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Automation Unplugged

Automation Unplugged is a Facebook Live show recorded weekly with our host Ron Callis, Owner and CEO of the digital marketing agency, One Firefly. In each Automation Unplugged episode, Ron speaks with leading industry personalities and technology professionals to discuss all things business development, technology trends, and more. These interviews are designed to help our clients and members of the custom integration industry keep up-to-date with the latest news as well as learn from experts in the field.

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Home Automation Podcast Episode #176: An Industry Q&A With Matt Bernath

In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, Matt Bernath, Senior Coach at Vital Management shares 6 ways to increase profit and reduce chaos in your business.

Home Automation Podcast Episode #176: An Industry Q&A With Matt Bernath

This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Matt Bernath. Recorded live on Wednesday, June 30th, 2021, at 12:30 p.m. EST.

About Matt Bernath

Matt is a veteran entrepreneur in the custom electronics industry who specializes in helping technology professionals transform their businesses. He has spent more than two decades in retail, wholesale, custom integration, and coaching - including founding and managing his own integration firm at one time. Today, as a Senior Coach at VITAL MGMT, Matt helps others achieve their dreams and business goals while also focusing on his overall mission to shift the CI industry's trajectory.

Interview Recap

  • 6 ways to increase profit and reduce chaos in your business
  • Advice for an integration firm owner on managing their own compensation
  • How to turn the most prosperous times into the most profitable times
  • The time investment to start transforming your business and profits with Vital Management

SEE ALSO: Home Automation Podcast Episode #175 A Custom Integration Industry Q&A With Jaclyn Boutwell

 

Transcript


Ron:  Hello, Ron Callis here with another episode of Automation Unplugged. Today, we're going to be doing show #176, believe it or not. Today is Wednesday, June 30th. It's a little bit after 12:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. We're going to have a fun conversation today. I've known this fellow for many years. He originally was a customer of ours here at One Firefly, and he's had a really fascinating career. And now he's in a position where he's helping many of you grow your businesses. I'm here with Matt Bernath. He's a Senior Coach at Vital Management. And I know many of you have heard of Vital Management.

Paul and Steve over at Vital Management will be talking about Matt joining the team and his goals. We're also going to discuss some of the confusion between Vital Management and Bravas and the differences there. We're going to jump into all sorts of fun stuff. But without further ado, let me go ahead and bring in Matt and let's see how he's doing. Matt, how are you, sir?

Matt: Good, Ron, how are you doing? Hey, everybody.

Ron:  I am good. Matt, for our audience. Where are you coming from?

Matt: From sunny Southern California. I'm actually in Anaheim Hills, which is about 15-20 minutes away from Disneyland.

Ron:  That sounds lovely. I think I had seen something on social media, though. Are you guys in a drought? Has it not rained, or is that a different part of California?

Matt: No, we have not had much water. I feel like we're in perpetual drought being shamed for watering our lawn and things of that nature, which sounds like I'm insensitive to it, but I'm certainly sensitive to the fact that we need water to make things grow and work around here. But, yeah, California is a desert. Right. Even as you get close to the coasts. We live in desert conditions. Yeah, it'll easily be up in the hundreds this summertime.

Ron:  I had no idea it got into the hundreds in Orange County.

Matt: Yeah. Where I am, I'm about 30 minutes away from the beach. When you get up into that, we're kind of in the first set of foothills. We're actually in the hills that burn quite frequently here in California. About every three or four years, the hills behind us burn. But yeah, the drought makes that a little bit scary as we head into summertime. Every few years, we have just to watch out.

Ron:  Best wishes that this is a light season for those conditions. I think I've seen that stuff on TV, and it looks terrifying.

Matt: Yeah, we've been through it once, but fingers crossed, that'll be the last time.

Ron:  We'll see a couple of quick hellos. We have Hasheesh coming to us from India. Thank you for joining. We have Angel coming to us from Mexico. Thanks for dropping a note in there and saying hello. Appreciate that. Matt, your businesses maybe let's quickly identify. It's more than one. What are the businesses that you're affiliated with?

Matt: Yeah. I have been a coach with Vital Management since 2019, when I connected with Paul and Steve. Before that, I was a client of theirs, so I spent a good part of my time coaching other business leaders inside the industry. I also have some private clients outside of the industry myself. I really discovered how fulfilling the client-facing coaching work is. I really enjoy that. In 2016 I helped a friend of mine get a security company off the ground, and so that's Caliber Security, and I'm involved there. I don't do a lot of the day-to-day operational work, but I'm more involved in finance and strategy and the company's overall direction.

