Home Automation Podcast Episode #162: An Industry Q&A With Ryan Davis
In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, Ryan Davis, President at Ratio AV, shares his acceptance into the HTSA buying group and his predictions for the future of the custom integration channel.
This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Ryan Davis. Recorded live on Wednesday, March 24th, 2021, at 12:30 p.m. EST.
About Ryan Davis
Ryan founded Ratio AV in March 2002 while pursuing a Bachelor's Degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Utah. Ryan's emphasis on human-factors engineering while in college drove much of his design criteria for systems and led him to discover that the simple approach is usually the best approach.
Today, Ratio AV is a team of 7 with an annual sales revenue of $2.3M and focuses on high-end residential systems with some light commercial systems.
- Serving as a crew chief for a multi-year winning team of the Baja 1000
- His recent acceptance into the HTSA buying group
- Ryans approach to work/life balance
- Ryan’s predictions for 2021 and beyond
Ron: We have a friend of One Firefly, a long-time client. This person actually has a lot of fun stuff outside of the world to share. Ryan Davis, the President at Ratio AV, is actually a racecar driver, or I guess you would call it, a race truck driver. He has a lot of wins and successes under his belt, actually, with the Baha 1000 races. I'm excited to learn all about that and share that with all of you. Without further ado, I'm going to go ahead and bring in Ryan and let's get the show started. Ryan, how are you, sir?
Ryan: Awesome, how are you?
Ron: I am good. We made it happen. I know we've talked for a while about getting you on the show and our schedules aligned, and we made it happen.
Ryan: You guys would not believe what it cost to get Ron to get you on his show.
Ron: Oh, my gosh. There are tens of thousands of dollars. Yeah, right, exactly. No, just kidding. Ryan, where are you at? Where are you coming to us from? Let's let the audience know your situation.
Ryan: I'm in Farmington, Utah, which is about 15 miles north of Salt Lake City.
Ron: And Ratio AV, give us a quick summary of Ratio. What type of firm are you and maybe size, types of projects?
Ryan: I would say we're probably on the small to medium size as far as integration companies go. We've got seven people on staff, and five of those are installers. Then two here in the office plus me. I don't really count myself, but maybe I could. We started off, or I guess, I started off in 2002. I was attending the University of Utah studying mechanical engineering.
Ron: A fellow ME! I got lots of questions around that, but I'll let you get through the whole storyline here of your background before we go there.
Ryan: I love talking about mechanical engineering. It's great. I started in 2002, and I just needed something kind of flexible while I was finishing school. I was a part-timer for the first two or three years, and when I graduated in 2005, that's when I kind of put the pedal down and started doing more. Pretty organic growth, pretty slow growth. All word of mouth. Happy with where we're at. I mean, up until a certain point, we've obviously used you for our marketing in the last several years. But the beginning growing was slow.
Ron: So, ME. Why did you choose to study? What were your ambitions?
Ryan: Well, I chose to study ME because I did start off in electrical engineering, and I'm going to say that I got bored of electrical engineering, but I'm not going to say it like I was too smart for electrical.
Ron: I know that I was definitely not too smart for electrical engineering. That shit's hard.
Ryan: I wasn't too smart for civil engineering, and we always pick on the civil engineers. Anyway. It's a fun pecking order in engineering school. The EE's pick on the ME's and the ME's pick on the civil engineers and the civil engineers, pick on the industrial engineers, and it goes so on and so forth. I was in electrical engineering, and actually, a buddy of mine had developed a crossover technology for speakers. Audio has just sort of been like my life since I was like 13 or 14 years old. I had a neighbor that had the most insane sound system. I mean, this was in the '80s, and he had earthquake horns out of the Grauman's Chinese Theater in his basement.
Talking about stuff that nobody had in their basement and people still don't have in their basements, and I just could not get enough of that. Audio just sort of bit me hard. A buddy of mine had developed this crossover technology for speakers, and I went to work helping him develop that. We were actually working for Ray Kimber from Kimber Kable. A lot of the high-end guys will know that that brand, they're here in Ogden, about twenty-five minutes away from where I am.
I was helping them with that, and we were making some really great sounding loudspeakers. My whole point of being an electrical engineer was that I wanted to make the world's greatest speaker. I don't know that I ever made the world's greatest speaker, there are a lot of really great speakers out there, but we made some really great speakers. To the point where I was sort of satisfied, and sort of, bored of that pursuit. I hate to say bored of that pursuit.
Ron: I mean, you were a college student. Where did the desire or even the know-how to want to build the world's greatest speaker or crossover network come from? Were your parents or friends into music or speakers? Do you know where that came from?
Ryan: Well, so again, it all started with my neighbor, and from then it moved forward. When I was probably 15, I got a job a full-time job installing car stereos at a local car stereo shop. My parents had dropped me off and would pick me up. I just loved anything to do with audio. But the guy that ran the shop became a good friend of mine, Eric Alexander, and he's still very active in the speaker design community. He even built cell speakers catered toward the high-end market. He was very knowledgeable, and we would just discuss things non-stop about what could make a speaker better, how could we build a better speaker?
