Home Automation Podcast Episode #184: An Industry Q&A With Larry Supon
In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, Larry Supon, President at Automated Lifestyles shares the importance of utilizing outside consultants and coaches to help develop a business strategy for success.
This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Larry Supon. Recorded live on Wednesday, August 25th, 2021, at 12:30 p.m. EST.
About Larry Supon
Larry Supon is an entrepreneur focused on providing his clients with the ultimate technology experience that meets their lifestyle goals. He started his career by programming industrial automation systems in 1994 after graduating with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Lehigh University. In 2000, Larry switched gears to work on commercial and residential automation systems when he founded Automated Lifestyles LLC. Larry has created a hands-on experience in which he is personally involved in the design of every project. He attributes the business’ success to this unique approach and, of course, having a wonderful team to execute the project. Today, Automated Lifestyles LLC has a staff of 11 employees and annual revenues of over 2 million dollars.
- The importance of utilizing outside consultants and coaches to help develop a business strategy for success
- The importance of having the right people in the right seats
- Building a culture of accountability and striving for professional growth
Ron: Hello. Ron Callis is here with another episode of Automation Unplugged. I hope you all are doing well. Thank you for tuning in. And today is Wednesday, August 25th. It is a little bit after 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time. These have certainly been interesting for several weeks. I know our industry was so excited. Maybe some of you still are excited about getting together in person at the big industry event called the CEDIA Expo for our residential friends here in North America. Many of you historically go to CEDIA. That is slated to start next week. Except yours truly, will no longer be there. We were planning to be there. We were excited to be there. But at the end of the day, I think 100+ manufacturers have pulled out of the event at this point. And I actually don't know many integrators that are going. That just kind of is what it is. Now, the question is, will the rest of the industry events happen?
In the fall, we are still slated to go out to the Azione conference in late September. There's Infocom in October and HTSA in October. We're currently slated to be at all those events and times. It's going to be interesting coming weeks to determine if all that happens. I hope it does. I can tell you we're certainly rooting for all these events happening and for everyone that does attend to feel safe and secure in attending. I think we're doing it like most and that we're playing it by ear. We will see how that goes. But let's go ahead and jump into the interview. Got a great guest. One of the nicest guys you all are ever going to see and meet and or hear from if you're listening on the podcast. That is Larry Supon. He is here for show 184. Larry is the President of Automated Lifestyles there in the northeast Pennsylvania area. Let's go ahead and bring in Larry and let's get the party started. Larry, how are you, sir?
Larry: Great, Ron. How are you?
Ron: I am good. I hope I didn't build up that. You're one of the nicest guys they'll ever meet. This is now your chance to be the asshole live on air. I promise that's the only time I'll curse in the show.
Larry: A lot of pressure there.
Ron: Yeah, I know. Larry, why don't you start. Where are you coming from?
Larry: Yeah, I'm coming from my home office in Moscow, Pennsylvania. Moscow might want to call that the vodka capital of Pennsylvania, I guess. People always ask us, where's Moscow Covid? Is it there? Is there a vodka?
Ron: You said vodka, right? Is there a vodka? Oh, because Russians drink vodka.
Ron: Yes. I was slow to that. And I was like, was there a vodka distillery in Moscow? That's funny. Alright. We already have some folks jumping in here. Alex says, "Welcome, Larry." Ron is correct. Larry is one of the nicest clients I've ever interacted with at One Firefly. That is, that is one heck of a compliment. That's that's tremendous. Larry, tell us about Automated Lifestyles. What type of projects do you guys do? What's the size of your business, maybe from a manpower standpoint? Give us the basics.
Larry: Sure. We are 11 employees. We do cover a 75-mile radius from part of northeast Pennsylvania. We touched southern New York, northern Philadelphia. In between, of course, we're 40 percent commercial, 60 percent residential. On the commercial side, we will do courtroom projects, things like that. They say we're probably like a lot of companies right now. We're in a growth stage in some of the things that we'll talk about later.
