Home Automation Podcast Episode #150: An Industry Q&A With Brian Perreault
In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, Brian Perreault of Barrett's Technology Solutions shares the benefit of building relationships and being a resource for clients.
This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Brian Perreault. Recorded live on Wednesday, December 16th at 12:30 p.m. EST.
About Brian Perreault
Today's show features Brian Perreault, COO at Barrett's Technology Solutions.
With nearly thirty years of experience at Barrett's and as COO and partner, Brian oversees all aspects of the business and has been instrumental in helping to guide the company to become a highly respected residential and commercial technology integration company in the greater Chicago-land area.
Active members of the ASID, CEDIA, and HTSA (of which Brian serves on the Board and is the current President), Brian and the Barrett's team take great pride in surrounding themselves with inspiring trade organizations and a network of peers with whom they can share insight, learn from and grow alongside.
- Brian's near 30-year career with Barrett's Technology
- The benefit of building relationships and being a resource for clients
- Why embracing change is crucial for the growth of a small business
- How integrating Google Ads into their marketing strategy has helped their business
Ron: Brian. How are you, sir?
Brian: Hey Ron, how are you?
Ron: I am super. Where are you coming to us from?
Brian: From Lumbergh Illinois. Just right outside of Chicago. Thanks for having me.
Ron: My pleasure. On Instagram, anyone that follows me personally they'll know that I'll post stories usually of nature. I do a nature walk around my neighborhood and there are lots of beautiful trees and ponds and yesterday morning I went outside. I live right on a practice hole for the golf course and it was hot and steamy and literally there was a cloud layer of fog from the steam and I posted that picture. It's basically a cheat way for me to say it's hot and steamy here in Florida. How is it in Chicago?
Brian: It's not hot and steamy. In fact , we had snow on the ground today so it's a little bit of a contrast from what you just described. That's Chicago. Winter is here.
Ron: When did winter arrive?
Brian: The last couple of days have been pretty chilly. When you find you're going outside and you have to put on your knit hat, you know winter's here. You get used to it. I've been in Chicago all my life. Sometimes it gets cold enough that I start thinking what am I doing here? But I would miss the change of seasons if we didn't have them. It's a great place to be.
Ron: Got it. There's a nickname for Chicago is it Chitown?
Brian: Chitown or the Windy City.
Ron: Does anyone actually in Chicago say that or is it only people outside of Chicago that say that?
Brian: Probably more so people outside of Chicago. Or the Windy City. I remember I was traveling for a honeymoon, my wife and I went to Ireland and everybody there recognized us being from the Windy City, it wasn't Chicago. The Windy City is what they know us as overseas. It was interesting. And by the way that has nothing to do with wind, it's all about the Chicago politics.
Ron: Is it really? I was actually going to pull that thread because I lived in Minnesota and it was very windy and the wind chills were ridiculous and terribly cold. But that's not why it has that name?
Brian: That's not why it has a name.
Ron: Now you've got to tell us all more. We are all waiting on bated breath. What does windy have to do with politics?
Brian: Chicago politics, Illinois isn't exactly known to have the most ethical politics and that dates back years and years and I can't tell you exactly how that term was born. But I can tell you that it doesn't have to do with the climate or actual wind.
Ron: Alright. Well, that is good to know. We've got a few people popping in. We got Maria. She says, "Welcome, greetings from Mexico." Thank you, Maria. And we've got Alex and Alex says, "Welcome Brian." Thank you, Alex.
Brian: Thanks for joining us.
Ron: One more, we've got Angel. He says, "Welcome Brian. Saludos from Mexico. I'm the guy spamming your email with blog notifications to your website."
Brian: I know the name well. Before we get started, congrats to you on 150.
Ron: Yeah. Thank you. It is a big deal. We're three and a half years into this show, this content, these interviews. This year thanks to my team it is all them. Angel and Stephanie and Allison and I know there are more. Carlee and there are lots of people behind the scenes at One Firefly. And Carlos was just in helping us do some audio checks before we went live. Lots of people at One Firefly involved in making this show possible. The e-mails that you received in advance to fill out forms and create. And Miguel creates images and artwork. Then to get these shows produced as we built up our team here at One Firefly it's made it possible to actually do more shows.
Brian: It's fantastic. 150 is a big deal.
Ron: Well, thank you. I'm happy and excited to have you on for show 150, how's that? Thank you. How long have you and I been working together? At least a few years.
Brian: I was trying to think about this before the show. The first project you did for us was our sales portfolio. That was probably seven or eight years ago maybe longer. The one thing that happened the more time that goes by, the less relevant time seems. What you think is two years ago was five years ago and what you think was five years ago is ten years ago. It's probably been at least seven or eight years.
Ron: Seven or eight years. And here we are today you are COO of Barretts. Barretts is a longtime industry veteran company. Tell our audience about your role and about the company at large and maybe some of the history of the company.
