Home Automation Podcast Episode #186: An Industry Q&A With Jeff Binette
In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, Jeff Binette, President at SmartHome Solutions shares lessons learned from growing up in an entrepreneurial family.
This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Jeff Binette. Recorded live on Wednesday, September 8th, 2021, at 12:30 p.m. EST.
About Jeff Binette
Jeff Binette is an entrepreneur with the mission of being a trusted and highly knowledgeable resource for homeowners, builders, architects and designers in the custom integration industry. After graduating from Bryant University with a concentration in Computer Science, Jeff held several IT roles while employed at Osram Sylvania and Genuity in Boston. In 2004, he founded SmartHome Solutions, a Kennebunk, Maine-based residential and commercial smart technology company. Today, the company’s business has grown significantly and now has a team of 7 dedicated individuals. When Jeff is not working, he enjoys spending time with this family, golfing, skiing, and other outdoor activities.
- Lessons learned from growing up in an entrepreneurial family
- Adding One Vision as their partner for after-sales service and support
- Labor shortage challenges and solutions
- Partnering with electricians to provide lighting fixture and lighting control solutions
Ron: Hello. Ron Callis is here with another episode of Automation Unplugged. Today is Wednesday, September 8th, 2021. I know many of you are very busy and maybe many of you are busier than you've ever been. So if you can watch us live, thank you for doing that if you're watching on replay or listening to the podcast. Thank you for doing that as well. Today on Show 186. We have Jeff Binette, President of Smart Home Solutions out of Maine, and he's got a fun story of how he got started. Like the rest of you, he is trying to figure out how to manage to be so busy with all the stresses coming down on us with our businesses right now. So let's go ahead and bring in Jeff. Hey, Jeff, are you going around? How are you?
Jeff: I am good.
Ron: Jeff, thanks for coming on the show.
Jeff: Yeah, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Ron: Jeff, where are you coming to us from?
Jeff: Kennebunk, Maine, Kennebunk Port. People that have visited, you know, I guess where the most famous thing would be, where the Bush's have their summer home. Just for people looking for an idea of where we're at, it's the southern part of the state.
Ron: I was going to say Kennebunk Port. I remember that name being mentioned in the news frequently through the 80s and the 90s. That's because of the Bush dad and the kids?
Jeff: Yeah, they're still here. Bush Jr., 43, and his wife are here and actually. She frequents our next-door neighbor quite a bit. The Secret Service will pull in and into the parking lot and do their thing.
Ron: Who's your neighbor? What is that? Is that a restaurant?
Jeff: She's an interior designer. Mrs. Bush will come over and look at stuff with her and decide on things they're going to do at the house happened a lot when 41 and Barbara passed away. They came in, and they redid the house how they wanted it, obviously. But the funny story with the Bush's is when I first started, I don't remember what year was, but when Putin came to visit 43, I didn't have any employees. I was by myself doing the work, and I had a blue pickup truck with a cap on it, and it was full of boxes, chock full of just brown boxes. You could see through the glass and everything. Knowing that he was in town by accident, I went by the Bush compound, just turned the wrong way.
Then I came to where they had basically a roadblock, and there were two guys and machine guns basically just stared at me, and I rolled out my window. They're like, "Where are you going?" I was like, "Well, I'm just trying to go home." I was thinking, like, they see all this truck with a ton of boxes in it, and I'm thinking, I'm not making it out of here. They're going to pull me over and search me and everything. They just were like, "Alright, well, you can go, but don't stop." If you stop, you'll have some problems. So as I drove by the compound, every driveway had a state police car in it along that whole half-mile route. Then there was the next roadblock where they were blocking off all the traffic and stuff.
Ron: Putin was physically at that house, the compound?
Jeff: Yeah, he was at the compound. It was pretty intense. And I will never forget that experience of shaking. I actually hesitated when he asked where I was going. I was so nervous.
Ron: Forgot where you were going.
Jeff: I was so nervous. I had a machine gun literally four feet from my face, and I was just certain super nervous. I'll never forget that it was. But they're great people in our town. They've done so much for the community. They come out. They're always at the beach walking the dogs. They're really good people, and we're happy to have them around.
Ron: That's awesome. Tell us about your business. What type of projects do you guys work on? Residential, commercial, big or small? How would you define some of the work you do?