It was an endless pursuit for both of us. He was definitely the brains behind that most of what we did, and I would never take that away. But he kind of lacked in computers and measurement techniques and that kind of thing. I brought a lot of that stuff to the table, and we were just a good complementary team to each other. I always equate it to -- and this is probably a direct tie to what we do day-to-day; people's love for sound can really only be as great as their love for music and what they want to listen to. I love music, and I want to hear it the best way that I can. I've got a lot of different sound systems, big systems to high-end two-channel stuff. I always want to hear must the best I can. That's probably what motivated my drive.
Ron: Is that passion for music what led you to start Ratio or start an integration business? You said in 2002. Is that how that happened, or was there another path that led to that business getting formed?
Ryan: Yeah, so this is what I realized when I was doing the speaker design, which is that I didn't have a lot of communication with the outside. I mean, the people that we would work with were manufacturers, mostly because this was a technology that was trying to be sold to manufacturers, like licensed to them - but I don't need to get too deep into that. The people that I would talk to you on a day-to-day basis would be engineers from other companies or people who owned other companies. There wasn't a lot of satisfaction there for me. I like being around people. I like working with people, and I like to see the end result. I like to see how people receive the end result.
So for me, I really wanted to get into something where I could see the end result, which was kind of on the front lines here, which is, putting things in and making things sound good. I also just love solving problems too. I love the custom side of the industry and making things do stuff that other people's things don't do or aren't necessarily made to do.
Ron: Ted here posted a question. I'm sure many out there listening are wondering the same. Ted asked, "What's on your Spotify playlist?"
Ryan: Just in general, or what are some songs that I've been listening to?
Ron: What music might you recommend? I'm not good at that. I've built up some great Tidal playlists based on recommendations from my friends and folks out in the industry. Anything that's top of mind for you?
Ryan: This is a very deep discussion here.
Ron: Are we slipping down the rabbit hole here of music?
Ryan: No, but I mean, I don't want to get too far off into the weeds as far as music goes. I've been listening to a lot of Jason Isbell lately, the 400 Unit. For me, it's been kind of hard to get into newer music because I just feel like, when you're younger and more impressionable, the music means more to you. There's a reason why a lot of us old guys, as they would say. I'm learning to call myself an old guy, I'm just accepting this.
Ron: You're old. I'm not. We might be the same age, but you're the old guy.
Ryan: I think there's a reason why we always turn back to the stuff that we've listened to since we were in high school or whatever because those were the ages where we were most impressionable, and the music leaves an imprint on us. I would say the newer music doesn't leave as much of an imprint on me. But as far as newer things go, I like Jason Isbell a lot. One of my favorite bands of all time is My Morning Jacket. They started off in the early 2000s. In fact, there's a poster right above me.
Ron: Oh yeah. My Morning Jacket. I see it right there.
Ryan: I've got concert posters all over in the office here. And of course, I just can't get enough of the greats like Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, that kind of stuff. I actually get together with three high school buddies of mine once a month, and we do like a book club for just music. We come up with these lists like top seven drum tracks, top seven sophomore albums.
Ron: That's brilliant. Alcohol might be involved?
Ryan: Alcohol is not involved.
Ron: No? Wow, that's amazing. That sounds like it might even be better with a few extra chemicals.
Ryan: It probably would be. Yep, yep. I would say there probably aren't that many people having a music club with their buddies once a month. I guess I'm relatively into music.
Ron: Now that is impressive. By the way, we have quite an active chat going here. Brandi just mentioned, "A book club for music? I love it!" Thank you, Brandy. Matt Davis, someone you know, says, "I walked with Ryan at the U of U and saw it firsthand. They heckled the civil engineers to tears." That's that is pretty funny. And Melissa Nakaya says that you make the world's greatest ramen. By the way, I'm a huge ramen fan. Is she telling the truth?
Ryan: Well, I mean, it might have been the best ramen she's ever had. I mean, we've been to Japan together, but I don't know. I make a pretty mean bowl of ramen.
Ron: Doesn't it take a long time to make the broth?
Ryan: It takes a long time. I mean, I make the noodles and everything. It will take a few hours one night just to make the noodles, and then you set those aside, and then the broth takes like a day, day, and a half or so. I've made some mean bowls of ramen before, that's for sure. I don't know. Melissa wouldn't BS this. Her last name is Nakaya; she's practically half Japanese.
Ron: I agree. I think she would know. That's pretty cool. And then Dru Nakaya, he's saying "The Dead."
Ryan: Yes, the Grateful Dead. I'm a religious Dead follower, I guess you could say, on the bus, but I never saw one live show because I was just kind of out of that age bracket.
Ron: Your comment about listening to music from your youth. That resonates with me. I'm the same age as you. Except you're older, and I'm younger. But we are the same age. For me, the music from the 90s, like when I think of all that music that just makes me feel at home and just reminisce about my youth, I realize most of those bands are from the nineties.