Brian: Our company was founded in 1966. Believe it or not, back then we were a TV store. The name of the company was Barrett Magnavox we were an exclusive Magnavox television dealer. The founder of the company Jim Barrett used to work for a long-standing Chicago retailer called Pulp Brothers. Pulp Brothers was like an institution in the Chicago land area. You'd go there to buy TVs and electronics and appliances and they were one of the first big-box retailers in our market. And he had an opportunity to branch off on his own and open a store to sell tvs and other electronics. That was right around the time that there was a lot of upside in selling color tvs. Looking back, it's really remarkable how far we've come as a company. That was 1966. I joined the company in 1991 and even from '66 to '91, the company had gone through a few evolutions. When I joined the company, the name of the company was Barrett's Audio-Video and we were a specialty retailer. We had stores and malls. I think we had at the time five stores in shopping malls and we sold specialty electronics. We tried to sell Tier 2 brands that were just one step up from what you would find at the convention. Conventional big box stores and earned a really nice living for a lot of years doing retail. Right before the recession, we started seeing that our business was really transitioning and I talked about the recession of 2008 where we were doing more and more custom installs. We had an installation team, a very talented installation team on staff and we were getting more and more calls to integrate the technology into people's homes as opposed to people buying in and us loading their trunks and sending them on their way. We had more and more demand to integrate the technology into our client's homes. Right after the recession, we started seeing that the retail business for us was struggling. It was tough competing with not only the local big box stores but the internet was getting harder. At the same time, we have this custom installation business that's going gangbusters. Shortly thereafter, we made a decision to focus all of our efforts on being a good customer integrator. What does that mean? We're no longer going to be focused on somebody walking through the front door to earn a living. We would be more aggressive about going out to get the business. Developing those strategic relationships and integrating technology and being that resource for our clients. Fast forward to today, a huge contrast. Our call right now, I'm sitting in my office in an office park. No retail store. We just moved to this space.
Ron: No walk-in traffic buying boxes?
Brian: None of that. It was a little bit of a culture shock because even in my career for many years, that's what we called our home office was our retail destination. Just this year we moved into an office park. We felt ready, we had enough relationships where we just knew. We haven't been dependent for many years on that walk-in foot traffic so it's been really an interesting evolution. As COO, I oversee the day to day operations of the company. I oversee both our installation and sales teams. I've been instrumental in driving change and making sure that we're putting ourselves in a position to be successful as an integration company because it's required a lot of change from a lot of individuals. We've got a ton of tenure in our firm. A lot of folks made that transition with us going from retail to the company we are today, home integration.
Ron: This is a bit of a marketing question but it seems super interesting for me that you had many years, decades, and decades of building a customer base in retail. You talked about the last recession, which used to be called the Great Recession. I don't know if it still gets called the Great Recession after this stuff we're going through. That was around 2009-2011, that timeframe. You transitioned into integration. It seems like that's a pretty powerful opportunity to market to those decades of customers that were buying this's and that's from you guys and now you're able to market your integration services. Were you always marketing to them or was there a pivot in terms of strategy and how to leverage those decades of tenure in the market?
Brian: Well, it's funny, it's a combination of both things. When we first made the transition, our client base was really the ones that were keeping our doors open at that point. We had a healthy enough client base dating back for almost 50 years or at the time 40 years where we had a lot of repeat and referral business and that was a healthy business. Yes, we did do a lot of marketing to those folks to explain our new services and some of those clients came along for the ride and others didn't. Frankly, we probably lost some clients during that transition because what we chose to do was highly unique and it was different. It was no longer that experience of walking into a retail store and talking to a salesperson and purchasing something over the counter and then having us load their trunk and sending them on their way was different and not everybody necessarily had that need.
Once we started having some success, really the true transition came when we started doing business development because we knew we needed to keep driving the business. We couldn't just be dependent upon that book of business of the retail client base we had. We had to go out and find new business and new opportunities. This was probably five to seven years ago the Principal Owner of the company, Joe Barrett, assumed the role of business development. It was his job to go out and knock on the doors of architects and designers and custom home builders and landscape contractors and other trades and develop those relationships. It took a little while. It's definitely the long game. You don't see the fruits of that labor overnight but we did start seeing great success from that to a point where almost all of our business was derived from the trades community. Even today, that's the vast majority of our business is through those relationships that we have with designers and architects and the like in that in that process. One of the things that was interesting is, we to some degree, lost a little focus on embracing our existing client base. We had this whole new sector of clients that were keeping us super busy and we still had because of our reputation and the solid relationships we had we still had a lot of folks coming back to us to do upgrades or those sorts of things.
But it really wasn't until just this year with COVID, that we knew that that was a mistake. We had to really embrace our existing client base. We put together an increased marketing effort to go after our existing clients and that's one of our main focuses for 2021. We still have a really solid foundation of trade partners but looking back, we were remiss in not really putting our arms around the people that built our business. There's a renewed effort this year and next to really reintroduce ourselves and just to show what it is that we're capable of doing and this year , in particular, has been interesting because a lot of folks have come back knocking on our door for upgrades. More and more folks are spending time at home and they're realizing that their home technology isn't necessarily what they thought it was. They see that there are deficiencies and it's time to upgrade. We've seen a nice little spike in activity and seeing all these clients that we've had these long-standing relationships with resurfacing. That was just a reminder that we need to make sure we're not forgetting about those folks.
