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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 Unplugged Episode #197: An Industry Q&A with George and Kassa Harrison

In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, George and Kassa Harrison, Owners and operators of Harrison Home Systems share how EOS, entrepreneurial operating system has made a positive impact on the company

Home Automation Unplugged Episode #197: An Industry Q&A with George and Kassa Harrison

This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing George and Kassa Harrison. Recorded live on Wednesday, December 15th, 2021, at 12:30 p.m. EST.

About George and Kassa Harrison

George Harrison gained years of industry experience in the Colorado mountain resort towns. In 2002, George founded Harrison Home Systems, a high-end custom electronics design and installation firm specializing in cutting-edge home automation. In 2007, Kassa, his wife, joined the business and brought her experience in marketing and PR. Together they have grown the company over the years and currently manage a team of 27 employees. Harrison Home Systems specializes in the custom residential market in Denver and the surrounding areas. The company was named the 2021 CTA Smart Home Integrator of the Year by The Consumer Technology Association. They also received other industry awards in 2020, including CEPro Integrated Home of the Year and a Lutron Excellence Award.

Interview Recap

  • How EOS, entrepreneurial operating system has made a positive impact on the company
  • Vital Management and systematically reviewing financials with set goals
  • The importance of marketing and original photography for an integration firm

SEE ALSO: Home Automation Podcast Episode #196 An Industry Q&A with Brenna Basden

Transcript

Ron:  Hello, Ron Callis here with another episode of Automation Unplugged. Today, we are going to be recording Show 197. So, yes, we are getting ever closer to the Big 200. And what else is going on here in our life or my life? Well, my son's science project is done. This is like a big deal in this house. He submitted his science project to his science teacher on Monday evening. There was a celebration late at night and we toasted with milk and cookies all around. And even the dog partook, now we only have to do the science board over the winter break because what would be a break without schoolwork? . Now I'm expecting potentially maybe a smaller audience right now. Why? Because it's almost Christmas, and everybody in our industry, at least on the residential side, is probably full tilt boogie getting their installs ready for their customers because it is that time of year and it's utter chaos leading up to Christmas Day. So I feel for many of you, I know there's a lot of long hours, long days, long weeks, and I'm sorry, there's probably no reprieve in sight because it looks like business is going to stay brisk for the months, quarters and years ahead. So there's probably no big reprieve and there's no instant solutions to the supply chain issues, sorry, don't have any good news there, and there's probably no instant solutions to the labor shortages, so no real reprieve there. What you do owe it to yourself, particularly if you're a business operator, is to look at how do you maximize the opportunities you have and the manpower you have to really have your business running as well and efficiently and as profitably as you can with what you got? And that's where our guests come in today. So that is what Kassa and George are known for they're running a well-regarded award winning integration business out of Denver and I'll even ask them to brag on themselves a little bit. So they're now preparing all the neat stuff they've been recognized for in recent years, and they are well-respected integrators. Let's go ahead and bring them on. And so you all can listen and learn more about them. So without further ado, I'm going to introduce you to a husband and wife team George and Kassa Harrison. They are the owners and operators of Harrison Home Systems. Let's go ahead and bring them on. Hey, guys!

Kassa: Hey, Ron.

George: Hi, Ron. Good to see you.

Ron:  Good to see you guys are coming in clear, you sound crisp. Where are you coming to us from?

George: We are Lakewood, Colorado, at our office. Our new showroom.

Ron:  Lakewood, Colorado, so help us out, for us, geographically challenged people like myself, is that Denver? Is that a suburb or where does that sit to the big city of Denver?

George: We are about a thousand yards from the Denver city limits. We are on what's called 6th Avenue, small highway that comes into Denver, about five minutes from downtown, so we're really close.

Ron:  Oh goodness.

George: Yeah, so pretty central in a building we acquired two years ago that we're building out and we're almost done, but really a great location for us, an area we always wanted to be in and got lucky and found the spot right where we had always hoped to find one. So we're close to Denver.

Ron:  I always love my CEDIA's that take place in Denver? How close in proximity is your your business to the Denver Convention Center?

George: literally, if there was no traffic, it's probably a five to seven minute drive to the convention center.

Kassa: We're just out west.

George: Just west of downtown.

Ron:  Just west. And is that where the convention center is that called downtown? Because I know there's all these great restaurants and shops?

Kassa: Yeah, downtown.

George: Right in the middle. So we're close.

Ron:  Do you live then far out of town? Or where do you guys actually live?

Kassa: We live a little farther west in the sort of Genesee area. It's golden, but it's in the foothills.

George: So we live up high. We're just almost 8000 feet, so we drive down into the city, it's about 15 minute drive every morning, so also close, but our elevation changes significantly.

Ron:  So I think my house here in Fort Lauderdale officially, according to my plot, sits at 10 feet above sea level. And if I want to go to the foothills of South Florida, I will go to the local trash dump. And I think that sits at about 60 feet above sea level and you guys are at 8000 feet above sea level.

George: Just about but no moisture, so enjoy what you have.

Ron:  Don't you have to cook food differently when you're at that altitude? Doesn't water boil at a different temperature? .

George: Yes, at 10000 feet, I think planes are required to have pressurized cabins. So, yeah, it is up there a bit, fun fact.

Ron:  That is a fun fact. So you almost have to walk around day to day with like oxygen masks on.

Kassa: You adjust, your body adjusts.

Ron:  Your body adjusts. Help our audience understand a little bit just about the business, and then we'll go back in time like I always like to do with our guests. Help us understand Harrison Home Systems. What type of projects do you do? Where do you do them? And then also, I'll just tee up with the next question. George, what's your role in the business? And Kassa what's your role in the business?

