Home Automation Podcast Episode #143: An Industry Q&A With Jeff Goldstein
In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, Jeff Goldstein of Sony shares what managing the radio business for Sony looked like in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.
This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Jeff Goldstein. Recorded live on Tuesday, November 3rd, 2020 at 12:30 p.m. EST.
About Jeff Goldstein
With decades of experience in the CI space, Jeff landed at Sony early in his career and held executive-level positions for 25 years.
In 2013, Jeff decided to leave Sony to pursue other interests before realizing his true passion was working in the CI space.
Today, Jeff manages Sony’s CI channel where he has been navigating the challenges and opportunities that this year has brought to our industry.
- How Jeff’s passion for audio landed him at Sony
- What managing the radio business for Sony looked like in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s
- Jeff’s approach to building relationships with the CI channel
- Jeff’s experience since returning to Sony in the midst of a pandemic
Ron: Hello. Ron Callis here with another episode of Automation Unplugged. Today is Tuesday, November 3rd. It is actually election day. I hope you have all voted or cast your ballot. Maybe mailed it in or dropped it off. Or maybe you're actually going to the polls on the big day. I know that I voted a couple of weeks ago stood in line for three hours here in Broward County Fort Lauderdale to those of you around the world here in Florida. Big show. It is Show 143. I've got a super fascinating guest with just a long interesting history in custom integration actually I'm going to bring you Jeff Goldstein Head of Sales for the Sony S.I. Division here in the United States.
We have listeners around the world. You'll hear a little bit of about Jeff and how he runs his business here in the U.S. for Sony. What else is happening in One Firefly land? I thought I would just share it is a lot of moving pieces and parts going on at One Firefly. Fortunately all very good. One is we're actually doing a bunch of video shoots this week so anyone that is familiar with our website product called Mercury Pro you'll know that we shoot and produce our own media gallery libraries and we are actually adding content. We're doing another video shoot this week. We'll give you a sneak peeks behind the scenes. Pay attention. Follow our Facebook and our Instagram page this week.
But we're actually going to be on set Wednesday Thursday and Friday producing content. Thursday we're doing that work for one of our clients and it's going to be marvelous. I know you're not here to hear me banter but you're here to hear from our guests to hear from Jeff. Without further ado, Jeff how are you sir?
Jeff: I'm doing great. Ron, how are you today?
Ron: I am good. My first immediate reaction Jeff when I see you on camera is that your picture looks so darn good. Do you have fiber at your house because your Internet connection looks fantastic?
Jeff: Yes I do. We live in a heritage neighborhood in San Diego which is all houses built in the 1930s. And believe it or not, they were able to pull fiber right into not just the neighborhood but right into my house. We have very nice bandwidth your house which for my wife and I is very important because we're both working from home now.
Ron: Yeah. I tell you what with all the demands on the Internet and then, of course, for schooling or entertainment the Internet's never been more important. I think our whole world now knows that if they didn't know that before. Jeff, for those that are listening and watching. Let's first of all go into your background. But before we do that, let's just tell them what your current role is and who you're with.
Jeff: I'm heading up sales for Sony's custom installation division. I've been back since about February of this year.
Ron: Perfect timing Jeff.
Jeff: Yeah, perfect timing, it couldn't have been better.
Ron: Well, we'll get into all of what I'm assuming may lead you to feel this has been an interesting time for sure or certainly to take over I assume the business. But before we go there we do a couple of things we're going to give some shout outs Ted has given us a comment. He said, "Welcome Jeff. Excited for this episode." Tina, she says "Welcome Jeff. Excited to have you on Automation Unplugged." Wes says, "Hey Ron, welcome to Automation Unplugged Jeff." Allison says, "Nice to have you on the show, Jeff. Becca says, "Welcome Jeff. So excited to learn from you today.".
Ron: I love that emoji or an icon. Let me get that off the screen. Alright, Jeff help us understand. I know you've had a fun career. And from my conversations with you, it goes all the way back to childhood with your interest in audio-video and technology. But help us understand how you landed back at Sony here in February 2020. What does your career look like?
Jeff: Yes. I actually came into the consumer electronics business the way many of us did in the earliest days. And I was interested in audio. I loved music. I grew up in a house where there were jazz records playing all day long. My dad would work from home during tax season and blast all his classic jazz and opera and shoot the show records and things like that. I grew up around listening to that. I was always very interested in the gear. I started reading Stereo Review Magazine probably it was like 12 years old, trying to learn more about the gear and how to get sound better and what product was better than another. I always had a passion for it. And when I was in college in Boston, I took a part-time job working in an audio store and worked right across the street from Prudential Center in Boston and got to talk about the gear I had read about and help people understand one from another which one was better. It was invaluable experience trying to help somebody, direct them on what they should purchase based on what they were looking for.