Ron: Yeah, I couldn't agree more. I want to pull on a lot of different threads there but I want to be mindful. I also want to go back into your background so our audience understands. You've done something I'm going to call amazing. You've been with Barrett's Technology Solutions for 30 years. Twenty-nine years.
Brian: Twenty-nine years, it will be twenty-nine years on believe it or not on New Year's Eve. I started on New Year's Eve I don't know who starts a job on New Year's Eve. That date is always in my mind and it's hard to believe Ron. I have to tell you when I look at twenty-nine years of history, it's sometimes a little surreal. I can't tell you how fast time has gone by but at the same time, we have reinvented ourselves many times within that span. I've been at the same company for twenty- nine years, there's been new challenges along the way. And again, the business today is completely different than what the business was 29 years ago.
Ron: When you joined twenty-nine years ago, what were you hired to do?
Brian: I joined the company. And for me, it was supposed to be a stop-gap job. I was in between colleges and looking for something to make some money. I always had an interest in electronics. I was always the kid growing up that the top item on my Christmas list was some electronic gadget. I always had an interest in the gear and I happened to see an ad in the paper for a place called Barrett's Audio-Video and I just thought hey this seems like it would suit me. I'd be interested, it was a stone's throw from my house. It was in a shopping mall that I lived five miles down the road from. I stopped in and had a conversation with John who's still with our company today. Long story short, John ended up hiring me and brought me in and I was hired to be a salesperson and it was the first time I ever sold anything. I had such an interest in the gear and the technology and I had the ability, fortunately, to be able to talk to people and resonate. I didn't realize I had that until after I joined frankly. I didn't know how I would do on the sales floor but I had a lot of success. I think that first year in the company, I was the number one guy in the company over five stores which was a hidden talent that I didn't know that I had.
Ron: Had you ever sold anything before that?
Brian: Never sold a thing before that. But what I had was passion. I really enjoyed what I was doing. I'll never forget to this day, my first sale was a Mitsubishi big screen TV and a fisher rack system together and at the time that was probably a six thousand dollar sale and that was a big deal.
Ron: Is that the TV's that were a corrugated plastic and you scratch them and they had a CRT projector behind it?
Brian: You got it.
Ron: I know some of the people listening are like, "What the hell is he talking about?" I remember those, I had family that had those tvs.
Brian: Oh my God, I can't even tell you how many of those things we sold over the years it was fun.
Ron: I want to say there was a point one of my relatives like an animal got caught inside the TV.
Brian: I've heard that before for sure.
Ron: It was like a big disaster because of the heck with the cat. But the TV might blow up and it was like a big deal.
Brian: I've heard all those stories it's interesting I can't tell you how many hundreds of those we sold over the years. At Barrett's, that's really what we were known for. Our background was in video selling TV. It was quite a transition and one of the other things that pushed us in this direction is at one point in time, we were able to have a really healthy company selling big-screen TVs ads and as soon as flat-panel TVs came out, the whole business changed. There was no longer the ability to make money on flat-screen TVs. At that point, we started shifting a little bit of our emphasis to the audio side.
Ron: When did plasmas come around?
Brian: There was the Pioneer Elite and NEC had one and I remember Integra the audio manufacturer had one that was super high-end and at the time they were twenty-five thousand dollars. A 50-inch television was extraordinary.
Ron: Eddie's saying, "No not the cat!" Thanks for tuning in. That's funny. Well all right. Let me put on the screen here, Angel who you know is asking you, "What was your personal favorite gadget?" I'm going to say maybe the gadget or tech that you sold retail. What was the thing that resonated with you as a favorite?
Brian: Oh, man. There are so many. I'll have to say two and this is going to date me a little bit I guess. But one of the favorite gadgets that I had was a mini disc player and I was able to take some C.Ds and record them on the mini disc and create playlists.
Ron: Just because the mini disc was a cool thing?
Brian: It was just cool and it never really had any traction in the industry. It was such a niche thing but it was so very cool. The other one I would say is a laserdisc player. I bought a laserdisc player and the quality of the video was just so much better than VHS at the time. I started building up a laserdisc collection. And it was just it was fun. I had a good time with those and I miss those days. Today, the physical media is dried up, everything is going to streaming.
As consumers, we have more content than we even know what to do with. But back in the day, there was something about having that laser does that the physical disc and the cover and all the pictures and everything that went along with it. I think that's one of the reasons that I've never been somebody that's gotten into it to a great extent. But that's one of the reasons vinyl has made such a comeback is it's that tactile thing where people enjoy having the cover art and seeing whatever the story on the artist and having a different experience.
Ron: Here at One Firefly, we use a piece of software called Slack to keep our team who are all remote throughout the US and Mexico to keep us all connected. We have lots of fun channels, social non-work-related things and we have a plant channel and one of my writers posted a picture of some of their plants. And I've been posting pictures of my plants and I couldn't help but look past the plants to seeing the vinyl record collection. You're not going to call it a record player. What do you call it?
Ron: A turntable and everyone's going to throw eggs at me for calling it a record player. Yeah, the turntable. And that was my comment. I was like, "Oh look at you with the vinyl collection." That's a hobby.
Brian: It is a big hobby for a lot of people and what's really cool about that is the age group that is really getting in vinyl isn't what you think it is. There's a ton of 18 to 25-year-olds.
Ron: This was a millennial that has a vinyl collection. They'll go out on the weekend and they'll go try to look for that new album. The same stuff you'd see kids doing in the 70s.
Brian: I love it. It warms my heart that generation is getting into music and getting into that experience it's just awesome.
Ron: I completely agree. Look Maria says, "I have a vinyl record collection myself. " Becca says, "Thanks for joining Brian from snowy Ohio.".
Brian: Thanks, Becca.
Ron: And Ellie says, "Welcome to the show, Brian. Excited to learn more about what you do." Let's talk about it. You guys went from selling retail to transitioning. Walk me through just a couple of those steps from retail to COO. Give me the Cliff Notes. I want to go into a lot more about your business today and the current economic environment of today but I want to make sure I see for our audience some of those clearly defined steps.
Brian: Yeah. I mentioned I had success working the sales floor back in the day and at the time that eventually led to a store management position. I mentioned five stores at the time so I was one of five store managers that reported back to our home office and I always had success. The stores that I had worked in were always performing well and the owner at the time, I have got a great relationship with today and had a great relationship back then. They saw the potential in me and gave me an opportunity to move on. I can't recall the exact year but I was promoted to a General Manager position where I oversaw the multiple stores that we had. Around I want to say 2003 we had opened our flagship location it was in Naperville, Illinois. It was a twenty-five thousand square foot showroom at the time was a big building and I was put in charge of managing that location and had a great run there for many years. Eventually, as I said, as we saw the retail business shifting away from more in favor of the custom integration business and that just happened organically over the years. But once we saw that success we really decided to double down on the custom integration and go out and get the business. That led to Joe Barrett moving into a business development role. And when he moved into that role, his focus was to be outside.
Creating those relationships and that created a void where we really needed somebody on the inside that was running the day to day operations of the company. Overseeing our sales team, overseeing our install team, and making sure that we had the right path for our vision and we were having success along the way and I was fortunate enough to be put into that position.
Ron: And it sounds like you earned it.
Brian: I would like to believe I earned it. It took a lot of time to make that happen. I had demonstrated that I could be successful and I was having fun while I was doing it. When I came in, my focus was to really look forward and I didn't want to look in the rearview mirror. I think for a while we had a tendency to just continually think what if we made another effort to go after the retail business. When you have a twenty-five thousand square foot facility that's an easy thing to fall into because you have this massive commitment. We had a lot of overhead in terms of products and on demonstration on the sales floor. We had a vested interest to make that successful. But I was always the cog in the wheel. It was saying hey let's not really focus on retail, let's really put all of our efforts into the C.I. side , and let's make sure that the systems we're setting up and the decisions we're making as a company are putting us in the best position to be successful there because that's where our future was.
Ron: You saw the integration side of the business really growing, you saw it as profitable, you saw as scalable and you saw some of the cracks in the armor of retail awhile back.
Brian: No question and I also saw that there were fewer people doing what we do today. There was a great opportunity. I knew that we had the team we had the expertise. I knew we had everything else to be successful. It was really just a matter of committing ourselves and making sure that you know we were making decisions as an integration company and not as a retailer. And it was a little scary for a while. When the foundation of our company is built on retail to think about the prospect of no longer trying to drive business through the front door is interesting. And it's a little scary.
Ron: I have a question out of left field, no preparation here and I have no idea what your opinion is but it's something I've been noodling for. I am seeing and hearing more and more particularly this year. It happened in 2020. And the question that I've had people posed to me and so rather than tell you my beliefs one way or another I'm just going to pose it freely to you. Let's get your feedback and that is, there are businesses that are audio-video retail operations, brick and mortar and or something to make it more complex , and or they are hybrid AV retailer/ integrators or they're pure residential integrators, what you are today. Pure integration twenty-five-person company doing pure resi and or a little bit of light commercial integration. What is your opinion about the role of turning a website into e-commerce either with a heavy focus or a light focus with the goal or hopes that that would generate some type of running revenue that's meaningful to your business?
Brian: It's an interesting question. I know some other dealers across the country that are doing that very successfully. I also know that it takes a lot of bandwidth. It's very taxing on the company to open an e-commerce business. We noodled around with it some years ago and just decided that you know again it's all about where do you want to focus your efforts? At the time with just a limited amount of bandwidth , we knew that that was just one of these initiatives. We just didn't have the ability to take on. That being said I know some do it very successfully and it's been a thriving business for them. I don't necessarily see that that's going to be something that's in our future. But for those who do it, I'm envious to some degree because that's been a great revenue stream for them.
Ron: When you say you went down that path. Do you mind providing any clarity you feel comfortable with? What did you do and what made you ultimately turn away?
Brian: Well, we didn't get far enough along the path to really speak to it to any extent but it's something that we had talked about. We're a member of a national buying group called HTSA Home Technology Specialists of America. And one of the things with HTSA is we get together multiple times a year at conferences and we share ideas. We had heard from others that were doing e-commerce very successfully that there's a good future in that. We saw that firsthand, we saw the kind of numbers that they were putting up and it was very impressive. It was tempting. We didn't get far enough along or we started building any infrastructure or setting up systems to actually go down that road. But we had a lot of conversation about it and just realized that again, with a relatively smaller firm it's all about where do you place your efforts?
That's one of the things getting back to retail is dividing those efforts with a 20-30 person firm. There's only so much bandwidth that you have. What we found is we're placing a disproportionate amount of effort trying to drive retail business. And that was just diverting everything from being successful into this thriving business that we had on the CI side. That's when we came to the realization is just the amount of time we were spending on a weekly basis trying to drive that business when this other part of our business is having great success and needs attention. We just knew that we needed to refocus our efforts. Getting into e-commerce, it fell into that same category where we just knew we didn't have the bandwidth to be able to do that and be able to support and be the best integration company that we wanted to be.
Ron: You ultimately pivoted into pure integration, you and Joe and leadership said we're going all in we're going to be the best integrators in Chicago we're going to be the best integrators that we could be in the Midwest and we're no longer retailers. When that decision happened, how did you feel and what happened when you guys went all in with that approach?
Brian: I remember the day there was a singular event that I remember talking about this because we were we at the time we were planning an audio event. And again we had heard through some counterparts that they've hosted events and they've had this massive success with hundreds of people lining outside the door. We had high hopes and we put a lot of effort into an event and not that it was unsuccessful but we didn't have the type of attendance that we'd hoped for and there was such extraordinary effort that went into having this. That was the day that the writing was kind of on the wall saying I can't even tell you for the last month how many hours we put into building this event to build a retail business. We just didn't see the fruits of that labor. I remember having that conversation.
For me, I had felt this for years leading up to it. Again, through our fellow dealers at HTSA I had seen the successes other dealers have had either in the integration space or making that transition from retail integration. I knew we had all the other parts to be successful. It was easier for me. I don't want to speak for Joe Barret, he's not on the call here but I think it was a little more challenging for him just because retail was in his DNA. His family had built this really reputable retail company over the years and I remember the time we when we made that transition there was a period of time and I still joke around with Joe about it today where we had focused on OK let's make sure that we're doing everything we can to drive the integration business. Let's forget about how many door swings there are and how many people are coming in and I just remember the days where Joe would be out of the corner of his eye looking at the front door looking to see who's walking through and maybe a little nervous about it.
That was the time though that we just knew that it was necessary. We weren't going to accomplish anything sitting there staring at the front door waiting for people to come in that we had to be aggressive about going out to get the business. And I have to tell you that when Joe took over that position of business development, he owned it and he's killing it and he's found his calling because he's just such a natural at it. And again it's a different type of sales.
Ron: What is it? Let's go into it. When you say Joe, the Principal or the primary owner of the business, and I now know there are others. When he's put into a role that it's mutually decided upon by leadership that he's going to go do biz dev, what does that mean? What doors is he knocking on and what's he doing?
Brian: He really focused on all the trades. I would say that we first started by embracing the design community and really had really tremendous success. And again you have to look at it as the long game. It doesn't happen overnight but it takes persistence and it takes consistency and you have to be out there. You have to be visible. You have to be available. You have to be aggressive. He was all those things from cold calling to showing up at every networking function and getting to know people and it's a totally different type of sales cycle because you're nuts with business development. You're not in talking about technology. When you're having a conversation at a networking function you're not talking about the things that we're typically talking about with our clients. You're learning about people's kids and about where they took vacations and you're getting to know folks on a personal level. He was just such a natural at that. In time you built these relationships and once you've built that relationship then the opportunity opens up to be able to talk about what we do. And we made a really strong effort when we felt the time was right to invite the trade partners back to our facility to give him a tour have a meet our people and to talk more specifically about what we do and how we can benefit their business. It's a multi-step approach. It takes time. And even when you finally turn that corner and you have the first opportunity you're not done there. Folks are gonna bring you into their projects. Let's say a designer is going to stick their neck out and bring us into a project. We have to make sure we hit a home run on that. We have to make sure that they're sticking their neck out and recommending Barrett's to come in and we've got to make sure that we make them look good and that they feel comfortable working with us and we're on their team.
We really started with the design community and had a message for the design community that we can integrate technology but we can also do it in a way that's not going to distract from their beautiful design. A lot of our focus was talking about these stealthy technologies that we can install where you don't even really know that there's technology in the space. Things like vanishing mirror televisions and invisible speakers and just things to lift mechanisms to hide TV's in the cabinets and all those sorts of things. Once we went out there was that message. It really resonated with the design community. They saw that we were a partner it wasn't this adversarial thing that I've heard many years that it could be a little difficult because there are two different visions. The designer has the vision to make the space look beautiful and inherently the stuff that we do isn't beautiful. That's history is its black boxes.
Ron: It's certainly a reputation maybe that technology in the home has earned.
Brian: Yeah it's earned it over years but that's absolutely not the case today and our vendor community has developed some really terrific technologies that have design in mind. As soon as we saw the industry turning that corner we embraced that 100 percent because we knew the message was going to be a little different. Just really advocating that we're there to be a trusted resource and we weren't just going after big projects by the way. One of the messages that really seems to stick is that we want to be a resource for all things. If they have a client that needs a TV and a kitchen and it's a TV and a cable box and it's a simple project, we want to be the firm they call for that work too. And once you take that position you become their company You become their guy and they're the ones that they call not only for the smaller service projects but also for the bigger projects that they're working on.
"When you're in the right place with the right people and you've demonstrated your commitment to be part of that team, you're gonna get the call and they have to know they can call you and you're going to be there to help solve problems or be part of the team that's going to solve problems."
Ron: I was just on a call yesterday with Chris from Service Tech down in Austin, another HTSA member, and he was showing me a YouTube video where he and his team were part of the crew that hung a car on the wall and he had integrated lighting control into the lights in the car. It was part of that control system and that's one of the craziest things I've ever seen. It was so amazing that you were called to be part of the team to hang a car on the wall like an automobile on the wall as art and it's to your point. When you're in the right place with the right people and you've demonstrated your commitment to be part of that team, you're gonna get the call and they have to know they can call you and you're going to be there to help solve problems or be part of the team that's going to solve problems.
Brian: That's it. You want to be their resource and as we've made that transition it's amazing. I don't think we've hung any cars on the wall. I think we have one to aspire to here. That's an interesting story.
Ron: Car lights are a button push on the keypad.
Brian: Is that right? How cool is that? But the things that we're called in to do now are so much different. Back in the day, selling tvs and stereos. Back when I joined the company in 1991, I could never dream we'd be doing the things we are today and we continue to evolve. The past couple of years and again through a big push through our buying group HTSA is the lighting fixture business and there's tremendous upside there and it makes nothing but sense because you know we've been the trade for years that handles the lighting control portion of the projects. It just makes sense to provide a turnkey approach and also offer the fixtures to be able to speak to the technology and make sure that there is a good integration and compatibility. It makes nothing but sense so lighting fixtures is a new endeavor for us and then on the frontier, this was really going to be big.
I think largely it's been on the radar for a while. But this year it's certainly gotten a little bit more publicity is wellness. Another tremendous opportunity and right now we're just scratching the surface on both of those things there's a lot of other firms that are a lot further along than we are but we see the potential.
Ron: Still the early days in that category. I think there's a lot of room to run. I don't know that anyone's really late at this point.
Brian: No. At this point, we're just trying to educate ourselves as much as we can. We're trying to learn and absorb and we want to be in the position where we can be that expert. I can't say we're in that position today but we're learning as much as we can so that we can be that resource down the line. There's always going to be new opportunities like that and that's one of the interesting things with this business is that it's always evolving. We make jokes at the office here that years ago we long for those days where folks would engage us on a project and say, "Hey oh by the way do you guys also do audio and video?" And we've evolved to that point where now we're called into projects to do things like lighting control and motorized shades and climate control and controlling the pool and spa. just the whole general smart home environment. The things that our roots were based on, audio-video, sometimes is almost secondary to some of those other things.
"I'm definitely hearing the theme of adapting. I don't think any business can be a business since 1966 without adapting."
Ron: I'm definitely hearing the theme of adapting. I don't think any business can be a business since 1966 without adapting. Maybe most businesses can't adapt or don't adapt. You guys have. Where does that come from?
Brian: It comes from several things. Years of seeing the cycles of business and you learn a lot. Every once in a while you get punched in the mouth and you learn from those things and you have to be able to adapt. That's just the nature of a small business. But it's been the culture of our company really since I joined is don't be afraid to change. If there's a new thing on the horizon and we see an opportunity that we need to embrace it and we're a small enough company that we can do those things. Even in my time in the company, there have been several evolutions. I mentioned before that we joined when the company was founded. We started out as Barrett's Audio-Video. At some point in the mid-90s when the home theater was going gangbusters, we changed our name to Barrett's Home Theater and had a great run for a lot of years and really focused our effort on installing home theaters and media rooms.
Ron: Isn't the home theater category a thing? What's old is new again?
Brian: Without question and having those roots every time we're working with a client today that's interested in a home theater reminding them that hey our name was once Barrett's Home Theater adds a little additional credibility that we know that business well. But it did get to a point where we're at the tail end of that home theater boom and we were doing all these other things. It wasn't just home theater at that point. We were starting to do some automation and control, we were doing lighting control, and motorized shades and the breadth of services had really expanded to a point where the moniker Barrett's Home Theater just pigeonholed us where when we were working with companies specifically even in the early days of business development we got choked up as they're the home theater guy. Yes, we did home theaters but we also did all these other things. It was probably about 10 years ago or so that we changed our name to Barrett's Technology Solutions which really speaks to who we are today.
Ron: It's a catchall name.
Brian: It's a catchall name right. And it definitely better serves us today with all the areas of expertise that we have. But it was in an interesting cycle going through from retail audio video, home theater, technology solutions.
Ron: I am mindful of the time and I have so many things my audience always hears me say there are so many things I know I still want to get to and I know I don't have time so it just means you're going to have to come back. But I do have a topic I want to sneak in here under the wire just because again it's going to call it a theme of 2020 I'm hearing this. We're in the middle of our own analysis and thinking around this side. But you've lived this you've already done what I'm about to ask. I'd love if you'd be willing to share and that is I know that Barrett's has been in terms of marketing strategies, practicing Google Ads for many years. I know that there was a time when you were a retailer. You were brick and mortar and you were driving those activities to drive promotions or deals or foot traffic.
Today here you are still doing Google Ads as a part of your overall marketing strategy and you're in an office park. You don't want that random person walking in the front door and I'm asking has that particular marketing strategy did it work for you then and does it work for you now? And if so what's changed? What's different?
Brian: The short answer is yes and yes. It worked back then and it's still working today and it's a big focus. We don't spend a lot of money each month on marketing. Most of our marketing dollars are spent in terms of the business development side joining network groups and attending functions and we still have events. They're a little different focus on the events today then.
Ron: You have a marketing budget you're just slicing the pie and putting it in events and in different categories.
Brian: Correct. But a big portion of that is made up by Google AdWords. We still very much see the relevance in Google AdWords. When we had more of a retail presence the strategy at that time was really to focus on brands more so brands less so services. We would really focus on driving brands because that was the nature of a retail business is you want folks to whatever brand it is that they're searching on, see you at the top of that list and as a result of that come into your store and hopefully make a purchase. When our business transitioned, where we were out of the items business and into the solutions business it took a long while to adapt and figure out what does our new strategy need to look like. Because brands weren't really working for us anymore. We still had the activity but it wasn't the focus of our business.
What we were after, was the project not selling the item and the strategy is completely different. And what I chose to do is focus really on services as opposed to the categories or the brands. I chose to really focus on high-level services and some of this was a matter of setting expectations even for myself as to what was our goal. And when I made that change my goal was never to drive hundreds of clicks each month. If you get the clicks, that's great and we were getting clicks but that wasn't my measure of success. My measure of success was getting the right clicks. Everything that we did strategically was based on trying to get the right client to our door to get them to our website get them to our door. Have them pick up their phone to give us a call. And it took a long while to make that shift.
I've mentioned this before but if I only have five inquiries a month as a result of the Google AdWords and our ad spend. But they are the right five leads, I'm completely satisfied with that. Even if it's just one or two I'm completely satisfied with that. I'll tell you a little story when we first started doing this. And this is really when the light bulb went off and it solidified our approaches. We were spending some money on Adwords and we had just started to make that transition to focus on high-level services. We had a we spent a long time really trying to understand the geographic areas and what geographic areas we needed to focus on so that we were very deliberate and we had a strategy a very focused strategy. This was right when Trump Tower downtown was just starting to sell units. We had a website query come through from a gentleman from the Netherlands and he had found us on Google and it was a result of the strategy we had at the time and he at the time was interested in a whole home automation project for his luxury condominium unit at Trump Tower so we met with him on onsite had a great conversation really hit it off. Long story short we ended up signing a contract he signed a contract with us to take on a project.
The very day that he signed the contract he said, "I need to get things moving here. I have a designer that's coming tomorrow to look through the space. I know it's short notice but would you mind meeting my design team on site to walk through the project?" The client was gonna be on a plane to Malaysia or wherever he was going. We said sure, we'll meet on-site. Well we meet the designer in the lobby at Trump Tower and the first thing she says is hey we want to go up and look at the client's unit but before we do that we have two other units here that we'd like you to check out. It was right then and there that I realized it's all about the quality and not the quantity. That led to a relationship that we still have today with that designer. And it's led to hundreds of thousands of dollars of business over the years. And it was a result of a single search from a client based on a Google ad spend.
Ron: A $5 click on Google. That's a pretty good return on investment.
"If I'm not getting a huge quantity of clicks, I'm OK with that as long as the opportunities that we do see are the ones that we're looking for."
Brian: Very good return on investment so I try to remember that and remind myself of that. As I move forward is that's what it's all about. If I'm not getting a huge quantity of clicks, I'm OK with that as long as the opportunities that we do see are the ones that we're looking for. And it takes effort. It doesn't happen by itself. You have to put in the effort. There's not a month that goes by that we're not looking at our Adwords and our strategy and making tweaks to it. And you can't just rely on just that to you have to look at the organic side. We have taken on an initiative through your firm to do blogs monthly blogs. We repurpose those as newsletters each month and my goal is when somebody is searching on one of the services we provide, to have us not only show up on the paid search but have a show up on the organic search. That's where you really begin to develop a lot of relevance in the eyes of the consumer.