George: So we are about to hit our 20 year mark in 2022 of being incorporated. Kind of loosely started things in 2000. We'll talk about that later, but you know, we're about to hit our 20th anniversary. We're currently at about twenty seven employees and we focus on single family luxury homes. Then we have another niche that we've done really well in luxury condos specifically, not apartments, but just high end residential condos. We've had a lot of success in the last few years in Denver, so we do very little commercial, although we've done a few hotels and a few boardrooms and restaurants over the years, we've just evolved to a point where we really want to be really good at what we do best and train our team to focus and really excel at the art of integration and in the high end luxury space. And so that's, you know, that's where we are now, and I don't see that model changing. It's what we do best and what our team loves to do and are passionate about. So I'm kind of the rainmaker, we have a sales team now, though, and they're doing great, but I focus on finding new opportunities and educating builders and architects in the traditional ways in which the luxury residential business, I think, is done best. That's my focus and oversee big picture stuff. We've got a great a great team that really handles, handles things well. So I've finally been able to kind of focus on my highest and best use, which is going out and talking to people and finding out what's going on. And so that's my role in the business. I'll let Kassa describe hers.

Kassa: My role is the Director of the Finance Department. All of the financials, HR, the administration, and then I also have kind of a side role as a marketing coordinator.

Ron:  Side hustle in marketing.

Kassa: Yeah, I dabble in the sales department.

Ron:  George, you mentioned something and I empathize or feel for the comment around you were historically the primary rainmaker and now you have a sales department. Is this the idea that others in the company are producing sales? Is this something that's evolved just recently in the last few years over the full life of your business?

George: Precisely. It's been fantastic. We've got a number of people that are able to generate, but I have two primary full time sales guys that are just great people, good friends and have, this year in particular, it's been amazing what they've accomplished and I've watched them grow into the role and they're both industry veterans in their own respect. But boy, is it nice to not have 100 percent of the pressure on my shoulders? I mean, it's been transformative for me in particular because it's freed me up to do the things on the kind of higher end business development, long term strategy and other aspects of the business that I was just clearly not freed up to do. So, yes, in the last couple of years, we've been able to really help them grow, and it's been stunning their effectiveness in the way in which they've achieved their goals. And so yes, it's been great to have a sales team that's something new in the last four months.

Ron:  That's amazing. Kassa, I'm going to brag for you because I know that you guys don't like to brag for yourself, so I'm going to brag for you guys. You were the 2021 CTA Smart Home Integrator of the year. I don't think it gets any bigger and better than that, by the Consumer Technology Association. You've also received many awards, including in 2020, you were the CEO Pro Integrated Home of the Year and you were a winner of the Lutron Excellence Award. So this sounds like a lot of hardware you guys are pulling in here in the last 24 months. How did that happen? I know people are listening and they're going, "Oh my goodness, one day I would aspire to do such things".

George: It's a 20 year overnight success Ron.

Ron:  I want to learn about it. Kassa, how do you feel about getting that type of recognition?

Kassa: Oh, it feels like all of our hard work is paying off. And I think as far as entering the awards because obviously you have to enter the awards.

Ron:  It is a requirement in order to win.

Kassa: You have to enter to win. As we've grown and I mentioned that I kind of dabble in the marketing side, I have had more time to focus on those kinds of big picture activities, whereas I was always kind of in the weeds before. I do have a PR background. So first of all, having finally having a good story to tell and really high quality projects to show off and also having the capacity to do it. During 2020, I did a lot of writing at home from my desk during COVID. .

Ron:  Well, I think those awards and that hardware, it is certainly a testament to your side hustle paying off because that's quite impressive indeed. All right, let's go back in time. George, we'll start with you. How did you get into this crazy business? And then, Kassa, I want to hear the same for you.

Kassa: Okay.

George: All right, I'll give you the abbreviated version because it's a long and winding road. So I'm from Philadelphia originally. My mom escaped, we like to say Philly in 1978 and went straight to the little town of Telluride, Colorado. You may or may not have heard of. It's really grown into a...

Ron:  It's kind of a big deal now, like, I know that name, but maybe in the 70s it wasn't.

George: Oh no, it's still lawless when we moved there.

Ron:  Was there still like a local sheriff, controlling the people that would ride in on horses.

George: I could tell you stories that would make your head spin back in the day. But it's great. It's a wonderful place. I mean, it truly is. And so talk about a juxtaposition of a contrast. So in 1978, she moved out. Next year, she brought me and my sister out, I was in third grade, I was like, "this is sweet." You know, straight from the city to this hippie town in Telluride, but you know, it played a role eventually. So I was back and forth in grade school between Philly and Telluride. Didn't like Telluride as a kid because it was just such a contrast, such a shock to the system. But having been there, I got to see what the luxury residential environment was in a very early age and didn't think it would play any role and in my future. So back and forth as a kid moved back in eighth grade and my dad got transferred from Philly to New Philadelphia, Ohio, 20 minutes south of the Football Hall of Fame, middle of nowhere. But I went to high school there, and two years of college. But I went to tech school my second two years and didn't have a clear path to college at that point and went into the industrial electricity program. So essentially, I was going to be an electrician and didn't think that would hold any relevance later in my life. But I did really good. I get the total nerd, two years perfect attendance, got a bunch of scholarships and ended up going to a technical college for two years and then realized I wanted to go to a more traditional four-year college and transferred to Kent State. In ninety two, decided What am I doing in Ohio? I want to go back to Colorado. I had a quick snowboarding instructing life in Cleveland of all places, a 500 foot verticals.

Ron:  Cleveland, Ohio has skiing instructors?