"A little job can turn into a big job, and those people can talk to other people. If you do a small little job for somebody and they're happy as a clam that you did that work for them, they're going to tell somebody else."
Jeff: I'd say we're probably 95 percent residential. We do some light commercial stuff. But for the most part, it's primarily residential. I'd say one of these people. I've never turned down a job, big or small. To a fault, sometimes my employees are like, Well, why are we doing this job? Because it's just like this little easy job. I've always been one of these people. It may be where I grew up from is that a little job can turn into a big job, and those people can talk to other people. If you do a small little job for somebody and they're happy as a clam that you did that work for them, they're going to tell somebody else.
That's how I've always grown my business. I still do that to this day. Even now, I know I probably don't have time for those types of projects in my life, but at the same time, I actually enjoy doing them for people, and they need our services, just as well as someone that's building a ten thousand square foot house. We do everything, projects from zero to over a million dollars.
Ron: How's your team formulated?
Jeff: Yeah, we have four technicians in the field, a project manager and then my office coordinator and myself. Seven of us.
Ron: You make most of the sales.
Jeff: I do. Yes, that's my primary role in sales and obviously managing the business from a holistic standpoint, goal-oriented stuff and where we're going and making sure we keep the lights on and keep plugging away.
Ron: Well, I'll get this question out of the way and then I want to go back in time and kind of find out where you're from. But how's the COVID time, 2020 to the present, been for you?
Jeff: Well, I'd say like, like most in the mentioned this earlier when we were talking before, is that the first part of COVID when it first hit was very scary from a business standpoint and not knowing where things were going and if I was going to have to lay off employees if I was going to have a business, what was going to happen, how long would this go on? My employees obviously want to make sure that they feel confident. I had to exude the confidence that we'd get through this. But at the same time, in my back and my mind was like, I hope so.
Obviously, having savings put away helped make me feel a little better about our position. But I just didn't know how long that was going to last, six months to a year. How long can I hold on running the business without potential revenue coming in? Obviously, we had projects going on, so we had some money coming in, but I was worried about new stuff. Yeah, it was in a month and a half later. It's been insane since. I mean, we haven't stopped. I'd say last year. We probably did 60 to 70 Wi-Fi networks in people's houses. It was insane. We couldn't keep networking gear on the shelf, and we still can't. We order so much. People were moving up here to Maine from their Massachusetts houses and New York houses to work here because they didn't want to stay in New York, and they didn't want to stay in Boston. They came up here to work, and they needed to make sure they had the ability to be able to do their Zoom calls up here efficiently.
It was pretty scary, and since then, though, like I said, best years we've ever had, which I feel lucky for that because there are obviously some companies and businesses locally that didn't make it. Restaurants or small shops that just couldn't survive the lack of business for a long period of time. We feel fortunate that we were essential to people's livelihoods and what we did.
Ron: The latest Delta surge. Have you seen that in any way affecting any sort of patterns in biz dev, sales, hiring? There's this surge that's happening around the country right now. This is September 2021. Has that affected anything, or is it more of the same? You're just busy.
Jeff: Yeah, just more of the same, I think for the most part. I have kids in the school system, so I'm dealing with the variant stuff through that. But from my client's standpoint, most of them are still somewhat relaxed about it because they're vaccinated, and we're vaccinated. As an employer, I didn't force any of my employees to be vaccinated as a business owner. They all chose to, which was obviously something I was also worried about, trying to cross that H.R. issue. But in general, I think we're still seeing people moving to Maine. I don't know that there will be a push for people to go back to work anytime soon. And if they do to go back, I think it's going to be less than they ever did before. It might be the work from home three days a week, and they go to an office two days a week, or they have to reserve a particular room or desk versus having their own space. Commercial real estate, I think, is in for a big change, obviously. We'll see what the future holds and eventually hopefully get through this, and maybe things get back to normal, but I don't know if they'll ever go back for people to go back to work to commute all the time.
Ron: No, I think the world is forever changed. Yeah, I agree. I don't think we're going to go back, at least to the old normal. I think we have this new normal, whatever that is. Yeah, let's go back in time. How did you land in this industry? Go back as far as you're willing to go to college or before? Help us understand your background.
Jeff: Well, I guess to go back to when I was 12, but my parents bought a restaurant when I was 12, and I was mentioning this, my background sounded much like a different guy that was on a different time. My father was a builder, a Long Island, a construction company. That's why I feel like my love of building came into or being around houses and residences came to be. But I used to have to shovel at the foundations.