Ron: Now when you were working in that audio store, what were you doing? What was the job you were doing?
Jeff: Well the audio store was sort of a Radioshack with brand names. I was just a sales guy on the floor and we were selling everything from bulk electronic parts guys would come in building a project or a shortwave radio or whatever the hell they were building back then. We'd sell them.
Ron: Sounds kind of like a Radioshack.
Jeff: Yeah exactly and we'd sell them bulk capacitors and they had a machine to check your tubes and all that stuff. Yeah, I'm that old. We had a little demo room we could demo audio products but we sold all electronics. I sold the earliest of Sony's Walkman product. We sold cordless telephones we sold little mini-systems and boom boxes and all the stuff that was popular in the day and it was an interesting first job in the business. I was at the time studying television production I went to school called Emerson College up in Boston. And my focus was learning how to shoot video edit video. I wanted to be a producer, I wanted to be a director and I worked at television stations as an intern during those days. Working with gear and figuring out what did what and how to do and how to make it work the best was really a passion so I got to bring that to the sales floor.
Ron: I'm just curious was that all commission type role or was it where you paid a salary back then or how did that work?
Jeff: It was like very meager wages plus commission. You had to sell it in order to get paid.
Ron: Eat what you kill as they say.
Jeff: Exactly that.
Ron: What happened after the college audio? Is that how you helped put yourself through college? Did you need to work?
Jeff: Yeah, I needed to work. I was definitely not there a scholarship but it was part of my paying for tuition obviously and just having money. I actually worked at the school in the maintenance department for certain hours to kind of help pay down my tuition, and then I worked at the stereo store for all my fun money.
Ron: In college, as you would say your beer money. When I went to college that's what we called it.
Jeff: It was the early 80s so let's just call it fun money.
Ron: I understand I'm reading between the lines. You did graduate with that degree in TV production?
Jeff: Yeah it was a bachelor of science with a specialization in television production and Emerson was one of the only colleges to offer such a degree but it was a full Bachelor of Science.
Ron: It was very fortuitous obviously that you knew early on, it sounds like from your youth, that electronics were going to be in your future. I mean here we are a number of decades past that. You're running the business at Sony which is pretty spectacular. Did you go from college to Sony or what happened in between?
Jeff: No I actually spent the better part of two years trying to break into network televisions in New York City. I lived in New Jersey and I would go into the city and fill out applications and have interviews and go through the whole thing of trying to get in and in those days it was just very hard to break into network television. My dad wasn't connected there and so I took a job working at a retail store to make money and I needed to be off during the week so I could go into the city and go knock on doors and I probably interviewed at MTV twenty times and never connected. But I took a job as just a way to make some money and pay my car note or whatever it was while I was looking for a job and working at retail afforded me I could work all weekend and have time off during the week to go and job search and job search was very different obviously at that point in time. It was a newspaper.
Ron: There was no Indeed or no Craigslist.
Jeff: No, Monster hadn't been created at that time. It was all knocking on doors and sending in letters and filling out applications.
"I even remember those days where you'd go to the newspaper and you'd look at the open ads."
Ron: Got it. You were working retail. I even remember those days where you'd go to the newspaper and you'd look at the open ads. Did you just apply to work at Sony or did you work at other electronics big brands before you went to Sony or how did that go?
Jeff: No, I spent 10 years almost in retail. The byproduct of working at that retail shop that we sold audio products and the early video products in those days, was I started to get good at selling video products. First, you learn how to take a customer through that journey of here are the items that fit what you're looking for. Here are the items that fit what you're looking for you. You're looking for a VCR, you're looking for a receiver, you're looking for an amplifier, or whatever it was. I can tell you what the differences are between these three or the good better best story. Then you start to get a little bit smarter and you start worrying about how many dollars are going in your pocket and then you start to figure out which one makes you the most money. And that's when that becomes the best one.
Jeff: Magically that becomes the best one. That was the game is that guy coming in with the ad for the product that he wanted to buy and your goal back then working at retail on our commission sales floor, was to sell them the one that made the retailer the most profits so that you could then make the most money off that sale. It changed, right? It started it is really about a hobby and reading about it and understanding a little bit of the technology so that you could talk intelligently about it with somebody if they really wanted to go that route. Then it morphed from a hobby into understanding how to actually guide somebody in a direction or steer somebody in a direction you wanted them to go and now you go from being a hobbyist to being a salesperson. I was fortunate enough to make that jump and I worked at a few retailers in the New York area. New Jersey New York and New Jersey. Eventually, I worked my way up. There was a retailer out of New Jersey, Needam, and I worked my way up from selling on the retail floor to we had a wholesale department where we would sell gear to two apartment complexes and builders and things like that and we sold appliances as well as electronics. Here I was, dialing for dollars, calling up apartment complexes trying to buy washing machines, and then we figured out this is like dirty industry stuff. We figured out that we can probably make a VIR target from a manufacturer if we sold a few more VCRs or we sold a few more A.V. receivers. I would literally call up, for those of you in the New York area, from a certain time and a certain place you probably knew who Uncle Steve was.