George: Yeah, I was a big skateboarder as a kid. So naturally snowboarding made sense. I was a skier in grade school, anyway, moved back to Colorado to gain residency, to transfer, to CU. So I was there for a year, but that first year at the hotel, I worked at, my manager had a business partner and they brought their company from New York City to Telluride. So I was working for them part-time and they were like "you know, about pulling wire and stuff like that?" I'm like, "Well, yeah, ironically, I know a little bit about that totally random." And so I worked part-time for this AV company and it happened to be in the biggest hotel in Telluride at that time. It had 20 penthouses at the top. So I was working in these penthouses in ninety two back when Zantac IRA repeater systems were all the rage. That's where I got my fundamentals and I knew signal flow from my tech training. So it just kind of all worked from there. Fast forward to '99, when Kassa rolled into town and met her. I had been in the industry for eight years and realized I love this part of my life, even though I was bartending and being a ski bum in tandem with that. But that's where foundationally I got my start and then Kassa came into town and met her. She was just there for the summer and I decided out of respect for my boss, I didn't want to compete against him in a small town, so I decided to start my business in 2000. But in Crested Butte, another ski town a few hours away. I was there for a year, realized it wasn't the right environment to start, so I moved back up to Boulder. That's kind of really when things started. From there it was slow, organic growth. Typical story of the installer trying to become a business owner, not knowing what the hell he was doing. That's really when things started.

Ron:  Was the business you started in 2000. Was it Harrison Home Systems? It's the same business you have today?

George: It was, now I didn't incorporate until 2002. It was pretty loose and casual, but I knew that's what I wanted.

Ron:  I don't think the IRS is listening today.

George: There wasn't much revenue to report. This could be pretty low risk. But it's a great story looking back. Fast forward and I'm sure I'm skipping a few things, but you know, fast forward to 2007, and that's when Kassa decided she wanted a career change, kind of took a step back and saw that I had a need, I was growing it and that's where you jumped in. So maybe you could tell your story? From there...

Kassa: Sure, I'm a Colorado native and went to CU Boulder, where I met a whole host of friends who had grown up in Telluride. That's why I ended up there for a summer after graduation just to kind of, try to figure out what I wanted to do and play for a little bit. I met George.

George: For better, for worse.

Ron:  For better or worse. Did you go to snowboard lessons? Is that how you met him?

Kassa: I was waiting tables and we met up at the restaurant.

George: Introduced by mutuals.

Ron:  I met my wife in a restaurant.

Kassa: I was an international affairs major in Boulder, which I have not done anything very related to that. I didn't last long in Telluride, I decided it was time to get serious and get a job. So I came back up to front range Denver area and I started my career in public relations and I actually spent about eight years doing that in. various capacities. I worked for an agency and then I was a independent consultant. My main client was Coors Brewing Company at the time, and that offered me all kinds of big opportunities that I might not have had otherwise. Big budgets, was traveling all over the country. I did some events with NFL and I was actually focused on what we call now the Latin X market, so totally unrelated. But at the time that George and the revenue of the company was able to support more people than just a couple of installers, I happened to be at a point where I was ready for a change. I was again traveling to the major markets all over the country and we wanted to start a family. We wanted to settle down. So I decided to make the jump. And I joined the business in 2007.

Ron:  Was that scary?

Kassa: It was scary, and my parents and even some of my extended family were like, "What the hell are you doing?".

Ron:  Are you nuts?!

Kassa: "You shouldn't leave your good job to start in this industry that we don't understand." Anyway, 2007 so we were on a on a growth path, but still very small at that at that point. And it was quickly followed by the '08 downturn.

Ron:  You had to think "this was perfect timing?".

Kassa: Yes, it was good timing, but we actually were positioned well because we had a foot in the door in the mountain markets and we were a small, nimble alternative to some of the established companies up there at the time. When I think people were looking for value, even on the high end, people were looking for value because it was it was a scary financial time. We even had clients say to us, "You know, the market will never be the same. It will never recover" I remember them saying that, which was not very good.

George: And these were these were Aspen clients and Telluride clients. So we were still doing a lot of work in Aspen and Telluride, from our golden location at that point. We didn't have the overhead of the local guys, the big guys. So we were able to grow our business during the recession because we were the value option in that in those towns and so we didn't know that that would happen, but that was how we were able to sustain and continue our growth path. So luck of the draw, I guess.

Ron:  So in that '08 to '10 time period, you didn't shrink, you grew?

George: We grew, which was pretty amazing.

Ron:  Got it and then bring us to the present Kassa.

Kassa: So after the market started to recover in Denver and we had had a couple of kids by that point, I think George got very, very tired of being away.

George: I'd like to say I got tired of driving to Aspen, a very first world problem. Even that became a grind.

Ron:  It is a very first world problem, but nonetheless a problem.

George: Especially in the winter. We had kids and I wanted to tuck my kids in bed and that didn't happen for a couple of years when I was up there. We did big projects up there, long, long duration.

Kassa: At the same time, the Denver market began to recover and then it started to boom. So we were able to seize the opportunity of getting into the Denver market at the right time. From there, well, one thing one major thing that happened is that we started to work on the condo buildings and I think it was about 2013.

George: Yeah.

Kassa: We did our first major condo building, not nearly, as strategic about it as we are now. We didn't necessarily have a good plan in place. We treated those condos a lot like custom jobs, and we learned a lot of lessons by doing that.