Ron:  Got it. I appreciate that. Let's go back in time. I've got lots and lots of questions for you about our industry and how you guys over there at Vital are helping our industry. But I always find it fascinating to learn how you actually landed here. What's your origin story? What's your background? How did you land here? Yeah, it's funny. I try to be as brief as I can, but essentially it's 25 years now, which I just added that up in my head today. It seems unreasonable, but 25 years that I've been in the consumer electronics business, I actually started my senior year of high school with a retailer that many of us probably remember, Circuit City. I spent many years in retail, about five years, and then I played the wholesale game.

I was a rep for JVC and Pioneer and Audiovox, and many different brands for several years. I took a short one-year stint out of the industry to actually sell yellow page ads. I wanted to get some real hardcore sales training. That was back when we used to get the three-inch-thick Yellow Pages, the yellow book. Did you call people, and what they hang up on you? Was that an easy sale? No, it was hard. I won't go into the stories, but it's everything that you could imagine about hard-core transactional sales. What that did is it helped me to realize that I am not a transactional salesperson. I am a consultative salesperson through and through. I wouldn't say that sales are my top priority in terms of what I want to do every day. But it is such a critical part of my entire life. I figured out through that experience that I am not a transactional guy. So so it's great. It's fantastic. During that YellowPages time, I realized I miss the industry. That's actually when I decided to start my AV company, Surreal Systems. What was interesting is I'd never other than hooking up a few stereos in people's houses, I'd never run a wire in a home or anything like that stuff. When I started my company, I actually started it with a yellow page ad part-time for a while, and I'm sure this sounds familiar to many of you. When it got big enough, I came home to my wife, and we were a young family at the time. I said, "I think I can make this work, and I really enjoy it." And I had found somebody to help me do that, the work itself. One large job that I sold allowed me to take a week off from the YellowPages to do this project.

It essentially put three months' worth of overhead into my pocket. I came home at the end of that week, and I said, "Hey, I'm quitting the YellowPages. I've got three months' worth of bills in my pocket. If I can't sell the next job and the next job in the next job, I'll go and work for somebody." The rest is history, as they say. I was able to sell the next job in the next job, in the next job. And in hindsight, that was probably the worst business plan ever. It was like, "Hey, let's see if this money in my pocket can keep me going until I sell something else." And it wasn't until about four years into running my company that I realized I needed help. I started hiring coaches about four years into owning my business because I had a ton of chaos. I was overstressed.

Ron:  How many hours a week were you working?

Matt: It was probably easier to count the number of hours that I wasn't working right. I probably slept for six, and then I saw my family for two. It was like maybe eight to 10 hours a day that I wasn't working. The bills were scattered on the kitchen table. It was everything you hear about running your own business. Right. And so, I just didn't want to live that nightmare forever. That's when I started to reach out to people to help. I eventually discovered Paul and Steve. Well, actually, Paul wasn't around. Steve was by himself at the time, doing his fast-forward coaching gig and hired on with him. That completely helped me turn the company around from a lifestyle hobby business into a real profit-making machine with enterprise value and a reliable, comfortable stream of profit. I was a happier person then, spending more time doing the things I wanted to do. In 2018, I decided it was time for me to move on. I ended up selling Surreal Systems in 2018. And ultimately, that decision was made around really some personal stuff going on in my life and finding less and less passion for that business specifically and just said, "Hey, you know what? I think that it was time for a change."

When I sold the company, I really didn't know what I would do next, which again was, in hindsight, both the best and worst moves I could have made. I was a member of Vistage at the time, which is a CEO peer group. We meet every month, and I just sold my company, and I was still showing up to the meetings like, "Hey, guys, I don't know what I'm doing. I don't know what I'm going to do next. But let's figure this thing out." One of the fellow members of the group had a traffic control company. They set up these cone zones. Right. They'd grown 40 percent year over year. They'd been around for 15 years. But they were just were not making any money. Every month this owner, the CEO, would come in and just complain, "I have got 40 people working for me. I just don't know how to make money." And long story short, I said, "Hey, let me come hang out with you for a couple of days. Let's see, just as a friend, what I can do." And that turned into a long-term paid coaching engagement. I ended up being the interim CEO for this company for about fifteen months, and we could turn it around. The CEO was of retirement age, so she wanted to sell. We ended up turning it around seven x the profit over fifteen months, and she sold to a large public company and was able to exit early last year. That experience alone helped me to realize the coaching thing was the most fulfilling work that I'd ever done. And that's why during that process, I engaged with Paul and Steve, and they said, "Hey, we need a coach, so come on board." In 2019, I started training, and I've had coaching clients with Vital ever since.

Ron:  How would you describe Vital Management? What is Vital Management?

Matt: Vital Management is both people and process. The people being Paul Steve, and myself. If you count it up, it's well over 100 years of experience, right. And varied experience, Paul brings on the manufacturer's perspective. He's incredibly intelligent in so many ways in marketing and sales, and brand. Steve brings the financial aspect of it, counting money, truly understanding the accounting piece, the bookkeeping, the dashboards, and then bringing the dealer's perspective. I know and understand the entire process. The people, the three of us is a part of it, but also the process that Steve has created over the last 15 years on how to organize a CI business so that you reduce the chaos, you increase the profit, but also you take things that used not to be measurable. Now you can measure them and put them on to a dashboard, which is the bi4ci dashboard. Just like driving in your car, you can get immediate feedback on what's happening in your business and some leading indicators, which is sort of unheard of in this industry to have these leading indicators that show you what's likely to happen down the road.

Ron:  You mentioned when you sold your business, and this is a term that came up when you helped your friend back in '18 or '19 sell their business. You mentioned the enterprise value of a business. I'm going to ask you what enterprise value is and the enterprise value of an integration firm?

Matt: Yeah, it's a great question. I don't know how Webster defines enterprise value.

Ron:  We don't have to be Webster's perfect. But we'll be Matt perfect.

Matt: Our definition of enterprise value is building something that's an asset. That asset could be physical. Like inventory, of course, is a physical asset. A building is a physical asset or enterprise value in the way of a repeatable profit stream. That's one bit of enterprise value and then also cash building, building cash in the business. We have plenty of dealers on our system who have lots of cash. That cash can be kept in the business spent on capital, human capital, physical capital, investing in the mission and purpose of the company. Or it can be taken out of the company and create assets for the owner.

Ultimately, the most simple definition of enterprise value for us is what is sellable. Right? What are the business assets, whether or not you decide to exit and actually sell it or potentially have someone run the company, and you achieve a reliable stream of income?

Ron:  You, Steve, and Paul have worked with a large diversity of businesses across our industry. What percent and so everyone's listening here, I'm sure they'll maybe peek their ears with this answer that you're going to provide here potentially, how profitable, and I'm talking net profit, real profit, not cash flow. Maybe you could help clarify the difference between profit and cash flow. How profitable are typical integration firms?

Matt: Well, I'll tell you right off the bat, Ron, most of them have no idea. And I probably would say that whatever number I give you will not be accurate because nobody counts the same unless they're on our system. But what we've experienced, because we've done several analyses both on clients and potential clients. When we put a dealer's numbers into a measurable benchmark system, we often see the low single digits in profit. Five to seven percent is, I would say, on the high side of what we often see. But our dealers who have been on our system and who are following the processes they're in the 15-25 percent net profit. We know for a fact because we've seen over and over again that dealers are leaving a lot of profit on the table. We're able to make that change for them.

Ron:  Let's maybe go there first. What are some of the obvious places people are leaving profit on the table? I'm going to say this now because I want you to remind me to ask if I forget it, what actually is required for people to get into the "platform" so that numbers can be compared? I want our audience to know that as well. How much work is that? A week? Is it a month? Is it a year? Those are two quick thoughts I had.

Matt: Yeah, good questions. Several small things add up to big things. Right. Inevitably, everybody wants the silver bullet. They want the blue pill or the purple pill, or the green pill, right? We all want that. We all want our problems to be solved by one simple thing. We've really identified about six areas of the business. In a number, we've identified about 60 different things that we can do in about six parts of the six different areas of the business that individually when those things are done and put into place regularly, we can achieve a much higher profit and of course, success and reduce costs. We see it in the revenue side of the business, of course. That's topline revenue. We define revenue as work that's been completed, not jobs that had been sold.

Ron:  Those are liabilities. Right? If you've collected a deposit and you have cash in the bank, that's not actually your money.

Matt: No. That's the customer's money that you're holding on to. And of course, the really smart integrators are putting that money into an interest-bearing account so that they can eke out a little bit more profit.

Ron:  There aren't many of those out there, though? I put some money in a money market account. I want to say they give. They're giving us .2% or something.

Matt: You've got to have a good money manager at that point to make that work. But it's certainly better than nothing. But on the revenue side, we've identified probably 10 or 15 things that our dealers can do from having the right mix, meaning the percentage of equipment, percentage of parts, percentage of labor break down. We often find that dealers are just not collecting enough in the labor side of their business. Yet, that's the most valuable portion of the profit component. Most of them know what a widget is going to cost or a speaker or a black box. That's a fairly reliable calculation. But that represents only a small part of the company's profit that's being lost in the back end. Gross margin is the other area that we've identified several strategies. Of course, gross margin gets eaten away by your fixed expenses in the business. We have to start with a strong gross margin if we expect to have any net margin. And again, that's an area of the industry that we see many dealers just leaving money on the table—cash management, meaning collections, making sure that we're collecting on time. A lot of dealers are actually very good at staying ahead of the cash requirements of their business. But how they recognize cash versus revenue is a topic that you just brought up a little earlier and is an area of opportunity for many dealers.

Again, we have 10 or 15 strategies in that area. Productivity is a big piece of the industry. How productive is my labor force? Of course, the more productive they are, the less variable your gross margin on labor becomes. Right. And so if we can increase productivity in your business, we can we have 10, maybe probably 20 different things that we can do in that area. We increase productivity. We immediately experience a significant gross margin increase on the labor side, compensation. We have some compensation strategies to help keep that in line. That is the single largest expense that our dealers have that is eating away at their gross margin. Aside from buying the equipment, compensating our people is the largest expense. Lastly, the sixth area that we've identified opportunities as major operating costs. These are your fixed expenses, right? These are what most people would call overhead. We have strategies on how to how to rein that in. But also, we know what the benchmarks are for each of these six categories. Once we can look at a dealer's numbers in our system, we can tell them where they are on the benchmarks of the six key areas and help them make changes in those areas.

Ron:  I'm going to relate what magic you guys are doing at Vital Management to what I wished existed, and maybe it does exist, and I haven't found it yet. But in the marketing space, Taylor, our VP of Operations and Finance at One Firefly. He and I and our leadership team, we're trying to build a marketing company that is niche industry-specific. Everyone listening knows that. But at the same time, we could compare ourselves to other marketing agencies out there in the world, the data we're scratching and clawing to find the benchmarks of performance across all of the categories you're describing. It's awesome to grow a strong, viable, scalable, growing, profitable business.

Paul and Steve, and now you have collected this database, and you can enable people to look at their business apples to apples. I've heard Paul and Steve riff on this, so maybe you could riff on this. The idea that when you look at a chart of accounts for integrators, the way owners account for their own income, it's like a smorgasbord in terms of I collect no salary, I collect a huge salary, and maybe is there a thread to pull on and just maybe an observation of what you see when you're trying to maybe look at someone's PNL books and understand how do they compare to their peers around the country?

Matt: Yeah. I want to start by saying that we have yet to meet. Well, actually, we probably have one or two integrators that we've met who have an accounting background, but it's incredibly rare, right? It's also incredibly rare that we found an integrator who realizes, "Hey, that's a function of the business that I want to outsource." Many of them try to go about it themselves, or their wife or significant other has some experience with it, or eventually they grow to a size where they're able to bring on that talent. But I want to just preface this by saying there's no judgment at all. I get why we have such ugly books out there in our industry. Right. I had them for a long time. It's just the way of the beast. But it's all over the board. We've seen PNLs and balance sheets that cannot be read by even the most experienced person just because it's the last thing to get dealt with when you've got customer phone calls and vendors that need to get paid and all this. Many people are managing their business off their bank account. If there's money in there, we're happy. If there's not, or if it's getting below a certain amount, then I don't know. We got to pull red flags or hit some buzzers or whatever. To maybe answer your question about the owner compensation piece, like almost everything, we do have a benchmark for that. It's really based on the organization's size because, of course, as you grow revenue, the percentage of that revenue that the owner should be taking in is smaller and smaller. That doesn't mean the dollar amount of smaller, but the percentage of the overall revenue is smaller. But what we recommend from an owner's compensation perspective is to look at your own role as separate from the role that you play in the organization.

An owner's role is essentially an investor in their company. For example, if you came to me and said, "Hey, we want to take One Firefly to the next level, we need some money." If you asked me for some money, I would become an investor in One Firefly. My role is as an investor. Right. That's how our dealers recommend our dealers look at their ownership role separate from the role they play in their daily operation of the business. We recommend they pay themselves a salary consistent with the replacement cost of their role in the business. If you're a four- or five-person integrator, your business role is very different from if you have 40 people. Right. As the General Manager of a four to five-person integration company, you're wearing many hats. What's the replacement cost of that person? Right. What's the replacement cost of the CEO of a 40 person integration firm? We recommend that the salary be consistent with what you'd have to pay somebody else to do that job. Right. Then if the owner seeks additional compensation that's provided as distributions in their company, of course, there's a lot of discussions around how a company is formed, whether a business corp, an LLC. But that's essentially I don't if that answers your question.

Ron:  I think you hit it on the head is that you guys provide the standardization or creating the mechanism to allow for a standard to be implemented within the numbers of the business, which now I mean, without that, you couldn't tell an owner or leadership team what levers to pull because you don't know what's working in their business and what isn't working in their business. It's a fundamental requirement. I'm going to pivot to this standardization. If you go, this is show 176, Matt. My guest number one was Paul Starkey.

Matt: Oh!

Ron:  I don't know if you know that.

Matt: I didn't know.

Ron:  And I want to say he was my guest number 10. Of my first 10 shows, Paul is 20 percent of the guests. That was back in '17. But I had personally been working with Paul and Steve since around '15. The Vital mechanism, maybe you could describe it, but how did Vital's ability to put integrators on a common platform of financials and processes really position them for what became the acquisition within Bravas? The largest or one of the largest integrators in the world now was possible because of this foundational work done by your team?

Matt: Right. I can only speak to what I've experienced at that time. I was a client of the Vital process. I can sort of speak to some of it. But essentially, what allowed the Bravas thing to happen was that all of these dealers were on the same standardized way of counting money, recognizing revenue, recognizing costs, reporting structure, dashboard structure, what we might call the business operating system, looked very similar from one dealer to the next. That allowed the owners, or excuse me, the private equity firm, to rely on those figures because they were being counted in a way that made sense. They had a standardized chart of accounts to standardize accounting operating systems, standardize Quickbooks. Almost all of them, I think we're on the same software platforms. A lot of that was really what allowed Bravas to happen. It also allows us to compare just from dealer to dealer across the country in different markets. There are some very consistent best practices that we see, regardless of where your business is located.

Ron:  I know this might seem obvious, but I'd love for you to differentiate today because I know there have been some questions. You had mentioned you've had questions posed to you. Bravas, the integration company, and Vital Management are completely separate entities that are not attached. They might be aligned in certain ways, but they're not attached or affiliated in any way. Do you want to maybe expound on that and just kind of describe the Vital Management company that you're growing with, Paul and Steve, and where that is in terms of comparison to Bravas, the integrator?

Matt: Right. Bravas resulted from Paul and Steve working together with a group of dealers to get on a standardized platform that allowed Bravas to happen. Paul and Steve are also involved in helping dealers to be positioned to become part of Bravas. They are still involved in that part of the process. Beyond that, you'd obviously have to talk with Paul and Steve. I've been brought on to grow the coaching side of the business to not just sort of brought on. Let me sort of reposition that. What I've helped so far with Vital is to get clear about what we want to be as a company. When we sat down, we looked at the entire industry, the 12 to 15 thousand CEDIA dealers just in the United States. We realized that the bulk of these dealers are owner-centric, that the bottlenecks in those companies are serving just to create a ton of chaos, frustrate the owners and and and put them in a position where they're not achieving the kind of financial success or life happiness that they had hoped this entrepreneurial journey would bring them.

The result that that 12 to 15 thousand CEDIA dealers are the center of the industry. The industry itself is not realizing its full growth and value potential. It's not attracting enough outside investment. And most importantly, and we're all feeling this, it's not attracting enough outside talent. The industry has a massive growth opportunity. Suppose we can get the majority of these dealers on a business operating system and a platform and level up their business acumen, leadership skills, and performance. That's essentially what our mission is. Our mission is industry-wide, and we believe that we can accomplish that mission through leveling up the dealers and transforming how they think and act. That's the Vital that we are growing today.

Ron:  What do you think the limitation is right now? Why is the rate of adoption of these better practices, not a higher rate of adoption?

Matt: Great question. Steve and Paul have been so entrenched in delivering this great product and service to the dealers that have signed on that they have not focused on outreach and growing the Vital brand and visibility. My goal here is to take that mission to the streets, to the 15,000 CEDIA dealers, and let them know that this is available. Right. That there's help if you're feeling chaos in your business, if you feel like you're not on the entrepreneurial journey that you thought you signed up for, we're here to help. My goal is to spread the word. We want to get wide and deep with the entire industry and take this thing to the next level and help as many people as we can.

Ron: I will make a statement about my personal experience working with integrator owner-operators and leadership. I'm going to make it very time-based. Right now, our industry is busy. I'm going to say at peak levels of busyness from my 20-year experience in this space. I think the pandemic has caused some weird anomalies to happen in terms of lifestyle choices, money choices, and it's resulted in a lot of money being spent in the home. Integrators are the beneficiaries of that workflow. At the same time, I know that many of them run themselves so hard and so ragged that their quality of life is, in many cases, very poor. It almost sounds like a challenging puzzle for you and your team to break through and solve that puzzle, to get them to pay attention to ideas that could ultimately help them, maybe not in the immediate short term, or maybe you could counter that and say they would be in the immediate, but certainly in the middle to long term. Do those observations seem on point? If so, how do you think about it?

"Busy doesn't always mean prosperous, but in a service industry, busy means you probably have a lot of cash coming into your business, which can make it feel prosperous."

Matt: Yeah, absolutely. You're dead-on, right? There's a quote that I always like to bring up, especially when somebody is experiencing prosperous times and sort of not focusing on the growth or foundation. I would agree, we're in prosperous times, and busy doesn't always mean prosperous, but in a service industry, busy means you probably have a lot of cash coming into your business, which can make it feel prosperous.

"Your bank account has more money in the bank. You may not be profitable, and you might not even know if you're profitable. There's certainly more money sitting in the bank."

Ron:  Your bank account has more money in the bank. You may not be profitable, and you might not even know if you're profitable. There's certainly more money sitting in the bank.

"Smooth seas never made a great sailor."

Matt: Right. That feels great to a lot of people. The quote that I know that I kind of go back to where that is, "Smooth seas never made a great sailor." What that means to me in how I coach my dealers, and private clients is when things are great, are you truly building a great business? Right. We have to be careful to separate our feeling of prosperity from what our measurements are telling us is happening. Much like that, that traffic control company that I helped was growing top-line like crazy, but just not profit. Right. When we helped them turn that around, like, "Oh, well, that makes a lot of sense." What we were doing, we were seeing all this cash coming into the business thinking we were doing everything right. I think my bit of feedback on what you mentioned about what we're trying to do for dealers. We sell broccoli and Brussel sprouts. In fact, we sell raw broccoli and Brussel sprouts.

Ron:  I don't think my son would be a customer.

Matt: They're not sauteed in olive oil with garlic. There's no salt and pepper on them. We picked them off the bush, and we're like, "Hey, here, come and eat this." That is our biggest challenge is getting people to nibble on the broccoli. They're like, hey. You know what? Let's try cooking a little bit. And then all of a sudden, people are eating broccoli, and it's like, hey, this is good. The challenge is a mindset. I think that's one thing that I'm helping to bring to the vital process is a lot of what we experience, either success or failure or somewhere in between, has to do with mindset. You're a big proponent of that. Right. That's something that I think has been one of the biggest factors that we've brought to the table now is we first have to shift a little bit about how these dealers think about their business and why they're even in business, and what they want to accomplish. Right.

Because as an owner, if you start to think about your ownership as an investment versus a job, things look slightly different. If you start to think about filling your own cup and making sure you have enough left over for everything else, that changes things. You talk about lifestyle, and this is probably going to be a separate conversation for us someday. I think the entrepreneurial health of our industry and many other industries is terrible.

Ron:  We have that in agreement, and yeah, that would be a fun line of conversation to go down.

Matt: Yeah. But the reality is that many people just don't feel like they have the time. I don't have the time to exercise. They don't have the time to eat right. I mean, I remember when I was a dealer, early on, I ate more fast food than I ever did in my entire life. It was breakfast on the way out the door. It was it was lunch. It was things like that. I know I'm off on a tangent there.

"For many of those 14 years, I was busy being busy having a job within my business, and I didn't hold myself or my business to a higher level of, in fact, measuring profitability and or other KPIs that were performance indicators of the business."

Ron:  But I just will add to that, I think the and I'll just share it from my personal experience. I can look at my 14-year entrepreneurial journey. For many of those 14 years, I was busy being busy having a job within my business, and I didn't hold myself or my business to a higher level of, in fact, measuring profitability and or other KPIs that were performance indicators of the business. When I did that, there was a maturity that had to happen both me personally and professionally. When I learned that that was important. And then, I learned the benefits of doing that and work. It takes a lot of work. Because it often means a lot of change. But when you do it, the fruits of that effort and that's I'm still on that journey, by the way. I don't know that it's a sprint. It's a long marathon of improvement. Maybe an ultramarathon of improvement, but it's a lot of fun because, again, just speaking from my own experience, my performance metrics are around the company's performance. Not just is Ron, the salesperson at One Firefly, going to make sales and make commissions. That's very short-sighted, and I didn't know that for a long time. I had to learn that.

But now I can tell you on the other side of it, you know, there's the metaphor of climbing up the mountain, and all you see is the top of that mountain at the top of that mountain. And then one day you reach the top, and you look forward, and then you see the valley, and you actually see that next mountain. You go, oh, I'm ready to climb that mountain now. Yeah, and it's within your outlook, changes your whole game, changes. All your decisions can change. And it sounds like that's what's driving you, and you're out there, you and Paul and Steve are doing that, you know, for the industry that I love. That's why I wanted you to come on the show and talk about that passion because there are so many people that need help.

Matt: Absolutely.

Ron:  What does the future hold, Matt? What is the next you know, we're coming out of covid, what is the future for ital look like here in the coming weeks, a year or two? I'm not going to ask you to pull your crystal ball and look too far out into the future.

Matt: Yeah, I mean, thankfully, we're in a place where we can look out in the future, right? In the middle of this pandemic, I think all of us felt like we had no idea what the heck we were doing. But for Vital, there's such fantastic stuff that we're going to be bringing to the table. We have a lot to bring to the industry at CEDIA. We're gonna have several significant announcements at CEDIA that really relate to delivering as much value as we can and growing our footprint and reach because, again, we think those two things are the opportunity.

We want to deliver the best value to our dealers and then also make sure that as many people know about us as possible because the worst thing is to have a fantastic solution that just nobody knows about. Right. Those are really our two focuses: adding more value, delivering more products and services that are being asked for, and then making sure that we're partnering with as many people in the industry as possible to get the word out.

Ron:  Can we spend a few minutes, Matt, on that partnership, and let's call it the engagement. People are listening, and they go, "Yeah, I'm working on a lot of hours. Yeah. I don't know how much money I'm making. Yeah. I have all these stressors in my life and my business, but yeah, I'm not sure how much time I can carve out." Maybe the case that they're so busy being busy they don't know how to take that next step. What does it look like, what is the process of engagement look like, or even vetting like? How do you interact enough to know?

Matt: Yeah, great question. Every time we took a step back, it all starts with a conversation. Outreach to Vital Management, and you can reach out to us in several ways. I think we'll go over that later. But you just reach out and say, hey, I have a need. I think that alone is a big step for people to identify that they need some help. That doesn't mean you're broken, or that doesn't mean there's something wrong with you or your business. Right. And I want to make sure that people are clear on that. The most sort of mature or best thing you can do for yourself in your business is to realize that you've only got one set of eyes. If you're looking at the entire world in your business through your perspective, then you're missing out on a lot. Asking for help doesn't mean that you have done something wrong or have done something wrong. It just means that you might be missing other perspectives because you've only looked at it through your eyes. It starts with that one engagement, and it starts with a phone call. And that's either with Paul, Steve or myself. We talk about your business, and that's usually 30 minutes get us. We get to know you. At that point, we'll talk to you through what we call the opportunity analysis and what the opportunity analysis is. It's a one-time engagement where we take your financials in any shape or form that you have them. We have a process where we can put them into our system and benchmark them very closely to how we benchmark all of our other dealers. Then that is another phone call, about an hour-long phone call reviewing those results. We take your data as a dealer, put it into our system, which immediately gives us some results on how it compares to our benchmarks. Then we can show you, hey, this is where you're doing well.

This is where you have an opportunity, which might give you a few tips. And then, at that point, we say, hey, here's our other ongoing offerings. It starts as a DIY solution where you can consume all of the content we've created. More and more of that is being created every day. You can try to implement these systems on your own, which some people have been successful with. You have the dashboard product that shows you your results. Then we actually have a couple of new offerings. I don't want to let the cat out of the bag that we're releasing around the CEDIA time that are more engagement around group community and one on one that really delivers beyond the DIY process. The opportunity analysis is the first step. Then we go on from there. That's an investment of, I think right now, $400. It's pretty inexpensive to go through that opportunity analysis to really see how you stack up from a financial perspective. I want to make sure that people understand we're not just about the financial right, but what we've identified is the financial performance of your business is the best indicator we have about what's happening inside of your business. It's like the dashboard on a car. If every car you got into, if Acura decided to measure something different from Lexus and their dashboard was using a completely different metric, how would you know how fast you're going?

How would you know how much fuel is in the tank if they were using some random measurements? For us, we need to get everybody on the same page. Now we can tell you what's happening in your business and suggest ways to fix it.

Ron:  You might have already answered this. I'm going to speak to you only from my experience. I know that you had the product Bi4Bi, the intelligence tool, the dashboard. What is that? And I apologize if I'm asking you to restate it. And you've already said it a different way. Bi4Ci, I know from the past that dealers could sign up just for that, and their PNL and their numbers could help auto plug into that. It could, in a maybe a DIY fashion, give them those KPIs or those performance indicators on their business. It allowed them maybe on their own to try to address or solve them before they engage your help or others to help further them make that change.

Matt: Right. The BI4CI Dashboard product is a visual representation of Quickbook's financials. It allows the dealer to look at a dashboard much like the dashboard in your car and easily ascertain where they are in these areas. You're right. The DIY solution that we have out there right now is the dashboard product with supporting documentation and some onboarding support. That allows the dealer to essentially take what they're doing from a financial perspective, show it on their dashboards and then engage with us. We are releasing some new functionality in the dashboard product. We're also releasing some coaching and interaction around that DIY solution to deepen further the dealer's impact from that membership into the dashboard process.

Ron:  Maybe that's some of the things coming at CEDIA or in the Fall. Yeah, sorry. I'm trying to get him to break the news, folks. I'm trying to make it happen. He's not cracking it.

Matt: And all I can tell you is just we have been working so hard at this to add more value. That's the goal, like we already have a ton of happy dealers. We want to add more and more value so that it's if it deepens the impact. Right. Our dealers are just all over the place, thousands of them making huge inroads in their businesses.

Ron:  Love it. I want to give a few more shout-outs to the folks who had stopped in and said, hello, Mary Ellen, I've been watching social media. Mary Ellen's recently made a career move. Congratulations.

Matt: Congrats.

Ron:  Very excited for her. And I want to hear all about it. And then Tomas is joining us from Panama. So, Tomas, thanks for stopping in and listening in. It's always a pleasure to have you, Matt. For those that are, they clearly you've piqued their interest or their curiosities, and they want to learn more. What are the places you want to send them to?

Matt: Yeah, so we want to send you to bi4ci.com. We're actually in the process of developing a new website for Vital. We'll be releasing that shortly. The process for communicating and connecting with us is socials and direct outreach. The best way to follow me is at @mjbernath at any socials and connect with us there. We are currently in the process of rebranding and getting our Vital Management social media back up and running. You're going to see by CEDIA an entirely new brand effort. For the moment, the best way to reach us is through me directly or Paul and Steve, those of you who know Paul and Steve obviously have their communication information. You can reach me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. And, of course, MJ Bernath through any of the socials. So happy to chat with you and help in any way that I can.

Ron:  Well, Matt, congratulations on your career success and your most recent successes with Vital. I know you and the team are helping so many people in our industry, yet there are still so many to help. And I'm proud of what you guys are doing. We're certainly rooting you on here at one firefly, and anything we can do to help you, don't be shy but thank you for joining me here on show 176 of Automation Unplugged.

Matt: Thank you, Ron. It's been awesome. I really appreciate it. And thanks for flying out your hair and makeup, gals. They did an amazing job.

Ron:  I did. You know what? I'm glad you appreciated that. They said they had to do a lot of touchups on you, but they made it work.

Matt: Yeah. It happens. I'm always a challenge.

Ron:  That's right. Thanks so much. Alright, ladies and gentlemen, there you have it, Matt Bernath, Vital Management has already accomplished so much in our industry, and they are continuing to really gear up. I'm going to say this injection of additional energy. Matt, I'm excited to see what they come up with and come out here at CEDIA and in the fall. If you're out there and any of that, any of those talking points really spoke to you, do yourself a favor and reach out just to learn more. If nothing else, I can tell you I know so many busy business owners. I know hundreds and hundreds and hundreds, and they don't always know how to do anything different. They know that there might be a different difference out there. There might be a better way to do it, but they don't know what that is. And they're so busy with all the jobs that are overflowing right now.

It's not obvious sometimes to know what the next move is to make the business run a little bit better. There are multiple solutions and places out there within the industry and without the industry. But some of the best choices I've made in my business have been going and asking for help. You never need to be afraid of that. In fact, I would challenge that makes you a much better person and certainly a business owner because you can't know everything. It's not fair to expect yourself to know everything. There's a concept of injecting the expert. There's a book, "Who Not How." I've actually read that recently as well. Find who that's going to help you take your business to the next level. Coaches, mentors could be other business owners. But reach out and ask because what's the worst thing that could happen is they say no, but think of what could happen if it actually goes the right way, which is more probably going to happen, which is you're going to find ways to make your business better, which makes your quality of life better, which makes the quality of life of your team better. Then look at all the people you and your team influence, your family, your friends, and your customers. It's really a compound effect on society. I definitely recommend you reach out.

I love what the guys that Vital are doing, proud of them. It was a pleasure to have Matt on the show. In case you have not already done so. Please follow One Firefly on Instagram. We continue to be very active, and I even will go on occasion on stories and drop some nuggets. Definitely follow us there. And then this show, yes, we are streaming live and Facebook and LinkedIn, but the show is also available audio-only. Just go to your favorite environment, whether that's Apple or Spotify, and subscribe. And if you're willing to leave us a comment or review, good or bad, it actually is all good because it helps the algorithm. It will be greatly appreciated if you do that. And that is that. On that note, gang, I'm excited because this is coming up on the July 4th weekend, and I'm actually going to take a little bit of time with my family. I'm going to take some time on Friday, and I'm going to wrap it at the beginning of next week. And I'm going to take a little bit of a breather and get a little bit of relaxation and enjoy my family. I know they and I are really looking forward to that.

I recommend you, of course, do the same. I'm sure you don't need me to tell you that. I look forward to seeing you next week for the next episode. We've got a stacked schedule of guests for the summer and definitely continue to stay tuned. Appreciate it, and see the comments here. Thanks, Roberta. Thanks, Tomas, and thanks for everyone out there tuning in. I will see you all next time, ciao.

SHOW NOTES:

Matt is a Senior Coach at Vital MGMT. He helps others achieve their dreams and business goals while also focusing on his overall mission to shift the CI industry's trajectory. Matt is a veteran entrepreneur in the custom electronics industry who specializes in helping technology professionals transform their business. He has spent more than two decades in retail, wholesale, custom integration, and coaching -including founding and managing his own integration firm at one time.

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. 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:

To keep up with Matt, visit his website at mjbernath or follow Matt on LinkedIn.

 

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