Ron: How was 2021 looking? I'll speak top-line revenue. You don't need to give your number, but just how is it? Maybe as a percentage basis over 2020?
Larry: Yeah. This year we're on target to be about 25 to 33 percent from last year. That's pretty significant. Do you mind going a little deeper into the breakdown, resi? Is that up or down? And then commercial is that. How is that up or down compared to last year? Yes. Revenues are definitely up from last year. Percentage-wise is actually up quite a bit from last year. The commercial actually is down slightly for us from last year at the moment. But overall, we still think we're going to end up about where we were last year on the commercial side and then just to get one of the other elephants in the room out of the way.
What's the latest with you with the supply shortage stuff? I've heard all sorts of woes with chips. Now there's even the latest, I guess, issues relating to China. Some of their ports are shut down due to Delta. And I don't know if that's hit the U.S. market yet, but I always like to keep a pulse on that. How are you doing with your vendors and your ability to get products?
Larry: We've been managing it, struggling a little here and there, but managing it as most. We did make a decision as late as the end of last year to stock up on as much as we can and to be able to meet the customer needs of the most popular products that we use and things like that. Of course, you run into some issues where you can't satisfy certain customers, but we are very transparent, and we communicate with them and just let them know what's happening as we do. Is there any change that you're observing in that kind of category of discussion around the ability of your vendors to get you the product? Is there any chance you've witnessed in the last 30 days, or is it kind of still status quo? Still status quo? Yes.
Ron: OK, understood. Then the other elephant in the room as I was on my lead-in here, although those on the podcast maybe have it, didn't hear me mention it. And that was about CEDIA. The show is happening next week in Indianapolis. One Firefly and the rest of the industry was gung ho, ready to go big and loud and hard for CEDIA. There's been essentially a total implosion of the show, sadly, for many reasons, sadly in really in the last two weeks. Were you guys planning to go to CEDIA? This year, we were not wrong, and we were actually working on some internal leadership coaching and other things that we're working on ourselves. Still, we definitely value every year we do get see just the interactions with other companies, of course, with vendors. The learning that takes place. We're definitely looking forward to that next year, for sure.
Larry: Got it. At the same time, it's now up until last year. This is not worth five dollars, but I was able to tell people I had been to 20 CEDIA's in a row, and I was super proud of that. Then last year, I didn't attend. Obviously, there was no event. This year, One Firefly corporately officially made the call early last week that we would not be attending was too much safety risk for our team. I was looking on the strategy website, and Ted Green runs strategy, and he's got a listing of who's pulled out. At this point, it's over a hundred vendors. I don't know how that show continues. But, it's a sad state of affairs. But I know we're all hoping and praying it comes back strong next year.
Ron: Larry. Let's go into your past. Tell us, how did you land here in 2021? As a successful integrator, that's growing a strong business. Tell us your origin story.
Larry: Ron, I grew up in a town called Hazleton, Pennsylvania, and right near there, and actually, I know as a young child, my parents owned a restaurant. I grew up with hard work. From nine years old, I worked in the restaurant industry, like math and things like that. I ended up becoming an electrical engineer. Went to Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
Ron: I mentioned to you just before we went live. I lived in Bethlehem there for about six months when I started my career with Lutron.
Larry: Yes. You actually got hired by Lutron? But that's another story.
Ron: You did electrical engineering. That's the really hard engineering that was at Virginia Tech. I could be misremembering, but it had to do like six semesters worth of electrical engineering stuff in my curriculum. And oh, my God, were those all the courses I hated. I liked gears and levers and things I could physically see. Those invisible electrons gave me the hardest time. So kudos to you, too, to get that degree. That was a hard one.
Larry: Well, thanks. Thanks, Ron. When I graduated from there, I actually worked for an international company, but they were based in Bethlehem, and we were programming. I was in the programming group to program large mining operations and things of the sort all over South America, South Africa or places like that. We used very similar things to what we used today. You'd have graphical interfaces. Someone pressed a button, would start up the plant, and it was a great opportunity and learned a lot as I learned through that. One of the things I learned is tons of travel. You're away from your family. What type of business could I be in where I'm still involved in the technology? But you can sleep in your own bed at the end of the day. That's what led me to start Automated Lifestyles in 2000.
