Home Automation Podcast Episode #145: An Industry Q&A With Bert Herrero and Joel Hernandez
In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, Bert Herrero and Joel Hernandez of First Priority Audio share how COVID-19 has impacted their custom integration firm and their innovative use of social media marketing to drive company growth.
This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Bert Herrero and Joel Hernandez. Recorded live on Wednesday, November 18th at 12:30 p.m. EST.
About Bert Herrero and Joel Hernandez
Today's show features Bert Herrero, CEO of First Priority Audio, and General Manager Joel Hernandez.
Bert started his entrepreneurial journey early, at the age of 18, installing and servicing satellite dish installations throughout South Florida. His cousin, Joel Hernandez, started his own AV integration company in the early 2000s and later joined forces with Bert at First Priority Audio in 2014.
Fort Lauderdale based First Priority Audio comprises a team of 22 staff with a fleet of 9 service vehicles. Their award-winning family run business offers residential smart home automation and audio video solutions.
- Creating a balance as a family-owned business
- Bert’s passion for re-investing in his community, including his partnerships with ministries around South Florida
- How COVID-19 has impacted First Priority Audio
- Their innovative use of social media marketing to drive company growth
Ron: Bert, how are you, sir?
Bert: I'm doing well, thank you.
Ron: Joel, how are you, sir?
Joel: I'm good. How are you?
Ron: Super duper. Bert, I'll start with you - if you could maybe introduce yourself, where are you at right now, and maybe give us a little bit about First Priority Audio and then I'll jump over to Joel.
Bert: Where I'm at mentally or physically?
Ron: Whatever feels right. This is a no-judgment zone, Bert.
Bert: Thank you. My name is Bert Herrero. As you said I'm the owner of First Priority Audio. We've been in business since 2001. I'm very lucky to be blessed with my cousin as my partner in business and he does a lot as part of our company and we're a family-owned and operated business. We always have been. And we take a lot of great pride in making sure that we keep everybody that's in as part of the family. Of course, we ran out of family members to hire so we had to hire people from outside. But they're like our family. They try to leave I break their legs. It's just simple. I'm not at our normal studios per se which is the reason for the lighting being bad. This caught me in an off time but I'm at home and sitting in the corner of a bedroom doing what I'm doing.
Ron: Awesome. I appreciate it, a little bit about the size of your company how many trucks are you rolling in South Florida these days?
Bert: I think our fleet is up to about nine vehicles and we're running about twenty-three employees. We have a separate service team aside from an installation team which is a little different. We don't pull our install team to go do service. We don't pull our service people to go do installs. We have a dedicated service team with a 24/7 365 call center department that we work with. We try to make sure that we're unique in certain ways that other people in our area are not.
Ron: Got it. Yeah. I want to definitely pull on those threads and learn more about that but we'll get there. Joel, will you introduce yourself, sir?
Joel: Sure. Joel Hernandez. I am currently in my home as well my lighting is a little better than Bert's.
Ron: You're beating Bert in that category.
Bert: Yeah. He's got the producer at home.
Joel: But all of our gears up at the shop, all of our Facebook Live gear which we've been learning a lot more and more about what we need as we go. Hopefully, the Facebook Lives look better the more you watch them improving on video and audio.
Ron: Yeah that's definitely the case. I tune into your show pretty regularly and I see you guys stepping it up every month. Yeah, it's fun to watch. Never know what the new microphone or a new light or a new camera or new setting. You guys keep stepping it up.
Joel: Yeah. That's the goal.
Ron: Awesome. Again appreciate some people out there giving us some comments. Angel says "Welcome Bert and Joel, Saludos from Mexico. Tina says, "Welcome Bert and Joel excited to have you on Automation Unplugged today. Thank you, Tina. Thanks for tuning in. Bert, I know you've listened to a show or two so you know where we're going here. I always like to start with origin stories and how you got into this business and I know you started it. I can't wait to hear about you started your first business when you were 18. Tell us, where did you come from and how did you land here so many years later with First Priority Audio.
Bert: I came from my mama always a good start. Born and raised in Hialeah. Well, when I was about 15-16 years old I started installing the satellites, the big CKU band satellite dishes, those big ten twelve-foot dishes we all have in our backyards.
Ron: Remind me, I've heard these stories from actually a lot of South Florida guys.
Bert: You make me sound old.
Ron: I've read about these in the museum. These big satellite dishes, what could you do with that? What did that enable someone to do?
Bert: It allowed you to pick up cable to access channels that you weren't getting with your local cable companies back in those days. You can get sports stations from around the country that you couldn't get through cable before. What was really cool about having satellite and watching it direct off satellite feeds, was that you had no commercial interruptions. Every time they would break off through the cable company to go off for commercial you'd have to actually still have a live feed so you get to actually see the kind of stuff they would do and say in between when they were off-air which is really cool.
