Home Automation Podcast Episode #130: An Industry Q&A With Shaun Schuetz
In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, Shaun Schuetz of AudioQuest, shares his love for Star Wars and how he was able to do charity work with the Star Wars Costuming Community and thoughts on CEDIA going virtual.
This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Shaun Schuetz. Recorded live on Wednesday, July 22nd at 12:30 p.m. EST.
About Shaun Schuetz
With over 20 years of experience in the consumer electronics industry, Shaun has called on mom-and-pop shops, custom integration firms of all sizes all the way up to mass-market big-box chains such as Best Buy.
Shaun joined AudioQuest in 2012 with the opportunity to live in Taipei for four years representing their distributors throughout Asia.
In 2016, Shaun and his family moved back to the States and has held multiple positions including his current role as AudioQuest's VP of Sales for the Americas.
- Shaun’s background and how he got into the consumer electronics industry
- Cultural differences Shaun encountered during his four years in Asia
- Shaun’s love for Star Wars and how he was able to do charity work with the Star Wars Costuming Community, 501st Legion while in Taiwan and now throughout the US.
- Shaun’s thoughts on CEDIA 2020 going virtual
Ron: Hello. Hello. Ron Callis here with another episode of Automation Unplugged. We are here for show number 130. Today is Wednesday, July 22nd. It is just a little bit past 12:30 and I'm gonna go ahead and check in to Facebook and see if it seems that we are live and we'll see if technology is cooperating. I do see that my software is acting a little weird I normally see all of your feed here and I don't see that today but I do see over here that you guys are there. I may not be able to be as responsive to you as I would like to be in putting your comments up on the screen but I do have my team tuning in and they will be sure to comment and respond to you if you guys post and you never know. Without further ado I know you're here to hear from our guest and that is Shaun Schuetz V.P. of Sales for the Americas for AudioQuest and super excited to have Shaun on the show. Let me go ahead and see if I can bring him on. Shaun, how are you, sir?
Shaun: I'm doing really great Ron. Good seeing you this morning.
Ron: Likewise. Where are you coming to us from; where is your domicile?
Shaun: The COVID-19 domicile or bunker. Southern California so Ranch Santa Margarita basically inside Orange County in lovely Southern California today.
Ron: Awesome. Well, I appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule and when I say busy schedule I know you're taking care of the Americas. Is that North and North Central and South America? All of that's your domain for AudioQuest?
Shaun: Yeah that's all the domain and it's busy during this pandemic is an understatement. It's very busy which is a good thing.
Ron: Are you traveling or are you doing everything virtual from the bunker or what are you doing?
Shaun: Everything virtual traveling maybe downstairs the living room which I think conveniently now is renamed LMR. Maybe the garage maybe the park.
Ron: All right. Now I know that there's an acronym I'm supposed to know the name. What's LMR?
Shaun: I think that's living room. There are some memes that have come out that have shown an airport code for parts of the house. The bedroom I think is BRM.
Ron: I can't help but notice all the Star Wars stuff in the background and I of course am going to ask you at least one hundred questions. My son is 11 and he's the biggest Star Wars fan on the planet. And I told him I was going to be interviewing a Star Wars expert. At least most of my interview will be about Star Wars and then a few other questions. As long as that's ok.
Shaun: Fine by me. I think some people during this have been probably watching a little bit of Mandalorian. We'll take a relief from normal life and talk about Star Wars. That's fine.
Ron: I love it and I just was watching Mandalorian behind the scenes stuff this weekend. And so I definitely want to go down that path with you. But before I do that for those that are watching or listening and they may not know you and I know that might be very few and far between that don't know you and or no AudioQuest. But do you mind taking us through your background, what's your origin story? How did you land in this V.P. of Sales role?
Shaun: Or origin story as we're talking about superheroes.
Ron: Exactly I figured it was appropriate.
Shaun: We just re-watched Spider-verse again for Spider-Man. Speaking of origin.
Ron: Such an excellent cartoon movie and a killer soundtrack. It won the Oscar didn't it?
Shaun: Yeah it did. And number two I believe is slated for next year for animation. End of the Spider-verse 2 I believe it's 2021 or 2022.
Ron: Same creative team behind the first one?
Shaun: Same formatting same creative team and everything. Yeah me and the boys are excited about that. I have two little Star Wars fans. Two boys, six and four. Oldest named Skye. The youngest is named Solomon or we call him Solo for short. I'll let the audience connect the dots on where their names came from.
Ron: That's awesome.
Shaun: Yeah. Solo is either going to be a smuggler or he's going to be a very wise king someday. I guess it's 50/50. But yeah you asked what my origin story or the background of it. It's very interesting to tie years to it now because I've probably been in the industry over 20 years now which is still crazy to see that kind of number. But I started in this on accident where I went to school for mechanical engineering. I was bored doing engineering dropped out. Was doing some odd jobs at 19 and then I basically want to go play PlayStation. I was like I'm going to Best Buy and I go there for a week. And I was looking for work and thought this is kind of a cool place to work. This is back in '99. I've applied for a job and then next thing I know 13 years later, basically work for Best Buy on all forms of retail work and I think I counted six different states as far north as Alaska. I worked up there for a year and then probably almost six years of that I worked for the Magnolia side of the business.
