Home Automation Podcast Episode #163: An Industry Q&A With Aaron Cowden and Andrew Wactor
In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, Aaron Cowden and Aaron Wactor of Fusion Audio Video share how 2020 impacted Fusion's commercial market and their growth after enlisting the help of a business consultant.
This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Aaron Cowden and Andrew Wactor. Recorded live on Wednesday, March 31st, 2021 at 12:30 p.m. EST.
About Aaron Cowden and Andrew Wactor
Aaron founded Fusion A/V during his senior year in college with a few of his friends. Their focus was on keeping technology fun and fresh for clients.
Today, Aaron wears many hats in the company and participates in sales, operations, marketing, vendor relations, and charities. With a passion for music, Andrew studied Audio Engineering in Nashville before discovering the world of A/V.
Andrew’s background includes system design, sales, and management positions in both residential and commercial A/V firms.
In 2012, Andrew rejoined Fusion, where he now oversees the commercial division as Vice President of Commercial.
Fusion A/V has two locations, one in Greenville, South Carolina, and the other in Ashville, North Carolina.
- Fusion's origin story
- How 2020 impacted Fusion's commercial market
- How they have enlisted a business consultant to help them grow
- Tips on delegating and getting out of your own way
Ron: Hello, Ron Callis here with another episode of Automation Unplugged. Today is Wednesday, March 31st. It is 12:00 p.m. We've got Aaron Cowden, CEO and founder at Fusion Audio Video, and his VP of Commercial, Andrew Wactor. I think I'm pronouncing that correctly. These fellas are out of Greenville, South Carolina, and they've just been on a steady they've charted course of steady growth for many years. And I'm super excited. Let me go ahead and bring in Aaron and Andrew. Let's get this party started here. Hello, fellas, how are you?
Aaron: What's up, man? Hey, that camera is nice, but you also got a little bit of a tan to add to it. I see.
Ron: Well, you know, the whole living in Florida. The thing is, is it a real tan, or is it white balance on the camera?
Aaron: I don't have that. This is Logitech.
Ron: Well, you know what? Just for the heck of it, I'm going to do this just to show you what was. Of course, I'll probably break something. This is what's normal. This is what's normal. This is the FaceTime camera. This is good. It's what everyone does. This is stepping it up a little bit.
Aaron: Yeah, it's nice there. That's real nice. Thank you. I appreciate that.
Ron: Alright, fellas, let's get the basics out of the way. I'll start with you, Aaron. Maybe just tell our audience just a little bit about Fusion Audio Video. Let's just start there. Tell us about the business where you guys are located. What type of work do you guys do?
Aaron: Yeah, Fusion Audio Video. We're out of Greenville, South Carolina, Asheville, North Carolina, where commercial and residential company our roots are in the commercial, but I mean residential. But commercial has been exploding for the last few years. We specialize in large home systems, conference rooms, boardrooms, building security on the commercial side. But we also have a full-service service team handling all the smaller projects as well. Really, the project scale is up to the client, and we try to take care of them.
Ron: Also, what would you say, Aaron, is the ratio for Fusion under the umbrella brand Fusion of commercial to residential work? If you look at maybe the top line, read from a revenue basis, just what's the ratio?
Aaron: Yeah, before the wonderful 2020, it was a lot tighter, it's probably ended about 65/35 for 2020, but we see that balancing out pretty quickly. We think it will be even within the next few years.
Ron: 65 across the country. I want to dig into that. I assumed you probably saw a pop in resi while the commercial was a little suppressed because of COVID. Is that fair?
Ron: OK, I want to get into your background as well, but I'm going to jump over to the other gentleman here. Andrew, if could you perhaps start with you if you could introduce yourself? Tell the audience your role there at Fusion.
Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I started back in the day, actually. I think we decided it was 2006. I was just delving into audio-video. My background was in audio recording. That's what I want to learn at school. And it was moving more towards the home base recording studio. I ended up wanting to go pull some wire for a company, and they made me a designer. That was my first toe in, up in Asheville, North Carolina. And I want to be back closer to home. I'm from the Greenville area, and I got to meet these guys, the founders of Fusion, back when it was a six or seven-person company. We had the actual location. Yep. We're very close in age. I looked at a few other companies and decided to come here as a first salesperson and spent six years with them before jumping out on my own and doing software and business and doing stuff. I learned a little about commercials, and I came back to these guys and decided we would start working on the commercial side of the business today.
Ron: Today, Andrew, what does that look like? You're running the commercial business. Is that is that what your day-to-day is, running that side of the business?