I used to go with my dad to fill up the kerosene heaters in the wintertime to ensure that the foundations would be thawed out for the guys to work the next day. All of that but owning a restaurant with my parents and I had two older brothers. We were nearby of family within five-six feet and a 120-degree kitchen. You tend to learn to have to compromise and learn how to work through adversity, get along.
Ron: There's really no other option at arm's reach.
Jeff: If you know anything about brothers, that was the challenging time of our lives for me.
Ron: My brother and I get along great now. But yeah, when we were 12 through 18, there were a lot of fists thrown. Yeah. Some of that might have happened. I think just growing up in that mentality, entrepreneurship. I remember asking my dad, at the time, I think I was making $2.65 an hour, and that was probably way beyond child labor laws. But because I was family, they didn't have to abide by any of that stuff. I wasn't making a lot of money. Put it that way. My father, I asked him for a raise. When I was 13 and he just I remember him saying, does this job put food on your table? Do you have clothes on your back? Yeah, alright, get back to work.
Ron: That was the negotiation, right?
Jeff: Yeah. It was no negotiations. That kind of taught me a lot about just working hard, and what I saw was I wasn't getting all these other things. I just saw my number, my paycheck.
Ron: But there's something to be said for restaurant entrepreneurship. That is hard business.
Jeff: My mom was busy. My mom worked all the time. 7-7, 7-8, as a young kid, I was doing my own dishes, in charge of my own laundry. My mom was busy, and they were always seven days a week. I was there a lot growing up. Yeah, it was definitely it taught. Hard work taught me what it means to put the time in, which is why I always wanted to own my own business because I really did want to be in charge of my own destiny. I believed that if I worked hard like my parents did, that I would succeed and have, you know, have a good life there for my family. You knew it was possible? Yes, it was possible. Obviously, there were ups and downs during those times. Just with the way the market was in the early 90s, it wasn't a great building market. There were things that my parents were obviously doing when I was young.
I didn't necessarily know the headaches they had as a business owner that I now know that I wish I had known then what they were dealing with. I wouldn't have been such a probably a brat. I went to college at Bryant. Well, I had a couple of stints at other colleges but finished my last two years there. I played some baseball in college, so I came back up to Bryant College and Rhode Island for my last two years, focused on computer science, and graduated looking at doing jobs. Cobalt programming and working for IBM traveling and everywhere decided that travel really wasn't what I wanted to do. Every week, Monday to Friday. Come back home. Do you want to go back again on Monday and get back on a plane again? I worked for a company called Osram Sylvania lighting and light bulbs. It worked in their identity management development program. I did three different jobs over eight months. Different technologies.
It was SQL Server Oracle programming that I did. We built a data center, so I worked on a project that we designed from the ground up, and I assisted with that, which was a very good project. And then left there, I went to work for a company called Genuity. I was a presales engineer, designing networks and web hosting clients. And yeah, and then it just and the company ended up in 2003 going bankrupt. It was like 2500 people. It was a rough time watching employees leaving every time you'd walk in because I was sales. I was the last person to leave. All their support staff and everything you'd walk in and people were walking out with boxes, which happens over a year.
Ron: Was that tied? That was in '03?
Jeff: Yeah. It was around that time, and I thought the company was great to me at the time, and I had a great run there. But after that, I realized that I didn't want to work for somebody else. So I came back to my dad, and I was like, "Hey, can I take over the construction business ?" And he was like, "No." He's like, You don't want to do this? Because I can't teach you what I know that I've done over the last 40 years to you till I retire. Anyways, I ended up finding my own way back into technology, and I had wired my own house in early 2000. I had some experience there. Like I mentioned to you, I read a book in 1995 when I was just out of college called the road ahead by Bill Gates. They talked about the kind of tech revolution and where we were going with technology and how it would affect our lifestyles and people's homes and how when you move around the home, how things would happen—voice control, things that we see now.
Ron: That's pretty early. '95, if I'm remembering. I've actually been to Seattle, and I've seen it from across the lake or the river or whatever it is. But he built a big house, and it had a lot of this tech.