Ryan: It's the imprint.
Ron: When I was in high school and college and young and impressionable. And I agree, I couldn't name a band for the last 15 years. I mean, I guess I could name it, but I don't listen to any of it regularly.
Ryan: When I was in high school fifteen years ago, it seemed like it was like an eternity ago, and now it just seems like it was just like fifteen years ago.
Ron: McKenzie, she's actually on team One Firefly, and she's asking for the best ramen place in Salt Lake City. What are you got?
Ryan: My house.
Ron: Oh, I think that's an invite, McKenzie. That's how I'm reading that! Melissa says you love Pearl Jam. That's funny. Pearl Jam was rolling around in my head. You put on some Pearl Jam or Nirvana, Dave Matthews. I'm jamming with all that. Carlos says, "Welcome to the show. Music and Noodles. What else do you need?" I agree.
Ryan: That's life.
Ron: Talk to me about racing. I've got a picture of a badass Toyota race truck with just a huge rooster tail of dirt and sand flying behind it. What is this racing thing that you're into?
Ryan: This is off-road desert racing, and there aren't a lot of places in the country that you can do this just because of public lands and whatnot. But this is totally on the up and up. It's all regulated by the BLM and all that. These are sponsored or sanctioned races. This picture that you're showing now is from last November that was done in and out of Mexico at the Baja 1000. We took first place in our class, and in that race, we race in the Stock Full-size class, which means that basically, that vehicle is more or less stock. I mean, the only thing that we have is $20,000 worth of stocks and some big tires and a lot of safety equipment: the roll cage, the lights, and all that kind of stuff.
Ron: Otherwise, that Toyota - what is that, a Land Cruiser?
Ryan: That's a Land Cruiser, 2008 Land Cruiser. It's basically bone stock other than that. All of the suspension parts that we buy to replace, we buy from Toyota.
Ron: Is that a characteristic of the Baja 1000? I'm a Baja 1000 newbie, so maybe just educate. What is the Baja 1000? What are the requirements of the race?
Ryan: OK, so the Baja 1000 started in 1967. The way that the race kind of traditionally sits is that it goes from Ensenada down to La Paz, which is at the very tip of the Baja Peninsula. And the way that the race is formatted these days is that the race starts, and you get X amount of time to finish the race. On the longer races, you get a longer finishing time. But let's say, on a longer race down the peninsula, that you've got forty or forty-two hours to finish the race. You don't get to bivouac up. You don't get a like stop and stay in a hotel or anything like that. The car is going the entire time.
Ron: So your crew is running for forty-eight hours straight?
Ryan: Yeah. Our very first Baja finish was forty-two hours. We had a forty-five-hour finishing window, and we were for forty-two hours. My first stint in the car in Baja was, I think, either 12 or 14 hours straight. And like Parnelli Jones, who was a famous driver, said, "Driving in the Baja 10000 is like being in a twenty-four-hour plane wreck," is what he said. It's just rough. I mean, the course is beaten up, and you're kind of getting jostled around a lot. When I got in the car, I had about thirty minutes of sunlight, and then it was dark pretty much until the hour before we finished. You get kind of tunnel vision time warp. You hardly know what time it is or where you are. I mean, it can be really disorienting, especially after you've already been up for twenty-four, thirty hours.
Ron: Mellissa, she posted, "Requirements are to not sleep, not die, be ready at all times and eat lots of tacos and drink Fanta."
Ryan: Pretty much Baja right there.
Ron: That blows my mind that this vehicle, the stock Land Cruiser, can actually take this sort of punishment.
Ryan: And not only that, Ron, but like stock, the engines never been swapped out. We think that it's got about 23,000 race miles on it, which is just insane. The same engine, the same transmission that we've always had in that thing. And we've swapped everything else out numerous times. But that's a testament to engineering right there. An ME would appreciate that.
Ron: I mean, it doesn't get much more brutal than that. And it is brutal, right? Like, at what speeds are you going?
Ryan: The speeds vary a lot, but I would say our average speed, if you just did like a linear time average of our speed, we would be between twenty-eight and thirty-two miles an hour or something like that. But that means that we're going one hundred miles an hour in some spots, and we're going five miles an hour in other spots. A dirt road that you might be comfortable going five or ten miles an hour on, we could easily do fifty-five or sixty usually.
We can keep the speeds pretty high. It comes at the cost of the car, and it comes at a cost to your bodies because it really does beat you up a lot. We always say that we're driving for conservation, we're trying to turn over or driving a car to the next set of drivers. We might only be driving at like a ten if we were trying to close a ten or fifteen-minute gap with the lead car in the last hundred miles of the race. Other than that, you're more in the 50-75%, 80% kind of neighborhood as far as the abuse on the car and how hard you're really pushing it.
Ron: What roles do you play on this team? What roles do you have on your Baha 1000 team?