Andrew: Herding cats, as I like to call it. I have some legacy clients that I take care of on the sales side. As I said, I came in as a designer and used to do my designs on the resi side and have always thought I had a pretty good technical background. I do some design work, meet our sales team with initiatives. I make sure our project managers are happy and have what they need. Really anything that has to do with commercial comes through me.
Ron: You started your college career. It sounds like in the audio recording spaces. I'm just going to say here in Florida. There's a school called Full Sale.
Andrew: It is like a competitor to Full Sale. It's called SAE or School of Audio Engineering. And they're up in Tennessee. That was my technical training. Later on, as an adult, I actually went to Furman University for Business Admin, completed in 2016.
Ron: Got it. Understood. Was your goal at that time, maybe back at the beginning, to do recording studios?
Andrew: Absolutely. I played music, and after sports, music was my love, and then I ended up doing audio but just in a very different realm. Right.
Ron: Sure. Understood. And Aaron, can you help us understand your background? What did you study in school, and how did you land here a few years later?
Aaron: Yeah. Out of high school, I went after my MCSE when I graduated high school. Basically, I got out of high school. I had no discipline and direction. My dad said it's military or figure something else out that you're going to do. My dad was a self-taught computer programmer. He said, "Hey, why don't you try to get your Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer?" I took a year off from school, got all the books for the NCSE, and passed all the tests. It took me about eighteen months, I guess, and I got hired by a little I.T. firm in Spartanburg, South Carolina. I was taking care of the server infrastructures for like local businesses and whatnot. And I started going to college at the same time to get my computer science degree.
During that time, a lot of the business owners at the businesses would ask me, "Hey, I got computers at home. I need somebody to service them." And my boss at the time said you could do that. That's no problem. I started taking care of their home computers. This is a '01-'02. Right around when wi-fi started to be more popular in the homes. It was a relatively new thing really for coming into the houses. I would be taking care of people's home networks and just had the idea that this was something that we could start a business around. I was actually doing IT in the homes and focusing on that. I went to a couple of my best friends and had an idea. One guy was still my partner today. Our CFO ran our financing and got things going. We're doing computer networking in homes. The first three months of our business, though, we've got a job to wirehouse with Cat five, and the doctor came to us and said, "Hey, I got this audio-video quote, if you can do that." Yeah, we did car stereos growing up, figured all that stuff out. Sure. We hopped on a plane to the EHX Expo in Orlando and got trained on all things audio, video. We came back experts, of course.
Ron: One week of training. You're ready to go.
Aaron: We're ready to go. And we became an integration company before we knew what integration was. We shifted from IT in the homes to audio-video and IT. It really just steamrolled from there. We started seeing the need for customers to have one person that can handle all the technology in their homes. I guess a year later, we all quit our jobs, we moved out of the Rubbermaid shed in my backyard and at least a little warehouse space, and then been very blessed ever since.
Ron: Today, you've got a pretty good split between residential work and commercial work. Was it always like that, like so from the early days of the business where you were in the integration business, now the residential integration business, did you immediately start also taking on commercial projects? How did that happen?
Aaron: It was around '07. We started to have some opportunities, and they just came organically. We were looking at camera jobs, small security jobs. Really what happened? That kind of accelerated it just a little bit. We still didn't get great at it until a few years ago. But '08 happened, the big crash happened. The one thing that kept us from having to lay anybody off during that time when all the builders were down as we had a few really large commercial projects. We had just gotten into access control. Those jobs were at a point where they weren't going to stop during that break. We kept all of our team busy. We didn't lose anybody during that time. We didn't make any money, but we were like, wow, that diversification was kind of nice during the downturn because sometimes they ebb and flow the resi and the commercial side of things.
From then on, we dabbled in commercials. We kept dabbling. What we finally realized when Andrew rejoined us was that we had to put a different focus on that side of the business than we were on the residential side. Originally, we tried to silo them too much. Don't silo the businesses, but just think about them differently. We siloed the teams originally. Now we're bringing them all back together. But it is a different customer. It's a necessity, not a luxury.
Ron: Yeah. Andrew, what in terms of bringing the siloed personnel back under the corporate umbrella of fusion? How is that managed from a sales project management design, engineering, installation standpoint? Are you sharing resources within the company?
Andrew: We are, and it's very present at the paradigm shift happening right now, exactly in the middle of it. When I came back on, the idea was we had these two companies and everything will be separate, and I was in that mindset of, "I know about the commercial, these guys don't. I've got this brand new business philosophy that I've just learned. I'm going to run out here and run this company." After butting heads with Aaron and Daniel and working with all the guys, I realized that there are 40 years of experience between them running an AV company and helping me make this better.
