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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 #207: An Industry Q&A with Keith Harrison

In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, Keith Harrison, Owner and Founder of Total Home Technologies shares how using the “Leasing” model in the AV industry benefits clients and your business.

Home Automation Unplugged Episode #207: An Industry Q&A with Keith Harrison

This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Keith Harrison. Recorded live on Wednesday, March 16th, 2022, at 12:30 pm. EST.

About Keith Harrison

In 1992, Keith started Total Home Technologies with the idea to "Question Everything." 30 years later, Total Home Technologies now has 3 Control4 certified showrooms (so far), two in New Jersey and one in New York. They are also one of the highest volume Control 4 dealers in the North East. Additionally, they have won countless awards, most recently ProSource dealer of the year for 2021.

Interview Recap

  • Using the “Leasing” model in the AV industry and how it benefits clients and your business
  • How customer service and building relationships can leave a lasting effect in a company.
  • Why our industry needs to rethink integrators role in providing maintenance and ongoing support services

SEE ALSO: Home Automation Podcast Episode #206 An Industry Q&A with John Campbell

Transcript

Ron: Ron Callis here with another episode of Automation Unplugged. I think that I am live, yep, there's Keith. I got so many cool pictures and videos to share with you guys. The whole bottom of my screen is loaded with this stuff, and Keith jumped off the screen for me. I was almost going to panic, but I stayed calm. All is well. Today is Wednesday, March 16, 2022. It is a little bit after 12:30 p.m. Eastern time. As you guys can tell, I have so many things on my monitors that I have to look out over here to make sure I see everything. There we go. I see that we are live, and we are streaming. This is cool. So what's going on? At a high level, I just want to mention something that we One Firefly are doing to help all of the folks out in Ukraine and that whole part of Eastern Europe as it relates to the war that's going on, which is obviously very sad and it's hard to watch, and it's hard to hear about. But we are doing our small part here to help those affected. So if you go over to our One Firefly channel on Instagram or Facebook, or LinkedIn, you're going to see how we're trying to help and what you can do to help. In fact, with our clients, we're matching funds that are donated as well as with our staff we're matching funds that are donated to help those that are being affected. Obviously, there are lots of families, lots of children that are being affected by this terrible war and a lot of refugees, millions of refugees. So we're trying to do a small part to help. So if you're so inclined, you can read about that over on our social channels. That said, today we are going to be recording show 207. This is actually with a returning guest. So this is with the one and only Keith Harrison. He is the owner and founder of Total Home Technologies, and he was last on the show almost exactly two years ago. So I'm excited for all of you to get to hear how he has been doing. I'll mention it again when we bring him on, but his content, his audio, podcast and videos were some of our most viewed and some of our most listened to content of the last two years. A lot of that is because of his very innovative approach in his business model around leasing and leasing equipment. So we're going to do a catch-up on that and see how the last couple of years have been going. So without further Ado, let me bring Keith into the show. Keith, how are you, sir?

Keith: Hey, Ron, what's happening?

Ron: Another day in paradise, man. Another day in paradise. Why don't you let our audience know where you're coming to us from.

Keith: I'm at home. I live in Hoboken, New Jersey, right across the water from Manhattan. Have a great view of the city, spend a lot of time there. And yeah, that's where I am. I'm home. There are my snowboards in the background.

Ron: There is your snowboard, but there's no snowboarding in Hoboken. So where do you do the snowboarding?

Keith: Everywhere I can. So far this year, I've been to Europe, I've been to Utah, Colorado, and British Columbia. It's a full-time problem for me.

Ron: Do you have a favorite place to snowboard?

Keith: It's not a place. It's when the weather is good, and you're with good friends, and it's not too early in the season, it's not too late in the season, your equipment is not too new, and your equipment is not too old. I guess it's kind of like finding the perfect golf swing.

Ron: All right, so I want to go in. I want the audience to understand Total Home Technologies and all of that sort of jazz, but I just have to go somewhere first. I've dug this up; years ago, you shared this with me. So I'm going to give the listeners a little bit of a lead-in because maybe they aren't watching. So I want to let them know what's about to happen here. Years ago, you told me a story, and that story was that you and you're an engineer, correct? That's your background?

Keith: Yeah. Aerospace engineer.

Ron: Aerospace engineer.

Keith: It makes sense now.

Ron: It does make sense; well it's going to make more sense when everyone sees this. You were at a bar, and there was a very important discussion being had, and I think it was around how to go faster on a snowboard. But I'll let you... Why don't you help our audience understand what I'm about to show? So now you know where I'm going. You know what I'm going to be showing. How did this happen?

Keith: Well, I was trying to solve the world's problems at a bar, as you do, and I said it would be great if I could add a little extra boost, extra propulsion on my snowboard, whether I was going on a flat or whatever and we kind of thought, well, what's the most amount of thrust you can get per pound? That's not combustion or turbojet; it's solid rocket motors. The problem with solid rocket motors is once you turn them on, you cannot turn them off, but you get a whole lot of power per ounce or per weight. We decided to build the world's first rocket-powered snowboard.

Ron: All right. So I'm going to play this video. It's quick. And for our listeners, they'll hear some audio perhaps, and then we'll fill them in on what we're watching here.

Keith: Yes, this was the first test ever. This is the first time we tried it.

Ron: You did this more than once?

Keith: This is with the initial two Aerotech; I think they were G 40s. Then I did it again with six.

Ron: What Keith just did is he fired off his snowboard with rockets attached, and he disappears out of frame at mock speed. You did this again with more engines?