I really got into high-performance audio, high-end custom projects. I think the store ran we had nine salespeople, six install crews and we were doing projects from five grand to a quarter-million-dollar projects that were actually fun. Back in 2012, I had the opportunity with AudioQuest to move away from retail or migrate away from retail. And of all things moved to Asia. In 2012, I took an opportunity with AudioQuest and moved to Taipei Taiwan, live there, and actually work with all the distributors in about 17 countries in Asia. I spent four years traveling over Asia, working with integrators, retailers, distributors all through the entire Asia Pacific region from Australia New Zealand all the way over to India and everything in between. And then four years ago my wife and I and two boys because both were born in Taiwan, had the luxury of coming back to the states. Definitely some things we miss being in Asia.
Ron: I imagine the food had to be pretty spectacular.
Shaun: Yeah it's not bad. Food is pretty spectacular and as my wife would probably joke and my wife originally is from Taiwan. She grew up there but she's been in the States 20 years now. I'll let you do the math on it, she'd kill me if I was talking about her age right now. But yeah she's constantly 27 anyways.
Ron: Permanently 27. My wife is permanently 27.
Shaun: I know we miss the food and my wife when we moved back she said "We have Trader Joe's again so we can go back there and get our daily fix of T.J. so to speak." Moved back four years ago, was a Regional for AudioQuest actually in the Midwest. I was working with a lot of dealers and distributors from basically Nebraska all the way up through Minnesota Wisconsin etc.. And then almost actually it's going to be three years ago October took over as VP of Sales for the Americas.
Ron: What prompted the move back from Asia? Was that your decision you guys were ready to get back into the States or was it some other business decision that prompted that?
Shaun: When I came to AudioQuest, I was open-ended. I joke sometimes, grew up Wisconsin born and bred north side of Milwaukee that you take a kid from Wisconsin you throw them in Asia. Not really sure how long how long that's going to last. It's a really big culture change and we had a lot of fun and it was open-ended as far as time. Whether it was two years or five years or ten years and the timing just worked out right where there was an opportunity back here in the States to basically migrate back to the US at the time work with some other bigger accounts that AudioQuest has. And so it's really just timing the timing worked out to move back.
"You had the luxury of calling on so many countries."
Ron: What are some of the cultural differences in Asia that you found the most interesting or desirable. You had the luxury of calling on so many different countries.
Shaun: It's so vastly different. You go from countries like Japan that you know every single meeting is a formal occasion. It's like Italy as far as a dress, everybody is dressed exceptionally nice and it's a suit and it's very formal. In Singapore it's very laid back. Culturally, things like public transportation I've talked about. It's interesting that public transportation we miss. We move back to L.A. and Orange County we're like oh we have to drive on the 405 at 5:00 again? Let's go back to going to a train or a bus that's 50 cents and just easy to get around town. I think that part is a miss, the ease of where we lived in Taipei. And for those that don't know, Taipei itself is eight million plus people but very condensed. We would walk downstairs walk and we'd have 10 or 15 little local restaurants that we would go to that we're inexpensive really good, but walking distance. For any of those listening in New York City, that type of experience. Orange County or a lot of the US, it's more spread out where you drive to where you want to go. But having that condensed walking distance for restaurants in cities like Hong Kong and Taiwan and in Tokyo, that's pretty cool because there are so many options within a five-minute walk sometimes.
Ron: Now how is integration different it or is it different in those countries.
Shaun: It's very different. You take a country like Japan with very small domiciles where everybody lives. Your average TV size is maybe forty-seven inches. Where here it's eighty-six and how big we go with it with screens and such. In-wall speaker business for example for a category, that's not that popular because they can't really put it into that big a business. Construction in Taiwan, we were trying to figure out how to get some cool audio in our place we lived in Taiwan and it is all brick and mortar cinder block construction. You're not running wires with that, it's it's exterior or they're literally chiseling out a channel in the cinder block to try to lay in a conduit to run wire. Building construction is different. I think the one thing that's not different is as I travel through each country it was really eye-opening of as different as cultural things were and construction, people are really the same. And when I say that, I remember being in India for example with our distributor and we had this really awesome custom dealers. Custom as we know it, the CEDIA type integration. It's huge in India. I remember being there and we're talking about selling performance and how you convey value to customers. And the one where we hear an objection from a sales guy. But in India people won't spend the money.
And I rewound to when I moved to Alaska with Best Buy and I moved to Alaska at the time back in '04. I moved up there and the store's underperforming and in the exact words came out of the salespeople there and they said "People in Alaska won't buy this, it doesn't matter what it is. Well, they won't buy this." And it's funny talking this guy in India 10 years later and reliving my story from Alaska where it's not about the customers but it's about the perception. It's how about we build value in what they're buying. And yes there's different cultural objections and things like that to work through but ultimately people are people. If they don't see value in a product or service or good they're not gonna buy it. And a lot of times that's you that you're selling. But that was, that commonality talked about an even playing field. India is a very different country and very humbling to see. I'll see the gaps and things like financial gaps.
Ron: Between wealth and disparity in society.
Shaun: How humbling in the inth degree but again, had a level playing field of just really how much more similar everybody is in the markets are outside of the cultural differences. That was that was eye-opening.
Ron: Yeah. Are you happy to be back in the States? How are you in the family? You've been back for four years. Are you feeling settled in?
Shaun: Yeah we're feeling settled in and we've been trying to go back every year and a half. My wife took our two boys back to Taiwan last year for about a month. Her family is back there so her mom and dad cousins. It's nice that they were able to go back for a month work on their work on Chinese and just embracing the culture there. Then we went back probably about a year and a half earlier for two weeks actually sorry. It was almost a month actually went back. We're here but we also were trying to make sure the boys were pretty global.