Jeff: That was about the book. Basically talked about the tech in the house. They were that far ahead on where things were. That caught my interest, and then I just filed it back. And then once I was trying to figure out what I was going to do for the rest of my life, it just popped in my head like, Oh my god, I want it. This is what I want to do. I love this stuff. I started a business, took ten thousand dollars and money, put it into a bank account and started making calls to vendors and trying to figure out how I would buy a product and read and talk to people and just started doing it. What were the biggest challenges when you were just getting started? What do you remember was really painful roughing it?
Because I would take any job at that point, you're just starting. I had a trailer someone wanted a home theater system, and I had to go through a window, the trailer underneath and a crawl on the concrete on my knees, and then I had to drill a hole and then stick a fish, and then I had to crawl back out, and I go back into the house, try to find the fish stake by myself.
Ron: Because you didn't have any help.
Jeff: I don't have any help. I'm sitting there. Also, as you might tell, I'm a big guy. Getting in and out of that little window and then feeling claustrophobic because I didn't know if I was going to get out or call the fire department to get me out. Yeah, there were the challenges early on of roughing big houses. I used to rough in five or six thousand square foot houses by myself because that's how that's all I knew. It took a while. Learning on the job was a great thing using drills that I had. I didn't even know I grew up with my father building. I never spent any time watering hoses and trying to learn the right way to do it. Asking people questions and not being afraid of putting myself out there that I didn't know everything.
I felt good about the technology. It was some of the other things that I didn't feel great about. That's how I got going with it. And it took me a while before I hired employees because I just did everything myself. Then as we got busy, as I got busier, I think my oldest employee that I have been here 10 years.
Ron: In '04 is when you started. When did you hire the first employee?
Jeff: It was '10 or '11?
Ron: Yeah, first six, seven years? It was your solo. What changed in '10 or '11? That said, I'm going to get someone.
Jeff: The amount of business I was doing. I had subs that had helped me, things I needed and stuff. I got Bobby calling me from ProSource. I think more business and I couldn't handle it. The subs I had were busy doing other things too. I was stressed out all the time and had a young family. My wife was working. It was just many things going on in life that required me to decide that it was time. When I started the business, I didn't. I wasn't making a lot of money because I was trying to build the business. The sacrifice I made early on was like, OK, I don't need to pay myself a ton. I just need to get the business to have a financially safe place, and then I can start to grow. It took a while for me to feel comfortable doing that.
"Everyone says the first five years of your business are the hardest, and if you make it past five years, you might be you might make it. It's been a challenge and a growth that I appreciate starting from nothing to where we are today."
I didn't want to fail, as most business owners. Everyone says the first five years of your business are the hardest, and if you make it past five years, you might be you might make it. It's been a challenge and a growth that I appreciate starting from nothing to where we are today.
Ron: It makes you appreciate it for sure. It's the week after CEDIA, which was last week in Indianapolis. Did you go? Were you planning to go? We did not go. One Firefly was planned, scheduled to go, and we ended up pulling out with the other manufacturers that did the same. But did you go?
Jeff: I didn't. I feel like I might have had maybe a crystal ball of seeing that. I just didn't at the time. I just didn't feel confident in flying and being in an airport. So when I was deciding back in June, I just decided it was best to stay put and take this year off. Obviously, that seemed to be the right decision in hindsight, and it worked out pretty well for me from a financial standpoint.
Ron: That was convenient. Yeah, for sure. I'm out a few dollars as a vendor, but we won't talk about that. If anyone is watching or was at the show, drop into the notes or the comments and let us know how it went. I'm curious.
Jeff: Yeah, I'm curious. I saw some photos. People posted a few photos, Origin Acoustics, obviously really wanted everyone to continue to go. If I lived closer, maybe I would have done that. But, if I was within driving distance, jumping on an airplane wasn't really in the cards right now.
Ron: Yeah, no, that makes sense. What are the big challenges or stresses on your business right now? Again, we're here at the end of Q3 2021. What's going on in business right now?
Jeff: I think for me, it seems like I think I've taxed my employees quite a bit this over the last year and a half and just not being able to bring on new people, finding qualified people in the southern part of the state is difficult. Every employee that I have had over the last 10 years has been homegrown, and essentially they came in with some sort of background. Most of them have Bachelor's degrees in audio engineering but have never done anything like this. They've done board work at that shows and things like that but never done it. So it's been a challenge, to say the least, and I think that's my number one priority is to try to bring on some new people. But again, it's tough when you're really busy too, then all of a sudden bring on someone new right in the middle of it.