Keith: Yeah. We kind of calculated what's the minimum amount of power you need to break static friction, and that's what that was. Obviously, I didn't want to start from a standstill because I thought it might flip me over or something. So that was the minimum we did for a test. After I felt okay with that and didn't die, I said, all right, I can do it again and just rewire it and rebuild it for six engines, and I did that. I can share that video with you at another time Ron.

Ron: Please do! For those that want to watch that again or share that with friends, David is going to drop that down into the chat stream. What happened to that video? That video actually got some airtime.

Keith: Yes. I went a little nuts; I had like an old YouTube channel that I actually had to get rid of because people were calling my work, and they were finding my cell phone number. I don't know how somebody got my mom and called my mom at her house and said, "Do you know this person?" She said, "Yes, that's my son." And I was like, "Oh, God, this is terrible." So I actually just deleted it and got rid of it because it was a little too much attention, too fast. Then a couple of years later, I got a phone call from an advertising agency, and they asked if they could purchase it for just not a lot of money and used a couple of seconds of it in a video, which they wouldn't tell me who the customer was. But eventually, we started seeing it on TV.

Ron: Who was the company?

Keith: It was Comcast for high-speed Internet. So they added it into a clip of montage of people doing high-speed things to advertise their high-speed Internet, and it was great. It was on nationally, and I got a kick out of seeing it.

Ron: Well, that is pretty crazy and pretty awesome, and as a fellow engineer, I never have done that as an adult because I think I'm too fragile. But you clearly are still doing the high-speed adrenaline sports, and so you're clearly more fit than I am. But as a kid, my brother and I would attach rocket engines to anything that moved.

Keith: Yeah.

Ron: As you do, I was like, "Well, I think it will fly. Let's take some GI Joe's and glue them together and put some fins on them and a rocket motor, and let's see what happens." I remember we had built; you know you build plastic models. Did you ever do that?

Keith: Sure.

Ron: Like you break the little parts, you get your Exacto knife, you shave the little bits that connect it to the plastic, and you glue it all together. My brother and I did it together, and we made like a two to three-foot-long wide space shuttle. Well, guess what? I've got rocket booster containers there, and my brother and I used to live in Southeast Virginia, Newport News, in a Lake called deer Lake in Deer Park. Right across from the Lake was the animal reserve. There was an animal conservation area, so there were always people walking around the perimeter of the Lake. I was very young. We figured if we put our space shuttle in the Lake, it would float just right, and if we put the D-engines into the rocket boosters, we would basically have a missile that we could shoot across the Lake and hit the animal reserve. Well, I'm not going to tell everyone how the story ends other than it worked very well. Those engines, especially if, you know, if you use model rocket engines, they have an ejection charge.

Keith: Yes, they do, and a smoke tracer.

Ron: And a smoke tracer. So when you shoot that across the Lake, and it lands under the wooden walking path of the animal conservation area, and it then fires the ejection charge, let's just say lots of sirens. Meanwhile, we're bugging out of town and heading the other direction.

Keith: How many did you use?

Ron: Just two. One in each rocket booster.

Keith: So as a point of reference, you're like, "Oh, my God, I got to use a D engine," right?

Ron: Yeah.

Keith: So the ones I used were two sizes larger than that. Every time you go up in one in size, you double the thrust. So that's four times the thrust. It's actually more than that because it's exponential times six engines.

Ron: Yeah. I don't know; you're brave, crazy, I don't know what you want to say.

Keith: We did the math ahead of time; it wasn't just seat of the pants.

Ron: You survived.

Keith: Yeah.

Ron: You survived; it's all good.

Keith: I'm here, all good.

Ron: Total Home Technologies, tell the audience a little bit about the business. What type of work do you do? Where do you do the work?

Keith: Well, I'm sure, you know, like most of the people on your show, I'm in all automation business. I do smart houses, and I love what I do. It's a great job. It's really exciting. It's interesting every day. It definitely threads the needle between high tech and art, between what you can do and what you should do. You get to make things either invisible or you get to make them beautiful, and you really get to change the whole way a house feels. We are the head of the octopus, and we probably have more than eight legs these days. The number of things that get added under the purview of the smart house keeps going up, which is amazing. So we do Metro New York, mostly, so New Jersey, New York, the Metro New York area. We have three showrooms, one in Manhattan, one in North Jersey, and one in central Jersey. Obviously, I have traveled to projects all around the country and a few out of the country. It's a great job, and we just celebrated our 30th year in business. January 2nd was the company's birthday; I started it on a January 2nd.

Ron: I thought you were only 30 now. So you started this when you were born? How does this work?

Keith: You can do the math. I started it when I was 20.

Ron: 00:14:11.950 All right, Chad, someone on Facebook, he said, "What's up, Ron?" What's up, Chad? Chad has asked, "What's your favorite thing to demo in your showroom or showrooms?" And why don't we back up? How many showrooms do you have, and what do you demo in your showrooms?

Keith: Well, we have three, two in New Jersey and one in Manhattan. Chad, that's a great question, and I get that a lot actually. The favorite thing that I like to demo is how things connect together. So it's not a thing. It's not, "Oh, look at this black box, look at this touchscreen, look at this light switch." Lots of people have smart house stuff, but most of it's not smart. It's just glorified remote control. Instead of remote control, it happens to be an app on your phone, but really showing, say, when I leave my home and I lock my door, and if it's the wintertime, well, the heat is going to go to a lower setting, the alarm is going to arm, the lights are going to Tor off, and because it's the wintertime, the shades are going to open because I want all that sunlight in. But if I take the same exact action in the summer, I get a different result because I want different things to happen. Some really simple variables and lifestyle things and saying, hey, if you had somebody that could press every button for you and do everything for you, always. That's what a smart house does; it should know whether you're home, whether you're away, what time of day it is, what type of year it is. When you press a simple button, those things should occur. I think we talked about it in the past. I call that my rule of 99%. I don't know if you remember that.

Ron: No, expand on that, please.

Keith: So the rule of 99% is the favorite thing that I like to demo in my showrooms, and it basically means when you press a button, let's just use lighting on your kitchen, right, Ron? I bet you have half a dozen-plus lighting circuits in your kitchen, and they can do all different levels and color temperatures and sometimes different colors. Well, if you had a button to do everything, whether it's on a wall or on an app, that's terrible. That's just too many things.

Ron: Too much control.

Keith: Yeah. So when you press the button, for example, in your kitchen, you press it, and it's before sunrise, it should go to the pre-morning scene. If it's after sunrise, it should go to the post-sunrise scene. If it's in the middle of the day, it should go to the daytime scene, dusk, and evening and if you press that button at 03:00 in the morning, it should go into midnight snack mode. But you press the same button, and it just says kitchen lights. Then you can do that throughout your entire home. So now you have really simple. I think the biggest problem is people say, "Can I just have one button?" No problem, I'll give you that one button. What do you want that to do? If you say, can I have just one button, that means you only want to do one thing and then say, well, give me another button to do this other thing. Well, now I've negated your first request, haven't I? If somebody says I just want one button, nobody really wants that because nobody wants to do just one thing. So the rule of 99% is our way of making one button do lots of things. That just happens to be the thing that you want at that time.

Ron: I'll give a very personal example of that. It's from me and my house. I just did a pool, and I hired one of the best, what I thought to be one of the best pool contractors. My wife and I did lots of research, and it was fairly anticlimactic at the end of the project. It was an anticlimactic finish to the project. It felt hard to get someone out here to quote, turn the thing finally on. When they did the handover training, I would call it poor to awful. I've got Jandi control, so they gave me my phone connected to the antenna, and he showed me how to press a button to turn all the different things on. I can press a button for lights and a button for the bubbler and a button for laminators and a button for the spa, and a button for speed control. And I was like, "Wouldn't it be cooler if I just had an entertain button?" "Wouldn't it have been cooler if they just asked me how I wanted it to work?" "Wouldn't it be cool if they asked me how would I plan to use it?" They just did that 1%, if you look at all of the work to do this project, if they have spent 1% more energy to ask me the right questions and then configure my button press or handful of button presses to do what I likely will do 99% of the time, I would have been so happy.

Keith: Yeah.

Ron: I don't want to celebrate. The number one project was hard, but two and the interface is the ugliest things I've ever seen. So I've got this thing on my phone. Now, everyone, all my integrators are going to go, "Why aren't you using Control4, Savant or Crestron or Lawn? I hear you, okay. But I'm using the Jandi Control, and the interface is antiquated, so I don't know. I'm agreeing with you and sorry for my diatribe. I'm supposed to be interviewing you, but I was like, "Man, I feel you. You're so right."

Keith: Well, there's an app for that. It's the worst thing that's ever been said for your house, right? Everyone thinks when they get this thing, whether it's a coffee pot or a pool. Oh, there's an app. Good. It's like check box, check. There's an app; I'm good. That's not good because there's an app for that is the worst thing that's ever been said about a house. Nobody wants a collection of apps and a collection of logins and a collection of interfaces to then see how you press the button on this and then press the button on this. It's not thought through well, and that's why we have a job. So let them keep doing it badly because that keeps me in business.

Ron: 30 years, you hit your 30-year anniversary. How'd you do it? What's the secret? There are folks listening, and they've been in business for one year or five years, and they're like, "Man, this is hard." How did you do it for 30 years?

Keith: I mean, Ron, come on. Just like anything. I mean, I just believed. I believed before I opened the first door that this was going to be the best thing that I ever did in my life. I didn't choose to open a business. I had to. It was just something I absolutely needed to do. It was something I was thinking about when I was probably 15 years old. I didn't think I'd be in the automation business. I was like, "Oh, I'm going to fix bicycles," because I liked bicycles when I was 15. But I just knew I liked talking to people, I liked working on things, I liked technology, and I liked really understanding everything about whatever the thing I'm working on was. In 1992, it was beepers and cell phones and CD players, and it turned into automation with the advent of DirecTV and the Internet. As that came on very quickly after I started my business, it was just so clear that there is no one person that will do everything. Like, okay, this person puts the satellite on my roof, the phone company connects the phone line to it. The audio guy does this; the video guy does this. It was just very clear early on that there was no one person that was going to be the CTO of your home and just understand all the different technologies and make them all work together and make them work simply. That's how I wound up here.

Ron: What's one idea or one attribute that you have that has led to your success over the last 30 years.

Keith: Oh, come on, Ron. You know the answer to that. There are lots of great integrators out there. There are so many talented people with so many great ideas and work so hard. It's a great industry, and I know so many other individuals in this industry, and so do you, Ron. But I think the thing that makes us different is we go about the business side of it very differently. If we sell a touch panel to a client and the touch panel is just $1,000. Well, in next year or two years from now, if there's a new model come out, they're upset with me. If I sell them a really elaborate Wi-Fi system for their house, and then a year or two later, there's completely new Wi-Fi out, they're upset. So what we decided to do is kind of steal the idea from the cell phone or the car industry. People don't like to own cars much any longer. They are more and more complicated, repairs are higher, there are new features that come out in cars that people want, and it's a depreciating asset. So they lease them. So that's what we do with our home automation systems; we lease them. If you have a part and there's a new one comes out, you can upgrade at any time. It's always under warranty. Any customization that you want in your system is included in that lease price, so you just pay a monthly fee, and you get the most important part of an automation system, the continued customization, like your pool. You said I want these buttons. Well, Ron, you might understand what buttons you want on day one, your pool went live, but most people wouldn't. And how could they? They never had the pool before. They've never had an automation system before. They don't know exactly how this system can fit into their life in the best way on the day we hand it over to them. So we kind of feel that the work starts when the system is finished, and that's when most other people are on to the next project. We do so by basically installing the system and letting them pay for the system and the parts and the services over time. So we're not saying, yeah, we'll be here for you; we're proving it because the system hasn't been paid for yet.

Ron: There seems like an elephant in the room with that model. The cash flow modeling, if you have to acquire tens of thousands, could be on a large job, hundreds of thousands of dollars of gear, and the client is only making, and I'm making an assumption here. Are they only making lease payment number one to enact the project? Or is there any sort of larger lump sum capital that you're collecting to help cover a lot of the costs? What can you share? What can you tell us?

Keith: Without going into too many details, the labor isn't pleased, the wiring isn't pleased, the light fixtures, the shading, a lot of the parts aren't leased. The things that you'd probably never want to replace. You put a light fixture in a house, we sell you a nice new LED light fixture that's probably going to be in your house for decades, same with shading, same with speakers and wire. But a lot of the parts, all of the networking gear, all of the automation gear, all of the audio switching, video switching, amplification, surround sound processors, touch panels become antiquated. They still work, but people say, well, first it was ten ADP, and then it was 4K, and it was 4K HDR, and it keeps going. Somebody says, well, I want to take advantage of that new technology, I want that, I want faster Wi-Fi, I want better resolution, I want this next thing. I have a hard time throwing away a part that works; even if there's a great new one out and I can afford it, I don't want to throw the old one away. It seems like a waste. So we take those back from the client, and we just upgrade them. They may pay the same price per month. They may pay a few dollars more if it's a more expensive part, but they have that option.

Ron: This means your business has built a component of revenue that is RMR, and it is RMR from this leasing program.

Keith: Yes, about a third of our business is RMR. The cash flow thing has been amazing. Ron, you and I talked two years ago on this podcast, and during Covid, I think you were the first person I talked to outside of these four walls in the very beginning of Covid.

Ron: People have listened to that show and approached you, haven't they?

Keith: A lot, actually. I think both you and I had a different vibe then. We were nervous. We didn't know what was coming. We were scared. The world was scared. This leasing model completely not only kept us in business but kept us operating at 100%, kept everybody on staff. I mean, it's been the most amazing thing for cash flow. It's just not that way day one; it takes some time. Now, the old ones pay for the new ones, and it's a great cycle.

Ron: I'm sharing with the folks that are listening. I'm sharing on the screen the show 108 artwork. So if you want to go back and listen to Keith and I, we recorded this. Let's see here. When did we record this? April 9, 2020. We were a couple of weeks after the world shutting down.

Keith: Yeah.

Ron: You were probably the last person because we were at the ProSource show in Vegas, and I think we talked about this on that show, so we don't have to go too in-depth. But here I got a picture of us. We were at the ProSource show in Vegas on that week. I think I flew home on March 11, 2020, and you and I actually hung out a little bit afterwards. We had lunch, and here I'm going to show on the screen, and you and I went ziplining.

Keith: We raced, and you won.

Ron: We did; we raced.

Keith: You cheated, though; you started early.

Ron: I did. I was helped by the person that was shoving me along. I think they gave me a little boost. Do you remember where that was? Where is this in Vegas?

Keith: I think it's by the Promenade.

Ron: By the Promenade. So there you go.

Keith: By Harris.

Ron: So you were one of the last folks that I saw. So we were nervous as hell. We had no idea what the world was going to throw at us. Let's fast forward. It's now two years later; how has the leasing program been going, and how's your business overall been going?

Keith: It's been amazing. I believe in leasing, we had been doing it for many years before our last podcast, and here it is, two years later, we're 100% in. I just came back from ProSource Event, the first event I've been to in a long time since Covid, and I get a lot of questions about it. Everybody's coming up to me like, "Hey, how do you do this? You've got this RMR thing figured out," and we just spent a lot of time on it. It's a culture in the company. All the guys in the company know that we do this. We think this way. It just became the way we think about everything. So every time there's something new that comes out, we're like, "Hey, let's get this to our clients right away." We don't have to wait for the second generation for it because when the second generation comes out if they really want that, we can just swap it out. So we feel like we can adopt technology and get it into people's homes more quickly because there's no risk in that. They didn't shell out a whole lot of money, and if they don't like it, we'll just take it back and stop charging you that fee per month. It's really fun for us. It really keeps us in contact with the clients. It really allows us to get their home super customized for their lifestyle. I think that's the biggest thing that we do wrong in this industry. We do great work most of the time in this industry, and then we go, "Okay, great, we're done. You owe this amount of money. Give me the last payment," and then we're gone, and we're off to the next thing. If the client wants customization done, well, what happens is they send an email, or they call their dealer; the first thing the dealer says is this is what's going to cost you.

Ron: It doesn't feel good.

Keith: Yeah, and they learn quickly to not do that. They learn quickly to not do that because every time the customer wants something done, they're getting an unknown bill for a certain amount from their dealer and what's terrible on the dealer's part is, well, a customer says, "Well, I want this programming done. What are you going to charge me?" And to be honest with you, maybe it's something really simple. And I'm like; I could do it this one time. Basically, the conversation is costing me money. Why wouldn't I just give them a way to do it?

Ron: Question, well, let me give Brandi a shout-out. Brandi tuned in. She says, "It's at the link.".

Keith: Yeah, it is.

Ron: What was that called again? The thing where you strapped in?

Keith: The Zipline.

Ron: The Zipline. The Zipline is at the link. Thank you, Brandi. So you're leasing the network-based gear.

Keith: All the automation gear.

Ron: Okay, all the automation gear. How do you factor in the labor that would need to be in the model to allow you to feel comfortable about sending people out there in the future to add that level of customization based on that client's request? Is that in the pricing model or in the monthly payment model as well?

Keith: Yeah. So that's the problem; most people look at a part, "Hey, here's this part. Let me sell you this thing." What I'm saying is, "I don't want to sell you this thing. I want to lease you the thing. It's the warranty, it's maintenance, it's firmware upgrades, and it's customization, all as one and as a monthly fee." Which once again, I like using cars as an analogy. A car is 10,000 parts from different manufacturers, all put together in a very unified way, but it's very complicated. Only the car manufacturer really knows how it went together. They have all the documents and the details, and that's what they do for a living. That's what they know really well. So they're the best people to maintain it. Because it can be very high to maintain, people typically lease these things, and they get to get the new ones.

Ron: Yeah.

Keith: If I can just touch on service for a second. I honestly think this industry doesn't do service very well. I think the whole way we look at it, if you think about it, somebody spends a lot of money. These systems, they're five and six figures; typically, obviously, they can be more.

Ron: Sure.

Keith: These are expensive systems, or they can get expensive, and something goes wrong, and whether it's a year down the road, two years down the road, three years down the road, the client picks up a phone, calls us, hopefully, somebody answers the phone because there's a lot of businesses that they live off their cell phone. They don't have a live person just to answer the phone. They're on a ladder; you're going to get their voicemail. So hopefully, they pick up the phone, and then they say, "Well, something's not working. Can you get somebody over here?" And the first thing that comes out of the dealer's mouth typically is, "Yeah, sure, you need to pay me this much money. This is how much it's going to cost you. And this is when we can come." Both of those things are negative things to tell people to somebody that's already had a problem and already spent a lot of money. But from the business side, I see it; we can't go out there for free. So how do we make clients happier? What we do is it's taken care of. There's no conversation about price. It's part of what you have. It's good. We're going to send somebody out. Maybe we can fix it remotely. We're going to do whatever we need to do in the path of least resistance to solve the customer's problem. But there's never a conversation about when or how much because that's already solved. That's already built into the contract.

Ron: Have you run into, Keith, anyone that has adopted this model?

Keith: No, and you know, in the last three years, the industry has gone crazy with RMR models and RMR articles. Somebody says, "I'm going to come out with this part. You can do RMR." I mean, Savant made a big announcement the other day that they're doing some sort of service RMR thing. I applaud that; all those are all good ideas, but those little ingredients aren't the whole meal. They're just not; there's still people involved, there's still services involved, there's still parts involved. So if you sell somebody one part that has some maintenance on it, what about the other 50 parts? You got to cover it all.

Ron: To your point, I think I've leased vehicles for the last probably 15 years.

Keith: Because nobody knows how much it costs to fix the vehicle anymore, and that's the way it should be.

Ron: You know what I do? I even make sure I turn the vehicles in before any service liability for me turns on. If its warranty is over at 50,000 miles or whatever, then that's exactly how I'm synchronizing my lease because it's such a pain in the butt to service those things.

Keith: How about a TV? Everybody would like to get a new TV every year. That would be amazing, right? Or every two years or every three years.

Ron: Would be amazing.

Keith: I'm sure you've known somebody that their kid accidentally threw something and broke the TV, right?

Ron: Yes.

Keith: If that TV is more than two years ago, you know what anybody says? They go, "Oh, well, gotta go buy a new TV.".

Ron: What just happened to me is my Samsung frame in my living room; a pixel right in the middle of the screen just died. Folks listening that probably heard me complain about this before; Yes, I still haven't fixed it, but, man, that stupid pixel and it's out of warranty. So I'm like, what do I do? So actually, I'll ask you live, what do I do? What do I do with a 65-inch Samsung frame with a dead pixel in the middle of the frame? Is it trash?

Keith: You lease your next one!

Ron: Does your lease model go to TVs as well?

Keith: Yeah, we didn't do it originally, but we added it in, and it's a little bit different, we have a different formula for TVs, but we have a formula that you can lease a TV, and you can get a new one every two years if you like.

Ron: What? Okay, we're talking after the show because that's very interesting. I'm sure everyone tuned in is like, "What? How does he do that?" But you have to call Keith guys, guys and gals, you're going to have to email, and you have to call him to hear those secrets. I do want to jump in; I'm mindful. As you know, you and I can talk for a long time, and we do often. So I got a couple of other things I want to talk about here. I want to share this. There is you holding your trophy. You were East coast dealer of the year for ProSource. So Congratulations. That's amazing and before you even go into what that is and why you were awarded it, tell everyone your story of how you got to the event in Vegas.

Keith: Well, I was snowboarding in British Columbia, and the ProSource team said you have to be here for the award, and it's on the very first night, and you've got to be on time, and you got to get here a little early for it and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I started driving at like 03:00 in the morning from Red Mountain in British Columbia to get to an airport that's three and a half hours away. It didn't dawn on me that there would be it was pitch black, no street lamps, a one-lane highway, and fog so thick that you couldn't use your high beams. I mean, I got to see like one or two dashes ahead on the highway, and that was it. Nothing was open, which means no coffee.

Ron: And you were tired. Had you been skiing or snowboarding all day?

Keith: I was exhausted, snowboarding all day, went out to dinner, was on three and a half hours sleep and packed up my stuff. The hotel was completely closed, and went on my way and just kind of, it was one of the worst drives ever in my life.

Ron: Were you driving and slapping yourself like every five minutes?

Keith: I was slapping myself; I was doing Ace Ventura with the head out the window.

Ron: I've totally been there.

Keith: You know, in the cold. Went through Canadian customs, driving into north of Washington state at probably 3:30 or 3:45 in the morning. I woke the guy up, and they're Canadian, so they're super nice. They said, "Okay, you're great. I can see you all on your way." And I said, "Where do I get a cup of coffee?" He goes, "2 hours that way.".

Ron: Oh, my God.

Keith: I said, "Do you have a cup of coffee you can sell me?".

Ron: I will buy your mug.

Keith: I have the one that I brought here, and I'm not selling it to you.

Ron: Oh, my God.

Keith: That was one of the worst drives of my life.

Ron: That sounds scary. I mean, you can't see, and you're tired; that's not a good recipe.

Keith: Yeah, I made it.

Ron: You made it. You're here. All right, so there you are with your trophy. And I'm going to try something I have never done before this show. Actually, I guess I just did it a minute ago, but I am going to try. I grabbed this off of YouTube, so why don't you give us a lead in here? What am I about to play?

Keith: So this was the award dinner or the award ceremony for ProSource, and for better or for worse, I was the last person to go up, and this was Tim doing the introduction and then doing a little montage of some photos that I'd sent them that I was trying to be entertaining by self-deprecating humor. Let's say that one.

Ron: All right, I'm going to press play, and I'm hoping this audio comes through for our audience. If you can hear this, I hope you can give me a thumbs up or a comment just so that I know that it's coming through.

Ceremony Speaker: Keith is a very unique and passionate integrator from New Jersey and well-deserved member of the year. He's always coming to us with ideas, some good, some not so good. So anyway, give it up for Northeast!

Award Video: The year was 1992, the day? January 2nd. Then 20-year-old Keith Harrison rented a building and opened what was to become Total Home Technologies. Why January 2nd? Well, as Keith says, "Because I had a hangover on January 1st. By his own admission, the place was a dump, but it served its purpose. Keith watched as beepers became cellphones.

Ron: I love the picture of the beeper.

Award Video: Car audio into navigation and satellite TV into the internet and home Automation. He never took his eye off his dream; in 2007, Keith opted out of the recession by purchasing a few struggling audio-video stores. Before he knew it, he was swamped with work and growing. He shuddered his original store and bought a huge showroom in the center of town. Keith and his business partner, Alex Lee, made the decision to stop selling parts and systems and began leasing. This bold move, as he puts it, changed everything. Today, Total Home Technologies has expanded to three Control4 certified showrooms, and as Keith says, "More employees than names I knew." ProSource is happy to name Total Home Technologies "Member of the Year Northeast region."

Ron: How did that feel to get recognized like that in front of your peers?

Keith: I've obviously won other awards in the past, and what was nice is this was an award from the industry, not from a manufacturer for buying a lot of their product over the air or doing a lot with their stuff. Prosource, they're not a manufacturer; they're a group of peers. It was probably the most exciting thing that's ever happened to me in my professional life.

Ron: Yeah, I can imagine. Did you tear up? Did you tear up on stage?

Keith: No, I didn't because Bobby, who was the one handing me the award, would have never let me live it down.

Ron: Congratulations on that acknowledgment. Thank you, Chad and David; I see you on Facebook letting us know the audio came through. Appreciate you guys.

Keith: Thanks, guys.

Ron: You're actually going to see Bobby. So who is Bobby in the ProSource ecosystem? Bobby is...

Keith: Well, Bobby is my local rep, he does Northeast, and he happens to live not too far away from me. We get along, and we work well together, so we spend time together doing stuff outside of work. Lonnie, who is with DMF, is in town for the light show that's going on. So we're going to go out and get some Portuguese food tonight and go to the Ironbound section of Newark, which is the Brazilian Portuguese section, which is a lot of fun.

Ron: That sounds awesome. You were telling me that you were brainstorming and maybe doing a podcast. So let's just maybe go high level. We'll keep this up here in the clouds. What type of content do you think you guys in this fun brainstorm might want to produce, and who do you want to produce it for?

Keith: Well, Ron, you're amazing at it. So I don't think I'll be able to give it the professional level that you do. But I kind of thought that I'd like to do something for clients to see under the hood of what we talk about with reps what we think is the next thing that's going on. I've had clients be very excited about what we do. They think what we do is amazing. I think it's amazing, too, and they're like, "Hey, can I take you out to dinner? Can I just talk to you about this stuff?" And I was like, "Well, that's great." I love taking them up on that and just tossing ideas around. But if I could do it in the capacity where I'm talking to another professional in the industry, which I get to do all the time, I mean, I really am so lucky that so many different people always want to come and take me out and talk to me and show me different, really cool new things. I'd just like to share that with my clients and other clients that think that might be interesting. That's kind of it.

Ron: I agree. Are you thinking you might do it? In this brainstorm, we're having here live with tens of people watching or listening live. Are you thinking it'd be video? Are you thinking it'd be audio, or what do you think the frequency would be? What do you think?

