes that are going to be watching and, or listening to this. And you got your start, you know, six and a half years ago. What are some words of advice, some lessons that you've purchased over the years that you would say feel compelled to share with that person that's earlier in their startup phase of their business. What would you, what would be maybe two or three pieces of advice you could share?
Chris: You know, when you're first starting out, it's easy to get wrapped up in the head trash that says, I'm a new company and I need to be different than the next company by doing things that are obvious to customers. Like lowering your prices. Just as an example, you know, if you go and get a TV mount from Best Buy, you know that TV mount might cost you $199 for the service. If I was a new company when I was, when I was starting out, it was real easy to be able to say what best buy does it for $199. So I'm going to do it for $169. And it doesn't quite create the right ambiance. You need to understand what you're worth and what your value is. So I would say, you know, be patient in your pricing. I know it's hard to look at look at the flow of business that is coming into the business and saying, well, I really need this business. But the more desperate you are for that business, the more desperate you look to your customer and the more they can see it and smell it.
Ron: So no discounting, discounting bad.
Chris: I think I personally, there's nothing wrong with getting a 10% discount, but don't just discount arbitrarily, you know, don't just discount just because a customer says, well, Best Buy could do it for $199 stick to your guns, whatever you think your value is, stick to that value because in the long run it will make you a better person.
Ron: I agree. That's a great piece of advice. Any other advice for a startup earlier? Maybe not start up, maybe they've been going for a few years, but not quite getting the traction that they want.
Chris: Don't discount service. Don't underestimate the value of service because at the end of the day, anybody can sell one of these systems. They're not hard. All you have to do is get somebody excited. Say it'll integrate with Alexa. Next thing you know, they're signing a $100,000 contract and sales will very easily do this very quickly. All right, but the more customers you get, your service is going to start coming up. It's going to start coming up, going to start coming up. And if you're not addressing the customers that are being taken care of on the backend, of your existing customers, it will eventually come back to haunt you. And what's going to happen is you're going to find yourself with all of these service customers that your servicing and maybe you're doing it for free or worse. You're not servicing them at all. Your sales end up down here and eventually they both end up going down. Do not discount service, take it very seriously. If you have to, you know, be up there. CEDIA has a great seminar about introducing service plans into the business. It is a very high quality video that they do. Take it seriously. Go watch that video and figure out a way to make sure that if you're gonna do service number one, maybe you figure out a way to get paid for it. And number two, make sure you're putting strong value into it. Don't let your customers walk all over you, but at the same time, make sure you're picking up the phone when they call because it's easy for anybody to sell something. But there are lots of people out there. They're avoiding phone calls after the sale is made.
"I'm a big advocate for what they do. CEDIA has this industry's best interests in mind."
Ron: So you mentioned CEDIA, you're a member of CEDIA. I am. Why are you a member of CEDIA? I'm a big advocate for what they do. CEDIA has this industry's best interests in mind. They're not looking to, you know, there's enough companies out here that are fly by night. There's not people that are young, not trunk slammers that are, you know, throwing up TVs, throwing in these installations and disappearing.
"There are guidelines. They're certainly not a gospel and they're definitely not rules, regulations. But you have to start somewhere. And if you don't have a set of standards, what do you have? What is your foundation?
Regardless of what is good or bad for the customer. CEDIA is there to educate the people that are in this industry and make sure that we're all following a reasonable design on the guidelines. Now again, there are guidelines. They're certainly not a gospel and they're definitely not rules, regulations. But you have to start somewhere. And if you don't have a set of standards, what do you have? What is your foundation?
Ron: No, I agree. I've been a member of CEDIA since I started One Firefly back in 2007. I agree 100%. Chris, you recently remodeled your office showroom and that that's a big investment of time and money. It takes a lot of collaboration with vendors and I just would like a little bit of I guess foundation. What was the process you went through to determine that that was a good next move for your business?
Chris: So we were working with the customer and the customer was wanting to get, was teetering on the idea of putting multiple touchscreens in their home. They wanted to do just a traditional Intercom system, which is, you know, not really conducive in today's market anymore. They wanted to do a traditional Intercom system, but they also wanted audio. And so he was teetering on the idea of putting in seven inch touchscreens with Control4 into the system. And I was explaining that they integrate the doorbell and they integrate with an Intercom system in their office, your regular interface with Control4 system, no matter where you are. And he was skeptical, you're skeptical. And he was skeptical for one reason, one reason only. He couldn't lay his hands on the product and it didn't cost me the job, but realistically it could have. And so we built a showroom not really to show off, like let's you know, what is I guess show off. There's not really the right word. It's really just to put into the system that we get asked a lot of questions about, you know, so we've got things like the doors station, you know, the Control4 DS 2 door station. We've got one that's flushed and we've got one that's surface mounted just so we could show a customer the difference between the two. And then we've got a Nest thermostat and a thermostat showing that it doesn't matter which one they choose, they both integrate into the system. It's just a matter of, you know, what they're comfortable with.
Ron: Okay. Is your remodel done? I see a couple of wires poking out of the wall there? Over your right hand shoulder.
Chris: Yeah. No, we're still working on it. Pay no attention to the wires behind the the curtain here. Yeah, we're getting there. A lot of realistically we've actually got the remainder of the furniture that's supposed to show up today or this on Friday. And then we're hoping that maybe by the the 1st of April we're gonna have ourselves a launch party probably the first week of April. March now.
Ron: Awesome. Well, Chris, congratulations sir. On your continued growth and success. I know you and I've had, you know, certainly a lot of offline conversations and you're seeing some pretty tremendous growth over you know, the past several years and that's exciting and scary all at the same time. So Congratulations. It's obviously you're a hardworking man, I know you work seven days a week and like many people in this industry, you work seven days a week. So congratulations.
Chris: Well, thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you very much for having me on the show.
Ron: No, I appreciate it. It was a lot of fun to have you. So let me go ahead and jump over here and I'm going to wrap up. Ladies and gentlemen, it is a just a little bit after one. Thank you for joining me here on Automation Unplugged. So it's episode 37 and had Chris Subbiando from WSC Home Audio Video out of Chesapeake, Virginia. So thanks for joining me. And I will be back next week. So stayed tuned next Wednesday for another fun guest. And on that note, I am signing off and I will see you guys and gals next time. Be well.
Chris's career began in the Navy and was followed with his pursuits in Direct TV installation. He was intrigued by the installation side of things and decided to start WSC Home Audio Video alongside his partner. Chris was the 13th person in the United States to obtain the newest PCNA certification and WSC Home Audio Video has achieved platinum dealer status with Control4. WSC has been voted best of Angie's list and home advisor every year for 5 years in a row now.
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.
You can also learn more about WSC at https://virginiahomeaudio.com/ Be sure to follow them on Facebook and LinkedIn.