We just started to kind of fall back on. And it was first on the technical side. There were people that had a great experience and were really good at their jobs. Then it just worked itself up into management and design. That's really where we are now, where we had those disparate positions. Now, who was the residential designer, is now our engineering manager because he's great at prioritizing and making sure people get what they need. We're doing it more and more every day to bring the companies together.
Ron: I would imagine there certainly has to be some differences with product mix, though, right? There are more commercial products than residential products. Is that fair?
Andrew: There is. I think the people we put in the role that had more residential experience that put their feet and their learning at bay in the past few weeks have even jumped in to learn about the biomes in the restaurants. And while I'm still kind of leading some direction and products, it's going to be a short transition on top of people that have a lot of commercial experience working with them.
Ron: That makes sense. I appreciate you sharing that. Aaron, what happened? I'm going to go back in March. A year ago, when this COVID thing all hit the world, what happened in your business and how did 2020 playout for you guys? What type of work were you previously planning on doing? And then what did you ultimately end up doing in 2020?
Aaron: Well, I think it was probably similar to a lot of people's experience. There was the initial what is this? Then there was the "oh crap." Then there was a little bit of settling into reality and running into the storm and saying, "What are we going to do to solve this?" We immediately on the residential side started looking at strategies and ways to diversify and things to offer in the home that would be more essential. Some of those things were successful somewhere. The biggest fall off for us, though, was commercial by far.
Everybody knows residential was way up all year. But on the commercial side, the people who are coming to work anymore weren't spending. The budgets were frozen. We were projecting a massive growth year, and it went from massive growth year to massive downturn. This conversation we were just having about combining the teams, it actually forced that narrative on us a little bit more because we have commercial techs and resi techs.
Well, that's not so much true anymore. Yes, we have specialists still, but now the commercial techs had to come over and help the resi team, and the project managers had to start to coordinate. The project manager on the commercial side never coordinated with the project manager on the resi side. Well, now they needed to because we needed to talk about how we shared those resources. It forced a lot of great change on us in the year where we had to learn to work together rather than separate. It just kept growing. Throughout the year, we kept seeing the fruits of the labor, and the collaboration and the teamwork, and all these light bulbs went on like, why the heck didn't we do this before? What have we been thinking? This is amazing. We're really starting to see the fruits, a lot of that now, and it's continuing to change that.
Ron: Just a follow-up question, resi is popping. It's been popping for a while. If you look in your crystal ball into the balance of 2021 and say into early 2022, what do you what do you feeling is on the horizon for the residential demand that the industry is seeing today?
Aaron: Pipeline wise we're feeling very good about it. We feel like we've got a strong pipeline to carry us well through the year. I am a little concerned about the debt and how that affects some of our larger big-spending customers towards the end of the year. What does Q4 look like as some of that has more of an effect on our economy and our market? But we're very bullish residentially. Absolutely. And commercial as well.
Ron: Yeah. Andrew, I know 2020 had to have sucked. That's the technical term.
Andrew: Especially after our 2019, which was more than double commercial sales.
Aaron: Up 115% or something.
Andrew: We didn't go back down 100 percent, so it was OK.
Ron: There's still some net growth there. What are you seeing? What type of jobs is now starting to hit, and are previous projects that were frozen on freeze, or did they completely cancel? What's happening right now?
Andrew: They adapted. I would say the budgets did open back up but in a more of a hybrid way. They saw the changes. They have had all this time to reassess their spaces, and the money was there and just changed from, well, we need more videoconferencing rooms or whatever it might be, as opposed to let's redo this auditorium. We'll do that next year. They're focusing more on the spaces that they're going to be refilling here in the very near future.
Ron: I'm assuming you're in design meetings with the folks that are designing these commercial spaces, whether they're new projects or renovations.
Ron: I imagine now this is speculation. I'd love your perspective on this is that I think the world's a little bit different now. We are not post COVID. I look forward to the day where I can say post-COVID. We're not there, but we're hopefully keeping close. The idea that folks are working from home more certainly today, and I'm going to say probably tomorrow, I think the ratio of maybe folks going into the big corporate office to do their job, it's going to be different or I'll just stick with that. I think it's going to be different. Do you think it's going to be different? And is that changing the way technology is being designed or deployed? Do you see that yet?