Ron: I used to think in my beginning career, my early career, I thought travel was so cool. Then I quickly learned traveling ain't so cool. It's pretty overrated. It sounds like you went through the same process.
Larry: Yes. The things you learn about. You're right over time.
Ron: What was the next move?
Larry: Well, probably like a lot of us out there, you know what you know. You know technology and selling are a little more difficult than I thought that would be easy. You start figuring things out, and over time you start you get an employee, you know their employer, but you start stumbling along the way and figuring things out, and you're making progress. Fast forward X number of years, we say here we are, 21 years later, obviously in a much different position than we were, back in the day, and take the lessons learned. That's one of the reasons that it was here today. I wanted to pass on some of those lessons and information to others. It's all about giving back and helping.
Ron: What year did you start the business?
Larry: It started in February of 2000.
Ron: Wow, that's amazing. I'm just curious. Was it the technology experience of that early career out of college, and you were exposed to some of this automation, but how did you know automation was happening in homes to the businesses to the extent that you felt confident 21 years ago to launch a business doing that?
Larry: Well, I did see that there was a need for that. You had to approach builders, and I said the drip effect. Still, you had one call, you'd check up on them and check again, check again, and maybe over the course of two years, you'd start getting that first project where they'd say, here's someone who has inquired about this as you did that you started building up clients and referrals, of course. Things were a little more involved back then, of course. Wireless wasn't where it was, as it is today, of course. But having that microprocessor-based engineering technology helped. We still use the relays and other things to make things work. HAI was, of course, big back then.
Ron: Were you doing HAI when you started?
Ron: Look at you and just go back one more time. I'm leading the witness here. Was it your exposure to your parents? You said they ran a restaurant.
Ron: They were entrepreneurs, hard-working entrepreneurs. Was it that exposure that perhaps gave you the confidence to go out and put up your own shingle? Can you attribute it to that?
Larry: I can, yes. It was always there. I always knew that I wanted to have our own organization. What hat was took a little bit to evolve because my parents were also involved in the affairs, and they saw Christmas trees at Christmas time? So we were always doing something.
Ron: They were go-getters.
Larry: My dad always said, "If you work hard, you'll never be without work and a job." I was inspired.
Ron: Early in your career or at some point along the way, you and I have been working together for a little bit. So I know this about you. You had found an outside adviser, someone that kind of took you under their wing. Can you maybe introduce who that person was and kind of what role they played in your early career?
Larry: Yes. His name was Jack, and Jack was actually a customer, a 10-year customer of ours. Maybe it was year eight or nine or ten. He was asking you to do another upgrade or something. Hey, what's your strategy? We didn't quite know exactly what he meant the first time, and he'd ask it again and ask it again. At the time, a typical strategy approach was that we know we want to grow and do some more lighting control. We want to expand in the commercial space. But it was not really a strategy. These were just some random ideas. Jack took us under his wing, and he was a strategy coach. We had some key personnel in our organization.
Over a six-month period, he kind of sat us down and really peeled off the layers of the onion off and really dug deep in and said, "We got to figure out the strategy portion." If we started really looking at it like, you know, who are we as an organization? Who do we serve? Sometimes you go back to those when you're in grammar school, and they say, hey, do a book report and see who, what, when, where, why to answer all these questions. But we had to answer all of those questions about ourselves.
Larry: It might sound like it's a very simple thing to do, but I think as you really dive into that, you realize how involved those steps can become. It's a lot of really intense thinking.
Ron: This is important. Certainly, for our audience, you were running your business for 10 years. There was a point where one of your customers kept asking you these questions about your strategy, clearly trying to nudge you in the direction of letting me help you. At a high level, what did that do for you in terms of taking springing someone in this kind of concept of injecting an expert into the business, helping you look at your business differently, maybe not working so much in but on the business? It sounds like that happened 11 years ago or so based on me doing some rough math. Talk about that.