All of the guys on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and down in Canal Street, they had these lined list ads in the newspaper. I would sell van loads and truckloads of A.V. product sidewalk haste to these to these dealers and these retailers. And it became a whole different part of the business. It was figuring out how to hit VIR targets to make the retailer profitable by selling to other retailers. Kind of frowned upon these days but it was a reality back then.
Ron: That VIR was when you hit volume levels across product categories?
Jeff: Correct. You wanted to sell enough volume.
Ron: You were creative, you were finding creative solutions.
Jeff: I'm an idea guy. That's an idea but I didn't come up with that idea. I just borrowed it.
Ron: I got an idea. We can roll down to Canal Street, lift the roof on the truck and move product.
Jeff: Well at that time Canal Street was not a great place to be with a van load of VCRs or whatever it was and a giant wad of cash.
Ron: Sounds pretty dangerous.
Jeff: Well, again I was a little bit savvy. New York was my playground back then so you knew how to walk. You knew how to move and make sure you didn't become a target. I also had a very large guy from the warehouse that went with me everywhere while I was counting the cash with Uncle Steve in the back of the store.
Ron: This is straight out of a scene from The Sopranos or something.
Jeff: Hey , those were early days is different. It was lifetimes ago.
Ron: That's awesome. At what point did you transition from sales from enthusiast to the salesperson to a trainer. I know there was a role somewhere there and in that retail life where you became the trainer and I'm interpreting that as you were training your co-workers.
Jeff: While I was still in retail, one of my roles being in the buying office for this retailer was to set up new stores, train the salespeople on how to sell. There were lots of tricks and ways that you could either start a conversation with the customer or drive the conversation in a direction that you wanted. For those of us that sold on the retail floor, there were certain things that you needed to impart to the next guy who is going to be working the floor to help guide a customer through a sale. And more importantly, get the guy to reach in his pocket and give you the money. I did a lot of that kind of stuff in my role as a buyer. But you mentioned trainer, I actually joined Sony as a trainer. I left a job as a Buyer for a chain of about 30 or so retail stores because I really wanted to go work for a manufacturer and the top of my list was Sony.
Ron: Why was Sony at the top of your list? What were some of the other brands at the time? JVC or Smith maybe?
Jeff: I lived in New Jersey and you know within the same drive as where I lived. You could be at JVC, Panasonic, Sharp, Pioneer, all of the consumer electronics manufacturers were based in North Jersey pretty much everyone that you can think of. And so I would just you know putting that list together and going where's my first choice? My first choice was Sony. Sony was so innovative and we had so many products and not only had I worked with them on the professional television production side and I knew the quality of those products. But I sold their product in retail. I purchased their product at retail some of the guys that I ended up working with actually called on me as a buyer way back then. And they were always super bright, super buttoned-up, and it was an impressive company to watch from the outside. That was my first choice. And so I left the job making okay money for a person my age taking a pay cut to go work for Sony and for me that small pay cut was a huge investment in my future. And it really was an honor to be able to go to this Mecca of invention and marketing and brand you know to go walk among those people who in my mind were set apart.
Ron: How did you get the job? I'm assuming Sony was a big name and lots of people applied. How did you land it?
Jeff: As it turns out, I think I was one of seventy-five applicants to apply for this trainer job at Sony and basically it was training our salespeople and retail salespeople how to sell Sony's back then we called them general audio but now they're called personal audio products. Walkman, Discman, boom boxes, radios and so I applied. One of seventy-five applicants I had heard after the fact. Went through the initial interview with somebody from human resources and then I got brought back for a string of interviews. Everybody from the person that was going to be my supervisor all the way up to the President of the division and I think what clinched the job for me was I was being interviewed by the V.P. of the division and he was Japanese and he had a very heavy accent. I had not worked around Japanese people so I wasn't hearing very well what he was asking. And finally, after I'm sorry could you repeat that probably three times I figured out he was asking why he thought at the time JVC had higher market share than Sony in the boombox market.
"I remember the days as a kid teenager my cousins and we all had boom boxes in our bedrooms. That was the thing to do."
Ron: I remember the days as a kid teenager my cousins and we all had boom boxes in our bedrooms. That was the thing to do.
Jeff: That was that was a very hot product and some of them like the size of suitcases right.
Ron: Well, it goes back to the 80s right. And the invention of break dancing and you bring the boombox out.