Ron: Language. Are you bilingual or do you speak more than English?
Shaun: Well English I would say is still under in progress if you will. I studied Chinese. It's always funny how life takes us on paths like working for Best Buy, I was taking Chinese night classes just because. And this is back, I don't know. '09 or '10 and I was like you know what? It seemed like something fun to do, there may be a certain business trend that's gearing towards China. I'll take my class and I took night classes for two years and then fast forward a couple of years later took an option to move to Taiwan and work in Taiwan and Hong Kong and stuff. I don't know if I would say bilingual and it's like anything I've got to practice it. My Chinese is OK. My listening is better, if I spend a week in Taiwan it gets much better because I get reimbursed back into it. Spanish I would say is so/so. It's English Chinese and then Spanish.
Ron: I'm gonna ask you to say something about Automation Unplugged or One Firefly in Chinese. Can I put you on the spot? Does anything come top of mind that our Chinese speaking listeners would know what you're saying?
Shaun: Yes. Put me on the spot. (Dennis speaks in Chinese and then translates to English) I'm really happy that Ron is one of my good friends. And I'd say One Firefly is awesome.
Ron: That's amazing. When we start dubbing the show into Chinese, some version of that's going to be in my intro or outro. Just so you know.
Shaun: Chinese is interesting because how we speak of you know Ron you're my good friend the Chinese the way that the Chinese words go. Look at Josh dropping in Chinese. The way that the Chinese language goes, it goes reversed. A lot of times it's instead of I'm going to the store it's the store I'm going to. On the fly try and translate in your head. It takes a minute or two.
Ron: And just so we're clear, you are seeing comments on your side?
Shaun: I've seen Josh Willis. I've seen him drop in some Chinese characters and I do not read characters so. Thanks Josh.
Ron: Oh, you know what? I just clicked over. This is clear as in most cases when customers call you guys, you integrators, and you say this isn't working and it's user error. This was user error so I'm glad you told me you were seeing that because I had to click something in my software and now I see everyone's comments. So that's fantastic. Thank you guys. I'll put on screen whatever Josh is saying I hope it's polite Josh because if not the world is seeing it here.
Shaun: Baseball is really huge in Taiwan and Japan but in Taiwan, first of all if you've never experienced a baseball game in Asia, it's insane. Go to a baseball game here. Sports and baseball coming up this week. Everybody's sitting down. Maybe there's some chance to get toward the end of the game. The World Baseball Classic was in Taiwan when I was living there and we went to go see Taiwan versus South Korea. The entire game. All nine innings. Everybody stands. Every single batter that's at bat. Everybody is chanting they're drumsticks together. And the Giallo slogan is add oil but it means basically means Go or however you want to translate that. Baseball experience in Asia is crazy because it's packed. Pre-COVID type experience. But the energy is like I'd say college football type energy in a stadium where it is different but it's also baseball so makes the experience a little bit different too.
Ron: That sounds amazing. I'm always fascinated by folks by the way that can speak multiple languages. My wife's from Brazil and she speaks English Portuguese and Spanish all fluently read write and can speak it. And I just I'm just so fascinated how someone can do that. I don't know I think Asian languages strike me as harder because they're not Latin based. And so it's really a totally different way of thinking and speaking. So good job. Congratulations.
Shaun: How's your Portuguese Ron?
Ron: I've got a whole inventory of dirty words but that's about it.
Shaun: I've traveled to Brazil a couple of times to visit our distributor there in the south of Brazil. Before the show we were talking, it's a flight from Houston to Sao Paulo Sao Paolo to Coritiba and then Cortiba was a two hour drive down to Joinville. But it was interesting going down there. An awesome group of folks down there but listening. My one Portuguese is "obrigado" which is "thank you" But how much if you understand a little bit of Spanish that you can really start to piece it together really well. But yeah all my Portuguese is clean.
Ron: I understand when my wife speaks say to her mother or to family or friends and she speaks Portuguese I understand probably more than I'd let on. But I couldn't put those words together to make sentences. I know enough vocabulary. My vocabulary is probably some hundreds of words maybe a few hundred words so I can generally get concepts of sentences but it's not very helpful. If you dropped me in Brazil and asked me to get around there'd be a lot of sign language and miming versus words. I want to jump to just a different topic here and that is I'm just curious and maybe for my audience because I didn't know this and you had mentioned this to me in recent conversations, just the amount of custom work that Magnolia stores do. The Magnolia stores maybe for those that aren't familiar educate what is a Magnolia store? How many of them are there and what's the typical type of business or the volume that these stores are that these locations are doing?
Shaun: Yeah. Best Buy, rewind back to 2002 they bought Magnolia based out of Seattle and had this aspiration to build a nationwide integration company essentially. Take the Magnolia model that was doing really well at the time and scale it. And I will say that being part of the experience from the inside and then obviously being on the outside. Everybody is learning as they try to build out and scale things. But essentially what it is today, the Magnolia Design Centers, they have approximately 90 locations across the United States and they operate. I would say very identical to a lot of our integrators. They house 8 to 15 sales staff that are commission. They're not just working retail so to speak. A lot of them, a good percentage of them, rely on referral business just like a lot of our integrators. And then they work with projects anywhere from the quick hang and bang type small projects. TV mounting projects from five grand all the way up to a quarter-million dollars half a million dollars. There's been a few seven-figure projects they've endeavored upon and kind of everything in between. Obviously having the engineering and design elements on the back end of that to help out with those sort of projects. Projects the same size of a lot of our integrators.