Andrew: Designing? Definitely. It's hard to comment on what it's going to be like in our region. I see a lot of people coming back already. There's space there, and they intend on utilizing it. Is it going to be a lot more work from home? I don't know. I can't give you the long-term effect.
Aaron: Not to make it a political thing, but it is a little bit region-specific as far as where people are coming back and where they are. Here in South Carolina, we've been coming back to work for a while, and I talk to my friends in California or New York. It's a completely different narrative, completely different narrative. It's definitely different from market to market and region to region by far. But overall, to your point, some of those big companies are realizing that they might not need that thirty thousand square feet of office space, that this group of individuals can work from home and this group doesn't need to. But our variety of commercial business also is unique in some way that we work with a lot of manufacturing, and we work with a lot of private ed and a lot of people that still need us no matter what those shifts are.
Andrew: Exactly. And everyone is planning for that shift. I've never heard so many, whether it's C suite or GCs or project managers talk about cameras and microphones. There was always a little bit of pushback on, well, only this room needs to do it, and you see that scope expanding. But I've never had so many questions of quality. I think it's that kind of Zoom fatigue, as we'll call it. Many people are sitting with a laptop in their lap, and they just had to struggle through that for the past year. Right. And now they're saying, "Well, we know that Mr. So-and-so, who's in his 80s, probably going to be back in this office. But we need to make sure in a board meeting that he can hear and feel like he's in the room." And I've never had so many conversations about quality. Right now, people want to make sure that they're going to invest it, and they're going to invest in something that is the best.
Aaron: Before it was, "Just give me a USB camera and a mic on the table. Now they realize that."
Ron: Yeah, I see it from the marketing world where we working with integrators whether we're doing a brochure or a website or whatever it is social media. The concept of talking about the home office was a non-subject up until March 2020. I want to say it was never demanded to be in any part of marketing messaging. And from March or April 2020 to the present, it's in every project. My personal exploration has been around learning how to do better audio, do better video, and do better lighting. I was going to pose that to you. Andrew, are you seeing that? I don't know whether that's called commercial work or resi work, so I guess I'll let whoever wants to take it. Are you seeing those demands for higher quality audio-video conferencing experiences? Because I know my personal experience was I wanted to know how to do it because I was tired of normal or subpar performance.
Andrew: Our acoustic requests have gone up a lot. Acoustic consultations and has really been picking up for one of the first times an architect actually reached out and said, hey, we need to plan and make sure that this is going to sound good. But they're paying a lot more attention to the way that we design things. Here's a heat map of the speaker system. This is why we do it this way. This is why the six speakers instead of two in this conference room and care to hear that information now before it was you're just adding speakers in. They've become a lot more invested in quality and making sure that it accomplishes what they want.
Aaron: Yeah, it's been surprising. On the commercial side, on the business side, they are more concerned about it. But we made a decision early on. We were going to try to go after that in residence as well. And it was not successful. There wasn't enough volume of need for quality. There were too many people that we're OK with being at home with their basic USB camera and the mic off their laptop. Even if they wanted to do something a little bit nicer, you could buy that nice mic online. You can buy that nice camera online. We really weren't able to monetize it from a profitability standpoint on the residential side. And we really thought we were going to be able to. We thought we had an aha moment, and it just didn't stick with anybody. It was very, very rare.
Ron: Yeah. If anyone is listening out there and has had a different perspective or has questions, by the way, for our guests, please don't be shy on that. I see Tomas from Panama just signed in "Saludos to all from Panama." Thanks for joining, and thanks to everyone that is commenting. Aaron, I want to pivot a little bit in terms of topic, and that is I know just because I've known you guys for a while, and so I happen to know something. And I asked you if it'd be OK to talk about it publicly. And you said, yeah, to some extent, we will. This is the no gotcha zone. There are no gotcha questions, I promise. But you and Daniel are the owners of your business. You guys, as owners, decided recently, and I let you expound on what recently means to expand the equity positions of your senior leadership team within the company. You've had to go about not only deciding you wanted to do that but then figuring out how to do that because that sounds like that's probably challenging from an accounting and a legal standpoint to know how to do that. Can you walk us through that or maybe what you're comfortable sharing that might be helpful to those listening?