Ron: I know I'm stopping you just got started and I'm already asking you so many questions but I'm just super curious. When you would install these big dishes, would you then sign them up for a monthly subscription? Is that what that business model was or was it just a one-time thing you'd go and install it and you were done?
Bert: The business model was the sale of the satellite system and then the monthly subscription. There were a lot of other services, side businesses that other people took on so that you didn't have to pay a monthly service fee. But I know nothing about that. My job at 16 years old was to open the four foot deep three and a half foot wide hole that the city of Miami required for inspection on the iron six-inch round post that used to go under the ground so that you could install the satellite dish. Since it was Coral Rock and I was 16 years old, hey it only took me three days to open a home. That was my deal.
It was three days to open the hole another day and a half to trench all the way to the house because you had the big messenger cable which is typically very big. You had to trench that out all the way to the house. From there it evolved and I learned how to install satellites all by myself got involved in the sales side and selling satellites and from there, right around the age of 18, I started a company called the Antenna Doctors. And while it was based on satellite, it really was helping people with local antenna feeds because one thing you didn't get on satellite was your local channels. You'd have to combine it with a local antenna. And I serviced areas from Vero Beach all the way around to Fort Myers doing local antennas. When I was 18 to 20, got in and out of some call centers and started getting into telemarketing a bit. Did a big Direct TV telemarketing campaign with my friend Darryl Blankenship his father Chuck who had a big Direct TV distributorship here in Fort Lauderdale back in those days. We worked for his father and that's how I met Daryl back when we were probably 18-19 years old. That kept going. Telemarketing started getting a little more for me.
I actually left the whole satellite industry and went to work for a travel company outside of the run. Right. And I worked at this travel company from about '95 or '96 till about 2001, I actually quit on September 12th, 2001. I ran a call center where I had 150 employees I was the director of the department. We ran from 7:00 in the morning to midnight seven days a week. Just got to the point on September 11th, realized life's too short, felt a little burnt, and obviously behind what just happened I figured we need to change things up a little bit. I walked in on September 12th, quit, and been slapping a hammer and a nail ever since.
Ron: I love the name of your first business.
Bert: Quite selfish wasn't it?
Ron: No, I love it. Do you want to tell everyone the name of the business?
Bert: It was Bert's World.
Ron: Bert's World and was that strictly satellite or you would do other stuff?
Bert: At that point, it was satellite and running wires for people in homes just doing anything that I can do to make a dollar. Connecting surround sound systems became very popular for me during that time. Bert's World was very much in the remembrance of my very burnt-out background right of Wayne's World.
Ron: Oh yeah. I grew up on that. I think we're the same age.
Joel: Let's not forget the other major benefit of the satellite was that you could watch the same movie back to back then you would shift from the east coast to the west coast.
Bert: To the west coast.
Ron: Wow. Yeah, that's true. Is satellite, other than a little direct TV dishes is that still a thing? Is there any reason to have a big satellite dish or that that's like long gone right?
Bert: Not in my opinion. Unless you're broadcasting or doing something else. I haven't heard anything about satellite for quite some time.
Ron: Alright, First Priority Audio, when was that business established and how long have you been in business under that name?
Bert: Well, it's been the same business since 2001. The only thing we did was a name change and we did that name change right around 2003 maybe 2004. I was at church and I was listening to Chris Lane from First Priority of South Florida talking about his ministry and what he looking to do at the start of his ministry. And I looked over to my wife and I said we're gonna name the business First Priority Audio. We're going to support that ministry as long as we're in business. We took on the ministry in support of and we're still in support of that ministry today.
Ron: Yeah, that's amazing. I've got their website or some of that content pulled up and I want to share that with our audience here in just a few minutes. Joel, what's your origin story man? How did you get into this business?
Joel: Probably like most people just always that kid that tinkered around with the stereos and the VCR and hooked up the PlayStations and all that stuff for the whole family. That was probably my role within the family was always the one to go to do that kind of stuff. I studied hospitality so that was my educational background. And I actually went into hospitality when I graduated. And somehow or another fell into project management for a construction company very young. I was maybe 2 or 23. I had no idea. No experience in construction but I was basically told it's babysitting adults and following a schedule.
Ron: I think most project managers would agree with that description.
Joel: Yeah. And I had I learned a lot on the job. But being in that and seeing what people were renovating their homes and doing to their homes and the occasional this addition to the house, going to make this a home theater. We're going to remodel the living room and I want to do surround sound and being that I always played with that stuff. I said well I can do that. And that just snowballed into something bigger and bigger and bigger until I decided to start my own company. And I did that in 2007. I started an AV business in Miami in 2007 and I was the prototypical one-man show. Right. I drove the van. I drove to the distributor to pick up gear. I ran wire in the attic, when I got home I did my invoicing and billing and spent hours in Quickbooks to get everything to where I needed to be to start all over the next day.