Keith: Well, we're going to solve the world's problems at a bar tonight. That's what we're going to do.

Ron: Clearly. That's where you invented your rocket strategy, right?

Keith: I'll start off audio-only. Then if we've got something to show, we'll show some things. I mean, tours of factories, I get a lot of tours of factories. I get a lot of tours of warehouses. I get a lot of tours of technology. I mean, there are some incredible things for automation in Manhattan. We've got our showroom, but there's also Savant, Crestron, Lutron, Jay Geiger. The list goes on and on in the DND building. The DND building is filled. Now there's kind of a new DND building with a whole bunch of manufacturers in it. I think there's an unlimited amount of things that I could show people there. When I'm invited to one, and I get a behind-the-scenes look at some of these products and some of these showrooms or manufacturers, if I'm allowed to share it, I'd like to.

Ron: I think it's a brilliant idea, and I think there is not enough exposure for our industry to the consumer. So anything that I can do or my team can do to help make that a success, we're here, and I think it's a great idea. Now everyone is going to hold you got a whole audience of accountability partners that are going to be checking in with you to say, "Keith, When's the podcast coming out?".

Keith: Well, then I get to say, "When you're going to be on it next?"

Ron: Yeah, exactly. You get to say, "Well, you're my first guest. Let's go!".

Keith: I'm not going to be nice and let you do it remotely. You let people do remote like me. I'm going to say; you got to come here. We've got to be sitting at a table talking naturally.

Ron: That is the way, by the way, to get the best audio. So if you have a good mic and you have a mic set up for your guests, you can get really good audio. I won't bore everyone with the technical details, but on this show, because I'm subject to the microphone on the other end of the streaming platform, the audio is hit or miss. Anyone tuning into the podcast probably knows that sometimes shows are better than others. But if you bring your guests or require your guests to come to New Jersey or New York, that's a great way to do it. By the way, little tip, there's lots of sound studios you can rent. So you can just set up the day and the time, and you set up, you have pro gear, a pro technician managing your recording, doing all of your edits. So there are ways to press the easy button. Just like when someone hires Total Home Technologies to do their integration or automation, there are ways to do that for podcasting. So for the two pennies, that's worth it. When you look ahead, Keith, what has you excited about the balance of 2022?

Keith: Wow. The industry is going crazy. Luxury goods are just bananas right now. You can't buy cars; you can't buy Rolex watches. It's hard to get TVs. There's just so many shortages, which is creating excitement. Also, it causes a problem that I get to solve, and I like that. Not to sound like a broken record, but that leasing model has worked really well for us because if we can't get parts now, if I can't get the exact wireless access point that I want to put in your home, well, guess what? I've got one that I've taken out of another customer's house that I can put in for you right this minute, and they will work, and it won't be a super high performance that we were hoping to get. But as soon as those come out, we can just swap them out for you. No big deal. So because we have a great deal of inventory that is sometimes the last generation that we've taken out of customers' houses because they've upgraded, we can kind of get through these shortages maybe a little bit better than somebody else, and it's not perfect. It's not like I can just make the new parts appear, but this is a great stop-gap instead of having nothing.

Ron: What's your prediction? There's a war going on at the moment. There's the threat of the Fed raising interest rates in order to try to get inflation under control. If you look forward, I'll call it in the next twelve to 24 months. If I ask you to pull out your magic eight ball and ask it magical questions, what do you think? Do you think residential integration continues to stay white-hot, or it settles back to maybe a pre-Covid normal? What's your prediction?

Keith: Well, I am far from an economist.

Ron: Yes.

Keith: 00:52:44.064 I'm just a little guy that owns a small business. I would really be surprised if automation doesn't stay white-hot. I think it is. I think for the next twelve months, it's on fire. Most of us have more work than we can handle. Everyone's busy. There is no one that isn't busy. There's nobody that's not growing. I think there's going to be a lot of consolidation, right? You've seen that, right? There's been some roll-up groups. I don't know what names I can name, but there are at least three or four of them that are out there.

Ron: I might have some meetings with some of them in a few hours. I don't know if they existed that might be happening.

Keith: I've been speaking to some of them as well. It's very interesting. So I think this industry is maturing because there's so much money. Wall Street is becoming interested in it. Wall Street is now paying attention. Venture capitalists and Wall Street are putting money into automation roll-ups because it's not going away. It's kind of like its own mini-dot-com era of the late 90s. Hopefully, it won't tank the way that did, but that never really tanked because the Internet is still a huge thing. So I think that's where it's going to stay for a while. Our jobs are going to change. They just are. They already are. Like your pool thing. We're getting kind of attacked from all ends where the pool has an app and all these smart things showing up in people's homes, but we still have a job of making them work and making them be easy. So eventually, our industry will be less reliant on parts and more reliant on service and programming and user interface. But I'm sure you know that's already kind of the business that we live in, and everybody else is going to have to adapt to it. You will be in the service business first, or you probably might not be in business, or you won't be in business the way you are today.

Ron: I think your focus on customer service and the service of the client and building that lifelong relationship, I don't see how you can go wrong. I think it's right on so many levels. It's right because it's best for the customer. It's right because it's best for your team, and they know what to expect and how to manage the customer. It's right for your business because your business gets stabilized cash flow with RMR. It's right for your manufacturers because they have a steady understanding of demand coming from your side. I mean, it's win, win, win. It is beyond me why more businesses aren't adapting or adopting your model; because I still haven't met anyone else doesn't mean others aren't doing it. But I perhaps don't have the relationship with them. So I haven't heard of it. I think you're an innovator, Keith; you're ahead of your time. I see you as future CEDIA hall of Famer for your innovative ideas. There you go, I'm putting it out into the universe.