Larry: Yeah. I'm a big proponent of having experts if I use just the analogy of a home. Right. We are all involved in these projects with an architect, an interior designer, and a custom integrator. Right. We're all experts in our field, and we can together make that environment much better for the homeowner than, say, if those experts weren't involved, as we now look at that as a house project, why don't we bring that into our businesses? I make the same approach same. Let's say I have One Firefly for social media because we've tried it on our own. We can't produce any success. Taking that another step further, as far as working on the business, having somebody outside help you with that, I believe, is really paramount to getting to the next level of things. In his case, the strategy coach. Bringing their experience and input and also holding us accountable to get stuff done, we're all busy as small business owners, and sometimes you just need someone to say, "You can get this done next Thursday, right ?" OK, I'm going to get this done next.
Ron: That concept of accountability. I have a note here from my discussions with you. This building, a culture of accountability. How have you driven that through your organization once you were introduced to that concept?
Larry: Well, yes, we have. When I talk about the strategy, I'll answer that question one a second, but we talk about the strategy for us. That became a road map of where we're headed, and without that, if you don't know where you're headed, it's hard to get accountability and get everybody in the same alignment. Once you figure out those answers to those questions, just for example, for us, I'll give you one example. We made a list through that process of the top five customers we've had, who are the worst five customers we've had, and why were they the best or the worst? Some of the things that we uncovered about the worst customer/projects were that they were not actively involved in our projects. It might have been a $200,000 install job. But when moving day came and they said, hey, we wanted the TV on this wall and this wall, and they weren't involved in the project, we took that just one little snippet that was part of our strategy.
We say we work with customers who are actively involved in their projects, and we take that all the way up to sales now. We talk about that with the customer prospect to lead. We say this is important to us. Is this something that you can commit to? That's how you start making changes in your organization and having the right customers. But now, you can have a compass going in the direction you're heading. Now you have the right people on the bus to say that's driving in that direction. That's where the accountability can start to happen, where you're talking about having a leadership team and holding them accountable to get there. We can talk about some of the ways we've been doing that as well.
Ron: You called that original coach Jack, correct?
Ron: How long did you work with Jack? How many months or years did you guys stay working with him?
Larry: It was an intense six month period where we were able to unveil confidently what the strategy was on one piece of paper that had it exactly who we were, who we worked for, what geographical territory we were going to cover, what jobs that we were going to do, what jobs we were not going to take. With that, that took about six months. Then after that, of course, we had to use about another year, a year and a half were bouncing ideas and maybe tweaking that strategy after you first develop it and put it to the test and live with it.
Ron: Got it. And do you still work with Jack, or do you work with someone else?
Larry: Yes. Jack had gone back to the corporate world and was not able to work with us and actually had gone back to the days when I was in the corporate world and found a leadership coach that had helped me when I was actually in her program. Her name was Marla, back in the 90s before establishing Automated Lifestyles. So we came full circle and brought her on as a leadership coach for our team.
Ron: What does that mean to have a leadership coach today?
Larry: Good question. With getting the right people on the bus, driving in the right direction, the next thing that we had to uncover was who we wanted to have as our leaders, who are our key players, key performers. But we needed to get their skill set in alignment with the direction we were heading as well. But one of the things that we did that she helped us with was we took an Excel spreadsheet, and we started that. What's the very first step of when you get a lead, a prospect all the way through the sales? Now it's become a project all the way through a project, all the way through service, a whole lifecycle of a customer.
We literally made a line-by-line task. In that spreadsheet, we would say, who's involved in that decision? You always have to have one person who is accountable for that final decision so that as you go start going through this process as a group, by the way, because I think it's very important to do as a group if you hand somebody something, they don't really take ownership. But if they're part of this group and they have the input to it, not only do you get the best result, but I think this provided us a lot of role clarity. Then all the team members knew what they were accountable for. They were involved in that decision, but they also knew. What are those were accountable, and what their roles were. It helped. Working together is definitely improved drastically because of that document. Now we have a standard operating procedure. Right. It's not like we have to think about this on every job. We have something to refer to and tweak. We've taken that accountability not just on the leadership team, but how do we get that to everybody? The new organization, right.