Ron: What's a typical revenue? Topline revenue if that if that is public information?
Shaun: I'd have to double-check that but I would say on the high end it's probably as big as some of the integration companies that are out there. But I have to double-check that that's public information if I 'm honest.
Ron: Yeah. I don't want anyone getting in trouble here. But there are 90 medium to large integrators around the country and most even in my mindset and I know a lot of people I talked to they wouldn't they be generally or historically count those Magnolia stores in that integration story. Maybe that's just my ignorance but I appreciate you educating me.
Shaun: Happy to.
Ron: Star Wars. I appreciate the Mando helmet behind you but talk to us. What is your affiliation with Star Wars? This is the first interview I've done that I've got various stormtrooper helmets and paraphernalia in the background. Tell our audience what your connection with the Star Wars universe is.
Shaun: Sure. I'm going to publicly call out my friend Klaus that may not be listening. He is in Denmark at the moment but I'll explain my background but he's considered a pretty close friend. His son's name is Luke. I'll let you connect those dots by the way.
Ron: I've got to put this on screen. Frederick says, "This is the way."
"The local people dressed up as storm troopers to escort her to the homecoming and it was a hit and actually got news publicized around the world."
Shaun: He has a son named Ben by the way. I'm just gonna also throw Fred under the bus there. Klaus is funny because Klaus does a lot of work with Steinway and Dolby and for the last five years he's been teasing, "Hey we're gonna go to Skywalker." He's a member of Skywalker Vineyard. He's been up there numerous times and one of these days we're actually gonna make it up there, hopefully after COVID and we can travel a bit. But that's the Mecca if you will, to travel to. Going backwards for a second, my affiliation was like a lot of people. I'm 41 years old and one of the first movies I think I saw in the theater was Return Of The Jedi. I and just grew up with the fandom and I think the things you see behind me. I will say there are three full costumes also that you don't see here today. It actually started once I moved to Taiwan. I always had friends that were involved in what's called the Star Wars costuming community and there's a club called The 501st. The 501st Legion is global there's actually 12000 plus members. In 2019 they raised over a million dollars for different charities whether it's Alzheimer's or other ones. There are multiple different charities they work with to raise money through basic costuming and it's all-volunteer. What happened was my friends were involved and I said, "I'm never gonna get costumes or helmets." I said, "That's too dirty." And then fast forward to me living in Taiwan. I was like Man I'd like to meet some more people and have some more friends outside of just work stuff. The local group there was like 30 people and they'd get together and they dress up as stormtroopers and other Star Wars characters and they do charity events in Taiwan. And finally I was talking with my wife. "I think I'm going to cross the threshold and they give me a full stormtrooper costume and do this. That was back actually six years ago.
It was a blast actually the first time I dressed up was actually when Disney put out a big promotion at Disney Hong Kong where they flew in one hundred of us from 13 different countries. We had to pay for airfare but they put us up in a hotel for a night and it was a parade they did for everybody in Hong Kong that day and it was the first time meeting all these people. I was super nervous, it was the first time I was dressing up as a stormtrooper and I see all these other people intimidated but I think the one cool thing is it was like our industry when we do get together face to face and break bread. Even though it's 13 countries and people I'd never met before but in five minutes it is instant family. That kind of got me hooked. I can be doing really nerdy charity work where I can dress up and do Make a Wish and other foundations and work but also be able to have fun with it. There was a girl being bullied. Bullying campaigns or anti-bullying campaigns are really big in the group. And I remember this story that she was say 14 years old about go to homecoming. She was getting super bullied sorry I won't go into detail here but basically she loved Princess Leia so she dresses as Princess Leia for homecoming. The local people dressed up as storm troopers to escort her to the homecoming and it was a hit and actually got news publicized around the world. There was a campaign that she regressed got super depressed and was getting bullied again. I was having a business trip down after this Hong Kong event and our local group in Taiwan actually had a customized shirt made for that with her name on it and locals kind of Star Wars patch and this other stuff and gifts. When I flew down there, I took an hour out of the way with one of my local friends down in Australia to go surprise her with all these gifts and that kind of embodied what the group was about. It's about we joked dressing up as plastic spaceman. But it's really about bringing smiles people's faces and through charity events. But it was also through seeing her face to surprise her that someone had flown from Taiwan to bring these gifts for her just to say you're awesome. Keep things up and don't let other people get you down. Hanging out in a little city it's about two hours north was a blast and again most of those people besides Facebook or social media, I've never talked to in person but within five minutes, instant family. I guess that affection for Star Wars has grown a little bit. I brought the Mandalorian helmet just for you today.
Ron: I appreciate that. Out of curiosity, do you have a favorite Star Wars film?
Shaun: Actually my favorite is actually the animated series. Clone Wars.
Ron: They're so good. My son and I consumed the whole thing over the last six months. It was an amazing TV show.
Shaun: Yeah it's a sad day for Tony who's the kind of the brainchild behind that who by the way you know he also wrote the Avatar Last Airbender series. So he came from that but he was really the last person to be an understudy to George and really just absorbed everything. The Clone Wars, forget Star Wars, forget it's animated. The storytelling was so good and so in-depth.