Aaron: Yeah, one of the challenges with businesses along the way is always in retention. We believe from the beginning we tell our team all the time that we want to share as the company succeeds. We want to share that success with our team, whether it be in profit-sharing initiatives or efficiency bonuses or with us, whatever those things are because we want to keep the best team. We want to have the best people and want to have the best culture. You can't do that if you're trying to cut all the time. Along the way, we looked at some of our team members that were the most committed, that had been with us since the very beginning and had fought tooth and nail for where we were today. We formed a senior management team of three of our team members and Daniel and Me a few years ago. That helped change our company, just bringing them in from the perspective of before it was the two partners making all the decisions and everybody reporting to them. It didn't allow anybody to elevate it, didn't allow anybody to improve. We wanted to reward those team members by giving them something that they could be a part of as we build this thing even better in the future. But really that the biggest thing we learned in that process was more and more about how you need to elevate your team members and how you need to elevate the people around you, and how you need to challenge them. That was really lost on me for a while until a few years ago, I would say. We started to see Andrew step into the role of VP Commercial and gave him the autonomy to build and grow it.
Wow, what a great job he did. Oh, my gosh, we didn't have to own every single decision. Get out of the way. We started to see Mike, our VP of residential, do the same thing. Our other Mike, who runs our service department, is also on the senior management team, giving these guys autonomy but then watching that trickle below them. Technicians no longer reporting to the owner. How would they anyway such a dumb idea? Right. Now they're reporting to their project managers. I know some guys are out there like you were doing what? But constantly finding those people that are ready to elevate and move up and want to excel and given the opportunity, given them enough rope to give it a try. It's really been the acceleration of change over the past 18 months. It's just been phenomenal for us.
Ron: What are you seeing and feeling from your perspective, Andrew, in terms of kind of that term acceleration of change? What does it feel like when you look around?
Andrew: The changes and strides we've made in the past five years? I have the opportunity of having been here for six years, do something else, and then come back into this role for almost six years. I feel like we've done more than the previous 12 years combined in these past three or four. You have to avoid the group thing when you get a lot of relatively like-minded people in a room. But the way that we're able to pick out the biggest need points where we need to focus the energy and work together for resolution it really has rolled out to create a new feeling across the entire team from the top on to technician.
Ron: Aaron, where did you and Daniel go to get help on how to maybe incorporate not only this equity concept of how to distribute that within more of your team but also just general business or coaching or counseling? What did you do to get help?
Aaron: When we first started talking, this idea of equity, we thought this is easy. We'll write some things on paper and figure it out. And then you start involving lawyers and accountants and all these things that I don't understand. You find out that it's really not that easy and you have to do your homework. This was a five-year process for us. We've been working on this for five years, and we're literally just finalizing those things now. What we started to do is just bring in mentors and people for advice. We brought in people from outside our industry to get their advice on how these different programs can look and these different forms of equity can look. Then we also brought in the Navigate Consulting Group, Brad Malone, and Joel over there, who have spent the last nine months doing a deep dive into our entire company. One of those topics was the senior management team in equity. But much bigger topics than that were the fact that we now have that consulting team integrated and meeting with our leadership team in every division. They're meeting with our operations team, independent of the owners, by the way. They're meeting with our service team. This morning, we had a meeting where they presented to our sales team that spent three or four months redoing our books and working with our finance team. They've gotten involved in every part of our business.
We've had to have to humble ourselves and be ready to learn and listen and hear all the things that we can do better. It's been phenomenal. Again, it's helped elevate other members of our team that they're having these meetings independent of us before. It was always the partners in the meeting with whoever these people are. We were the loudest voices in the room. Now they just bring us in when they need to present the ideas they've come up with. Of course, we have veto power, but we also want to say yes as much as we can.
Ron: I'm making an assumption here. Correct me if I'm wrong. You guys now have a defined mission vision. A set of core values within the company is, and was that part of this process?
Aaron: Absolutely. We had a mission. We had mission, vision, and core values before. The senior management team actually gave us a lot of suggestions on why those things needed to change and what needs to change about them. That's one thing that's been different about our company along the way. I feel like we really believe in our core values, and we try to push that throughout the team. And if you don't match up to our core values, then you're not going to work out. We just redid our mission and actually decided that we're not going to use the word mission anymore. We're going to use the phrase, what is our purpose? Because your mission is more of a business term and purpose makes sense. Purpose makes sense to everybody, down to the technicians in the warehouse guy and everybody else. Our purpose is to prosper our team, clients, and community with the resources God bestows on us. We just try to simplify it. And that I think that it was a tiny change to the verbiage, but it meant a lot to the team.
Ron: For those listening that haven't defined such language, and I'll direct this at you, Andrew, for those you know, I'm going to say many integrators, I talk to them all day long, every day, and have for 20 years. You guys have many of your friends around your marketing around the country. A lot of them may not have such concepts defined. What's your advice as to why you think maybe they should reconsider that or go through the process, whether internally or externally, to define these things?