We've taken that down to the technician level. We'll have a product lead on a project. Let's say, take a technician. You're responsible for structured wiring and the audio-video. Well, there's a checklist there. Did you do this, this, this, and this? Then you've got a sign-off, and they have some ownership because they feel responsible and accountable for part of the project. Somebody else might do security, and they can sign off on that. But it kind of just builds that whole line and everybody working together in the same direction.
Ron: I'm going to get a bit tactical here. What are some of the types of meetings you have in a normal week, Larry? Where it's all staff versus you in the executive or the leadership team versus different sub-departmental meetings? Do you mind sharing?
Larry: Sure. We do encourage because people have roles or project managers will talk with the operations managers, and they have meetings, say Monday morning meeting will they'll talk directly. I'll sit in on those meetings and then Wednesdays as a service meeting. So again, in the scheduling of between operations and service manager. But again, we try to keep it so that we time our meetings. We try to make them see how efficient we were. We like to rate our meetings at the end. So we do one to 10. How was this meeting? What could we have done better? Because we all know meetings will tend to run on and on. But, of course, company meetings, communication meetings are equally important.
But we found that preparation and time spent in communication, we had to learn the hard way. It's time well spent, that half an hour thinking about the job next week could uncover something versus going there in the morning. I'm just saying, as an example, that thinking, communicating is really how you deliver a great product.
Ron: That's fascinating. If you think big picture here in terms of the business, you and your coach are looking at your business as an adviser, not just you're not just an operator within the business. What's the big project or projects that you look forward the next 12 months. What's on the board?
Larry: Well, in the next 12 months, we're just really finalizing a lot more now that we've had a lot of these bigger picture standard operating procedures. We're fine-tuning our more detailed operating procedures. But it really we're really working on coaching. Coaching could be between a lead technician on-site and other technicians. For instance, we have these conversations about how do we give them the information they need to do their job, maybe they have to be shown, and in a certain way, everybody learns a little differently? They need a little bit of theory, perhaps, but we've also got to let them realize that 70 percent of what we learn is when you're on the hot seat, really. We've got to form some of that because we learn from our experience. I would say experience is the best teacher. We can' of course, put them in the hot seat when we've got to get a job done tomorrow.
We've got to think about this smartly. But we want our team to be coached up so that they can feel comfortable. Not only those who are leading others can feel comfortable how they're leading, and sometimes those internal things you have to overcome. We have things to go back to our childhoods or other things. That's where that balancing act, I think, by someone and outside your organization can really help. I can help with the details of how this could be done within the business. But sometimes there are just external factors that are really great to have that other person there to bounce things.
"Many folks around the industry are having challenges with there's incredible demand for your services. At the same time, there seems to be a limited supply of personal power to be brought into the organization in certain markets."
Ron: Many folks around the industry are having challenges with there's incredible demand for your services. At the same time, there seems to be a limited supply of personal power to be brought into the organization in certain markets. Are you guys experiencing that? And if so, how are you handling that?
Larry: Yes. I think what you said, everybody's probably experiencing trying to find workers, trying to sort out the things that I also that I've mentioned about what you want to be as efficient as you can. You don't want to be running back to job sites because you didn't think about something or do something properly. That's where those standing operating procedures come in. But we really believe that we want to have a company culture where people want to work here. We do break. We reward our team. We can sense when people were working hard, and they're picking up a lot of time, and we have a little bit of a lull. We'll take a half-day and play cornhole and open up the garage beers and fire up the grill and re-establish camaraderie and communication because that's those are the things that we carry for another six weeks of hard work. As far as talent goes, we're working with a local two-year technical school called Johnson College. We've had some great employees from there, and we've got a great relationship that we've established with them over the years. And I think that's helping us as well. We stay partnered with them, and they want to tune in on what the industry looks like. They look at a bunch of industries. But we're one of the ones they consult with to see what's out there and how their students should be trained and educated. They are looking for real input. We give them that input. And we also, you know, will take on internships from them. That's been a big help so that we have a chance to evaluate the talent over a two, three-month period. They also get credit for that, which will help us.