George: At one point, I made a conscious decision to stop chasing Aspen and Telluride business from Golden because of the grind. Within six months, we landed the first major condo project that had happened in 10 years. It had a lot to do with construction defect lawsuits in Denver and no one, one billionaire person in Denver basically, started this project up and self-insured it. He went against the odds, and that started a small little trend of a pretty large scale condo projects. Since we had successfully delivered this first one, we beat out all the big guys. I mean, talk about fake it till you make it. I mean, there's a classic inflection point in our business, but we rallied, our team killed it, and we processed around it, and it set a trajectory for us to have that side niche of luxury condo projects. We've since won every subsequent condo project that was relevant. We kind of cornered the market because we just really focused on it. That kind of helped us sustain the larger scale projects, residential projects that we got. So those two things happened in tandem and that really fostered some exponential growth for us. So that was the best decision we ever made to just kind of focus on your backyard, so to speak. It was instant gratification, but a very impactful and compelling aspect of our particular story. And so we've never looked back. It's been great. We're still doing four projects today.

Ron:  High level, George, the pandemic. What's it been like for you guys last 24 months?

George: Unbelievable roller coaster. We went and took the biggest risk we've ever done and bought a 10000 square foot building, 90 days before it started, and we hadn't even moved out of our previous place. I mean, it couldn't have been worse timing.

Ron:  You had to have been terrified.

George: Oh terrified! We were just like, perfect. We bought this building, we'll probably lose it, it'll be great.

Ron:  I'm glad we can laugh now.

George: Oh my god. Yeah, I mean, it was serious. The timing was just terrible and trying to navigate that was... Our team, the resiliency of our team was absolutely amazing. I mean, it was it was tough all over. But our particular story was an added layer of risk that we didn't anticipate and we powered through it. So the last twenty four months have been amazing. But it started off pretty scary, as well for everybody else. But for us, having just made the biggest single investment in our life, 90 days later, we're just like, "Exactly, great timing, huh?".

Kassa: Yeah. We've always tried to run lean and be conservative about the risks that we've taken. And so it was a calculated risk and it's turned out well, but it was very, very scary, especially having been in business through '08. We anticipated it would be more like that when things first started. We didn't anticipate that people would start to invest all their travel and disposable income into their homes. So obviously that's been good for our industry. So I would say, like 2020, it was kind of the best of times and the worst of times for us. I mean, we won great awards. We had a lot of success in a lot of areas. But then it was, as it was for everybody, just very challenging.

George: It was a very ironic year.

Kassa: We had a COVID outbreak early in our company. Those are some of the more stressed out dates I can remember. But you know, one thing we were very thankful to have was the EOS entrepreneurs operating system in place. We had a leadership team that could help us navigate.

George: It made all the difference. I mean, without question.

Ron:  Let's get our audience introduced to what that is. I've talked about it a few times on the show. We practice it here at One Firefly. We started practicing EOS back in Q3 of 2019. I've even had my EOS implementer on the show and interviewed him. He's fantastic. But for those that aren't familiar, what is EOS?

George: Well it's essentially a proven set of simple and practical tools that syncs your team, helps you establish process and a way to get, really my opinion, is it gives everyone in your company a voice. It helps clarify issues and in a practical way that allows everyone to help solve problems and organize and, role in the right direction. I'll let you add to it, too.

Kassa: Right, I mean, this is basically like an operating system for your business, and it gives you a roadmap. How to have meetings, when to have meetings, who should be involved.

George: There's a cadence to it. There is a predictability to it.

Kassa: Helps you get your org chart put together and helps you define what your values are. Start to hire and sometimes fire over core values. So, yeah, I mean, it's a whole host of things. It's in some respects a little hard to describe.

Ron:  Kassa, do you ever think of how you ran the business without it?

George: Oh, I remember it was painful.

Kassa: We had a lot of rambling meetings.

Ron:  So let's pick on meetings. What was a meeting like before the L10 structure and ids'ing And I'm using some EOS buzzwords. What was it like before that and what's it like now?

Kassa: Well, for one thing, we tended to invite everybody to meetings, and I think the tendency was to ramble and go off on a lot of tangents and talk about things and not solve them. So, we would come away saying, "Yeah, that was a great chat, but we didn't really solve anything." And if anything, we came away maybe more frustrated and overwhelmed than we'd started.

George: And wasted a lot of other people's time that it wasn't relevant because it wasn't delineated topics and so inefficient, free for all.

Ron:  So, George talk to me about issues and solving issues and maybe the before. How would issues that existed present themselves in the organization and how do they get addressed now?

George: Yeah, it used to be just a general bitch session, and people bitch about each other across the table and heated arguments and wounded pride and all the things that come with lack of structure. And EOS, its primary focus is to identify and solve issues. So now, having just recently disseminated the Level 10 structure into the departmental companywide, it's transformative. It's truly amazing. People now realize, "Oh, I can bring this up as an issue. It will be treated with respect." It will be a democratic process to decide if it's relevant right now. And again, my my cliché term is it gives everybody a voice. Everyone feels comfortable and knows that any issue for anybody is fair game and it's a problem to solve. When you have that trust in your organization, it changes the game. Ijust feel like, the cadence now is predictable. Everybody knows what to expect. It's efficient. If you start to get off topic like I tend to do all the time, someone will throw a tangent flag at you and keep you on course, and I'm the worst.

Ron:  Is a tangent flag like a physical thing in the office that gets raised?

George: Only because we started with Zoom, otherwise it would have been, yes, a physical flag. But no, I think there's consensus. Everyone understands now how it works, and it's just great. I just feel good for us having done it because I think it just makes everyone feel good about how things get resolved. There's no more, rumors and cattiness and all that stuff that is human nature stuff that you process out, but it's not this big, heavy, burdensome, corporate construct. It's really simple and it's accessible to everybody. I think that's how you get traction. I hate to use the the term, but that's exactly how you get traction, you get by it. So it's been fantastic.

Ron:  Kassa, should a business exist to make money?

Kassa: Yes.

Ron:  Is that a bad thing or a good thing?