Ron: Then you would call Bert and cry on his shoulder like man this is hard.
Joel: Funny enough, Bert got mad at me because I had been at this five months or six months and I sold a quarter-million-dollar project not knowing practically anything. I was way in over my head but I talked a good game and I was able to get myself a quarter-million-dollar project. Basically the second we hung up that phone I called Bert and said, "I need your help because I don't know what I'm doing."
Bert: Well I wasn't mad. I just found it comical.
Ron: And you guys are our cousins. And you guys both went off and got into this audio-video business and you didn't do that. Joel, when I was talking to you before we went live you didn't even know the full extent of Bert's business that he had been running since 2000.
Joel: Bert was living up in Fort Lauderdale and I was living down in Miami. I mean not that they're super far away.
Ron: That's 30 miles away. It's not like states or countries apart.
Joel: Sure. But they're isolated enough, we were only seeing each other at family gatherings every once in a while. It was just pure coincidence that we both ended up doing this stuff separately. Thanks to him, I stopped buying stuff online because that's how I was buying product originally.
Ron: You weren't even buying from the local distributors.
Joel: I didn't know how it and know what that was. I didn't know where to start. I would literally be buying stuff online at the best price I could find it. And then marking it up 10-20 percent or whatever and reselling it.
Bert: Our grandmother's birthday was in February. She was born February 6 if I'm not mistaken and EHX was in March in Orlando back then. Again I can't remember the year I don't know that he can.
Ron: The early 2000s. I remember it was like every other year something in Orlando.
Bert: Every year right. I grabbed them and I said look EHX is next month, I'm going. Come with me and introduce you to some people and that's what we did. And that's how he got started buying from distribution whatnot.
Ron: Joel, how long did you run your own gig before you and Bert partnered up?
Bert: About 7-8 years.
Ron: 7-8 years. When you decided or you guys decided to join forces what was your goal? What did you hope would be different by joining First Priority Audio?
Joel: Well obviously, it allows me to share the burden and not have it all on my shoulders. The main reason was I was getting burnt out doing everything myself. I didn't have any other employees any full-time employees. It was one of those typical one-man shows, right. If I needed help I would call around and if my dad was free he'd help me pull a wire. My brother in law was free, he would help me pull wire. I had random friends that would help me whenever I needed to help a hand you know call around to find somebody and doing that and selling and everything else was a lot of this and I think the one-man shows know that you sell a ton of stuff and then you're busy installing it for three months and then you've got no work and the cycle starts all over again.
Joel: Yeah. I went to Bert and said how do I either hire people and do this right because I need help or how do I sell more so that I don't have those ups and downs? And we started having the conversation of coming together. Now that didn't happen overnight either I think that probably took over a year of several phone calls and conversations.
Ron: Or longer. I want to get give a couple of people some shout-outs. You know this person, Andres Klein of Maxicon down in Miami. Andres, man. I got my team reaching out to you. We want to have you on the show so you got to respond to Allison. Call him out in public, he's got to come on the show now, right? He says he's your number one fan guys.
Joel: He does show up to a lot of our Facebook Lives. For those that don't know, Andres is another integrator in Miami. Our but we're a tight-knit group here. We're all friendly.
Ron: That's awesome. We got Wes. He says "Welcome guys to the show." And we got Tomas from Panama. He says. "Hello to all from Panama." What's up Tomas, one of our frequent listeners. And we got Eddie Eddie just got elected to the CEDIA board. He's hanging out. Eddie, what's up? Thanks for joining us. Bert, what was it like for you to have your family member Joel join the business and how did you think about dividing and conquering? What were you able to delegate may be off your plate so that you could do more of what you love and what your best at and maybe work off of Joel's strengths? How did you think about that or approach that and did it happen immediately or did it take time?
Bert: It's a loaded question. Starting with the whole family dynamic, I think that our business was always intended to be a family-owned and operated business. And with that said, my mother still works for us. My daughter works for us. I fired my wife to go homeschool our son. I have another cousin that still works for us.
Joel: My wife works for us now.
Bert: Joel's wife.
Ron: Wow, that is a family business.
Bert: I've always intended for it to be a family business. There is no one more that I trust than our family to do what we do. But then you run out of family, so you've got to go and hire people. And so you know we love our entire team. I think we treat our entire team as a family. I even jokingly say if anybody tries to leave I'll break their legs.
Ron: Do you tell your family that?
Bert: It's with a lot of love that I would do it.
Joel: It's only a joke for H.R. purposes.
Ron: Not real. Wink. Fingers crossed.