Ryan: I guess officially I'm the crew chief. It's a pretty egalitarian group. I mean, there's not a lot of like, "You go do this, you go do that." But we need some decision-makers. I'd say between my buddy Dave Connors and me, we're sort of, I guess, the leaders of the group in a lot of ways. All the renting happens at my place. I've got a nice facility where we can do all the work on the car and that kind of thing. And Dave, sort of the logistics master.
I mean, everybody chips in one day and orders all the parts. Another mechanical engineer runs a Land Cruiser shop called Cruiser Outfitters. He's handy with parts, but he's also just a brilliant mind for on cars. I mean, the list just goes on and on. It's sort of a dream team in a lot of ways. My official capacity is sort of crew chief and keeping everything moving forward.
Ron: How many teams are competing at the Baja 1000? How many trucks start the race?
Ryan: You've got the cars, trucks, and bikes. The bikes are the motorcycles, the cars and trucks are everything else. I think that there are usually between three and four hundred entries total in that. And it's probably, half to two-thirds of them are trucks, I would say. Probably 150-200 trucks.
Ron: OK, so there's something very special happening here, and I'm wondering if you can translate it for me and my notes. I have that you have finished seven of eight races, I'm assuming there's a ratio where trucks or cars don't even finish. Maybe we'll start there.
Ryan: That's the attrition rate. When I told you earlier that we'd finish seven out of eight, that's just in the Baja 1000. We've got more finishes and more races than that in the US. We've raced in the biggest arenas several times and finished that several times. There are some smaller local races, but I think most people consider 1000 to be at the top. That's the one you want to do. The attrition rate can vary anywhere between 45-55% of the field won't finish depending on the year and how hard the course is and that kind of thing. Even crossing the finish line is sort of a big deal because it's just a tough race.
Ron: I understand there's a lot of different races. The notes I've gathered here are specific to the Baja 1000. You've finished first in your class twice and second in your class three times. This means out of your eight starts, you've finished first or second five times out of a field of hundreds of other teams.
Ryan: It's a little bit unfair -- the only thing is that, like in our specific class, which is where our first places are, the field is usually much smaller than that. We're not taking first overall. I would say we're still pretty dominant in our class, but we're not overall 1000. That's a different class of guys that are doing that. But we're still pretty darn good, man.
Ron: Regardless, you're in a class that's you've chosen to compete in, and that is by your choice, maybe in your ability to invest time into the project or the hobby. I mean, this is an expensive hobby, I'm imagining.
Ryan: It's an expensive hobby. And we've got a great thing worked out as far as just like the way that all goes down. We've definitely learned how to keep the car together. The biggest thing we learned is how to prep the car and keep the car in top shape. We've learned that going into a race like that, you can't cheap out on any part of the race preparation because anything that you think ought to be good for this race, you just can't risk stuff like that. That's when a two-dollar part takes you out of the race.
Ron: From my vantage point, you're clearly practicing excellence in a way that is leading to continued and ongoing high levels of performance of your race team.
Ryan: I would agree with that statement.
Ron: What, to you, stands out that maybe you guys are doing different or at a higher level than others that you're competing with?
Ryan: I would say back to the race prep, I think that that's a really big deal. We're really thorough on the race prep and knowing the limits. The other one of the really big things is our race logistics. My buddy, Dave Connors, does our race logistics and getting people to the right place at the right time and the mentality of the drivers and just making sure that everybody knows what the commitment is. The commitment isn't necessarily that they need to be the fastest driver. It's that they need to keep the car going. The longer the car stops for any reason, the less of a chance you've got to win a race. Keeping forward progress at all times is a really big deal.
Ron: Maybe to inverse the question, what others might not pay attention to that sometimes leads to their early exit from these races?
Ryan: There's a famous Baja 1000 documentary called Dust to Glory, and I think you should watch it if you don't know about it. It's awesome, and it'll answer a lot of questions for you. There's a part where one of the trophy truck drivers -- the trophy trucks are the biggest, baddest trucks out there. These are five hundred thousand to a million-dollar truck. And these are seven, eight, nine hundred horsepower, thirty-six inches of suspension, travel, the big jumps. They're the big dogs. And one of the drivers said. "Any idiot can get in there in a car and spin it." And that's true. Anybody can get in the car and spin it and make it go fast for a certain amount of time, but it really takes a lot of self-control to be the one who's not spinning it all the time.
I've driven that first section of the course, the first one hundred and fifty miles of the course a few times now. And it's amazing to me how many cars roll over in that section, how many cars have like blown engines and transmissions in that section. There really is a lot of adrenaline and a lot of desire on their part to really get after it and just drive super aggressively, but they destroy their cars very quickly. I think that there was a year that a group that was driving a trophy truck, I think they only made it like seven miles before they blew the motor. It was incredibly short. And the other thing about trophy trucks is they'll tell you it'll cost seventy or eighty thousand dollars just to roll those things off the truck like a racetrack for those guys to 70 or 80 grand.