Ron: How would those listening do that? Because that sounds like a genius idea to partner with the local. Is it the community college, or was it a vocational school or what is it?
Larry: Yeah, they're our two-year technical school. These colleges, they're looking, of course, to place as many of their students as they can and to be successful. So they are more than open to you if you reach out to them. Usually, we've started with the career center, get involved actively there, get to know the people, and start working your way through where you start knowing the professors we know, you know, executive management. It takes some time to work on those relationships because it really does help them, and it also helps your business.
Ron: That's brilliant. So what keeps you up at night?
Larry: The only thing I really worry about, Ron, is. I would say things that I wanted to make sure that the customers were happy. Those are really the only things that keep me up at night. Things you can't control probably shouldn't even be up at night, but delivery issues, other things that are beyond our control. But I have full confidence in our team and our staff. They don't keep me up at night because we have issues.
We talk about them. It's really external factors because we just have an open, open overcommunication. They know they can tell me anything. I'm not going to be offended. That's how I learn and become better and vice versa. Organizations are very open. We don't let things brew down. We can hit problems head-on.
Ron: Now, it sounds like you've really built a wonderful culture. Are there books, I'm curious, outside of your coach, your leadership coach? Are there books or podcasts or other types of media that you're consuming around business or leadership or, you know, some of the philosophies that you practice?
Larry: Yes, for sure. We're big proponents. I do a lot of reading on business in and of itself. I've learned a lot over the years with sales like you talk about also has the understanding personalities of people and matching and mirroring behaviors and things. You start getting into the psychology of humans, and that opens up, you know, not just the business books, but also, just becoming a better person and understanding people more, I think just really helps your organization plus your sales plus working with personnel. Those are my interests, typically what I would read on any particular book that stands out, any book recommendations, or other formats. I'm big on Sandler's related stuff. If you ever heard of Sandler, Sandler sales process, and they have a lot of things. We use their process ourselves, and actually, we talk about outside experts. I've also had to have an outside sales coach in the past to help us with developing standard operating procedures for sales. Just how do you approach things? How is the conversation going? That's led me to their website. A lot of content and information resides there.
Ron: Now, that's brilliant.
Larry: I use the Full Focus planner from Michael Hyatt and a lot of his organizational things and leadership.
Ron: Let's talk about tech. What sort of gear, technologies, solutions out there are you excited about? What's on the forefront, what's happening, and from whom has you excited about the next six to 12 months?
"We're definitely excited about Ketra. We've got a lot of interest in that. We've definitely expanded our role into the lighting realm, as I'm sure many of us in the industry have. You look for opportunities, and you're already doing the lighting control."
Larry: We're definitely excited about Ketra. We've got a lot of interest in that. We've definitely expanded our role into the lighting realm, as I'm sure many of us in the industry have. You look for opportunities, and you're already doing the lighting control. You know, the lighting fixtures side of things, tape lights and recessed lights, Coastal Source outdoor landscape lighting. We've really morphed into gaining more and more and more of that knowledge. We have training from the International Landscape Lighting Institute that we're going to help us coast to sort of design. We still have to do the install and the final setup. The more knowledge we have about outside lighting, same with inside lighting, of course, Ketra, American Lighting, those companies offer some great resources. That's really been our push is mostly on the lighting side of things.
Ron: Are you currently offering lighting design as a service, a labor service, or is it something you're looking to add?
Larry: Yes, we are. We have several projects right now where we're taking the lighting lead. We actually provide all the drawings for the electricians and things like that. It's not that difficult. It's just taken a little bit of confidence, getting yourself geared up knowledge-wise, and then taking that step to approach. We've also, as I'm sure the other viewers have in the past, we've worked with, you know, lighting design companies, distributor level that we've even brought as a resource, a former distributor or lighting design consultant who does on a pay per job to review things. Really help us through these few steps here as we get our experience.
Ron: What do you project the financial impact to be as a percentage by adding lighting design? That means you get to add lighting fixtures and lighting fixtures that tie into lighting control, focusing on this and growing the importance in your business. It's, I'm assuming, allowing you to take more wallet share from the customer. Sell that same customer, more stuff. And I'm going to make an assumption, and I don't know this to be fact, but you can correct me. I'm assuming fixtures are probably a high-margin category of gear to sell. Is that true or not?
Larry: Not really. Well, I should say Coastal Source. Yes.
Ron: It probably depends. Right. Which vendor, which products?
Larry: It does. Yeah, but what I guess typically what we see is indoor lighting is maybe like more of a 10 percent type of margin or something. But, the nice thing about something like that is it's really a hand-off. You're designing. You're purchasing it. You're handing it off to the builders' electrician. He's typically installing that. You know, what's going to work with your Lutron or whatever lighting control system you're using because it's paired the right the drivers match. It gives you the customer that bitter result where you have the confidence that there are no flickering fixtures and things of that sort.
Ron: How have your customers been responding to the conversation around Ketra, i.e., tunable lighting, circadian rhythm lighting? How has the pitch been received, and what's the response out there?
Larry: Yeah, I mean, definitely it's well-received. I think the only downside of what we see, everybody wants it, and they want it everywhere. The affordability just isn't quite there yet so that it can be there in the main parts of the home. And then, certain areas just you know, we end up having to remove certain parts of the home. But once they experience that, we have a showroom that we partnered with the builder. But to have that experience where they can feel, you know, how different it is when you're in a space like that. Lutron, of course, knows that. So when they take the through their experience center, other companies know that customer's experience, something they're more willing to buy. So we've taken that just analogy approach to more regional markets here.
Ron: In certain markets, you know, Lutron or Crestron or Savant or Brand X, Y, Z, they have various showrooms, facilities that I know dealers can go to. Do you have one of those for Lutron? You're right there in northeast P.A... I'm assuming that you probably could even drop over to Lutron. Do they have a facility there that you're allowed to bring people to?
Larry: Yes. Yeah, we're in the Pocono region here, and we say we partnered with a local kitchen design. We can take customers into the facility at any time and let them experience a kitchen environment. I'll say they have wood, grain floors and other things. As you start looking and changing the color, you can see how the reds are really popping in the hardwood flooring. If they're giving samples, we can really show and demonstrate how the colors can pop, and they can really bring out granted wood grains, whatever those things are. That's nice to show that if you talk about is one thing. But when you can actually demonstrate that people see it for themselves, is it possible or how hard is it to sell tunable lighting without a demonstration? I think it's very hard to do.
Obviously, if you're going back to an existing customer where that trust is there, and they've seen your work, that might be more willing to. To give it a try, but again, it's probably more on a smaller scale, and they're not going to retrofit whole spaces until they see it a little bit first. But if you can demo it to somebody early on, you might get that specified in more areas of a whole project than you would without demoing it.
Ron: What do you see out there with the demand for technology in home offices? I'm going to say pre-Covid. This was a rarely talked about topic. At least from now, integrators are talking to One Firefly about marketing. I'm going to say I have a perception that that's changed during Covid. Are you still seeing that or what other anomalies might you that are Covid anomalies that have changed the demand for tech?
Larry: Absolutely, yes. When I talk about the same college that we talked about working with local and state Johnson College, we've done 20 plus video conference rooms for them.
Ron: So obviously, the need is there for ZOOM, Google Meets, and those types of rooms or Google rooms.
Larry: Exactly. Yes. People are obviously more aware of how they need better quality cameras. They need better quality soundbars or some type of mic that's picking up their instructors, and they are now more educated to be able to approach what they want now, where maybe in years past when you had those conversations. But now we know that this has changed things for not just for the short term, but long-distance travel and corporations. So we've done training rooms in other scenarios that might not have happened pre-Covid, at least not for a while.
Ron: Alright, pull out your crystal ball. How much longer are we in the world going to be in this new paradigm of the Covid world? What do you predict?
Larry: As far as getting through all this?
Ron: Yeah, getting through all this.
Larry: I think I still think we're probably little ways out, Ron, as much as I would hope not to say that, and pains me to say that I still feel that we're probably into sometime in the next year. I don't know where that is exactly, but just feeling the pain effects from not only the health aspects of it but supplier issues, things like that, chipsets thing as I cascade down. But I just don't see getting out of that until sometime next year.
Ron: We can wrap here, Larry, with maybe the advice for the entrepreneur out there. You've been at this game for 21 years. You've learned a lot along the way, and you've already delivered a tremendous amount of gold over the course of the last forty-five minutes. But what's maybe a closing thought or two that's top of mind for you that you might be able to pass on or provide some advice?
"If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there. But if you know where you're going, it's a lot easier to get there faster."
Larry: Sure, I guess the best advice I would say is just start with the plan, even if your plan isn't correct. When we talked about things such as the strategy of leadership coaching, it's all comes down to everything is written down. There's a plan you're committing to. It doesn't mean you can't change it over time. If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there. But if you know where you're going, it's a lot easier to get there faster.
"Come up with the plan and write it down, and if it's not written down, it's not a plan."
Ron: Come up with the plan and write it down, and if it's not written down, it's not a plan.
Ron: That's awesome, Larry. For those tuned in and want to meet you directly or learn more about Automated Lifestyles, where should we send them?
Ron: Awesome, Larry. It has been a pleasure having you on Show 184 of Automation Unplugged. Thank you, sir.
Larry: My pleasure. Thank you very much. Take care.
Ron: Alright, folks. There you have it, and I actually I've got a few comments here that I'll just post. Brandi just says, "Great wisdom from Larry." I completely agree. The ideas that Larry is espousing, they're very close and near and dear to my heart and mind, and that is, you know, I've been an entrepreneur for 14 years, and I can tell you there's a lot of falling on my face along the way. A lot of trials and tribulations. The idea is that you can bring in an outside adviser or a coach or mentor to help you determine where you are actually trying to go. It's very profound what Larry said in that defining. Who are we and who do we serve, and what are we trying to be when we grow up? Sounds simple. I talk to businesses every single day, and I'd say the vast majority of them have not defined any of these things. It makes it a lot harder to grow or know how to spend time, money and energy. If you haven't defined these things, it's hard to gain alignment with your team or bring the right team members on if they don't know who you are, who you serve, and where you're trying to go.
I think that Larry definitely figured some brilliant things out 11-12 years ago, and he's continued to sharpen the blade and get better. Definitely some golden advice there. On that note, I'm going to ask you to please subscribe to the podcast if you have not already done so. You'll find that on your favorite podcast app. And, of course, follow one firefly on all the social media as we are here to help the custom integration industry, residential, commercial integrators grow your business. If you are of a mind on how to prepare and or improve your brand and digital marketing for now and or into twenty 2022-2023, God forbid the market should change. You definitely want to give us a call. Let us help. We have a fantastic team of 60 professionals here at One Firefly ready to serve. On that note, I'm going to sign off, and I will bid you all adieu. And next week is clear. But we're going to do a show anyway because we're not at CEDIA. We'll see you next week for another episode of Automation Unplugged, and have a great rest of your week. Thanks, everyone.
Larry founded Automated Lifestyles LLC in 2000. He has created a hands-on experience in which he is personally involved in the design of every project. He attributes the business’ success to this unique approach and, of course, having a wonderful team to execute the project. Today, Automated Lifestyles LLC has 11 employees and annual revenues of over 2 million dollars. Larry Supon is an entrepreneur focused on providing his clients with the ultimate technology experience that meets their lifestyle goals.
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:
- Sandler's sales process
- Coastal Source landscape lighting
- Johnson College technical school
- Full Focus Planner by Michael Hyatt