Ron: So rich, so textured. The characters are so well developed. You understand all the main characters and all their idiosyncrasies. I love content when it's well-written and character development is really built out versus replacing that with action or noise. I don't know if it was a children's series or not. My son did find it and start consuming it but I wouldn't let him watch an episode without me.
Shaun: Yeah. And I think my boys, especially my 6-year-old he's been going through a lot of them. But as we watch them you also realize that the amount of levels of things they touch on, societal levels of wealth disparity. They do put things a lot of different levels. That's where the storytelling was so good. And it's interesting about as we were consuming different types of media during this whole COVID-19 crisis or pandemic that Mandalorian which has been obviously a huge hit, Season 2 comes out this fall. Dave Filoni, this was his crossover to live action. A lot of the reviews have been like this is good storytelling. You and I were talking about a week or so about the technology behind it. It looks and it feels awesome. But the storytelling is really good. Dave Filoni and John Fabro together are the brainchildren behind that.
Ron: For those that are listening or watching and they don't understand the difference in the technology when they filmed Mandalorian, can you put it into your words what happened on Mandalorian that made it so different and unique in terms of TV production?
"It's a game-changer and how they can make productions without having to really go anywhere."
Shaun: Yeah. Picture this. They shoot movies nowadays and you want to get a scene that either you have this really big set you build or you go someplace live. You go to The Empire Strikes Back. They were literally in Norway if I remember right and they shot it onsite in the middle of a blizzard and that's how they captured the hot snow scene. With Mandalorian, and you can catch this on Disney Plus, they show that most of what you're seeing while it's actual props in the set is there, all you're seeing the background the sky that is all digital screens that are in real-time changing. The light is changing to reflect shadows and reflections, all real-time. It's a digital set with full digital screens that they were able to shoot on, basically not have to go onsite for anything. They have the set and then the adoption of a 180-degree bubble that they're inside. I'm not explaining it really well but to see it and see the YouTube videos or what they put on Disney Plus, it is super cool. Yes it's a game-changer and how they can make productions without having to really go anywhere which is pretty cool.
"As the camera's changing position, it's as if the virtual environment on all the walls and ceiling are changing."
Ron: Yeah. Jon Favreau is the Executive Producer and or the creator of the show. He's been doing all the Marvel stuff. The Iron Man stuff and most recently and then he did The Lion King and then before that he did The Jungle Book and he and Jon Favreau was really pushing the boundaries with new technologies that would enhance the lifelike action on screen. But meanwhile trying to leverage technology. My son and I, we play a lot of Fortnite. I play on my phone, my son plays on his PlayStation and it's our thing and he and I had been totally geeking out about the parent company called Epic. It is really one of the innovators as it relates to the latest technology and game engine design. It was actually a game engine that they used on Mandalorian so that all the screens are basically you're immersed in a game virtual environment that's being projected on to the ceiling and the walls and true parallax. As the camera's changing position, it's as if the virtual environment on all the walls and ceiling are changing. All the light reflections on Mando's helmet are real. They're not CG. They're not post-production. As if the show and the scripting weren't already amazing, the technology is pretty darn cool. Hard to not geek out.
Shaun: Yeah and actually, last interesting point, I was watching something actually yesterday or the day before. Clone Wars finished up and there's this massive duel that goes between one of the characters of Soca and Darth Maul. Typically in animation they animate. But this one they actually mocaped or motion-captured it with Ray Park, Ray obviously was the original Darth Maul. I'd have to look up her name but she's another martial artist stunt woman that she was the other mocap counterpart to Ray and what was interesting I didn't realize this. First you watch it you're like this is an animation like this looks like it's it's too fluid it feels too real to how they're interacting and fighting. What was interesting when they shot it is there is a rig that they were able to watch Real Time with motion capture. But what Filoni saw is he saw the animation. While they were fighting going through motion capture he was seeing the raw animation of how this would look before it goes to post. He was able to really coach it on the animation side live as he was mocaping it. And that's another one where animation I think is taking a whole different level. They can mocap animation where it's much more realistic like that or you get much more emotionally involved and it doesn't feel like it's just drawn. Again, there's a lot of groundbreaking technologies of how we're consuming entertainment that we're at the forefront of it right now.
Ron: I'm a big fan of fantasy and sci-fi in my TV shows and movies and this new era really of incorporating technology into moviemaking. It's exciting. You know if you think about what the future is going to hold and all the talented creative people in Hollywood and around the world that are now going to be able to do so much more of immersing us in these virtual spaces. I think it's going to be a lot of fun to watch now. Question for you. Of course, I have to ask as a stormtrooper you are I think what we would call a professional stormtrooper . Have you or your buddies been in any of the movies or is that how it works or how does it work in movies and TV shows?