Andrew: How do you explain what you're working for? What's your purpose every day? Is it to enrich yourself, enrich your company's owners to what is it just about selling black boxes and installing them? I think everybody needs to wake up, not just focused on the job at hand, but what they're presenting to the world and building upon themselves. I think it's been incredibly important, especially as we grow tonight when you don't have the one on one with Aaron every day who's living these core values and purpose and vision, all those things to see of themselves and know that they're living up to it/
Ron: Aaron, you and I were talking just before we went live, and you made a comment again. I'm going to bring it up here publicly because I agree because I'm also doing the same thing. When you said it, it really struck a chord with me. We just recently did a strategic planning meeting with my leadership team, and we've charted the course not only for the next quarter but we charted the course for the next five years. How new is that concept for your business? Did you do that for all of the last 17 years, or is this something you've started doing in the last 12 months?
Aaron: One of those things. I guess you get better at it over time. I think we thought we did it before, but our version of it before was at CEDIA. We'd go lock ourselves in a conference room at the Denver library for an hour. And that was our strategic planning. The strategic planning this time was months, was months. We really dug into the different sectors of the business, resi, commercial service. But we also dug into finance, operations, and marketing. Also in this time, more than ever before, it was always the partners doing the planning. This time we had the senior management team involved, and we pulled out our team members in when we needed to. When we came out of that entire plan, we had a real tangible goal for this year. For every division of our company, we were able to communicate that to all of our team members and not just revenue base and not just revenue base. It was initiative space.
Our big goal was one hundred percent everything. It's a story of our lives that we have. We probably have a thousand initiatives at Fusion that we got 95% done but never saw the light of day. Actually, saying we're going to pick that OBT, the one big thing. Everybody in the senior management has an OBT, one big thing. If you don't complete anything before next month's senior management meeting you by golly, make sure your OBT is done. We did the same thing with our group initiatives. As we said, we're going to go after this first. Right now, we're really working hard on project launch meetings, gathering the right information, getting the scope up to date from super focused on that. And then we'll move on to the next thing. But we don't want to be fragmented.
Ron: Let's talk meetings. How have you guys maybe improve your meeting, productivity, or efficiency? Are there any strategies that those who are listening might benefit from?
Andrew: Well, we're working with Brad and the guys that navigate. That's changing our meetings a lot. I think it would. I would say it's something that's still in process, but what are some tips?
Aaron: We have got a long way to go. We started changing meetings with the way we focused on just the senior management started with that first. We used eOS and Traction concepts to have a specific cadence and structure that was followed in that meeting. It's made those meetings so much more profitable and so much more efficient. We're starting to roll that into all the other meetings you have in the company, your sales meetings, your operations meetings, your active project meetings. The biggest thing just has a structure, take it, define it, have everybody agree to it, and stick to it.
There are a million meeting structures out there. But the problem is we don't prepare for meetings as a society. We don't prepare for meetings. We want to walk in after coming from lunch or whatever we were doing, completely unprepared. Always prepare, and we don't stick to the structure. You can just do those two things. You're going to your meetings will get better.
Andrew: Our senior management, we have a cadence document. It's on the projector. Every time we walk in and follow the process, we know what to expect when we're in that meeting. There are no surprises. And we bring in our issues and things that we want to talk about.
Aaron: But shut down the rabbit trails.
Ron: Tell me about that. What's a rabbit trail, and how does why should someone be shutting those down?
Andrew: It's not so much shutting it down, it's stopping the break in the course of the meeting, and we like to write down the issues that we want to talk about. We have a set time. And then, as a team, we number of those issues. What is the most important? If we run out of time, can No.7 be moved into the bucket for the next meeting? Will it even be an issue by the next meeting?
Aaron: Rabbit trails aren't bad as long as they're in the right timing. Right. If we're talking about service and somebody gets off on a topic about how Billy didn't plug in an HDMI cable right on a commercial job, and we start. Let's write the Billy issue up on the board, and we'll table it. You just kind of table it and continue with your cadence. We always have our tasks that you follow in a certain order, and you don't break them. If somebody gets off on it, you just say put it in the ideas box, and then we vote on it as a team to rank what order we attack the ideas every single meeting.
Ron: There's another opinion or observation I have. I'm just going to call myself out that I noticed prior to my company implementing EOS and Traction, which I understand you're not doing. You're doing a modified version. There's eOS Traction flavor in what Navigate Consulting is implementing with you guys.