Jeff: Yes exactly. This is 1989 we're talking about so I can formally date myself. The V.P. of the division said well why do you think our market share is lower than JVC and I turn around in my best jersey and said, Well your stuff doesn't sound as good, theirs sounds better it's got more bass." He was kind of shocked by my honesty but I think that's what got me the job. I felt free enough to tell him that I thought his product wasn't as good.
Ron: That could have gone one of two ways.
Jeff: It was a risk. In those days, I probably wasn't thinking that much about it it was just who I was. Fortunately, it went the right way and he was impressed by the answer and I think that won me the position and that job was my entree into Sony and I was fortunate enough to have a 25 year career there the first time around. I'm kind of leading to the next part of this story.
Ron: I'm mindful of time and I have so many things I want to get into with you and I know the audience is tuning in. They want to find out as well. But just across those 25 years what are some of the I'll say the more interesting jobs you had before we get to the current and the present right now.
Jeff: Sure. Early on I was a trainer and then I quickly became a training manager and I was managing three trainers that would cover the US. Again our job was to write the training materials, sit with the engineers from Japan, download the technical why's and how's that the products were built. Sony had a lot of really unique features on their products and groundbreaking products at those times, especially in the personal space. I quickly matriculated through that. And then I got a job as what we called the Marketing Manager and that was the person that managed a category within the division. The categories that I managed were the Discman category and I also managed the Radio category. Of course, Sony Discman at the time was probably the number one selling brand. Sony Sports Discman was the number two selling brand.
Ron: The yellow one.
Jeff: Yes. And Sony Car Discman was the number three selling brand in the U.S. at the time. We had very dominant market share we were leading in terms of technology and design and everything else. Portability, miniaturization, that was a really exciting dynamic marketplace. My other category was radio, figuring out how to sell a new radio, like a clock radio or just a portable radio or a shortwave radio. That was actually between the two was much more of an interesting learning experience than anything else. Right. Taking a technology like that, that had been around for so long, and figuring out how to sell more was was really an amazing learning experience because you're not going to win on technology. The technology is the technology. How do you win?
You have to win on design and you have to win on unique features and at the time, one of the innovations that we came up with was older people were finding it difficult to see their clock radio without their glasses on. We came out with a whole line of clock radios that had bigger numbers so it was easier for people to see. And they sold like crazy people loved it because they have to put their glasses on it to see what time it was from their bed. Just little twists on existing products that made them go or help shift-share or drive more customers your way was a unique little angle on things that I got to learn managing the radio business for Sony. We probably had one hundred and fifty skews of radio that I was managing at the time.
Ron: Is all of your experience managing markets in the United States?
Jeff: At Sony? Yes. Either managing channels or managing markets. I moved from that into a sales role where we sold a lot of crossovers, we used to call it Soho small office home office. We had a line of business ad junk products tape recorders and monitors and we actually sold Sony-branded pagers for a time and various different things like that. Then an opportunity came up to join a very small group at the time, it was probably around 1994. And the group was focused on the custom installation channel. And at that time, nobody knew what that was I actually had to go learn. They were like hey we think you'd be good for this. And I was like OK let me take a look. And there was a gentleman at Sony. His name was Brad Kibble, Rest in peace, he passed many years ago and he had connected into this very small network of dealers. The reason why Sony created this group to sell to the A.V. integrator channel was at the time Sony was making the acquisition of pictures and the music sides of the business. And they felt it was really important to put Sony products in the hands in the homes in the studios of the artists they were signing on to their movie studio or their music studio and their music label. This group was actually formed to go and do installations in these artists' homes and people in the business so that they could proliferate Sony with this opinion leadership in the marketplace. When I came in, the group started to do these installation jobs. Just an example, they did a really big install into a celebrity's home in Manhattan and they were servicing this client and the client was particularly demanding. I'm not going to tell you the name because that wouldn't go very well.
Ron: That wouldn't go very well.
Jeff: After the 50th trip into Manhattan from Park Ridge New Jersey where our offices were, to literally go push the power button on this person system they decided yeah we're not we can't handle this, this way. They started to look for dealers that could perform these installations and the deal was: we'll pay you to do this installation and for taking on this important customer for us and giving focus to it. We will also make you a dealer. We'll give you the Sony line so you can sell Sony as part of your integrations.
Ron: Up to that point, a smaller business like that may or may not have been given the Sony line.
Jeff: They would not have been opened up as a Sony customer number. And we were fully direct at that time. There was no way to go to a distributor and buy Sony. The only way to buy Sony was from Sony. This was a huge beginning and now we're talking this is at the seminal days of CEDIA where some of the guys that you know in the industry well, the Mitch Klein's and the Tom Dougherty's and the Marc Hoffmanbergs. All those guys that were leadership at CEDIA during those days were really forming together and creating this group to share best practices to teach and to kind of build the industry up.