Kassa: It's not, and I think ideally you want to make money as a business owner, but you don't know how really important it was until we started working with Vital Management. Maybe three to four years ago, and they talk about, profit first, about how organizations should be profitable to be healthy businesses. That you're not doing your employees, your clients or yourselves any favors by breaking even or even losing money. So we've changed the way that we think about that significantly. I will give a little shout out to Vital Management just because they've helped us so much, just understand some of the metrics and what we should be looking at on a regular basis. Some of those ratios that we didn't just know starting this business together years and years ago. One of the things I think we've had a lot of success with is relying on consultants and experts. We got to a point in our business and that was one of the reasons we started EOS as well. We felt like, "Oh my goodness, this is outgrowing us." It's becoming something that we don't know how to manage. I don't have an MBA, I don't have that rigorous business background to just know how things should be. So you have to kind of admit what you don't know and take on some of those consultants and they can be expensive, but we think they're worth it.

George: They are, they pay for themselves. Our EOs implementer, Brad Whitehead is an industry veteran, and I can't imagine having anyone else. We we're very fortunate that we have someone in place that knows our industry, has been there. I mean, that is also kind of a unicorn in that respect, and so, we're so appreciative of the way he's helped advise us as our implement. I'm not sure I didn't actually catch who your implementer was, but we were just very fortunate to have one that was here local that knows the added benefit of our market analysis and has been there before and has been in the trenches for better or for worse. And so it's been such a transformative. And I know you probably feel the same way. I mean, it's game changing, and I couldn't recommend it more highly to anyone out there that may be listening. It's good stuff. It really is.

Ron:  Yeah, I think it's fair to say in my experience, if I knew of an implementer in EOS that had a marketing agency focus, I probably would have sought them out. But I didn't know of that. So I went with, I'm not going to say second best because I love my implementer, but I went with someone that I've known for 11 years that has been doing this and helping other businesses. And and he's he's been, I'd say it's fair, you used the word transformational, has been transformational for our business. I think there are potentially plenty of good business coaches out there, and I'm not to say that traction is the answer for everyone. But it does provide structure when, like you said, I'm an engineer by education, I'm not an MBA. I didn't go to school for business. I've mostly made it up as I've went and so getting some structure, I can read a rulebook, though. I can follow instructions and I can, you know, I'd like to think I can anyway. So I think for that business owner operator, it is quite helpful. Kassa what has been one of the hardest things for you personally, maybe hardest but transformational for you in terms of the EOS kind of life or following those systems?

Kassa: Well, what we uncovered is that I have a really hard time letting go of...

George: One weakness, it took us two years to find one weakness.

Ron:  What our listeners don't see, I know those watching the video see this, but George is patting Kassa on the shoulder, telling her it's going to be OK.

Kassa: I had to learn to delegate and to let go things that are not the best use of my time, even if I think that I will do them better than everybody else. Which is not true, by the way, because one of the main things I let go is the day-to-day bookkeeping, and our bookkeeper now is fantastic, and she does a better job than I have ever done.

Ron:  It's scary, though, to let go. It's scary to delegate.

George: Yep, it is. It really is. Because you've never had, you don't know what that is. Fear of the unknown.

Kassa: Yeah, but at our annual meeting that we have, our leadership team asked me to delegate, they said the one thing you can do to help the business this year is to delegate. So I am doing my best. I'm trying, but I have really opened up a lot of other time, a lot more energy for other things. One of the things that we've finally been able to do is a really comprehensive marketing strategy plan with the help of awesome One Firefly. We knew you guys were out there, but honestly, it was like we didn't have we didn't have anybody that could focus on it.

George: Unsolicited shout out, I mean, it's been pretty amazing to watch you guys operate, and I sought out just a quick point, just to validate this. We hung on to the previous situation we had and I sought out some other industry veterans that said, "You need to think about this in a different way and understand how efficient and the process that they use works." I was a little apprehensive until we got into it and absolutely amazing how you guys roll and how your organization works. It's been impressive. I just want to again, unsolicited shout out, but it's been so impactful for us as well. That's another big thing and had Kassa not been freed up to open up and start to look and realize that it's been a great, another unintended consequence of EOS was the relationship that we've had, and so I just wanted to say, I appreciate it.

Ron:  Likewise, I appreciate you guys. George, you officially get to call yourself my longest sales cycle in company.

George: I love it. No, I'm glad you brought it up. I'll never forget it. There was one point ten years ago, you were like "George, are you ever going to buy anything for me, ever?" And I said, "Ron, here I am.".

Ron:  You were telling me off camera that you remember, and I don't even remember this, but you remember meeting with Doug and I at CEDIA 2008. I'm just going to share on my screen because I actually have a picture of this.

George: I love it. I couldn't believe that you had evidence.

Ron:  I had evidence. So why don't you describe to our audience, it's small on the screen, I know. But why don't you describe to our audience, what's on the screen?

George: Yeah, so way back before you when you were still working for, I forget exactly which company it was, but you were about to launch, and you and me and Doug Dodd sat in the hallway of CEDIA, 2007 or '08, Indian style as you pitched this concept that you were about to unveil and I was like, "Wow, I wish I was advanced enough to be able to leverage what you're doing." But I was not quite there yet, but it was fascinating. I vividly remember that as "boy, someday when we grow up, we're going to be able to work with these guys because they're doing really good work." And I just thought it was so funny that, I forget when I heard it, either on one of the other podcasts or discussion that you still have that picture. I thought I might be in it because I didn't realize you had a few others, but I love the story. It's a testament to your tenacity, and we're just so glad that we've known you for as long as we've had. It's a great story, so impressed, and to have just gone through the experience validates. You're doing good work and you've been doing it for a while. So I I love that there is a picture of it to prove it.

Ron:  Things happen at the right time, I'm glad you hired me in the last year or two and not 13 years ago, because maybe the experience would not have been the same.