Shaun: Yeah, so I regretfully say no, I have not. There's always casting events that happen where Force Awakens came out. There was a Honda commercial with Storm Troopers in it and they'll do what they call high profile casting through Lucas Films and they put it out to the group and then people can submit for them. Mandalorian, December, a year and a half ago it came out there was a casting call in L.A. First of all it said hey you need you available for a whole week. And I was like well I can't take a whole week off work. As much fun as that would be, I can't do that. But fast forward to there's an annual event called Star Wars Celebration ten thousand people show up in the city just for Star Wars. And I'm sitting with a buddy of mine whose name is Jacko and we're sitting there talking and we're having a good time one night and the next day they roll out the trailer for Mandalorian and they roll out. We used I think was something like 20 plus 501st members as stormtroopers in the show. If anybody has watched it at the end when you see a bunch of the stormtroopers, a lot of that they brought in and passionate members from the 501st. But they had no idea. And I mentioned my friend Jacko because the next day they announce this and they show that picture that was Filoni and the entire cast for Mandalorian along with all the 501st and they show the picture. And here I see my friend Rick my friend Jacko. I'm escaping of other names. Five or so other people I know personally and I had some expletive of words I said that turned into him. How long have you been sitting on this? He's like we're under NDA. We couldn't say anything for six months. I still can't say anything except that I was on the show and at one point you're like super jealous but you're super excited too because now it's come out and it's part of the behind the scenes that they've shown. But super cool that Filoni was like, We need a lot of stormtroopers. I know some guys." He put out the call and here 30 or 40 people show up and they're extras. I guess Disney actually recently added them to IMDb So everybody that was on the show now has an affiliation or a credit for being on the show through IMDb which was a cool move by Disney to be able to do that for them. Yeah, I personally know people who have been storm troopers since I watched from afar.
Ron: This is the second Star Wars affiliation I've had on the show. I've got to think of how many shows ago I had Alex on from Audio Control and Alex, I want to say he was in The First Hope. The original Star Wars he was a child alien in the bar scene. Did you know that?
Shaun: I talk to Alex on a pretty regular basis and we've never.
Ron: You have got to talk Star Wars with him man. The news broke here on Automation Unplugged that he had been in the original Star Wars.
Shaun: That's news to me. So obviously Alex, I owe you a call to talk about that.
Ron: That's funny. That was fun to go down that path and just by the way that different stormtrooper helmets behind you. I went to the wide shot here so that everyone can see those. Can you quickly go through what the differences are in the helmet types?
Shaun: So here's the interesting one there's actually twenty-five behind me but there are three glass cabinets here that you can't see.
Ron: Oh I do I see it there yes.
Shaun: I'll show you one because you mentioned Clone Wars, it's kind of cool. If you watch Clone Wars and Captain Rex.
Ron: Oh yeah.
Shaun: I had a friend of mine who is really good at custom art. All of this is hand-painted hand-drawn.
Ron: This is Rex's hat, right?
Shaun: This is Rex's helmet. But all the rest are regular stormtroopers. But is there something funny that people do matchups. This was a project recently to do a tactical stormtrooper that looks like he's a SEAL Team 6 but stormtrooper. It's fake NBG on there.
Ron: That is so cool. Is there like an online store for stormtrooper helmets where you acquire these or are these are custom made?
Shaun: Custom made. A lot of this is so matchmaking models as a kid. You break apart models and glue things together. Basically stormtrooper armor and anybody that you see that's ever dressed up in a baseball game or hockey game or events. They build it on their own. It comes as a kit, it's all loose. So it's Velcro and glue and snaps and duct tape, all put to piece it together. There's not a store but there's plenty of the community. You go to CEDIA, for example, there's a form for everything on CEDIA. Star Wars there's a forum for every single costume that's out there of tips and tricks and people helping each other out that are doing it for the first time.
Ron: What do you know about Mandalorian? When is the new season? Were they able to film it before COVID? And is it in post-production or was that being held up?
Shaun: My understanding, I know nothing more than any of us with really good Google skills. My understanding is they finished it and it's still slated for October release and that was one of the shows that they were able to wrap up. All shooting before everything shut down for COVID. We have more and more things to consume here come fall which is good.
Ron: Oh, this is so good. This is exciting news. Can't wait to tell my son that that event is coming. All right. Believe it or not, we've been going for quite a bit here and I still have 80 percent of my topics I still want to ask you about. I'm going to have to prioritize here. First of all, I'm going to put on the screen here your website just so that everyone can see who you work for who you represent. I normally would have done this at the beginning but I forgot what is AudioQuest? What is the company that you represent? What do they do and what do they represent for the industry?
Shaun: It's interesting. I'll mention both companies because we did have an acquisition that happened back in January. You have two companies really, AudioQuest which a lot of you are familiar with. And AudioQuest has been around now 40 years, founded by Bill Lowe and we've always been a high-performance cable manufacturer but as a lot of anybody that's ever dealt with AudioQuest, we have a pretty big catalog. We've always wanted to fulfill really any need from every price range. For cables, we have cables that are $40 retail for HDMI. Absolutely. Do we also play on the high end and I will say have some of the most badass speaker and power cables out there? Our highest forty thousand dollars retail. We play on all ends of the spectrum which also means we play in every single channel whether it's retail, custom integrator and then I'll say high-end performance custom types. High-end performance shops that deal with companies like Magico and such.
Ron: You're telling me that Metallica, the band that has AudioQuest cables in their studio is that their home studio or their studio?
Shaun: Yeah , I would have to go back and look at which studio they used it with. But the pro side you and I were talking about. We have a lot of people that are on the pro side that they become AudioQuest fans through their home systems.
Ron: And you are educating me so I'm actually going to put on the screen. Let me pull that off here and I'm gonna put on the screen this way. This is my fancy AudioQuest XLR Yukon cable. And I actually called you because I was like I know this is supposed to be pretty cool but can you educate me? What is the coldness factor? You were telling me about copper and air tubes and all this sort of cool stuff. That of course everyone listening knows what all this is so I'm like the novice newbie here.
Shaun: But I see I see Joey Peacox on and Joey could probably educate all of us really well.
Ron: Dave Ellington's our Director of Sales for AudioQuest. He lives down in Houston so he's one of Joey's friends mentors and an all-around awesome dude.