They have to be trained through that process. When your lead techs are just trying to go and have someone coming in that's really green, that is like, What do I do? What's my next step? Because they only think about one thing at a time at that point, so that's a challenge. What I've done is really just this summer, just said, let's just try to keep the team. We have that, and let's get through the summer and then we'll start to bring on some people in the fall and through the winter to get them up to speed for that summer because I'm sure we're in a destination location for summer homes. We do see a fair amount of people that go back to their primary residence after Labor Day.
"Whereas a lot of folks listening might be in bigger cities where it's common, I'm not saying it's condoned or recommended. Still, it's probably common that people are robbing Peter to pay Paul integrators or trading employees or staff when they post a job."
Ron: Got it. Whereas a lot of folks listening might be in bigger cities where it's common, I'm not saying it's condoned or recommended. Still, it's probably common that people are robbing Peter to pay Paul integrators or trading employees or staff when they post a job.
Jeff: Yeah. In your market, I'm not going to call that luxury, but you can't even do that because there aren't that many other businesses similar to yours. There are probably four or five integrators in the whole state of Maine that I would consider someone who has more than one or two people working for them, that's what we're dealing with. The pool is very small. You could probably say 30 people in this state do what we do, which is not a lot.
Ron: That's not a lot.
Jeff: That's not a lot. I'm just maybe I'm lowballing that, but I don't feel like I am just based on my experience in trying to hire people over the last four or five years. I keep asking for someone that maybe tries to move from out of state to me, and I'm hoping for that. Someone comes from Maine or Massachusetts or New York and says, Hey, I want a different quality of life, and I've done AV.
Ron: You would cry. And after you finished crying, you would hire them and get started.
Ron: Hey, we have a little audience here on the show, maybe someone to listen and want that quality of life in Maine? When you do hire that green person, you mentioned it briefly. Maybe if you could expound, how do you go about bringing that person on that has maybe not done this job before? How do you think about bringing them up to speed?
Jeff: I would say back in the day, it was like, Alright, go out and do it and learn on the job. Prosource, actually, I'm a member, and they came out with a kind of a training path. For my last two employees that I hired back in February of last year, I put them through two to three weeks of just online classes. I tried to get them up to speed to understand the technology, understand the process and what we do, and some of our other manufacturers that have their own training out there. We continue to have them do some of that. If they get back early from a job, they have an hour to spare to jump on a class, get some background on something, and obviously try to get on-the-job training. I'm a big proponent of that. I feel like that's for me. That's how I learned. I feel like people. If they can see something and experience it, we'll have a better than just looking at it or reading it in the book or hearing it from somebody else. That's kind of how we do it now.
Ron: How long does it typically take to get somebody green up to speed, so they're productive or billable for you?
Jeff: I'd say four to six months off and then but there's never like a point where I say, Oh yeah, that person knows every single thing, so I'd say the first four to six months are shadowing and making sure that they understand the things that we're doing. Then hopefully, after that, they're starting to be able to go out on their own and do service calls or be more productive on the projects because they know what they need to do. So I'd say it takes a full year to get engrossed in all the technologies we offer.
"On the residential side, we've been fortunate because this virus has caused many people to travel less and spend more money on their homes."
Ron: When you look ahead, you look into your crystal ball and we as members of, I guess you'd call it, the construction industry. On the residential side, we've been fortunate because this virus has caused many people to travel less and spend more money on their homes. At least that's my I'm connecting the dots in terms of what makes sense to me as to why we're, as an industry, we're busy. When you look into your crystal ball, how much into the future do you see this level of busyness continuing? Do you have any predictions?
Jeff: Oh God, I wish I had that. Obviously, from what I see locally from the housing market's up here, the prices have just skyrocketed, and more and more people are coming out of state buying houses for cash. I don't see that slowing down. I think more and more people want that quality of life, of being out of the cities. Some people want to go back. Don't get me wrong. There's a lot of people that love the city and want to go back. But I think people coming to Maine to get a different quality of life and slow down a little bit if they're close.
If they're five to 10 years out from retirement, they're looking to come here and finish off working from home. I don't see things slowing down for a while. The interest rates are good. Everything seems to be going well, so people are still building and spending more and more money on their houses.