George: It would not have been the same. Everything happens for a reason. They tend to happen when they need to, and this is a perfect example of that. So thanks for sticking with us.

Ron:  Likewise, and I appreciate the kind words. George, I'm going to pass the same question back to you. What has been one of the biggest transformations for you personally in kind of instituting this EOS traction system, this set of operating system procedures for your business that have maybe caused you to to reassess what you do and why you do what you do?

George: Yeah, just having predictability and really focusing on, KPIs and having the data portion of the EOS meeting. I also want to give a shout out to our Operations Manager. I think I was mentioning, we found a recruiter that brought us someone out of the blue. We never worked with this recruiter before, but we met a gentleman, Mike McArthur, who had worked in Texas, and we got this resume. And not only was he an implementer for another EOS company, I pointed that point he had that, he helped someone, another company in Texas, transition from DTools to IPoint, which is a hard decision. He also had experience with Vital. So it was a total unicorn of a resume, a trifecta. As soon as I saw it, I'm like, "That's our guy." We need that guy to help us potentially implement EOS. We had already started down the path and IPoint and, also that familiarity really helped. When he came on board over a year ago, not only have we felt good about the decision about EOS, but Michael and all his wisdom and experience helped guide me through the path and helped me let go of the vine. Otherwise the catalyst wouldn't have been there. So it was a perfect storm of opportunity that happens to be our story. He helped me understand that there is light at the end of the tunnel. This will be worthwhile and it absolutely was. So now fast forward, I'm freed up to do the things I need to do. I now have a sales team. I feel more connected to our team and we have a leadership team that has been persistent and makes great decisions. It's just been, most most companies are run by an owner operator that's, you know, "it's my way or the highway" kind of a dictatorship. And I know I had those tendencies to be a little bit OCD and control freak. You can laugh.

Ron:  She's like... She's looking at the camera, "Oh, yeah, that's right.".

George: Yeah, that's true. It's been great. It's really helped me develop professionally. It's helped me become a better leader. And I feel now a sincere and genuine sense of gratitude to our team and obligation to do my best work to make their work environment as good as it can be because they do such great work. We are such a cohesive team now. I mean, you can't even compare where we are as a company now to where we were just a few years ago, and I personally attribute a lot of it to EOS, and our team and I just feel better every day going to work because of it, because I feel like we're we are all rowing in the same direction. There's that sense of respect. Everybody has a voice and that's so important. You can see how your culture is affected by it in a positive way. So it's been great. I hope that answered your question.

Ron:  No, no, it's great. How do you, call the elephant in the room? You know, running a business is stressful. Often times it can be challenging for any of us, all of us listening. It can be challenging to not take the stress from the day and bring it home. And here you guys are a husband and wife, dynamic duo, front of house and back of house running a very successful, growing, award winning business. How do you guys think about and what actions do you take to make that work? Because I'm just guessing that that's probably hard.

George: Oh, it's easy and it's perfect.

Ron:  I don't believe you.

Kassa: It is hard. It is challenging, and you know, when you put kids on top of that, you know, you're married, you're co-parenting, your running this business, it's like a lot to ask of one person in your life. You have to be a lot of things. I think one of the things that's helped us is having, pretty delineated roles and we always have. I have never tried to be a front person, a sales person. From the time we were small, we've taken on different roles and now they're even more well delineated and defined. I think also EOS helped that. At home, I think, getting the roles at home kind of straight. And it sounds, I don't know, maybe a little archaic, but at the same time, it helps us to know that I'm kind of going to be the lead parent and he's going to be the lead at Harrison Home Systems. He's gonna to the late night networking event, and I'm going to pick up from school, whatever it is.

Ron:  My wife is very clear in our household. I'm the CEO of One Firefly and she's CEO of the Callis household.

George: Got that right?

Ron:  And it works.

George: So I joke with everyone that Kassa is the brains and I'm the mouth, so those two things can work well. I think that we have some ground rules. Clearly, I tend to be the one that probably wants to talk about business 24 hours a day because I love it and I'm passionate about it. It's not always the right place and the right time. And our kids laugh at us as well, and we used to joke about having this safe word that we would, this goofy word we came up with when one of us was mad and that way we'd just stop the conversation years ago and our kids started using it on our behalf at the dinner table.

Ron:  What is it? What is it?

George: We will never reveal it.

Ron:  Oh so you have a secret family code word.

George: That's right. That's right. Just the Harrison family secret.

Kassa: But now I would say, you could add that to the issues list and we'll discuss it. .

Ron:  Do you follow L10's for the family?

Kassa: No, but we should.

George: Maybe we should do. Good idea Ron!

Ron:  Interesting, that is a good idea. Maybe I'm on to something there. That's awesome. So I'm mindful of time, and I want to try to make sure we get you guys and our audience out of here at an hour. So we've got about 10 minutes or so. I want to talk a little bit about technology and brands and industry trends, and I think that I know you guys are pretty big Lutron dealers and you've had a lot of success with Lutron. So if you guys could talk maybe a little bit about, I'll be very specific, the Ketra business and the circadian rhythm lighting. What are you guys seeing there? Are you seeing demand for that? What is the IP addressable or smart fixture business look like for you guys? There may be many listening that haven't gone there yet, whether it's with Lutron or another brand, but it seems that it's coming at our industry from all directions. I mean, smart fixture seems to be. I think it's going to stick. At least that's what I'm feeling, versus 3-D TVs, they didn't exactly stick. But tunable lighting is part of wellness, so maybe it will stick.