Aaron: We're cherry-picking the best of the EOS and Traction.
"Sometimes the owner or the loudest mouth in the room is the one doing all the talking in the meeting. That's usually a signal that the meeting's not going to be very effective. If there are real problems, they're probably not going to be fully dissected and solved."
Ron: Yeah, that's totally fair. But you know what's common. For those listening or watching may be familiar with is sometimes the owner or the loudest mouth in the room is the one doing all the talking in the meeting. That's usually a signal that the meeting's not going to be very effective. If there are real problems, they're probably not going to be fully dissected and solved. Aaron, did you see that or experience that in the past? And is it different today or at least better than it was in the past?
Aaron: Oh, yeah, man, I learned a lot about shutting up and get out getting out of the way in the past couple of years, realizing that you didn't need to be the first person to talk. You need to allow some uncomfortable silence to exist so other people can be heard and can speak up. Yeah, being better listeners, letting other people lead the meetings, challenging them to be well prepared, and giving them quality feedback on how the meeting went when they do roll it out.
Andrew: I think that's been the meeting that it's just somebody espousing a directive.
Aaron: That was the first fifteen years of our lives.
Ron: The first twelve or thirteen years of my business, so I completely relate.
Aaron: Another meeting with Aaron, telling us what to do.
Andrew: If we have a meeting, we need to discuss it and solve it. That's the point. It's not to take somebody's idea. And that's a presentation. It's not a meeting. So we must work in our meetings.
Ron: Aaron, I'm going to direct this to you. You guys engaged Brad Malone from Navigate. I'm looking over here at his website here. I'll put it up on the screen again. What does it look like for those listening that maybe have never engaged a coach or mentor, or consultant? Is this someone that you talk to over the phone for thirty minutes a month? Is there are video conferences. Is it live meetings? What does it mean to engage a consultant to help you and your business at a high level?
Aaron: There are different levels of commitment. Obviously, with anything, you decide how many things you're going to be working on. But we really wanted to just open up the entire company to evaluation and feedback. It starts with a little bit of getting to know you phase. Basically, we connected Brad and his team with all of our team members. I think they interviewed almost 80 percent of our staff, one on one. Man, you get a lot of great feedback out of that because it's anonymous. It's pretty fantastic.
Ron: It has to be pretty humbling.
Aaron: It was very humbling. It was great, though. And then, basically, he digests that information and comes back with his recommendations and thoughts. The initial part is really a small level commitment to getting someone to tell you what they think. If you agree with them or think they're on the right track, you end up signing up for whatever plan or commitment you want to help solve these problems. Our big point with Navigate going in that we really wanted to push was that we have many great ideas. We have many team members who have ideas, but we just don't know how to get them done.
We don't just need great ideas from you guys. We need you to actually help facilitate getting those things done, help facilitate. Those meetings should be structured and who should be in them, and what the pathways can be because that's always been our problem is actually implementing it one hundred percent. We're on a one-year plan with them. It looks like our multiple meetings a month with the senior management team. There are other separate meetings as the project managers and the design team with Brad every Wednesday at 8:00 a.m. standing meeting. There are multiple standing meetings like that with different divisions of the company. After they have spent a few weeks or months, whatever it takes, coming up with things, they'll come and present to the senior management team or the parties that need to hear the information and the ideas.
Ron: OK, understood, guys. I'm mindful of time, yours, and the audience. I want to try to sneak out one extra, maybe a piece of advice that you guys are willing to give the audience. And I'm going to ask each of you. I'll start with you, Aaron. And I'll say, Aaron, if you're listening or those that are listening, other business owners or operators, you and your team have had really impressive growth. You guys are doing some pretty good volume. I'll just I'll keep it broad. You're somewhere between five and ten million dollars in revenue. You're growing at an impressive clip. Those that are listening might aspire to be doing something similar, what piece of advice would you give them to consider?
"Get out of your own way, and people elevate your team. Look who's ready to step up."
Aaron: Well, the one I've already said is getting out of your own way, and people elevate your team. Look who's ready to step up. The other one is the one that's something that Daniel and I have always ascribed to. I think it comes from our background and our belief system but is to look in the mirror and never, never stop looking at how you can improve and how you can grow and change. We tell our team that all the time. We might be the best in the market. We might be the best in North Carolina and South Carolina. But that doesn't mean we don't have a ton of crap that we need to do better. We don't need to have it. We don't have a ton of things that we can do better. Never stop growing and changing and be humble. Look in the mirror. Know you've got flaws and go after them.