Shaun: Yeah, we use our analogy a lot of times at AudioQuest that it's like mac and cheese and all of us understand mac and cheese and all of us have had the ninety-nine cents mac and cheese that does its job. It gets us through college or whatever our time is that we're going through and then we've had the mac and cheese with custom made French cheeses and maybe dropping a little crab and the noodles are handmade. The reason we use that analogy it's just all about the ingredients you use and you can have commodity cable manufacturers, they choose their ingredients for price. It works. It does the job. For us, we can choose different ingredients that cost more money but the ultimate goal for us is lowering noise and distortion and therefore getting the most out of your systems. If it has less noise and distortion, therefore you're gonna get more out of your systems and that's every single thing. You mentioned air tubes and different types of metal and different types of insulation. All those are the ingredients that we can be able to to work with that work within to be able to have different performance levels of cable that are out there.
Ron: What if any during this and I know that you did mention you also had a recent acquisition if you can just share with the audience what that was?
Shaun: Yeah. The Quest Group which is the parent company of AudioQuest still owned by Bill Lowe, so everything is still a single owner. We fully acquired Golden Ear or Golden Ear Technology back on January 1st. Alot of people know Sandy Gross and the companies he built with Definitive Technology, as well as Polk Audio and Sandy and Bill, had been talking for a while and we essentially consummated the acquisition January 1st. Now we have both brands, separate sales team that manages Golden Ear there. A lot of people here might know David Penrod. David's Director of Sales for Golden Ear for North America. That acquisition has been like a lot of acquisitions. It's always fun to go through that and learn the dealers and the intricacies. But that's been a fun addition as a brand and speakers that we have to complement Audio Quest out there.
Ron: Inside of the AudioQuest lineup. Have you noticed any changes in habits or patterns for me they're your integrator customers or the consumers out there. Are you sold exclusively through retailers and integrators or is there a direct sale component to your stuff?
Shaun: So we don't sell direct to consumer. We have a back for seconds. We don't go through distribution so we're direct for all retailers all integrators. There is a handful of our products that are on Control4's portal the Savant store. We put a handful those on to make it available for their dealer bases. But aside from that it is all direct. I think the trends have been interesting. One trend I will say every single dealer we talked to, every integrator we talk to is busy. I've had a conversation where we've gone through the cyclical wave of April was, I'll say holy cow moment. May was like OK PPP's done we got our funding and then it's let's get back to doing business. We were lucky on a supply chain side that supply chain is pretty good. Inventory is pretty good on the cabling side of things. Actually both brands inventories are pretty good. But once business started ramping up. Dealers are like hey we're booked six weeks out we're booked eight weeks out. I'm one on a business trend by the way that I still question sustainability a little bit but while we got it. And while we haven't and while consumers are staying at home and all the content.
We were just talking about Star Wars and Mandalorian. People are enjoying it at home and investing in their systems that is this trend has been really encouraging and a consumer trend. I think it's one topic we were discussing preshow was behaviors that e-commerce and I think the rapid changing environment of how consumers are engaging. That we've seen a big change and even how we are engaging to our dealers, that part has changed. On a product side of things, we're a little lucky on the cable side at least that we know where the panel manufacturers go where AVR is go where the other manufacturers go with their technology. We're the tail to a bigger dog where we will follow them. That we haven't seen a big change in but the behaviors and where people are shopping and how they're engaging for us to dealers or dealers to their customers. I think there's been a huge shift there and a huge change there.
Ron: Are dealers, integrators retailers, are they allowed to sell your stuff? Your cables and devices from their websites? Is that allowed in the ecosystem?
Shaun: Yeah and we rely on them for that. We have a handful of dealers that sell through marketplaces like Amazon. Best Buy sells our product on their website. And then we have a handful of partners like Crutchfield, Worldwide Stereo, High Def Lifestyle, Bjorne's, that will sell our products on their sites. The product's the UPP product. So the nice part is no matter where you're going, you're seeing a sentiment HDMI cable for the same price no matter where you're going. And in today's e-commerce driven world, that's pretty strong. Because last thing you want is price disparity or losing your pricing on the e-commerce platform.
Ron: That makes sense. A couple more quick topics here before I let you jump if you allow. And that is CEDIA as we all know this is not news. CEDIA is not gonna happen in person. This year it is going to happen virtually. I know I just had the One Firefly presentation from the CEDIA crew just last week maybe a week or two ago. I'm just curious what your read on that is maybe? What sort of buzz that is happening inside of your organization and with folks that you've talked to, are they going to participate? If so do you think dealers are going to participate? I mean I think we're all kind of trying to figure that out.
Shaun: I think it's a great question and we're definitely looking at all the options. But if I look at how we've adapted through this pandemic and we're a very personal company. A lot of our dealers and salespeople work with us and we're always in the field. Very hands-on. So to not do that was kind of like man how do we adapt and we've adapted to a lot of webinars and a lot of engagement through Zoom or video conferencing and such through this. When you look at the CEDIA virtual it's a tough call. And we'll make a final decision setting a deadline I think is this week for it. And the tough call is, do you invest money? Which let's face it that yes business is very good. But a couple months that was really tough. Do you invest money in that? Or do we continue to invest in education of web platforms with our dealer base or other dealer bases? Through partners like One Firefly or Savant or Control4, other ones. Do we invest in connecting with them there versus CEDIA virtual? And I think that's where if I to lean towards a decision it's investing into our existing dealer base. It's a little bit more personable it's a little bit more not wait and see. We control the content, the message and where it's going out. But I think everybody's also trying to figure out how do you adapt during this time? CEDIA is trying to do the same thing. And while is it the right thing? I don't know but they have to also be able to figure out what does work that they can continue to educate the integrators and the dealers out there and educate both on the CEDIA side. As well as giving manufacturers a vehicle or avenue to try to also engage in the community.