Ron: Now that's confidence. You mentioned that you and your team were taxed. Are you guys a six-day-a-week, seven-day-a-week workforce right now? Or how are you managing?
Jeff: Yeah. When I started the business, I grew up in an industry with my parents working all the time, and I promised myself when I started a business that I would take the weekends for my family and be around my kids. I've always run my business just the five days, and I think that many people enjoy that time to just kind of decompress and have those couple of days to unwind before their workweek starts again. We could work seven days a week. I just don't know that morale would be greater. Especially summertime here in Maine is the best time of the year we're not frozen. We want to get out and enjoy the activities that you can do with your family. For me, that's how I've always run my business in just that time frame. We obviously provide support on the weekends. We have a 24/7/365 support mechanism for people. There's that part of our business.
Ron: How are you doing that? You're on call 24/7? Your wife must love that.
Jeff: We just started with One Vision about a year ago. And before that, it was a few of my employees myself on call all the time. Text emails, phone calls at whatever hour someone wanted to do that. That was, I think, difficult for us as we grew and got bigger and more customers. You figure we might add 40 to 60 customers a year. Over the years, you start to accumulate a lot of people that be calling you potentially. So we brought on One Vision, and it's been a game-changer for our business and as far as their process and procedures, bringing that into our small business, which I didn't have to create myself and try to come up with all that information as well as the process to do it. It's been great for our customers.
They've had a good experience with it. It is definitely something where we had some pushback here or there for a few clients, but for the most part, they love it. They love that at any hour of the day, they can call someone, and someone's going to try to help them out, or at least know that there's a response, not just at 10 o'clock. Sometimes I look at my phone, I'm like, I'm not sending you a text back because then the expectation is there that I'm going to respond to you at 10:00 at night or 11:00 at night. So I just wait till the morning. But if someone wants that now, they can obviously get someone to respond to them and talk about it.
Ron: What are the exact mechanics during the Monday through Friday? If it's business hours, are you answering? And if it's beyond that, is One Vision answering or what are the detailed mechanics, if you don't mind?
Jeff: Phone call wise, it goes to them all the time. 24-7, they're getting every phone call. Then they try to troubleshoot over the phone triage, and if it requires a more in-depth conversation or an on-site visit, it gets essentially sent to what we call our advance team. We're all considered one team. We're seeing all the email chains that they've had with customers of the phone calls. When we get the call, that essentially the ticket that says this person called in, this is what we've done, and it's going to require looks like it's going to require someone to come on-site. Then we would then call the customer base. We have to respond by a certain SLA, and then we would reach out to the customer and schedule that time.
Ron: What has been the response from your customers? Is the level of service to your customer gone up, or is it the same? But it's just relieved from the pressure being on your shoulders to now you have this partner fielding it.
Jeff: I hear good things. But I'm sure some customers maybe don't like it because they used to call Jeff and they want to talk to Jeff.
Ron: Jeff would answer at 11 p.m. on a Saturday.
Jeff: Yeah, they want to talk to one of my employees. Where is this guy? How come he doesn't answer the phone anymore? Does he still work for you? Yeah, they still work for me. They just don't take the texts and calls. I think that's now a change for that, for the customers are dealing with other people they might not know and they just can't say, Well, you remember when you did this, they have to go through a process. I think, all in all, we really like the way it is. For us, yes, it takes that burden off because my guys would get calls in the field, and they'd be trying to troubleshoot where the customer on the phone is.
They're supposed to be finishing another customer's job. That has helped us focus when we're at clients' houses that were, "Hey, this is what we're focused on." Your job is the most important one right now because we're here, and then someone calls in. We can make my office coordinator kind of talk with them and keep it off from the guy to focus on their work.
Ron: Have you managed to turn service into a revenue generator in the form of an armor component? Is there a recurring piece of revenue coming from service beyond just the billable service work, or how has that changed, if at all, for you over the last few years?
Jeff: Yeah, I'd say obviously with One Vision, it's a paid service for our clients. They can obviously just accept our terms of service and not do anything, and they can just call in, and it gets pushed to us if too advanced, and they wait till we get back to them. Then we have clients with different packages that they pay for, and we generate revenue for that. But then we pay One Vision a certain fee every month to run that part of their business and to have those people on staff. As of right now, it's not. I wouldn't say it's generating enough revenue to cover that cost. But as we grow, at some point, we'll break even, and then I'm not looking at it as necessarily a profit center as more of a to provide our clients with better service than they would have had before.