I came in probably around 1994 and started working in this in this channel and meeting these people and I quickly felt that Sony was half in the game half out of the game and it was really small enough that if the business went away, somebody would be sad but nobody would really miss it. And it was really my goal when I came into that part of the business to really make it a business for Sony. We went from having maybe 70 dealers and kind of shrinking as there was attrition to really I focused on growing the channel and helping the dealers mature to the point where they could buy from Sony. And I felt that it was a very important thing for Sony to be associated with this way of selling electronics. We would do the CEDIA show maybe every other year. It was a draped table with a sign and we had a couple of boxes on it to we started building out integrations in the booth itself. And my sales guys and the engineers that worked with me, we would literally go and wire the booth ourselves till three o'clock in the morning to make sure everything worked and we focused on showing how Sony products could be integrated into these systems seamlessly both mainly consumer products.
Without getting too far into this, a lot of really interesting innovations at that time came out of just listening to the dealers I spent a lot of my time in those days traveling around the country visiting the dealers. But more importantly, walking the job sites with the integrators to understand. How does the wire go in? What wires are you pulling? What do you need from Sony in order to make that an important part of the job. And we were very fortunate that Sony thought well ahead and IR code tables for television sets were always the same even if they added things, they never took anything away.
Ron: That's a really smart move.
Jeff: Right. And the same thing went for C.D. players and DVD players and Blu-ray players. Every product category had a very defined IRR code table and we used to exploit that fact because now you could put the new one in and have it connect up to whatever your control system was or your universal remote that you program and the next one would work just as well as the one prior. It didn't have to. Right. And when it came time you know when the dealers started becoming more comfortable with Crestron and AMX, having RS 232 ports on those products became really important so that you'd talk machine language.
My team literally sat at a table with an engineering team from the home division in Japan and overlaid that IRR code table and said OK that's the one-way conversation we need to create a two-way conversation. We literally sat code by code by code and said here is what our RS 232 code table needs to look like and here's how it needs to answer back to confirm that when you hit the play button it actually went into the play mode.
Ron: I have a question Jeff. I'm imagining that you as an American from New Jersey having to lobby for I'm going to say the rights or the practices that are going to work within the custom integration channel because you were there at the origin of the channel. What was that like working with your parent company or the corporation which is a Japanese company? It's a different culture it's a different way of conducting business. I'm just imagining that it has to be so darn different and maybe it was even more different back when you were getting started there. How did you figure that out and what were the lessons that you learned because you had to get results. You had to get things done.
Jeff: Yeah, we had to make these tweaks and changes to the product in order to get taken seriously by the dealers. It's interesting, I learned about doing business with the Japanese culture and the folks in Japan. Just like with anything else, it starts with the relationship and it starts with trust and saying what you're going to do, doing what you're going to say, coming with logic, data, information, ideas. Yeah there is a definitive cultural difference that you need to adapt to. I think partially it was because I was sort of a subject matter expert from the US so I was given a little bit more leeway and they were certainly looking for new ways to sell components and televisions and things like that.
When I presented a new way by just doing this or just doing that. I could put numbers around well, I think you'd sell this many more. We could grow our position in the channel by doing this because of the relationships I had forged in being a Marketing Manager or a Product Manager if you will, with the teams in Japan and the reputation I built-in understanding how these components could fit into larger systems. We were able to make changes and design the products and that was sort of the critical turning point because at the time Sony had a wonderful line of commercial projectors business projectors. We saw that Sam Runco and Barco and some of the other brands that were out there were Vidicron, they really were owning the front projector space in the C.I. channel. And I was like we make amazing video products. Solid, stable, high performance. These brands that you may not have ever heard of, were owning the industry at that time. Again, under the concept of making small tweaks, the Sony professional projector line at that time was that compact P.C. yellow because it was going into conference rooms and that was the color of the day for corporate boardrooms and things like that.
I said yeah if you made those white instead of combat yellow and if we did things like let's just put the line double or in or we need these codes or we need access to this kind of thing and the product already actually had RS 232 because control systems being widely used in the commercial space said just let's make these couple of tweaks to this line of CRT based front projectors. That was literally the dawn of Sony's home theater projector business was selling these giant things that looked like Volkswagens on your ceiling by simply changing the color of the shell and making a few tweaks that made it easier for an integrator to utilize.
Ron: I was gonna say, I'm looking at the time and I'll see what I want to go through with you. And I know that you and I could clearly go on for lots of hours because you've done so many amazing things. But I do want to put Tim's question. Tim posed the question. He says, "So many cool products out of Sony. Over the years, what was your favorite?" I'm putting you on the spot to have a favorite but it's coming from the audience so we've got to put it out there.
Jeff: Well you know that's a hard one because I was involved in the launch of many many technologies over the years everything from DAT to minidisc to DVD to Blu-ray. I have to say probably one of my favorites had to have been the launch of Blu-ray. When we went from you know from DVD platform to being able to introduce recorded video on a disc at this higher video quality that was just a game-changing product. And I was very fortunate at the time to be part of the launch. At the time I was actually managing the home audio and video components business for Sony. I had already moved out to California here in San Diego and my team was responsible for the launch of that technology here in the US and not only did we launch it but we were preparing for the second generation. We got to really dig in.
The first generation as always this really overbuilt over thousand dollar products. And it was built like a tank like any performance piece of gear would be. Super heavy power supplies and isolation and just an amazing component. But it was twelve hundred dollars or thirteen hundred dollars and we needed to expand. That second-generation I'm super proud of because not only did we reduce the price of the device but we added features that we got to add in features that I felt were going to make it really appealing for the consumer that could now afford that product. I remember very specifically having probably a four-hour argument in Japan in this room. There are probably 30 people in the room and we've got the mockups of the next generation on the table and they had come up with this door that when you hit the eject button the door would just flap open and it.
Then, when you closed the door just laid there and you had to pick it back up and I was like we can't do that the door has to close on its own. Oh my God, it's going to raise the price by how much? We fought for like literally for five hours. I was running the business I said we will take it even at the higher price if you automate that door down and up smoothly like an old school cassette recorder. That product was like the perfect combination of performance and cool factor with that automated door.
Ron: Do you remember the model number?
Jeff: I don't I wish I did it was probably like the BDP2 or something but that was really a great product. And I really loved it. And so I'll pick that is my favorite.
Ron: Awesome. Good choice. All right. I'm going to bring us that you left Sony in 2013. You did some things in the interim. You did some consulting you worked for a gaming headphone company and you did some things but if you don't mind I'm just being mindful of time. I want to fast forward to this year. You came back to Sony. Why now and you walked into a global pandemic and so what's it been like?
Jeff: They say timing is everything. Clearly I got it. I did go work in other markets doing other types of products. I was doing some consulting work for Bowers and Wilkins as they were trying to put together their strategy on how to grow in the U.S. and how to approach the S.I. market. A wonderful line of products but they weren't really organized around how to sell to the integrator. I did about a 10 month or so consulting project with them to kind of help them get set up with their C.I. programs. And it just whet my appetite honestly for coming back to this part of the business that I have so passion about for so many years. Really, I just loved working in an area where the integrators take all the technical stuff and all the things you've got to learn to operate an A.V. system and simplify it so that the consumer can literally just get at the joy of watching and listening to something in their home. I was just very passionate for that side of the industry.
Sony came and reached out to me at the very end of 2019 when Frank Stearns moved on and they asked what would I think about coming back. And I thought about it, I was like you know this is what I like to do and with my history and product development, my history in managing multiple businesses for Sony over the years, creating new startups inside of Sony, and doing all those things. I've had some success in figuring out how to drive change in product development and create new ways to serve up the same thing and frankly I'm just very passionate about this part of the industry. That brings us to February of 2020 and I reported to work on February 10th in the office and started getting back into the groove and figuring out who did what for what category now. Literally my last day in the office just like everybody else, my last day was March 17th and I've been working from home here in this office since. It's been interesting, back in March and April no one knew what was going to happen. No one knew whether the business that was going a month ago was going to continue to go.
People weren't ready to let people into their homes there was a lot of confusion and fear and we didn't know what we were going to be dealing with. The first thing and again I've been fortunate enough to have managed through lots of different things not quite on this scale but the most important thing is let's not panic and let's take a look at what's happening and adapt. How do we adapt? And I think that in that is you know exactly the word for 2020 for me for my competitors for my dealers. How how do you adapt? And I think that's really the most important piece and what drives my thinking since I came on board.
Ron: How are your dealers doing in 2020?
Jeff: Surprisingly, we all looked at our forecasts in March and April and went yeah let's cut everything. But what has happened as a result obviously of the pandemic is people are spending a lot of time at home and they can't go out to restaurants much. Nobody's traveling. So what's growing what's going? What's going is home improvement. If I'm stuck in this house, I'm going to make it look better I'm going to make it work better. Home entertainment is my outlet so I'm going to improve my home entertainment and the industry has found just a huge lift in demand right from probably June timeframe is when everything just sprung back to life. We saw this hockey stick recovery in demand.
Ron: Not in the larger economy but in our little micro C.I. world, we've seen that.