Ron: I know for many years I've run into you at so many events, so many industry events. Buying group events or CEDIA events or whatnot and there are at least to my knowledge no events happening. I guess maybe the CEDIA Tech Summits are a maybe. I think that's still accurate I don't know if a verdict's been made there but there's no events this year or not many. How do you think this changes our industry as you roll we roll out of this 2020 year into the future? What do you think changes?
Shaun: Yeah there's probably two answers. I think everything changes and I think you know things change and then there's probably someplace in the middle. I go back to behavior changes of six months ago, a year ago having a Zoom education with salespeople at a dealer or a Zoom co-branded. It's a dealer working with a project working with the consumer. They have myself from AudioQuest, they have somebody from Sonance, Alex from Audio Control. They have a couple of different manufacturers to help with a Zoom call with a project that they're working on and a year ago that might have been different. That probably wouldn't have happened. People would have flown in for that. They would have met face to face but I think through this that some of those behavior changes are forcing us to think about how do we engage differently and maybe more smartly? Buying groups I think are one.
Some of the breaking bread moments, that's never replaced. You and I sitting down and having lunch and have a conversation. That doesn't replace the in-person feel but I think it's going to the virtual environment. Like this or what Zoom or other ones have provided is we've been doing it for so long now that it's like Man I've seen more dealers if this makes sense in the last three months or four months then maybe I've seen in the last year because we're able to gage quicker and faster through different platforms. Is that the right answer long term? Probably not. But is there some sort of hybrid mix between that of I think talking to a lot of companies, a lot of us have figured out that we've become much more efficient through the forced change than say having salespeople on the road 50 weeks a year. It's a long answer and again we're still in the middle of the pandemic. So we're not quite out of it but what do buying groups look like? What's the value add for the get together of what's been done for years? I'll say in some ways have been done because that's the way it's always been done? Probably. But I think this pandemic is forcing everybody to rethink what's truly valuable and how do we move going forward? It's kind of long introduce to your question.
Ron: But no I agree that I think it's hard to know the unknowable but those all seem like reasonable observations. And I think we'll have to all watch and see what happens. But I know we're all trying to figure it out. I do know that. Shaun it has been a lot of fun having you on the show my friend.
Shaun: We probably could go for another hour with different topics.
Ron: I think easily with all the material I have here I think we could easily roll for a full Joe Rogan segment of maybe three hours. But I'll just save our audience from that. Well, I'm gonna cut it here. How can our audience get in touch with you? What are the best ways to reach you or to follow you?
Shaun: Yeah. I will preface that social media on Facebook and LinkedIn I probably use for more personal non-work related things. I like to use social media as a positive if that makes sense for everybody out there. Don't be surprised if there are more Star Wars or family things that are there probably shared on there. LinkedIn is where I kind of keep things I'll say more reviews or other things that are going on in our industry. That's where I tend to engage a lot more community more on that platform. But I'd say through those social platforms you can find me. I don't have a slide to throw up.
Ron: That's OK. We'll drop it into the comments on the Facebook page and we'll of course we'll have all of those social links and points of reference for contact on our show page on our website. We'll make sure that's easily accessible and you're easily findable.
Shaun: And Ron I'll echo you, it's been fun chatting with you and one thing I think I saw early in this pandemic was the only way we get through this however long it lasts is through community and through us really comparing notes together and doesn't matter if it's One Firefly or AudioQuest or Joey. Calling out Joey down south. The more we compare notes, the more we discuss what we're going through, the more we also share the victories and the points of light. That allows us to mentally understand that it's not if we'll get through it it's we will get through this and how successful all of us will be as an industry. Which is why when you ask me a month ago hey would you ever be on the show and my answer was heck yeah. Fun to talk about this it's fun to talk about things that aren't especially doom and gloom that's out there it's also fun to talk about things that we have fun with. Could we go on and on and on about Mandalorian? Yeah. But that is fun. We don't always have to be in an engaged business conversation because there are other things, much more positive things are going out there. So short answer. Thanks for coming on. It's good seeing you and good chatting with you.
Ron: Likewise. Awesome thank you, Shaun. All right ladies and gentlemen there you have it. That was show 130 with the one and only Shaun Schuetz. He's V.P. of Sales. He's from AudioQuest and I guess now Golden Ear. I don't know maybe his title needs to change and need to add Golden Ear there to the title. That sounds like an exciting acquisition. Appreciate everyone watching and listening and continuing to tune in. Remember if you have not already done so and we are seeing our subscriptions go up every month. Go to your favorite platform. I know I consume my podcasts on Apple podcasts but whatever your flavor is, don't forget to go in and subscribe to Automation Unplugged and that way you hear from all of our latest guests. And on that note thank you for tuning in and I'll see you guys next week with another fun guest and a fun conversation. Take care guys.
Shaun joined AudioQuest in 2012 with the opportunity to live in Taipei for four years representing their distributors throughout Asia. In 2016, Shaun and his family moved back to the States and has held multiple positions including his current role as AudioQuest's VP of Sales for the Americas.
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 within 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.
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