Keith: Thank you. So, you know, yes, we do wind up having a great relationship and a lifelong relationship with our client. But what's more interesting and maybe haven't thought about it this way. I have thought about it this way, but the industry hasn't. I have a lifelong relationship with that address. Most of the time, when you put an automation system in the house, you don't take it out and put it in another one. So if somebody sells their home, I can take back the product because it's mine, right? It hasn't been paid for. The client could pay off the product and leave it in the house. But pretty much the most common thing that happens is the new homeowner just picks up the lease, and then we start customizing and modifying it and making it theirs. I did a video on this. I think one of the most difficult things is buying a house with an automation system if you don't know what you're doing because they'll show you the house and it'll work, the Internet is on everythings there. Hey, look, this is a smart house. Great. Even with nobody doing anything wrong and nobody doing anything evil or backhanded, when the new homeowner moves into that house, that system is dead, probably 100% dead, because the cable boxes came out, which means the cable company took some stuff out. The old homeowner said let me take my Apple TV because my username and passwords in here, and I don't want that. So they unplugged their Apple TV. It's $100 anyway. Whatever. I'm just going to take that. I'm going to take my DVD player because I can't find DVD players anymore. And I still have some DVDs. The cable modem comes out, and then the new homeowner calls an Internet provider, maybe the same one, maybe a different one. That person comes in and plugs stuff in, unknowing that it's a smart house and just plugs in and gets it to work in some fashion, gets the Internet live. Your Internet is live, but it has really destroyed that automation system. Then the new homeowner calls and says, "I just bought this house. Everything worked, and looked at it, nothing works now." I'm like, "Well, you need a whole lot of fixing now that wouldn't have been needed if we just transitioned it for you." So I made a video. If you buy a house that has an automation system in it, the first thing you should do before you close on the house is, interview the company that did it, and get them on contract ahead of time.

Ron: Where is this video? I'd like to share it.

Keith: It's on the YouTube page.

Ron: Okay. Grab that. Help me find that just to make it easy for me, if you don't mind, Keith, because I'm going to share that out. I know everyone listening or watching is going, OMG, I need to watch that because that's a great idea. Keith, you are ahead of your time, sir. I say that when I just look out to the landscape and see who else is doing it the way you're doing it, and there aren't many, maybe none. So Congratulations for innovating. It's awesome. Those that are tuned in that want to get in touch with you directly, how do they do it?

Keith: They can email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and they can call my office at 1877-550-5150; that's the way they got hold of me. Ron, I sent you the YouTube channel thing in the chat. I don't know if you can get it out there.

Ron: Yeah, I will grab it. You know what? Email that to me because my software doesn't let me grab anything from our internal chat here. So email that to me, and I'll have David drop it into the comment stream for the audience. So on that note, Keith, I want to thank you, sir, for coming on. Congrats again on 30 years. Congrats again on ProSource, East Coast Dealer of the Year. I feel, man, you're still just getting started. So appreciate you and appreciate you coming on show. What is this? This is show 207.

Keith: Yeah, 99 shows ago, I was on.

Ron: That's right! All right. Well, thank you, sir.

Keith: Thanks, Ron. Thanks, everybody else.

Ron: All right, folks, there you have it. Show 207 in the books: Keith Harrison, owner and founder of Total Home Technologies. You can't deny that his ideas around service are matter of fact, and our industry does suffer from a serious problem in terms of the perception of our industry. Maybe that perception is also the reality in that so many businesses and integrators are just so excited to get out of that job, get that final payment. Jokes aside, I've heard so many dealers say, I hope I don't have to hear from that customer again and think about that poor customer now that has all this technology. I'm just thinking about my little pool, right? So I just read out that window, I put a little pool in, and there's some integration. There's lots of little doodads in that pool, and I'm like, if that kind of feels like that, but I don't want to throw my contractor totally under the bus. It's like they're done with the job permits are going to be closed this Friday, and there's no established relationship that I'm going to have with that business moving forward. And there's no conversations in that regard. I can tell you, as a customer, that doesn't make me feel very good. Imagine if you inverse that and those were the conversations you had at presale during the sale and a post-sale because you're admitting that you want to have a lifelong relationship with that client. In fact, you have the service plans, the maintenance plans, leasing plans all in place that help you do that. Our industry works off of referrals. Well, imagine if you ensure the satisfaction of your customer because you service them for the life of their living in that home. Are you not going to get their referrals? Are you not going to get their upgrades? Sure you are. Sure you are. So I think Keith's onto something, folks, but that is time. We are just at an hour. I want to thank you all for tuning in. Next week, I know we're not coming to you. David's going to have to help me out here. I don't know if we're doing a show next week only because I'm on spring break, my son. We're leaving on Friday. I'm going to Virginia to see the parents, and I think maybe we're squeezing in a show end of next week. I know it will not be on Wednesday, but I'll see if David drops me a quick note here. I see him typing in Slack, so he's going to let me know what we are doing. Okay, it looks like the next show is March 24, so there will be a show on Thursday, March 24. So tune in there, folks, and again, I appreciate you all listening and watching, and I will see you all next time. Thanks so much.

SHOW NOTES:

In 1992, Keith started Total Home Technologies with the idea to "Question Everything." 30 years later, Total Home Technologies now has 3 Control4 certified showrooms (so far), two in New Jersey and one in New York. They are also one of the highest volume Control 4 dealers in the North East. Additionally, they have won countless awards, most recently ProSource dealer of the year for 2021.

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:

Keith 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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