Ron: It sounds like your quality of life has improved since you're not getting those phone calls on the weekend. Yeah, I still see the tickets, and we still see that, and we and we kind of look at them and on the weekends. You can't help it. I'm a small business owner. If I'm not on my phone, I check my emails and pretty much, I don't know. It feels like every ten minutes.
Ron: My wife and son are pretty confident. I'm addicted to my phone, and I'm like, man, it's hard not just to check your phone every five minutes. And I think it is a sickness, by the way, and I'm pretty sure I'm sick.
Jeff: Yeah, for me, I just want to stay on top of things. If someone you know, if there's a client, all the good clients. But if there's somebody that's really struggling with something and they're just down and out for the weekend, we have guys on call. That's the other thing. We never had an on-call program. It was just like, I got a text that I sent out to all my employees. Can anybody do this? Can anybody? And it was like, "Oh, well, I'm out with my family, Oh, I'm here." I'll be like, "OK, I got to go because no one else could do it." So now we have dedicated on-call, and we compensate the guys for that to ensure they're taken care of as part of their on-call duties. And it's a rotation, so it works out pretty well. Everyone seems to like it.
Ron: Alright. Question from left field here, what if any technologies have you really excited about right now? What sort of either solutions or offerings are new-ish are now top of mind for you and important, and you see them growing in your business?
Jeff: Yeah, well, I think lighting and shading have been one of the things in my part of my business that I didn't. If you'd asked me eight years ago, I would have said, I'm not doing shading and lighting control. I mean, that's not what any of you guys do. And at the time, I was just thinking about learning another product and having to teach guys.
Ron: You're like, "Oh God, this is going to be really hard."
Jeff: Yeah, I was like, I know I don't want to do it. Finally, we had been getting asked and asked. We started doing shades, and we started lighting control. It's a big part of our business now. I don't know where my business would be without it. I mean, it's a huge part of what we do.
Ron: What does it mean? Lighting, and so I get motorized shading. Yeah, and I love the shading, and I always show off. I have my little here. I'm going to demo it. For those watching the video, there's my little Lutron triathlon shade here in my office. I love the shading. When you say lighting, are you doing just the control systems, or are you doing the fixtures as well?
Jeff: Both but fixtures have been more recent and something that I'm really looking to grow as part of our business. We're Ketra dealers from Lutron, and we do USAI lighting from Savant. We've got a project going right now. It's 120 Ketra fixtures that we're putting in, and looking forward to that. So that's our real first job with getting going with this other than the showroom stuff.
Ron: I have to pull a thread on that. How did you make that sale? How did you bring the subject up? How did you get it? Did the customer come to you inquiring, or did you bring up tunable lighting?
Jeff: Yeah, I brought up the lighting. I thought it was a large project, so the budget seemed to be there for this kind of product. So we brought it up, talked to him about it, told him what we could do with it. He was like, "Yeah, let's do it." And so we didn't do it everywhere. We did it in certain house rooms, main floor living, and they have finished basement stuff. So it's been neat, and I'm super excited about it.
Ron: Did you have to demo it, or were you able to do it with words, just words and pictures?
Jeff: Yeah, just words trusting that we knew what we were talking about. And you know, and the technology is amazing, and we've been down to the Ketra facility.
Ron: The one in Austin?
Jeff: Yeah, to the one in Austin before they had open to the public. We had our training there. It was just amazing the stuff that they were doing. I see you have some Ketra lights in your background.
Ron: Alright. Well, these are cheap Chinese knockoffs giving me my little splash of color. But I'm currently doing a little project in my backyard, and my next upgrade will be adding Ketra to the house.
Jeff: The price is something that has been a kind of a tough part of this because people are not used to paying for fixtures at that level for like recessed fixtures. Maybe for their chandeliers or specialty lighting. But when you're talking about an individual fixture that goes into the recessed can, you can buy it at Home Depot for $25. So suddenly, they're looking at something that's that much money, but the power of it and what it can do and as well as they're always innovating to bring the cost down to coming up with different products that are retrofittable. So yeah, there's a lot there that we're excited about and partnering with electricians to make sure because it's a difficult time. We've had some difficult times with the whole process of working with electricians, and all of a sudden, now they're not providing the fixture, and we're providing a fixture. What does that mean to their base?