George: No, that's exactly right. So I've spoken a lot in the last year on panels about fixtures because we jumped in a little, a little ahead of the curve thanks to HTSA, specifically thanks to Tom Dougherty in particular and the work he's done. I am partial, I didn't want to talk brands, but since you brought up Lutron and what they're doing and what they just did recently will be a big inflection point, just like I did with shades twenty years ago. They basically are betting on the integrator to lead the way in the fixture category in the future and have made some very specific moves to supplement their already huge move in acquiring Ketra. I mean, I don't know if people realize how impactful the decisions that Lutron has made. And again, we're biased, but at the same time, I think it's the best way forward, and I think it's a justified way forward. I think fundamentally we're typically tasked to provide control systems, and fixtures are a big part of that. And if we don't have a seat at the table to help guide that discussion and present a quality control package from beginning to end, it's chaos. I feel like the work that has been done to open up the eyes of the major fixture manufacturers that the AV guys are best positioned, I think very much appropriately so to lead the way forward. I think it's a missed opportunity and we're all in, the pandemic slowed down our showroom design and there's a silver lining to everything. The announcement that Lutron made with intelligent lighting and addressable fixtures changed the entire trajectory on how we designed our showroom because that's what's up. That's where it's going, and it's a disruptive phase in this part of the industry right now. So it's going to take a little while, I think for things to settle out, for people to realize that, I think the CI channel is the right channel to move forward and to bring in this new era of intelligent lighting and Ketra in particular. I couldn't be more excited about it, and I think the industry shares that excitement and it's real, it's tangible and it will change our business models. I think the ratio of fixtures to AV, those budgets will rival each other moving forward. We've already seen what shades have done. Fixtures is going to dwarf what shades did for our industry by a factor of 10, in my opinion. We're completely committed to it, we appreciate the hard work that our industry has done and the way in which it's moving forward. I've never been more excited and it's real. So we're very much pushing the envelope as fast as we can. I think Ketra is amazing and the whole industry as a whole. I just I'm excited about that.

Ron:  No, that's great. Kassa, can you talk numbers and sense? you can be high level, you don't have to be specific, but why should businesses consider being in this category from either a top line retail kind of percentage of the proposal? And then what is what does bottom line look like, you know, gross margins and profitability of the category? Anything you want to share from kind of a back office standpoint .Do you have opinions there?

Kassa: Well, I'm going to leave it real high level because I don't have the the data worked out. But I think in general, when we added lighting control and shades as a big focus for our business back in whatever that was '08, '09, all of a sudden our $50,000 control jobs went to $100,000 because we were adding those categories. So I think what we're seeing now, even just in 2019, the home of the year was like a $750,000 system or so. We're doing something very comparable right now, but it's over a million because we're doing all the fixtures in the house.

George: Significant Ketra project. It's a seven figure job and a lot of that is the fixtures. It's a big fixture and lighting control job and it's it's amazing and it's real and it's impacting our bottom bottom line successively more each year.

Ron:  So it's the same job that five years ago would have been a 750 job. Now it's over a million because you've simply added a new category to that same project?

Kassa: We've been told by the builder, we're the largest subcontractor on the job. So I mean, it's kind of clear to me that when you widen your net a little bit, your opportunity is going to go way up. And I think, for anybody who hasn't gotten into the lighting fixture portion, there's a learning curve. I think that just like shades, when we started out. The graveyard of shades.

Ron:  Miscalculated, mismeasured shades. Are you giving away mismeasured shades for birthday presents to your family members? I was in Texas a month ago and I was in the warehouse and there was the graveyard of mismeasured shades. There's a whole wall of them from Florida ceiling. I was like, "What happens to them?" They're like, "We don't know".

George: Exactly, and lighting is even more complicated and you have more potential for disaster, but you have to get your entire team committed to it. It's from back of house to front of house. It is a initiative. It's not just a random, "Let's try this." I mean, you have to really buckle down. It has to be companywide and we've done that and we've learned a lot from these projects and and we're geared to do this more. But no regrets at all. It's been one of the most exciting things that's happened in a long time. And so, I think there's a lot of potential for a lot of people moving forward. So it's good stuff.

Ron:  That's awesome. Kassa, I'm going to pose, this is a self-serving question. This is everyone's flag to turn off the podcast now or not, if you really want to listen. But you guys are good clients of One Firefly and we love working with you. But it works so well because we have you as an inside, I'll call it liaison for our team, right? So you work with an account manager at One Firefly and you're liaising with us. How does that work? Can you just describe the mechanics of how, you acting as the point person for, whether it's One Firefly or if someone hires another agency? I would challenge that it makes it better when there's actually someone inside the organization to work with and that owns it versus it being the whoever the owner is or the CEO and they've hired that person, but there's really no person inside of the company to liaise with.

Kassa: Well, I used to be on the other side in a different, you know, a slightly different function, but in in the PR world. So I worked at an agency and I understand what it means to have a client who's responsive, who is insightful and can help the agency take its strengths and talents and customize it to the business. I don't want to say that in order to be successful with One Firefly, you have to have this background, because I don't think that you do, I think you have to be invested. I think you have to know that it's not something that you guys can swoop in and make something really custom with no feedback. So I think that's part of being a good client is giving feedback and helping whoever you hired, you know, to get what you want. So I don't know if that answers your question.

Ron:  No, no, I think that's great. There's a great analogy to a customer. If you guys have a customer and if they participate, the end product, I'm imagining probably is better than if they don't participate.

George: But your processes and the way in which you've fine tuned it. I never expected the experience that we got on the onset, and that was the pleasant surprise.

Kassa: I want to say that, working with an agency that's focused on our industry is so awesome because we've had some consultants in the past and everything and not to take anything away from them, but we work in a very niche industry and it's very difficult for people to understand unless they've had real experience in our industry. First of all, what we do and who we market to. And so it just was very refreshing to work with your team because you understand it on a very high level. Some of the the things that you have in place that you can just kind of pick from, and then we did a lot of customization, but I know that not all your clients do and you still turn out a really good product.