Bert: I think from that perspective I've always been accustomed. As a matter of fact, my wife and I met when I was 21. She was my boss. I've always been that kind of person that I can work tight-knit with family. Now even just thinking of jobs that I went through my brother worked with me. My mom worked with me in places my wife worked for me at other places. To me, it was just natural to be able to have conversations with family and be able to say hey this is business. This is our family, right. I think we still do that pretty well as a company and I think that that's the culture that we really have created. From the family perspective, I didn't find it difficult to work with Joel. When Joel came on board I think that I'm out of the gate and I'm selling a two hundred fifty thousand dollar job really got me to the point where damn this kid can sell. I've always been a technician. Put me behind a rack and let me work and let me connect stuff and troubleshoot and sales were always a second nature byproduct for me but because I was good tech not because I was a good salesperson.
Ron: It was a necessary evil. You needed to do work but selling it wasn't your favorite part.
Bert: Right. And so I think that bringing Joel in that was always the intent to focus on the sales side of the business. As a matter of fact, when he came into the business that was the focus for him, to be the salesperson and really start taking the lead on sales. But the business is growing. And in his addition just added to that growth. And as we were growing we found more of a need for the business mindset the administration the process the things that really made a difference on paper and not so much in the bank account. Joel quickly fell into that role. I'm a school of hard knocks kind of kid. Joel has always had the business-minded type of education and he just took really well to help us push forward in creating those processes and doing things like implementing software and automate the business implementing strategies for operations, for sales, for administration, so on and so forth. We've seen a ton of success from all our team but specifically from Joel and being a part of it just because of the way that we've grown operationally from now.
Ron: Bert, I've got some notes here from our chat just before going live that you guys as a business engaged with friends of mine, Steve and Paul over at Vital Management. You did that back in 2018. I'm curious, did you find them? Did Joel find them? Did you guys find them at a Pro Source event? Where did that come from? Joel's raising his hand. I'm going to point at you, Joel. Tell me how you found them and why that was interesting for you to engage in. What happened through that engagement.
Joel: I don't remember exactly how was it whether it was a CE Pro article or one of those industry articles. I saw what they were doing and I said this is something we need to look at because we need to improve our financials of the business we need to start looking at how to do that better. We were having we still are having double-digit growth year over year. But I think since 2012 we've been seeing double-digit growth year over year.
Ron: Yep that's amazing.
"Just because you're growing the revenue doesn't necessarily mean you're growing the profit."
Joel: Just because you're growing the revenue doesn't necessarily mean you're growing the profit. We had to figure that out and we sat with them at CEDIA Expo at their suite that year. Steve talked to both of us and that really is what got Bert's mindset on, "Yeah this is the right thing we need some help, some guidance here on how to rectify some of this stuff and I think their experience being that they were specific to our industry is really what got us because you know you can have a ton of business consultants come in and we actually had someone come in probably a couple of years before that. Not to say that that wasn't valuable because it was valuable but they don't have that mindset or the experience of the little intricacies of it.
Ron: They didn't speak integrator.
Joel: They barely spoke contractor. It's a different world right. What we do is different than the standard business or a retail establishment but they try to jam all of all of their spreadsheets in that way and that's not the way our business is run. And it's been hugely successful for us.
Ron: I want to dive a little deeper if you'll allow just if there are one or two things that come to mind that through that engagement you realized you guys needed to change. Whether it was a KPI or a ratio or something you started looking at that maybe you weren't previously looking at or something maybe related to your pricing or margins. What was something that resulted that clearly had a net effect on your bottom line?
Joel: The first thing that I took on as my personal project was the sales mix on every single proposal and every single sales order that we put out. That 60, 32, 8 ratio that's the vital path. 60 percent equipment 8 percent parts and 32 percent labor. Now all those numbers can shift around a little bit but roughly that's where you want to be. That's number one. And then within each of those categories, is then improve your margins as best as possible. And that's something that we really focused on initially was to trim a lot of the manufacturers that we have because everybody's items book just balloons as you find one thing over here and one thing over there, now we are representing 40 brands. It's impossible to keep up number one with the specs on 40 different brands. You're not going to be able to do that. In order to really know your product well and really be able to know what your margins are going to be, you have to trim that list out. That's what we did initially. We started choosing the specific manufacturers in different categories to refine that as best as possible.
Ron: Bert, what was the net result of that focus on finances and operations? Is there something that really resonates with you? You've owned and operated the business for 20 years and you're saying here a couple of years ago you guys made some tweaks. What's been the result of that?
Bert: Well the result has not just been a big revenue growth from a process standpoint within the company and when I say process I mean sales administration and operations but also a net profit increase which we didn't see before. We really made a massive turnaround from our 2018 numbers to 2019. And now we're operating from a position of positive cash flow and profits.
"I've known Paul and Steve for a long time and we actually hired Paul this summer for our financial P&L analysis project and he gave us some guidance as well and we implemented the guidance and it was a net win for everyone."
Ron: For full disclosure, I've known Paul and Steve for a long time and we actually hired Paul this summer for our financial P and L analysis project and he gave us some guidance as well and we implemented the guidance and it was a net win for everyone. He helped us see some things that we couldn't see for ourselves and sometimes it helps to get that outside perspective. I've heard of these success stories out there in the marketplace and this year we actually experienced it firsthand. Bert, I want to shift gears a little bit. I know that in particular you really run your business with a philosophy of helping your community and you really you don't have a belief system at least and correct me if I'm wrong but I have known you for a little bit and you don't really run your business with the goal of you know netting huge profit and building the mansion and buying the yacht but rather, reinvesting in your people in your community. Can you talk to me a little bit talk to the audience a little bit about your philosophy in business?
Bert: I appreciate that. Yeah pretty much as you said, my heart has never been the type that wants to be rich and show glory. We have always focused on making sure that everything that we do is giving back to our community giving back to ministries that we're very tightly involved with. Some of those ministries are for kids of South Florida as well as First Priority of South Florida. Those two really encompass a lot from us. Me personally as a family, I'm for Kids Family, we have two adopted children in our lives and so For Kids is a big deal on that. And First Priority of South Florida is a ministry that we named the business after, as I said earlier. They're really cool ministry that speaks to the high school level and to the middle school level children. Really trying to expand around the country. But I think they've pushed into seven or eight states or something like that now. They equip young men and women, teenagers I should say, they're equipping them to go out and do Bible studies within the high school level. And that really is a ministry that has shaped a lot of my thought process in my life. Just made a difference to me.
But then we also support organizations or charitable organizations like the Heart Gallery of South Florida. They're very much involved in the foster care system as is For Kids of South Florida. But this is a non-ministry organization that we have done plenty for in the past when it comes to donations of time and resources. We donate to them electronics whenever they do auctions so that they can do fundraising or whatnot. We try to be there and do what we can for these ministries and then there are several of them of course that we've done things for in the past and other things that we do whether in our community outside or in our community.
Ron: I want to clarify, I know you believe in these things and you take your profit from the company and you invest is as you see fit. Do you mandate that your team? I'm just thinking from a business that do you tell your team they have to be involved with these things? Or is this just what you do with some of the proceeds from your company?
Bert: Yeah. This is what we do. For instance, just this past week, you'll start to see this on our Facebook I think our producer is going to start pushing us around pretty soon. Every Christmas or holiday season we do what's called Operation Christmas Child. It's sponsored by?
Joel: Samaritan's Purse.
Bert: Samaritan's Purse, thank you. And basically, it's a shoebox that you fill with a bunch of little things that are useful for kids in certain age ranges and then you deliver the shoebox you pay for the shipping and it goes out across the world basically to areas of need and these children get these little gifts and get thought of at this time of the year. And every year we've been doing this as a company. Every year I'll buy two-three hundred boxes and I'll set them in place and I'll start up I'll ask everybody to take as many as they want to do and as many as they're willing to do. We have guys that really put into it. We have guys it'll take a few and I'm okay with whatever they do it doesn't matter to me.
Then at the end of the day, we finish filling the rest of the boxes. Sometimes we'll do it as a group together. Sometimes we'll just wrap them up and get them all cleaned up individually at the shop and then we stack them, take them over. I pay whatever it is for the shipping on it aside from buying all the trinkets and stuff they go and all the other stuff and we get those shipped out. It's a matter of participation but it's wherever their heart leads to participate. I really don't want anything to do with it. I don't want to force anybody to do anything they don't want to do. It's where their heart leads.
"Often when people have beliefs around helping, either through their church or their communities or the philanthropic organizations that they want to support. They do it privately and I appreciate your willingness to talk about it publicly and talk about why that's important to you."
Ron: I think that's beautiful. I have a comment here. Wes says, "You guys are awesome. Good on you." I back what Wes says, that's amazing. And so often when people have beliefs around helping, either through their church or their communities or the philanthropic organizations that they want to support. They do it privately and I appreciate your willingness to talk about it publicly and talk about why that's important to you. I don't get enough of that on this show and in day to day conversation. I'm proud of you guys for doing that. Switch gears a little bit. This is the year of COVID. I hope this is known as the year of COVID and in 2021 we get to move on who knows.
Bert: To something. Anything else. '18 '19 '21 '22.
Ron: I will direct this to you, Bert. What impact has this had on your business? What happened initially and then where are you guys at right now?
"The whole retrofit side of the business really started to grow. The perspective of, 'The kids are home and now my network system is not working,' or 'It can't handle the type of speed we need to be able to do schoolwork and Zoom meetings.' It just seems to be a pattern as that continues to grow."
Bert: Well I think that the initial consideration was what's going to happen? Nobody really knew or understood. Really, we started to see the effect of it right around the ending of March beginning of April. I think through the lockdowns and whatnot I think everybody else saw the same thing. But it quickly morphed into something different. Even though there wasn't the amount of the type of business we wanted to see. A lot of people weren't really making decisions when it came to new homes and purchasing. But it seemed like everybody was really starting to stay in place and staying home. The whole retrofit side of the business really started to grow. The perspective of, 'The kids are home and now my network system is not working,' or 'It can't handle the type of speed we need to be able to do schoolwork and Zoom meetings.' It just seems to be a pattern as that continues to grow." It was funny because we did our first Facebook Live episode right around I think it was May.
We had asked around what are we seeing the most of? And I think Joel says in that Facebook Live, it was actually people were more interested in making sure that their music was working than anything else which we found interesting. Really it's not the network, it's not TV, it's music? That leads into a lot of things and I think that basically what happened is, we started to see an increase in business from people just staying in place. As long as we were making sure that we were following procedure to be able to go to a client's house and they felt comfortable doing that with us, then we can go in and do what we had to do and be as gentle as possible as if we were never there.
Ron: Are you still fully PPE'd up when you go into a job site?
Ron: Do you think you'll finish this year flat or up over '19?
Bert: Most definitely. We're already up from last year.
Ron: You're already so you've already beaten your 2019 number?
Ron: Yeah. Wow. Joel, do you have a prediction? Do you think this rate of flow of projects or work, do you think it's going to continue or do you have any read on that?
Joel: I don't see why not. We had big lofty goals for this year and coming into it pre-COVID.
Bert: That's me. I'm always a lofty goal kind of guy.
Ron: That's an important management strategy.
Joel: Even with the terrible it was basically April and May where the two really bad months first revenue-wise even with those really bad months, I don't think we're going to hit what our original goal was. But we're going to basically just come shy of it. And then considering we basically had two months that we had to throw in the trash we're very happy with that outcome. Without getting into specifics, the second half of the year we've really outpaced anything we thought we would be able to do.
Ron: What do you attribute that to Joel?
Joel: Well it's partly the demand of what Bert was saying. There's a lot more demand for improving the home environment. And there's a lot more disposable income this year because nobody's traveling, there are very little expenditures being done. And so I do think that people are looking to improve the household and just do some stuff around the house. Whatever they're bored of, the same TV room they've had so they want to upgrade it, and then the housing market hasn't slowed down. It's at least down here. It's incredible. Houses are selling for over market value. I've never seen anything like this. I would have assumed it would go the other way but it's not. Luckily I didn't bet on that because it's been the other way around. New construction is still pushing forward and people have money to burn to some extent that they're willing to spend in the house.
Ron: What areas do you guys do work? You guys do strictly Fort Lauderdale do you guys do Palm Beach down to Miami? Where do you shop for customers?
Joel: We cover most of South Florida. Our backyard is Fort Lauderdale. But we'll go up into West Palm. We go down into Miami. We go west to Parkland and those areas. We actually have some international projects right now which are pretty crazy. We've got a project in Trinidad. We have another project in South America. Which actually, funny enough that the South America project came right in the middle of COVID. It came because of a #C4Yourself in May. That focus of Conrtol4's month in May and doing as many virtual events as we could actually expose us to a couple down in South America that we're building a house and we're working on that project right now.
Ron: Let's transition into that. You guys are on the front edge of innovation in terms of leveraging social media to put your brand, put your message out there. So much so, that you're doing a Facebook Live show just like this is a Facebook Live. And I then I take this audio and I produced this out separately as a podcast. I actually don't know if you're doing that or is your show strictly Facebook Live?
Joel: It's strictly live. Right now we're looking at chopping it up into smaller bite-sized chunks to use in other mediums. I don't know if podcasts would work for us mostly because we're doing a lot of visual stuff and we're showing the product and so that may not work in the podcast world whereas this is more interviews so that translates easier for an audio channel or an audio medium. But we are looking at taking those 15-minute video sections and then breaking them up into a little one-minute here two minutes there and using them in different places.
Ron: Yeah, Ted works with you here at One Firefly. Ted just gave a comment. He says, "Joel and Stephanie coordinate their marketing efforts as well or better than anyone in the industry."
Joel: Nice compliment I'll pass that along to Stephanie.
Ron: That's amazing. Tell our audience. I'm going to be honest, some of the people listening or watching are scared of going onto social media. They're scared of video live or recorded. What gave you the impetus to say I'm gonna start figuring this out?
Joel: It was something Bert and I had talked about for a while doing it. We just never really had I guess specifics. We never went live but we would record each other in the office and we had planned to do this or plan to send out that using an email. And again I hark back to that #C4Yourself month in May. Control4 said we're gonna do a whole month of this instead of the one single day and it was May and so nobody was getting together in person. Nobody wanted to go to any sort of event. We have one month of virtual stuff that we've got to try to move forward with. Ee said alright, let's do Facebook Live, and let's try it out. And we called you asking you for some advice on what software we should test out. And that was pretty much it. We were up and running.
Ron: What did I say? Just press record and start talking.
Joel: Pretty much.
Ron: Just stick with it.
Joel: Yeah. And that's what we've done. During the see for yourself month, we did one a week and the rest of the year we're doing one every other week, so a couple per month. It does take sacrifice. You have to set the time aside. You gotta block the time out. We're lucky enough that my wife Stephanie takes on the bulk of the preparation work and she puts together a sheet of what we're going to talk about and the topics and we rehearse it beforehand. What looks like it takes 15 minutes because that's what people see. It's hour's worth of work before that. It is an investment and you do have to commit to doing it. But I think it's been hugely beneficial for us.
Ron: Andre says that your Halloween episode was the best.
Joel: Of course, because of the costume.
Ron: I missed it so for our listening audience. What did you do on your Halloween episode?
Joel: If anybody that anyone that knows us Bert is the hunter that's his pastime and so he didn't really have to get a costume. He just went home and grabbed all his hunting gear. He was Elmer full hunting gear. And I was the deer in headlights literally the giant deer on the screen. That's how we did the episode that week.
Ron: You were wearing a deer in headlights costume?
Joel: The deer had come up to about here. Yeah like my head came out through the neck of the deer. You can look it up it's pretty funny.
Ron: Ted is saying, "That episode was hilarious." I think some of the folks watching or listening at the end of the show we're going to ask how people can follow you and we're gonna direct them all to the places where they can consume all these videos and shows.
Bert: And practice proper safety I didn't point my rifle at Joel just so everybody knows.
Ron: But you did have a rifle as a part of your getup?
Bert: Yeah. What's a hunter without a rifle?
Ron: There you go. Well, you could have a bow and arrow.
Bert: Yeah well that would be a little tight in the space that we're in. That would have been a little awkward and I would have probably stuck him with that. I figured unloaded leave all the ammo at home. There's no way it could happen.
Ron: Yeah. No that's fair. What has been the verdict? A lot of the conversations obviously I have and my team has all the time. Call it every day of the week with the businesses we work with or that are considering working with this. They're always talking about attribution. They're talking about if I invest time, time is still money right. Because your time could be spent doing something else other than being behind the camera. And so time money and effort. Bert, I'll start with you. How do you think about going down this avenue of I'll just say general marketing but then specifically this Facebook Live strategy that you guys have been pretty diligent at sticking with?
Bert: First off I'll say I'm an old guy right. It's a hard strategy for me to get my head wrapped around. Which is why I'm so happy that Joel and Stephanie have really taken it on.
Ron: You're saying it may not be happening if it weren't for Joel and Stephanie running it.
Bert: It would not be happening if it wasn't for Joel and Stephanie. I'd still be thinking about doing it. I'm trying to figure out why I'm not doing well in business. That's why we call Stephanie the producer. She really does take it to another level. It's cool that we've been able to come together do it consistently. And obviously, it's been great leaps and bounds for us as a business.
Ron: That's good. Bert, do you guys feature products, and if so do your vendors like that? Do they dig that you talk about their stuff?
Bert: Absolutely. We get that all the time. We try to fit in and plugin as many vendors as we can. A lot of the times during see for yourself month obviously things are really focused on Control4. But we've had many episodes in between those times and we're just plugging away at different product lines or maybe a couple of different product lines within the same category like a speaker or voice devices. We really want to push for things like Josh.ai but we also talk about Google and Alexa.
Ron: Joel, two things for you. What success has been deemed from this? I think you mentioned it's all a blur. I don't know if this was a preshow or when we were going live but you were telling me about something that you did get or somebody watched one of the shows. Have you been able to attribute any lead gen coming from this strategy or have you had your customers or prospects tell you that they've watched it?
Joel: We definitely have people say that they saw it. I think the biggest benefit directly to this and how we use it in our sales process is that when we're on a sales call or on the phone with a client or a potential client and they ask about a specific solution or product we have now all this content that we've created that we can say oh we actually did a whole Facebook Live on voice control and I can send them a link to our Facebook Live and now they can see it. They get more original content directly from us. It positions us as obviously the expert in that category or in that solution without having to point them to a specific manufacturer or product right which is nothing wrong with that but that can open the door for them to start looking at other things and other solutions other dealers. Whereas you create your own content you can now control that experience.
Ron: For those that are listening and Joel correct me if I'm wrong here, but I think I know this. Each of those videos gets I don't want the word Facebook Live to scare anyone listening. Each video becomes its own URL. It's just a link you can email that link to people they don't have to even they don't have to know anything about social media they just watch the video that you've produced.
Ron: You're in essence building out a library of topics and content that become a resource for your prospects and customers.
Joel: And it's what you said earlier you asked Bert earlier about attributing an ROI. It's really difficult to attribute an ROI to social media period. If that's your only trigger to say I'm going to do social because of the ROI. Don't. That's not the way. That's not the mindset behind social awareness.
Ron: You're going to get really frustrated if that's what you're going in demanding.
Joel: It's brand awareness. It's getting your name out there and get people to know who you are and build content. You create the ROI later by leveraging the content during the sales process but trying to directly link that stuff together. Like you said you're going to go nuts because you're never gonna see a direct return on it.
Ron: Give our audience some guidance around tech. What. I mean tech like your studio you shoot Facebook Lives. What do you use for your camera? What do you use for your microphone? What do you use for your lighting? What do you do?
Joel: It's nice that you call that a studio it's our lobby in our office.
Ron: I'm just using video production code words.
Bert: No thanks for the professionalism.
Ron: Yeah. Helping you out. Yeah. I'm in my studio also known as my office.
Joel: Yeah. You learn as you go along for sure. It all runs off of a laptop right? There's nothing fancy to it. We use the same software you use, which is BeLive there are several other ones out there. It's really easy to use which is why we kind of like that one. But yeah just runs off of our laptop. We started with one of those like little cameras that clipped to the top of the monitor. That's how we did probably the first 10 to 12 episodes. We now have the DSLR camera just for better video. We bought a little Yeti.
Bert: He likes that idea.
Ron: I'm impressed. That's an advanced streamer technique. They're using a DSLR with a USB mini to your machine.
Joel: I mean I figured I had the DSLR sitting in my office. I figured I may use it for something more than taking pictures on vacation.
Ron: You can't see it but on this shelf up here I've got a Canon Rebel but it's a 4I. I actually went and looked if I could set that up as my camera. But it's not advanced enough. I have to have a 5I to do that. Time to upgrade. Yeah because this right here is just off my iMac camera. This is what a 720P iMac face time camera. Not nothing fancy at all. If you guys want to see a good video. You gotta watch the First Priority Audio Facebook Live show. That's where it's coming in full HD 1080P.
Joel: And we bought a ring light which Bert hates. But we bought a ring light. And that's it. That's our entire setup. And it's normally if you'd see it from the other side you'd laugh because it's a bunch of boxes and things that kind of position stuff and the desk looks like a mismatched pile of different components but it all works together to the light down the other end.
Ron: Now Andre says a very important question he wants to know who does Bert's makeup?
Bert: We do it like a man. We rub our fingers in our hair and our beard. We're good. Sometimes a hat.
Ron: That's funny. Thank you, Andres. I appreciate that. And then Eddie says, "Apple needs to up the cameras on these computers." I agree. Eddie, I was just reading about the new MacBook Air which has the new silicon chip. Apparently, it makes the 720P face time camera look better. But the new iMacs I guess if you buy one now it comes with the new 1080 camera versus the 720P which is what this is. Eddie, I was researching that this morning so rumor has it the new iMacs have better cameras but we shall see. Both of you gentlemen. You guys have been awesome. I loved your stories and I loved hearing about your Facebook Live episode as well as the way you guys are reaching out and helping those in need in your community.
If people are watching or listening and they want to follow you guys learn more about First Priority Audio or get in touch with you individually. How can we do that? I'm going to start with you Joel and then I'll come over to you Bert and find out how people can get in touch with you.
Ron: It's a beautiful website. My man, I love that. About to say that's hot stuff. Bert, tell us how can people get in touch with you sir.
Ron: Awesome. And we will put all of those contact information Stephanie is here and she will type those into the show notes on our website as well as in the comments section here under the video. If you guys want to grab that and Eddie. Of course, I've got to put this on screen. Eddie says, "Your website is so nice." I think all three of us agree. Eddie, it is a pretty website.
Joel: We've gotten a lot of compliments about it actually.
Ron: Yes. We just did some new video production fellows. We'll have to share with you. Ted, I think is your Account Manager here so we'll have to get you guys looped in and show you some of the newest stuff. We were just shooting new content last week. Go look at Ted's last comment. Ted said, "Whoever made that site needs a raise.".
Bert: I agree Ted.
Ron: I agree with both of you. It's been a pleasure having you on the show. Thank you so much for making time to do this.
Bert: Thanks, Ron.
Joel: Thank you. Appreciate it.
Bert and Joel are cousins running the family business, First Priority Audio. Bert started his entrepreneurial journey early, at the age of 18, installing and servicing satellite dish installations throughout South Florida. His cousin, Joel Hernandez started his own AV integration company in the early 2000’s, and later joined forces with Bert at First Priority Audio in 2014.
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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