Ron: Amen, I love it. Andrew, a tough act to follow.
Andrew: I'll step out on the other side, the external side of the business. It's so important to stay up with marketing trends and put those dollars in the right place. What's been most impressive to me from the day that I started was the value we put into our clients, our existing clients. There are people we did in our first year of work here that still come back to Fusion. It's the way that we've operated the commercial department where we're not bid chasers. We're not after high revenues and low margins. After working with clients who want to work with us, we're impressed by our work and our people.
Aaron: Never walk away from a problem even if it costs you.
"We have relationship builders here. We don't have salespeople."
Andrew: We stick. You can't get rid of it sometimes. That really is the biggest thing with us is that about the people that we work with. We have relationship builders here. We don't have salespeople. I'm proud of every person in this company for how they handle our clientele and how they handle each other. And it's every day I'm impressed with everyone.
"I think that's tremendous wisdom there to not look at your customers as numbers, but as people who want to be cared for and listened to."
Ron: Yeah, I think that's tremendous wisdom there to not look at your customers as numbers, but as people who want to be cared for and listened to. And it sounds like you guys have been doing that for many years, and you're only getting better. I want to congratulate you both on such tremendous business. For those listening or watching who want to follow you guys, I'll do it high level. They want to learn more about your business, or they want to meet you guys individually. I'll start with you, Andrew. What would you advise?
Andrew: Absolutely. The best avenue is through our website. fusionaudiovideo.com. There's always a contact form. I'm not a big social media guy. You can follow me on LinkedIn. If you want to speak to me specifically about the commercial department or anything that I do, please reach out there. But if you do put in a contact request, I'm happy to take a phone call or reply to an email.
Ron: OK, perfect, Aaron?
Aaron: Yeah, we'd love to share and collaborate. That's one thing we've really fostered at our buying group ProSource. We wouldn't be where we were today without sharing with other business owners and other integrators across the country. We both have a wonderful group of great guys. We reach out to any time we have a challenge. There are not many new challenges under the sun, so reach out. We'd love to share fusionaudiovideo.com is a great spot. And I'm also on LinkedIn as well. Yeah, I'd be happy to help.
Ron: Awesome. For those tuning in, we'll make sure to put all that information, those LinkedIn profiles, and any other methods of communication that Aaron and Andrew approve will put those down in the show comments and, of course, over on the landing page. Aaron and Andrew, thank you for joining me here. Let's look at the notes. It's show # 163. Thanks for joining me on show 163.
Andrew: Thanks for having us.
Aaron: Thanks so much.
Ron: You are welcome. I got to put one more comment in because I know it'll make. Chris says that the camera makes Ron look younger.
Aaron: Yes. We need one of those cameras.
Andrew: I need one of those tans.
Ron: Move to Florida. Come visit in Florida. All right, gentlemen, Be well, thanks so much. Alright, guys, there you have it. Aaron and Andrew, I've known these guys for many years. I met them back early when we joined ProSource. I want to say back in maybe 2015 or 2016. And I've watched them just really build such a strong and impressive and consistent business. I've actually been chasing both of them for quite a while to come on the show and share with all of you. I'm so excited that they did. In case you have not already done so, don't forget to subscribe to the podcast. This show will drop on the podcast in your favorite app. It will drop sometime next week, and definitely want to, if you're willing, leave us a review, good or bad. You know, I want to hear it all. Please do. That will always be appreciated. And as always, this show is brought to you by One Firefly. You can visit us at onefirefly.com and or you can give us a call. On that note, I will see you next week and be well. Be safe. Thanks, everyone.
Aaron founded Fusion A/V during his senior year in college with a few of his friends. Their focus was on keeping technology fun and fresh for clients. Today, Aaron wears many hats in the company and participates in sales, operations, marketing, vendor relations, and charities. With a passion for music, Andrew studied Audio Engineering in Nashville before discovering the world of A/V. Fusion A/V has two locations, one in Greenville, South Carolina, and the other in Asheville, North Carolina.
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 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:
- Navigate Management Consulting
- ProSource buying group
- Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer
- SAE School of Audio Engineering
To keep up with the team at Fusion Audio Video, visit their website at fusionaudiovideo. You can find Fusion Audio Video on social media on Facebook. You can follow Ryan and his racing endeavors on Facebook or at canguroracing.com.
More Automation Unplugged
Want to stay up to date with the latest Automation Unplugged interviews? Head over to the One Firefly Facebook page and subscribe to receive a notification whenever Ron is live!