Ron: Holy cow. That's that's amazing. What have you learned from your years of racing? It sounds like your years of entrepreneurship and your years of racing. They've been in parallel. You started your business in 02. When did you start racing?
Ryan: We did our first one, so we started racing in 2011.
Ron: What lessons from racing have carried over to business?
"Forward progress has a lot of merit. Even if the progress seems slow in business, as long as we're trying to do better all the time and trying to improve a little bit, and if we're conscious of those things, that's a pretty big deal. I know I haven't found the end of the road as far as being better. I just think you can constantly be improving and constantly making things better."
Ryan: Well, I think that forward progress thing has a lot of merits. Even if the progress seems slow in business, as long as we're trying to do better all the time and try to improve a little bit, I think if we're conscious of those things, that's a pretty big deal. I think there's a lot of people who some cool projects and let it rest on their laurels and are not trying to get better. I know I haven't found the end of the road as far as being better. I just think you can constantly be improving and constantly making things better.
Ron: That makes sense. I want you to explain this picture to me. What are we looking at here? This looks like a truck, but it looks like a tank. I just know that I want one.
Ryan: That is actually the race car. I wish I had a picture that I sent you of this Toyota Sequoia that's on those tracks, and it's got these cool Star Wars graphics. Man, I'm into some weird stuff, Ron. One of my favorite things is snow-going vehicles. T is meant for snow. I also have two-piston Bulle snowcats, like the big resort level, like vrooming snowcat machines. And I've got a little like Trex 700 that's like on snowmobile tracks. I've got this Sequoia that's on tracks. This is when I first got this track conversion for the Sequoia. And just as a goof, I pulled the race car out of the shop and through the tracks in front of the wheels just to say, "Hey, maybe we should convert the race car to tracks."
Ron: That's actually not attached? This is an optical illusion of seeing the race tracks in the foreground and the race truck behind it?
Ryan: It is. It is.
Ron: And Ted just posted, he says, "SNOW CATS!" Snowcats, is the thing that you have?
Ryan: Yeah. I love snowcats, man. I think they're the coolest machines.
Ron: I don't even know what a snow cat is. Everyone listening is like, all right, if they don't live somewhere where there's snow, they're Googling snow cats. We have a message here from Keith from HTSA. "Ron, another good podcast. Ron, just wanted to tell Ryan, welcome to HTSA." I do not think I knew that happened, Ryan. So congratulations! "Hope to meet you at the virtual conference.".
Ryan: He will meet me at the virtual conference. And thanks to both of you.
Ron: Tell us why you joined HTSA. From your vantage point, what is HTSA, and why did you decide that it was a good idea for you to join?
Ryan: Well, HTSA is a buying group. And as probably people know, there's only a handful of buying groups in our industry. The more I learned about buying groups, the more interested I was in joining one. It's sort of like finding the right fit for you. They all have a few different philosophies and different lines that they support. The benefits are a little bit different. It's not really just about getting discounts on products or anything like that. I think I think probably the biggest reward is the interaction with the other members and the learning resources all banded together to make sure that we're doing it the best way that we can. But say I did some digging around, and it just seemed like HTSA was the top dog. And it's I don't know. It's pretty awesome, man. When I joined up, you would have thought that I won the lottery or something. I got a lot of emails from my sales reps.
Ron: Really? No, it's a big deal. That's not to be taken lightly. Everyone that wants it doesn't get in.
Ryan: That's the truth. I had looked at others and was swiftly declined from those groups, and that only happened with one other group. But needless to say, I'm happy I landed at HTSA. When they alert all of the account managers and the account reps that you're an HTSA guy, everybody reached out. It was pretty impressive, like, "Wow, you made HTSA!"
Ron: You're in the fraternity now.
Ryan: One of my reps said, "That's Mt. Everest, buddy!" I'm really happy to be a part of it.
Ron: That is cool. I want to ask you about a topic that I think is close to many people's hearts and minds here over the last year relating to COVID. My audience generally appreciates understanding how people are dealing with it. There's a concept around balancing work life and home life, family, and friends. In your case, you clearly have a fun hobby. How do you think about that, and how do you design your lifestyle to try to make sure that you're putting those all in the right perspective?
"I think that having your foot in a lot of different areas is a good thing for people. Focusing on any one thing for too much at a time is tough. We get a lot of inspiration in other parts of our lives."
Ryan: Well, there's no shortage of hobbies in my life. I'm a guy who's interested in a lot of things, and those things kind of become my hobbies. My wife would agree with that, I'm sure. There's no shortage of stuff going on in my life. I think probably from the outside, it would look like I've got way too much going on all the time. I try not to focus on any one thing for, I mean, I've been focused on desert racing for 10 years, and I'm not saying that I'm taking anything away from that, but I like to be focused on a project and a bigger goal.
I like to focus on some other things for a while, too. I play music with friends of mine, I do sound for concerts, I do the Baja racing, I do random home improvement projects, I'm very active in my church, and I go and teach Sunday school, that kind of stuff. I think that I think that having your foot in a lot of different areas is a good thing for people. I think focusing on any one thing for too much at a time is tough for people. We get a lot of inspiration in other parts of our lives also. I read a book recently called Range by David Epstein, and it talked about how generalists thrive in a specialized world, about how people can take things. Your last podcast guest was going to be a veterinarian, right?
Ron: That's right, Mark Coxon.
Ryan: Through a very strange path, ended up at IBM and then ended up doing some other things and ended up in Connecticut, right?
Ron: That's right.
Ryan: It talks a lot about that type of person - people who can't declare a major, people who go for five years down one path and then quickly turn to another. It's usually the people who have broader experience and can take things from other realms that innovate in their fields, not the people who are, "I've got a Ph.D. in bending a paperclip in this one specific method." It's more like, "I learned some stuff in the AV business, and I could maybe apply this to Big Blue." I just think that there's a lot of inspiration to be had in other parts of my life, so I try to focus on them all.
Ron: There are some beautiful comments here in the chat. Melissa says, "His heart is where he is. Family, friends, work, hobbies. He's easy to love."
Ryan: Aw, my #1 fan.
Ron: There you go, your #1 fan right there. Let's talk COVID. What happened in 2020? How is 2021 looking so far for you?
Ryan: In 2020, of course, we were all pretty freaked out about what was going on. If there's ever a slow time in my year, it just seems like it's always like middle or early March. It would have been in that time, anyway. The crap hit the fan, so to speak. We were still able to keep working just because of what we did. 2020, you know this, but our entire industry has been a big windfall for us. I mean, so many people working from home, so many people in their homes that want to not feel so isolated and need better Wi-Fi and need better, Zoom meetings and need to be able to release a little bit, have some better music in their house. I mean, 2020 was our best year yet, and 2021 is looking great too. And so, really, the pandemic, business-wise, was just fine. It was not that big of a deal. It was tougher at home with the kids at home and having homeschooling, which my sweet wife took the lion's share of the heat on that one.
Our kids went back to school in the fall. I know that's not the same for everybody, but our kids went back to school in the fall, and that's been incredible for them. And honestly, like COVID at the public schools for the kids that are in elementary school, all of my kids are in elementary school. The cases have been very few. And they've only missed maybe a couple of days of school out of the entire year due to the Coronavirus. We've been very fortunate in that regard. And again, I am sensitive to the people who aren't so fortunate in that regard. I know there's a lot of people who are still fighting that fight.
Ron: A lot of industries didn't get so lucky to be in a space that would boom during a pandemic.
Ryan: It's hard to have that conversation. You don't really want to tell people that 2020 was your best year when somebody is closing their restaurant or whatever the case might be. I think that there have been hundreds, if not thousands, of restaurants in Utah that have just closed just because they just can't do it. Not enough takeout for everybody.
Ron: I agree. We play with automation and audio, video, and all sorts of neat stuff. What has you super interested? It could be old stuff. It could be new stuff. Anything has you particularly jazzed right now?
"I really love doing all of it. I love going in and hearing a really sweet, just single pair of speakers with a subwoofer or these intense movie theater rooms where you've got acoustic treatments all over on the walls and cool lighting projects. I love them all."
Ryan: Well, I mean, I love speakers and just like straight-up, two-channel stuff. I don't know, man. It's back to my whole life, with not being able to focus on one thing. There's not one thing about what we do that is so intriguing to me. I really love doing all of it. I love going in and hearing a really sweet, just single pair of speakers with a subwoofer or these intense movie theater rooms where you've got acoustic treatments all over on the walls and cool lighting projects. I love them all. I think the lighting and shading projects are very intriguing to me, but also like mechanical automation projects or TVs coming out of places where they're not.
Ron: Do you do much of that hidden technology? Motorized TV lifts?
Ryan: Yeah, we do. In fact, I'll shoot you a video of one that we did recently where we motorized a piece of art, and you can't ever see the lifting mechanism for the piece of art, and it fully covers the TV. The art just floats in front of the TV, and it just hovers right over it. Then the TV appears, and it's like, holy crap, that's awesome! It's right over the fireplace and perfect viewing height.
Ron: Do you mind sharing what gear you used to do that?
Ryan: Future automation, and that was the PICH, I believe is what we used. It's a pretty clever little mechanism that they've got, and it worked really well. We love future automation. They built really great mechanisms. They're super quiet. Their tablets are fast and quiet. I mean, there's just nothing else like them, in my opinion. There are some other good products out there, but we've kind of hitched our cart to Future Automation as far as that kind of thing goes.
Ron: What about supply chain issues? What are you seeing right now? What's your current state of affairs there in Utah?
Ryan: Our state of affairs, we've been able to kind of keep POs moving on a lot of the stuff that we use all the time. We're a big Sonos house. We do a lot of Sonos equipment, and they've been very difficult to get just because they've got some supply and supply chain issues on their side. We've been doing a good job just getting regular POs turned in. We've had a steady flow of equipment coming from them, and they've been good to us. As far as the others go, a lot of the stuff is still pretty readily available. We've done pretty well with most of it. The big thing that most industry people right now will attest to is that AV receivers are very difficult.
The company that makes the DSP chip for, I think, all of the big manufacturers for Sony, Denon, Marantz, Yamaha - I believe that the company that makes that DSP, they had a fire and they're operating it like 10% capacity or something like that. Receivers have been kind of slowly coming in, but it's not like it was a year ago when you could just be like, "Oh, hey, I just need to just go grab one down at the local distributor," or anything like that. You've got to make some deals with the devil to get a receipt.
Ron: What about the world of tunable and circadian rhythm lighting? There is a good number of manufacturers in our space promoting that concept. Are you bought in on that? Is your marketplace demanding that?
Ryan: We have not gotten into that. I'm into it. I like the idea of it, but it's a hard sell for somebody who was going to spend sixty dollars on a light fixture and now is going to spend eight or nine hundred dollars on a light fixture. There are obviously more economical ways to do that, but that's a new hurdle, I think, that we've got to overcome. We've got to educate builders a little bit better on why those things are important. It also kind of comes down to the budget, too. If they don't have high-end lighting in the budget already, that it's going to be tough to sell them a hundred thousand dollar light fixture package just because they might feel better. I mean, some of the ultra-wealthy can do that kind of thing.
Ron: You're not seeing the demand for that yet, and your company is not yet proactively promoting that science, correct?
Ryan: Yep. We're still kind of infants when it comes to that, that's for sure.
Ron: Kind of along the same theme, the concept of wellness technology. Air purification, water purification, tunable lighting fits into this category and even wellness spaces. This is a theme. CEPro has been writing about for two or three years now. And there are a few new players with Delos and Healthways. Their pure products are now in our space. Is that in your ecosystem yet? Are you talking about those things?
Ryan: I haven't, but it probably would just take a little education on some of those things. I honestly wasn't aware that there were some products that were kind of geared toward our space that we're doing that. I mean, I knew obviously about circadian rhythm and all of the lighting products. I've had my eye on that for a few years now. But not the other environmental stuff.
Ron: Got it. I'm always seeing new technologies that are bubbling up. I'm curious, and I know my listeners are curious about who else is doing it. The world of solar, like tying energy storage into batteries in the home, leads to a whole different genre called energy automation. Is that in your ecosystem yet, or is that kind of like something that you're thinking about or talking about yet?
Ryan: No, I mean, we can tie some of that stuff in like as far as integrating, like the energy monitors, we can tie that in to some of our automation systems and that kind of thing. But I would say as far as selling it and providing it. It's not really a thing for us. I mean, we've looked down that road, but I kind of feel like there's sometimes there's so much coming at us that we've got to focus on doing the things that we know well and then start bringing some of the other stuff into there. I've just don't have the bandwidth for some of that stuff right now. And I would love to have the bandwidth for more of that, just because I'm so curious about everything.
Ron: Yeah, with your curiosity, this would be a perfect subject for you to get to.
Ryan: I know quite a bit about them. It's just more about effectively selling them. I mean, ask me about how to install a TV or what do you do for sound in a certain area, and I could talk to you for a long time about it, but I would like to have a little bit broader knowledge probably before we really start getting into something like that. Also, there's only so much the techs can do in a day.
Ron: Well, so that raises a question like knowledge and exposure to new ideas and or just training and upkeep on current products and best practices with those products. Is that all still happening virtually is? Are you seeing some of that go back to face to face, or do you see that happening this year? Do you see yourself inviting reps into your office this year? You see yourself attending live shows where maybe you actually get to meet the engineers and meet all the people behind the scenes that your partner vendors? Do you see that happening this year, or is that a 2022 thing?
Ryan: I think we're going to see some of it re-emerge this year. They moved Infocomm to August, I believe. I think that Infocomm is actually happening. I would have no reservations about a rep coming in or going to a show, especially as vaccinations improve and all that. I pay a lot of attention to the music world, too. It seems like September 1st will be the big cut-off. A lot of stuff ramping up after that. There's a lot of people kicking off pretty decent-sized tours at that point. Maybe not full capacity, but even up to 80, 90% in some of these scenarios.
I know that there have been no limitations for people I know who are season ticket holders for the NFL, and that kind of thing that they're not saying anything about there being a reduced capacity. It's sounding like things are moving forward. Hopefully, that's the case. We would all hate to be in this mess for any longer than we have to be. The vaccinations are happening pretty quickly here in Utah. They're doing a good job getting those out. My wife was able to to to make an appointment last night to to to get vaccinated. I think that things are moving along.
Ron: There's the local Publix, which is the grocery store chain here in Florida, that has two days a week that you can log in and if you're over 18, it's open to the public, you can register to get a ticket. My wife's been getting out of bed at 6:00 a.m. to try to be first in line on multiple computers, and so far, two weeks in, we've been unsuccessful. But we're trying.
Ryan: Wow. They just opened Utah to sort of the general like 18 and up crowd just last night at midnight. My wife was able to get her appointment for April 5th or 6th, something like that.
Ron: That's good to hear.
Ryan: That might have had something to do with her staying up and getting on right when it opened, but at the same time, good things are happening.
Ron: We're all trending in the right direction. One more attempt at asking you to read your magic eight balls or your fortunetelling whatever crystal ball. There's a theory. I don't know if it's only in my head or if it's held by you or others, but a theory that as the consumer, your customer, is perhaps not locked down, in the same way, they're currently locked down. Once they're vaccinated, they're going to start potentially going out of the house, going on vacations, traveling, going to hopefully back to some version of a normal. Do you think that that has an impact on our industry? I would say your lead flow, your project flow locally in your market. Or do you think that the equation is too complex for that to singularly negatively affect you?
Ryan: I'm going to look into my magic, Josh.
Ron: Oh, your magic job.
Ryan: I'm going to see if my friend will tell me. I don't know. I think it's going to be market-dependent for sure, but I think in Utah, we're going to be pretty safe because we've had a huge influx of people wanting to get out of the city and move to mountain communities. I know that Vale and Aspen have seen the same thing. I've got a buddy who's an integrator in Santa Barbara who does a great job out there. And even just an hour and a half out of L.A., they've got just a massive influx of people trying to buy houses there. He said he's booked deeper in 2021 than he's ever been booked in his entire existence -- and he's been around for a long time.
Ryan: I think that it depends on the community. Maybe if you're in the cities, Silicon Valley, L.A., New York City, maybe those things are going to be tougher. But I think that at least those of us who live in the mountains or in places that are less populated, that maybe that's going to it's going to be a bit of a windfall for us.
I think there's going to be a dramatic shift in where people are going to live. People are forming new habits around perhaps working or operating virtually, which means they're not, as you said, not tied to that big city, that big city job.
Ron: I agree with all of that. I think there's going to be a dramatic shift in where people are going to live. People are forming new habits around perhaps working or operating virtually, which means they're not, as you said, not tied to that big city, that big city job. They could do the big city job, but from wherever they want to live. This means the open country and mountains and blue sky are certainly far more attractive.
Ryan: I've got a client, some really great clients out in Vernal, Utah, which is eastern Utah, which is like oil country. That's the reason the vertical existed, from the oil and gas business, and that's traditionally been all that it is - oil and gas. It all revolves around that. That ebbs and flows over the years, as you know. But they're getting even out of towners wanting just to move into Vernal, Utah. They're just corporate guys that just don't want to live in the cities. And I think it's cool. It's going to do some cool things for the country as far as the way that the population is spread around and to improve some of these areas, and I think there's going to be a lot of opportunity for guys like us for all that, too.
Ron: I agree. Well, Ryan, believe it or not, it is that time. I'm going to ask you, first of all, people that want to follow your racing career. How would they do that? Where could they follow you? Maybe on social media? And then I'm going to ask for you, personally and your business, what are all the ways people can reach you?
Ryan: Our team name is called Canguro Racing. We're on Facebook. That's probably the place where we're most active. We do some updates once in a while on our website, we sell our merch on our website, but Facebook is probably the best place to get us and get into any kind of updates. As far as Ratio AV goes, we're ratioav.com and Ratio Audio Video on Facebook. That's where we're most active. Of course, we've got updates on our website. We've got mailers that go out in that kind of thing. I've got to shout out One Firefly because you guys do such a great job with our marketing and also our Facebook posts and that kind of stuff. Any of you industry guys considering having somebody handle your marketing, Ron and his team have been nothing short of perfection. They've been awesome.
Ron: Well, I will have your twenty-dollar bill in the mail. I appreciate that shout-out. Not necessary, but much appreciated. Ryan, it was a pleasure to have you on the show, sir. And we'll definitely have to have you back and dig deeper into these topics. But it was fun having you here.
Ryan: Awesome. Thanks for having me, Ron. I sure appreciate it.
As founder of Ratio AV, Ryan and his team of seven work closely on high-end residential with light commercial systems out of Utah. Ryan's emphasis on human-factors engineering in college drove much of the design criteria that he uses in his day-to-day at Ratio AV.
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 become the leading marketing firm specializing in integrated technology and security space. The One Firefly team works hard to create innovative solutions to help Integrators boost their online presence, such as the elite website solution Mercury Pro.
Resources and links from the interview:
- InfoComm 2021
- Kimber Kable
- Baja 1000
- Range by David Epstein by David Epstein by David Epstein
- Future Automation PICH
To keep up with Ryan and the team at Ratio AV, visit their website at ratioav.com. You can find Ratio AV on social media on Facebook.You can follow Ryan and his racing endeavors on Facebook or at canguroracing.com.
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