Jeff: Well, you can point to you know grocery stores and retailers that were open during the worst parts of the early stage of the pandemic. Having a unique increase in demand as people want to stock up and visit those stores less. They were probably having a bigger ticket. Each time you went in when people stocked up, home improvement and construction has seen a boom. As people migrate out of city centers and moved their lives to places they want to live not that they have to live to go get to the office in time. Everything in home improvement and construction, home entertainment, e-commerce. All of those aspects have just exploded during this time when people have been forced to be home.
Ron: If you were to pull out your Magic Eight Ball and ask it questions about 2021, what does it say for our channel?
"Outdoor living this year had a huge demand because that's the only way you can socialize."
Jeff: Well I asked that question weekly to my dealers, to my reps, to my buying group partners that we have, to my counterparts that call on national retailers. The first answer is who knows? And then when you start digging into the conversation a little bit more, while people are limited in where they can spend their disposable income, our dealer base and our customer base tend to be a little bit more affluent and a little bit more well seated in an environment like this. No one seems to see a slowdown happening as long as there's still shut down restrictions that keep you from getting on an airplane or desiring to get on an airplane you're not buying clothes because you aren't going anywhere.
That disposable income is absolutely still focused on improving the home and improving your entertainment experiences in the home adding on spaces where you can entertain safely. Right. Outdoor living as an example had a huge huge demand this year because that's the only way you can socialize. I think that for the foreseeable future until we can find our way out of this, business looks like it's going to remain pretty strong.
Ron: People that are watching live or seeing you and I right now here on Election Day November 3rd, many folks are going to be listening to this into the future in fact we won't post it to our podcast platform until next week. The election will be behind us. What do you think the people listening in the future, a week from now or into the future are going to feel if any the impact of the election is going to have. Whether you lean left lean blue lean right lean in the middle. Someone, I won't even say today, someone in the coming days maybe weeks is going to be declared the winner. Do you think that that has an effect? Or you think that the market conditions are bigger than who the president is?
Jeff: I think that regardless of who wins the election you fought for the business we're talking about the pandemic overrides all of that and unless we go into some sort of massive economic shutdown or significant economic shift from where we are right now, the pandemic is going to be still here. We're still going to be dealing with it and people are going to be stuck at home by and large. And so yes I think on the macro level who wins the election is going to obviously change the dynamic of the market and the way people spend and the way people invest and all that stuff. But I think on if we look down at the micro-level of our business I don't think it changes much until we're all very comfortable getting on airplanes and traveling and getting back to some semblance of what was before. I don't think it changes. I think the focus for our dealers needs to be though not just grabbing the business that's available today because of this kind of feeding frenzy on home entertainment. I think the focus needs to be preparing now for whatever the next change step changes in our business. I think that's really critical.
It's the toughest thing for a business that's small or medium in size to do is to pull away resources and time to go figure out how to find new customers when the phone's ringing off the hook right now. But now is the critical time because that referral stream, those incoming phone calls, they're not going to be there forever. And to your point, if there's a change or whoever wins this election there's still a whole lot to deal with from an economic point of view and I was working in this part of the business back in 2001 after the World Trade Center event and we saw a change in the way people their buying habits changed. I was involved in this in the 2007-2008 timeframe when we had that sort of collapse of the real estate market which was attached to a whole lot of other economic things. And we lost a lot of dealers during that time. while things are fast-paced and the demand is high and guys rightly so are doing every job they can.
We've got to take a minute right now while there are a few dollars in the till and start thinking about how we market the businesses on a local level to make sure that there is a customer stream and a referral stream should something change. I mean I'm not a pessimist I'm an optimistic guy but being prepared is really central to the survival of our dealer base.
Ron: You're making some moves. What can you say?
Jeff: I can say that you know one of my focuses since coming back to Sony was really driving the partnership between Sony and its dealers and really creating additional value. But beyond the sale of the last TV or the last projector and the margin that you made on that the relationship with Sony needs to be valuable and the dealer needs to leverage that relationship. And Sony is a brand name that people recognize. Immediately after the pandemic hit and we saw we went into lockdowns I work with my team to create a whole range of marketing assets built around the idea of upgrade.
Upgrade with Sony and we took a very passive approach and we said hey Mr. dealer if you're interested in promoting your business, we've created all this beautiful art and assets, digital banner ads, and social media posts and email blasts, and direct mail pieces. And we offered them to our dealers to utilize as part of their marketing program to attach their name to Sony right. And leverage that Sony partnership and we got some takers and the dealers that did work with us and did utilize the assets saw good return on utilizing those things.
Jeff: This is a year of adapting. We had to go from having meetings in-person to having meetings like this in a 60 day period or less. My trainers had to go from planning for regional in-person events to setting up studios in their home so they could do trainings over this media that's adapting. And I think our dealers have adapted right. They developed their plan and program about safety and keeping the customer safe and what were their practices for getting back into the customer's home safely. I think just along with all of those changes in strategy and changes in process, adding marketing in advance of whatever the next change in our economic climate or our market, is paramount to survival and keeping that referral stream coming. We're going to not actually take a passive role going forward in marketing, we are creating a program for our supportive diamond dealers that will enable them with minimal effort to take Sony's assets.
All the pieces and parts that we're offering and depending on their level of support for us we will in turn offer support for them to help them do outbound marketing. Whether that's to their existing client base, to talk about new products new services, leading with a Sony story on Sony's latest products, to actually working with them on outreach to find new clients within their territories. And that is going to be I think it really crucial important part of the partnership between Sony and the dealer. It's really about leveraging our partnership to drive awareness for your business and more business in the future and even surviving should there be a downturn. Because I don't believe this goes away. I think maybe there may be less people that are interested in doing it if things go awry. But I do think finding those people that still are interested is going to be critically important. And talking to them about systems.
Ron: What is the timeline for this Sony Diamond Dealer program to be rolled out as it's a 2021 plan 2020 plan?
"We know the dealers are busy busy busy but it's really important that we take a minute and start thinking about how we communicate to a new audience in a new way."
Jeff: We are actually finalizing the bits and pieces and we're going to be rolling this out this month and so November 2020. Again, we know the dealers are busy busy busy but it's really important that we take a minute and start thinking about how we communicate to a new audience in a new way. Not that there's anything wrong with the referral stream but let's be ready to adapt to the way consumers are thinking and shopping.
Ron: Awesome. Jeff, it has been a blast having you on the show. I've learned so much. I could sit here and ask you questions for hours your experience is so fascinating and you've done so many things in your career. Thank you for coming on the show.
Jeff: Thanks for having me. This is great.
Ron: Jeff what would be the for those that are watching or listening that want to get in touch with you directly and or Sony. What are the channels of communication that you would have available for them?
Jeff: Best for me, is always email. You can certainly contact me through LinkedIn then I posted about us getting together or doing this show on my LinkedIn. By all means reach me there. I believe my handle's Jeff E. Goldstein.
Ron: We will research that and we'll put that in the comments.
Jeff: Yeah put that up there for the replay and then email is great and so contact me at my Sony email address.
Ron: Jeff, do we want to give that Sony email address?
Ron: Alright, I'm gonna go ahead and type it in. Go ahead and read it to me and I'm going to scroll it across the screen.
Ron: Doesn't get easier than that. Tell me if I did it right. I'm gonna put it across the screen now.
Jeff: That's the one.
Ron: I do see a question came in. Jeff regarding inventory. How is Sony doing with inventory? I guess we couldn't get through a show without that.
Jeff: Listen I expect that question. I expect that question every single day at this point. Inventory is tight it's tight across the industry. The demand today obviously far exceeds just about any manufacturer's ability to produce right now. It's getting better. There's been a lot of work to recover production, to recover the supply chain. Things are actually getting significantly better than they were. If you're a Sony dealer today the best source of information is your rep who calls on you. We literally feed them an outlook on what's available which models are in better supply than others on a weekly basis. If you want the freshest view of what's available from Sony, talk to your local rep.
Ron: Awesome and I think we'll end it on that. Jeff thank you again for coming on. Let's see what was this? This was Episode 143 of Automation Unplugged.
Jeff: This was great Ron appreciate it and hope we can do it again in the future.
Ron: Awesome thanks so much Jeff. All right gang so there you have it. That was it was a fun interview with The One and Only Jeff Goldstein. He's got so many decades of fascinating electronics industry custom integration industry experience. I wanted to go a little bit deeper into his working with the folks in Japan at Sony corporate. That east coast or Eastern versus Western philosophies and ways of doing business. But we filled up a show. I think this is officially Jeff. We've officially I think set the record for the longest interview. I think we could have still spent another few hours.
But anyway, if you're listening, don't forget to go to your favorite podcast environment on Apple on the IOS device you just type in search for podcasts you'll see the little purple icon or maybe listen on Spotify. Look for Automation Unplugged and certainly subscribe so you get all of our shows. We put out about one show a week sometimes we do two and we've been pretty good at that for most of this year. We're actually about three and a half years into Automation Unplugged as an industry show and if you want to get in touch with myself or anyone on my team, just go to our website give us a call. We'd love to hear from you.
Thanks again for tuning in. If you're out there listening and watching it was I appreciate you spending time with us. Hope you had fun and I hope you go out and vote today as Election Day. Don't forget to go out there and do your civic duty and put your vote and let your voice be heard. And I will see you all next time. Thanks, everyone.
Jeff Goldstein has decades of experience in the CI space. He currently manages Sony’s CI channel where he has been navigating the challenges and opportunities that this year has brought to our industry.
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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