Ron:  I'm going to close on this one last point, you guys have been doing a fantastic job of photographing your projects. And whenever you have beautiful photography, it makes your marketing better. I, as the CEO and founder of One Firefly, I don't always get that. In fact, I'm going to say, I typically don't get that to work with. But you guys are doing that. Maybe could you guys close on your thoughts of why do you do that or why have you started doing that? Because it really makes such a superlative difference in your brand presentation to the world.

Kassa: Sure. I mean, I think that we have been strategic in partnering with whoever is doing the main photography in the home. Photography is very expensive, especially for a smaller company. So we have found out who's doing, you know, whether it's the architect or the builder or the designer who's doing shots for the home and offer to split the cost on site. Make sure we get some shots that are relevant to what we've done because, sometimes our work is airbrushed out, the outlets, the speakers, anything like that in magazines, there's a reason why you don't see them because they take them out.

George: Yeah. So it takes work. I'll tell you, photo shoots, they have to happen at night and it's a grind. And it's like herding cats. The interior designer wants something, the builder wants something different than we want. So you have to earn that and it's a process, but the end result, it helps your clients feel like you understand. If you're in the luxury home game, they want to know that you've got legitimate experience. That's one way to present that. .

Ron:  George, you started getting feedback from your customers or prospects that they're seeing this content in your website and in your marketing, and are they commenting?

George: Yes, and our peers and our colleagues. Unsolicited compliments because we had a great site before, but you know, this has really elevated our game. This is, I think, more appropriate to the level where we're at these days. So, yeah, it's been a pleasant surprise on that side of it, too. So some validation, it was worth the effort.

Ron:  Awesome! Well, we're going to close on that. Your website URL that I have pulled up on the screen for those that are listening and not watching is HHSUSA.com So that's a nice, short six letter URL. Don't see too many of those these days.

George: We abbreviated that a few years ago.

Ron:  That's impressive! Six letter URLs aren't that common. But for those that are listening that want to get in touch with you guys directly? George, I'll start with you. What is the best method that you'd have people, if they want to speak to you directly or learn more about your business?

George: Yeah, that abbreviated URL. So it's This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and then Kassa is.

Kassa: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

George: And you pronounced it right. No one gets Kassa right, by the way, Ron. Nice work.

Ron:  Well, I don't get full credit because I was pronouncing it wrong at the beginning of this podcast. If we rewind, I said Casa.

George: Did Tori text you?

Ron:  No, I heard you refer to your wife properly, and then I was like, "All right, I'm not going to be the dumb, dumb and not pay attention to that." So now I said Kassa.

Kassa: It's one of those things that's been part of my life, my whole life. So I don't really think much of it.

George: Before we finish, I will finish. Congratulations on this. You earned it very well. Absolutely. Great article, too.

Ron:  Yeah, thank you. I appreciate that, I thought I needed more gray hair to be nominated for that. I promise I don't dye my hair, but I guess there's maybe enough gray that qualifies me. It was a tremendous honor. Certainly so proud to have been nominated and to have won. That was that was pretty neat. Thank thank you very kindly. Well, I appreciate you both. It was awesome to have you on Show 197 of Automation Unplugged. And if I don't speak to you before, I want you guys to have a wonderful holiday season.

George: Same to you and your family. Thanks so much for having us. Appreciate it! Good to see you.

Kassa: Thanks Ron!

Ron:  Thanks so much, guys. All right, folks, there you have it. Show 197 Automation Unplugged with the one and only George and Kassa Harrison. They're just really running such a wonderful business, a thriving business. I've talked to vendors, I have friends around the industry, my dealers and I also have friends that are the people behind the manufacturers and service providers. and this business in particular really stands out because people will often refer to or they are proud of their relationship with Harrison Home Systems, and that has been earned over long tenured career of working together. At the end of the day, people's opinions of others are often borne on what they do, not what they say. That's how I judge people, don't tell me you're going to do it, show me you're going to do it. And that is what they do. They're very authentic and sincere, and they're good people and they run a great business. So on that note, I'm going to remind you, if you have not already subscribe to my podcast in the app, yes, I know you love watching live or on replay. But if you want me in your ears when you're out walking during the holiday to burn off those cookie calories you're going to consume, I know that you are. Then you can subscribe to Automation Unplugged. And we have a new show coming out every week, so would love you to do so. And on that note, there's our website OneFirefly dot com. There's our phone number. Actually, there's an 800 number. I don't even know if that 800 number still works. I'm going to give you my local number nine five four nine two one two three nine three. That's our office number here in Fort Lauderdale, and someone give this number a call eight seven seven three three four one one four four. We'll see if that actually rings true. Who gives out 800 numbers anymore these days? It looks like we do. Maybe we need to update that, but all right, I'm rambling. I'm going to leave you now, and I'll see you. I think we're doing a show next week, so before Christmas, so I will see you all there and have a lovely rest of your week. Thanks, folks.

SHOW NOTES:

George Harrison gained years of industry experience in the Colorado mountain resort towns. In 2002, George founded Harrison Home Systems, a high-end custom electronics design and installation firm specializing in cutting-edge home automation. In 2007, Kassa, his wife, joined the business and brought her experience in marketing and PR. Together they have grown the company over the years and currently manage a team of 27 employees. Harrison Home Systems specializes in the custom residential market in Denver and the surrounding areas. The company was named the 2021 CTA Smart Home Integrator of the Year by The Consumer Technology Association. They also received other industry awards in 2020, including CEPro Integrated Home of the Year and a Lutron Excellence Award.

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:

George  can be reached directly by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Kassa can be reached directly by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

 

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