Ron: Yeah. And just to kind of tease you Brian but the audience as well if you guys go to Google and do a search today there are actually so many different areas of that page one that are really let's call them uncharted territory for search performance greater than just the ad position. Greater than just the organic position and there's stuff coming down the pipe from One Firefly a little bit later this year that's going to help address that and build dominance for businesses in those positions. Let's just say the game on Google is always changing just like life and business and we can't sit on our laurels and expect that what is working today will work tomorrow.
"Even today, focusing on keywords like home automation, they don't mean what they meant seven or eight years ago."
Brian: Well I look forward to learning more about it. I know we've entrenched ourselves in the digital marketing world and that's not my background. I'm by no means an expert but just based on how involved I have been I know that the return on investment is there and it definitely makes sense. Again, you have to be focused on every month and every year the strategy changes. Even today, focusing on keywords like home automation they don't mean what they meant seven or eight years ago. Today home automation is the generic thing that means a lot of things to a lot of different people. You have to really be looking at the trends and you have to stay in tune with what's going on and it does take effort.
Ron: I agree. Keith with HTSA just said, "Yes always shoot for the relationship not just the sale." And I couldn't agree more and Eddie just said, "Hey Ron that sounds exciting." Thank you Eddie. That was a tease. Show up for my webinar tomorrow and I'll show you about my new videos but my SEO stuff that's a little bit later in the year. But just know we are never sitting on our laurels at One Firefly. We're always cooking up. We're always looking at what's coming and where we need to be so that when the market catches up we're already there. Brian thank you sir for being very generous with your time and knowledge and experience and sharing that with our audience. It was a lot of fun having you on the show sir.
Brian: It was my pleasure. Thanks for having me Ron. You've been a great partner over the years and I'm glad we finally had the opportunity to do that. Thanks again.
Ron: I agree. And likewise , if our audience wants to get in touch with you directly and or they want to learn about Barrett's what would you have them do? Where do you want to direct traffic?
Ron: Awesome and I'm going to ask Stephanie who is tuning in to drop those details for me in the comments so anyone that is listening let's say purely through podcast you can jump or you can replay it you can rewind and listen to that and or you can jump over to the Facebook page or the website and you can get all that good contact information. On that note Brian thank you sir. Thanks for joining us. And if we don't talk sooner we're here on December 16th. We've got the holidays we're in the middle of Hanukkah we've got Christmas down the corner and New Year's. Happy holidays to you your family and your team.
Brian: Same to you Ron. Thanks again.
Ron: Awesome. Thanks, buddy. Alright, team. You're my team right. We're hanging out together. Thank you for joining us. That was a lot of fun. It was Brian and Joe Barrett and the whole team over there at Barrett's. I mean they're one of the originals. They're the OGs of audio-video retailing and integration. And that was fun to get some of their perspectives. I see that Stephanie just dropped the website down in the comments so definitely be sure to check out their website or reach out to Brian directly. And again tomorrow I am having a webinar. We're doing a webinar tomorrow at 12:00 and at 5:00 o'clock both times are Eastern Time. And if you want to check out some of our new media gallery content that is available exclusively to our website clients.
Either you already are my website client with a Mercury Pro or maybe you want to consider us or maybe you want to go shoot your own or work with a local videographer and you just want to be inspired about the types of content to produce our full video libraries. We don't put that content out for public consumption. Tomorrow will be an opportunity for you to take a look at our content and see what it's like and how we do it. And we'll be there to answer questions as well. If you guys want to tune in. Be sure to join us. And you can do that by visiting Instagram or Facebook or our website. Go to the webinar section and you'll see all the information and how to register and maybe for the hell of it, Stephanie if we want to get that registration link maybe both the 12:00 and the 5:00 and we'll put it down in the comments here on this show. That way would give you a shortcut and make it easy for you to get there. If you have not done so already and look at this every week I run through it with Stephanie and my team definitely subscribe to the podcast. That is the audio-only version of the show where we take the goodness from the interview and we put that out there so that you can listen to that in your earholes while you're on your Peloton bike or maybe out on your morning walk or stretch and podcasting is a pretty fast growing media consumption format.
If you were going to jump on that train don't forget to subscribe and check out the show. And on that note here's our website. OneFirefly.com. There's our phone number or 800 number and I will see you all next time. I think we're going to try to get a show in next week but I'll just say stay tuned to social media and you'll see if we're gonna get a show in here before the end of the year. And if not I wish you all a happy and safe holiday season and we will definitely see you in the New Year. Thanks, everyone. Be well.
As COO with over 30 years of experience, Brian oversees all aspects of Barrett's Technology Solutions and has been instrumental in helping to guide the company to become a highly respected residential and commercial technology integration company in the greater Chicago-land area.
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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