Ron: That makes you a bit of the enemy, doesn't it?
Jeff: Yeah. Yeah, it's definitely it was definitely a little bit of a challenge. We're trying to do going forward to treat them more as partners and more of as a distributor for them to get the physical fixture and work with them on that. That's a big part of what we're doing now when we're talking with specifies and also for electricians so that we don't want to come in and take revenue away from them because that doesn't make a good partner. And it also doesn't make you want to work with that person on the job and help you out. So we're conscious of that, and we're trying to do our best to navigate this new world of fixture business that we never had before. So it's been one of the challenges.
Ron: What has helped you along the way in learning that? I know a little bit about the politics in the lighting business only because I was exposed to it lightly in my early career at Lutron. When I say politics between the electrical contractor, the distributors, the people doing the specifications, there's just a lot of politics regarding moving. Those products are what have helped you navigate and figure out how to do that. You just figure it out on your own? What have you learned?
Jeff: I've leaned on our rep firms, our Lutron partners, our Savant partner. Training's trying to understand talking to other integrators that have done it or been stressful, whether what have they done? That's what I get when we talk about going to CEDIA. What I get out of CEDIA is talking with other dealers about what they are dealing with? We're in Maine. I mean, I think the technology starts from California and moves to the last place on Earth, Maine. It's the way I look at technology and its adoption. The fact that I feel like we have a catcher job here in Maine is kind of like this crazy thing, and we're talking about it with people and everyone I bring in. We have a showroom and that I'm sitting in now. But we bring people in here, and they experience it. That's when it's like, Oh, yeah, I love that. That's awesome, you know? That's kind of what we feel. If we can bring the electricians in and show people what the technology can do, that helps. But for the most part, we've had to rely on Lutron reps and our Savant reps to help us with just understanding it and the training that we've been going through. Yeah, it's a whole different part of our business that we didn't have before. It's not easy. It's definitely different.
Ron: Well, Jeff, the time is the time, and we are at the end of our interview. How can the folks that are listening or watching get in touch with you? What would you recommend?
Ron: I see my team is already dropping your email, and your web and social will drop all that down into the comments for everybody that wants easy access to get in touch with Jeff. I'm late to the game here later than normal. But I do want to say Bridget says, "Awesome company and crew." I'm assuming you know Bridget, maybe, and we have Ellie. Ellie is actually here at One Firefly. She says, "Jeff is going to knock this interview out of the park. Excited to watch.".
Jeff: Yeah, Ellie's been great. You guys, you have a good team over there.
Ron: Alright. Well, speaking of our team, Josh says, "My man." There you go. Jeff, it's been a pleasure having you on the show, sir. Again, thanks for your many years of friendship and business. And cheers to many more.
Jeff: When you get up in the area to Kennebunk Port, we can get some lobster rolls, and you know, you got to get up here sooner or later.
Ron: You know what? We're definitely going. I went to a conference several years back in Portland, and I'm pretty confident I will go to that conference. It's usually in September, but it'll be September 2022. Mark your calendars. You and I are going to be eating lobster rolls in early September 2022.
Jeff: Sounds great. Well, thanks a lot for their time, and I appreciate you bringing me on. I had fun.
Ron: My pleasure. Thanks so much, Jeff. Take care. Alright, folks, there you have it. That was Jeff Binette from Smart Home Solutions in Kennebunk Port, Maine. This has been show 186. Thank you as always for tuning in. If you have not already done so again, we are streaming here on Facebook and LinkedIn. But the show is available as a podcast, so if you prefer to consume your content in your ears, definitely be sure to subscribe to automation unplugged. Just search for the show, and you will find it. On that note, definitely check out our website. Give us a call if we can ever be of service to you here at One Firefly, and I'm going to bid you adieu, and I will see you next week. Thanks so much, everyone.
Jeff is the current President at SmartHome Solutions. His background started after graduating from Bryant University with a concentration in Computer Science, Jeff held several IT roles while employed at Osram Sylvania and Genuity in Boston. In 2004, he founded SmartHome Solutions, a Kennebunk, Maine-based residential and commercial smart technology company. Today, the company’s business has grown significantly and now has a team of 7 dedicated individuals.
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: