Home Automation Unplugged Episode #208: An Industry Q&A with Chuck Breaux
In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, Chuck Breaux, Owner of Assurance AV Solutions, LLC shares his experiences and lessons learned working with House of Worship Pro AV systems
This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Chuck Breaux. Recorded live on Thursday, March 24th, 2022, at 2:30 pm. EST.
About Chuck Breaux
Chuck founded AAVS in 2015. With years of experience in retail management, AV productions, and working as the technical director for one of the largest churches in the area, it was a natural transition for him to start a professional integration company. For Chuck and his team, relationships are the top priority. As a result, AAVS has grown on average 20% in business each year. The team comprises techs with 30+ years of combined experience with installations and live shows and 2 Boston Terriers that can be found lounging around the office.
- His experiences and lessons learned working with House of Worship Pro AV systems
- How to confront the current labor shortages and the challenges being faced with supply chain
- Operational challenges with design and accounting software platform rollouts
Ron: Alright, folks, we are live. Let me verify with my team that we are live. So stand by. Today has been a challenging technology day; I'm not going to lie, folks. So give me a moment while I get my ducks in a row here and make sure that, in fact, we are truly alive. I'm going to jump over here to Facebook, and I'm going to await David's communique telling me that we are live. All right, I see us on the One Firefly page on Facebook, this is positive, and David's telling me we're live on LinkedIn as well. All right, this is where I celebrate. That's good news. It's challenging. Why am I challenged? I know I'm going to talk to Chuck a little bit about this when we're in our interview, but here at One Firefly, We're going through a migration of email and work environments. We're going from a Microsoft shop to a Google workplace shop, which means there's just a lot of challenges with getting email and calendars straight and accurate. For example, I had a meeting earlier today with Chuck on my Outlook calendar, but it wasn't on my Google calendar. At the same time, there was missed emails, and there's all sorts of challenges, but that's neither here nor there. I know many of you have gone through challenges with I.T. or software deployment or integrations, and I know Chuck was telling me he's going through some of that at his business. So we'll go through that. What else happened? Spring break just happened. I was actually traveling. I was visiting my family in Virginia. I was visiting my sister Amy and her family and my mom and dad, and my brother Matt and his family. It was actually a very nice time. A little bit chillier in Florida. Sorry, little bit chillier in Virginia than in South Florida. But sometimes change is good, but we are happy to be home, that is for sure. We are here for Automation Unplugged. My notes here, I'm noticing, do not have my show number. So I'm going to ask David, what show is this, David? Give me a Slack and let me know. I know we're in the 200s, and I know that we were away last week for spring break, but we are here on show 208 Automation Unplugged. Today's guest is Chuck. I'm looking Chuck at your last name, and I'm always supposed to ask you the exact pronunciation, so I don't mess anything up on air. What are we going to do? There he is, he's in my ear; he just told me Chuck Breaux, owner of Assurance A.V. Solutions. Chuck founded his business back in 2015, and we, One Firefly, it was actually Jessica, and I met Chuck at the recent NSCA conference. We were at the Business Leaders Conference; they call that the BLC. And it was just an awesome event, and got to meet Chuck and his wife, and as soon as we met him, we said, we need to have you on the show so you can tell us some of these stories and about some of your experiences here and share that with our audience. So without further Ado, let's bring in Chuck and let's get the show started. Chuck, how are you, sir?
Chuck: I'm great, man. Thanks for having me on.
Ron: Oh, my pleasure. Show 208, Chuck, it's a big deal.
Chuck: Absolutely, congratulations, man! That's quite a feat.
Ron: Well, thank you. As my audience that has stuck with me knows, there are ups and downs and challenges with doing something consistently. But the key is to have the determination to do it consistently, and then you simply find a way.
Chuck: That's a show right there. Consistency, discipline, systems and processes, that's huge.
Ron: We're going to pull on that string for sure.
Ron: Chuck, just for our audience, tell us where you're coming to us from and maybe a little bit about your business.
Chuck: So Assurance A.V. Solutions turned six years old this past December. We're based out of the Mandeville area in Louisiana, which is probably about 30, 35 miles away from New Orleans. So we're in the New Orleans Metro area. We're on the north shore on the north side of Lake Pontchartrain and we've been pretty much in this area since we started six years ago.
Ron: I think that I know there was just a tornado.
Ron: I think I read that on social media, maybe. Tell us, are you guys okay? Was that near you or what happened?
Chuck: We're fine. It almost feels weird talking about that because we have friends and clients that are probably within a 30 minutes drive that they either were impacted some way or they have family that was impacted. Last I heard, they haven't confirmed exactly what it was, but it was a minimal F three, and it went across the Mississippi River and it gained strength and intensity. Then it went into this area called Araby, which is in St. Bernard Parish. That area also got hit really hard by Katrina. So my heart goes out to them. We are resilient, but it's like we never expected a tornado. Hurricanes you can plan for, but this was just crazy and we were getting all kinds of intel that the weather is going to be really bad on Tuesday. So the school district shut down schools that day. We made a decision to close the office that day, I sent everybody home early, and we're just waiting for it. I live in Covington, which is the next city next to Mandeville. We got a little bit of rain and some lightning and thunder and I'm like, "Where's this storm?" Then I open up my phone and I get on Facebook and there's people live like 7:30 in the evening, and there's this tornado just blowing through. Then the pictures that come through afterwards. Then when daylight breaks, it is just unfathomable what that thing has done. So my hearts and prayers go out to them. But, yeah, it's a rare occurrence here, but it's just crazy that it happened.
Ron: If you haven't experienced or witnessed the aftermath of a tornado, it's hard to comprehend. Words don't do it justice. It's utterly devastating. A few years ago, I was in Dallas with my team. We were doing a video shoot, and the week prior, a tornado had just passed through the neighborhood where we had rented a home to do a video shoot. The home that we rented was okay. Two blocks away, homes and trees were demolished, like roofs ripped off, and these were luxury homes. These were big, million dollar homes. So fortunately, everyone there probably had insurance, so they're probably going to be okay. I know it's devastating and hard, but it is mind blowing the force. I mean, I'm talking massive, like eight foot diameter trees that were just shredded.
Chuck: Yeah. Cars flipped over. There are houses that are completely gone. Nobody knows where they are. There's just splinters and shrapnel everywhere. There's a lot of drone footage going on and it's just like this is surreal. This looks like something out of a movie. This really didn't happen two days ago and it's very real.
Ron: Well, our hearts and prayers do go out to all of those affected. In fact, I'll just throw out there, Chuck, not to put it on the spot, but if anything comes to mind in terms of charities or where to give or to donate to people affected, if you supply that to us, we'll drop that down into the show notes and into the comment section here on social media. So if there's anything our listeners can do to help.
Chuck: Yeah, Ron, I'll say this. The majority of our clients are churches, we do a lot of houses of worship, and they're like first responders when it comes to disasters like this. So I can do some homework and get you some info on that. I'll be glad to pass that along.
Ron: Yeah. We'll be sure to listen or to share that. Let's pull a little bit more in the direction of what are the types of jobs, you just said you do a lot of houses of worship. What's the portfolio of the type of work that you guys do?
Chuck: I would say 70% houses of worship, 10-15% percent educational spaces, and the other 10-15% would be commercial spaces like conference rooms, offices, huddle spaces where people need to connect, especially since Covid. That part of the business has really ramped up lately. We're doing a lot of high end conference rooms for hospitals. A lot of people that would normally be able to meet in person, either with their team or if they have to do continuing education. I'll give you an example, one of our clients, they do like safety guidelines for oil rigs and stuff. Typically, your safety personnel from an oil company would come in and take that class to get certified or renew their certification. Well, Covid made that impossible. So they had to figure out a way to go virtual. We helped them design a system. We did it in one space. Now, they're getting ready to roll that out in multiple locations because that has become the new norm. We're now in this hybrid, whatever is the new norm. We're in this hybrid thing of can we do this in person? Can we do it hybrid? You and I were talking a couple of weeks ago, just from a business owner standpoint, what does that mean for office space right now? You got fuel cost, that is, we can't really put a thumb on that, on where that is.
So as the leaders of our businesses, we have to take all this thing and obviously you want to keep your overhead low. So if Joe can work from home, and if he's happier working from home, that's a win win. Do I really need all this room? Our clients are doing the same types of evaluations and trying to figure out where do we get a big ROI if we invest in the system? How does this help maintain our connections with our current clients but also expand? So that part is really growing pretty steadily, and it's exciting because as that need grows, so does the technology. I mean, it's easy to put a camera on your computer and talk to someone, but now you've got a room. Maybe you need to connect multiple rooms and put all that together and make it work where it's easy for the end-user to be able to do that. That's the key. We don't need anybody over there with the degree on how to push all these buttons. It's just somebody wants to come in there, push a button, and it's not magic, but it's almost like it is. It needs to work, and it needs to work consistently. So that's been pretty challenging, but also exciting because we're constantly getting introduced to new things, new solutions, and we're bringing that to the forefront and putting them in place.
Ron: How did you get started in all this? What's your background?
Chuck: Okay, man, I think first and foremost, I love music. Huge music guy, I grew up in a household that was loud, which I think is great. I can remember being four or five years old and looking at my dad's stereo and just seeing those meters dance. My mom was a huge fan of the Beatles, my dad, he loves all these in classic rock. He got into the home improvement business. We joke around, you do all these trades, but you're not really a master at it, but he was really a master painter. So I didn't want to go to Toys R U.S. when I was a kid. I wanted to go with my dad to Home Depot and play with tools. My dad played drums probably when he was a teenager. I don't know what he saw or what happened, but I was probably five years old and for Christmas, I got a Muppet baby drum set. I think it lasted two days right before it completely...
Ron: Shredded it?
Chuck: Yeah, just shredded it to pieces, completely destroyed it. That was kind of my DNA. We got Hot Wheel cars. I don't know if you remember, they had the parking garage and it had like the spiral thing that you could drive the cars on and all that. Well, that's me and my best friend, we collected Hot Wheels, and then we discovered a sledgehammer in the garage, and we thought it would be really cool after Christmas to just play demolition Derby, and we just destroyed all the toys that we got for Christmas. I think we're still grounded.
Ron: Your parents may have rethought what to gift you next when they saw the sledgehammer come out.
Chuck: "We'll just put tools in his hands." But from there, I got real drums. Been playing, when I was younger, up until, like, early College, I played a lot in bands. While that's going on naturally, if I need to get a car as a teenager, I don't need like a Volkswagen Beetle. I need something I can hold my drums in. I grew up listening to music and big stereo systems and stuff. So we always had good sound at home, and that just kind of like, I don't know, embedded into my DNA. So I'm probably 13, 14 years old, my dad's got left over wood from projects, I'm building speaker boxes for my bedroom. I'm experimenting with this and I'm experimenting with that. Then comes car audio, started doing car audio out of my mom's garage probably when I was 14 or 15. Almost set the first car that we ever did on fire. You learn on things. We weren't using the right cable, and we were just a bunch of stupid kids with enough trouble, enough knowledge to be dangerous.
Ron: You learned about the magic smoke?
Chuck: Yeah, absolutely. You don't put this in where the door closes against the car because eventually that's going to short out. But I got known for being able to do that, and friends in high school would come over and I'd put in a radio or I build a Speaker box. Then going back to the first car, I got a hatchback Toyota. I could fit my drums in there. I already did a little bit of car audio. Now we're starting to get some gigs where we're going to start playing at friends parties. So I'm either doing, like, D.J. stuff or we're playing in the band. I was one of the oldest ones at the time, and I had a license. Well, I got to figure out how to get gear into the car. I also got to figure out how to hook it up, and it just made sense. In the car audio world, you have a stereo or receiver. You can have amps, crossovers and speakers. There's a lot of similarities in pro audio, you don't have a CD that you're playing, you have a microphone for the source and whatnot. So it became like a natural shift to get into pro audio, and I really just fell in love with it. So high school, I'm making money. I was just hustling man, with my dad, with his painting thing. As I said, his forte was painting. He had a sandblasting machine, and I would sandblast BMX bikes, repaint them. We had a makeshift paint booth. I did that. I cut grass, I detailed cars.
Ron: So you were an entrepreneur from the beginning?
Chuck: Always just anyway to make a buck. I was working with my dad during the summer, helping him out with his work. But I would get bored. I'm very much ADD or maybe even ADHD. I'm not on medication, that's probably for another discussion. I'm a very kinetic learner, I learn with my hands. I constantly feel like I have to be doing something.
Chuck: You put all that into play with drums, and then I started playing guitar, being in bands, doing anything to legitimately make money. I ended up working at a music store in 2000. Like, January 2 is probably like my first day. I remember the whole Y two K craze going on.
Ron: Everyone thought the world was going to end from the computers.
Chuck: Absolutely! Yeah, so I started working at a music store, which was great. I started building relationships with customers, and then they know that I run sound, so they would hire me to come work on their rig or I would start designing sound systems for them, and I'd sell it to them. I'd go out there and train them on how to use it, and through building relationships with people that were coming in and out of the store, I met this one individual that we became really good friends. At that time, while I was working at the store, I was playing drums still, and I'm in this band, and we thought we were going to be like rock stars, and we're going to get a record deal. Literally, where my office is right now, there's this recording studio, well it was there. It's literally like two blocks away. There's a very famous now record producer that started cutting his teeth out of that studio, and he had connections, and we just thought, we're going to go to him and we're going to knock out this album, and he's going to love it and he's going to give it to his friends. Well, none of that happened. We just wanted it to happen. But we really thought we were going somewhere, and we lost our practice space. So I'm looking at my options, and I'm like, well, can't practice at my house. That just doesn't work for anybody. Nobody else has room. We got space at the music store! What could go wrong? So I made a really bad decision and started having band practice after work at work, they found out they weren't happy about it, and now Chuck's unemployed.
However, Chuck also made a friend while I was working at the store, and he found himself unemployed at the same time. He plays guitar. Back in the day, he had a recording studio with some of his buddies. He hits me up, and he says, "Man, this isn't for me, but there's a Church really close by that could use a sound guy." And I'm like, there's no way. Like, if I go walk into a Church, I go touch the door, lightning is going to strike. There's this huge disconnect. I went to Catholic schools my whole life for elementary school and high school, but we weren't attending on a regular basis. I felt awkward and uncomfortable about the whole thing, and I kind of just dismissed it. About two weeks later, after he first put that idea out, like, "Hey, you should go after this." I get a phone call from the worship leader at the Church. It turns out that he was one of my customers at the music store. I never knew that two and two were together, right? So he starts like, "Hey, man, we're really interested in having you come in. Would you at least just come on over and just take a look at what we got?" And I'm like, "Yeah, I guess." He's like, "Look, we get it. We know you don't go to church here, and we're not even going to have that discussion right now." He's like, "We really are desperate. We need somebody in here, like, two years ago. Would you come check this out?" So I go over there, and I'm blown away, the amount of gear that they have in this place. This facility is just awesome. It's not just one room, it's multiple rooms. They're all independent systems. There's stuff that I could dream on. Like, I felt like I was at the house of Blues walking in there. I was like, "Well, where do we go from here?" He's like, "I just need a resume." I'm like, "Okay." I'm the guy that's putting sound systems in bars in the French quarter, right? What am I supposed to put on here? I worked at a music store and got fired. No, that's not going to look good. And he's like, "Look, just put your experience. No one's going to look at this except for me." So I did it, I didn't do it immediately. I probably procrastinated about two or three weeks, and he's calling me. I'm like, "Oh, yeah." I'm coming up with reasons, but really, I'm like, there's no way this is going to work out. Thank God he was persistent.
About three weeks in, I finally just sat at the computer and just hammered something out and sent it to him. And I'm like, all right, that's done. Nothing's going to happen, I'm going to keep looking for something else. Then I get a phone call, like a week later, like, "Hey, one of our associate pastors would like to meet you in person. You game for that?" I'm like, "Yeah, I guess." He's like, "Well, he'll even come to you. I know you live like 30 minutes away if you want to go grab something to eat." I'm like, "Okay." So we ended up doing lunch, and basically it's a job offer. It's not even like, "Are you okay with this? Are you comfortable?" I'm like, "I have no idea, man." He's like, "We really need somebody. Can you start tomorrow?" It was Tuesday. They have rehearsal on Wednesday nights. I didn't have a job, but I didn't want to come. I'm like, "Yeah, I'll be there tomorrow." I had no idea what I was walking into. He says, "Look, we don't want you to stop doing your sound business," because I'm still doing gigs on the weekend. He's like, "Who knows where this is going to go? If you're uncomfortable, let's give this three months, and if you're uncomfortable being here, we're going to respect that. We'll just shake hands like gentlemen and you can move on your way." And he said, "If we aren't comfortable, we're going to ask for the same thing." And I'm like, "Absolutely." So I left with that and asked, "What time do I need to be there tomorrow?" He's like, "5:30."
So I get there and rehearsal and start meeting people. My first couple of weeks were pretty rough. They were holding three services on the weekends. The room would sit about 1800 to 2000 people for service. A lot of the feedback, no pun intended, that we got was like, "It's really loud." Well, I'm used to doing rock shows, right? I'm not used to doing Church services. It sounds pretty good, but it's really loud. So I had to figure out this whole thing on, how do I want that sound that I want where it's big and full and powerful, but how do I tone it down? It took a while to Hone that in. Then you learn every sound system, every room has nuances. You can figure out by being in that room just for a few minutes what works and what's not by walking it around. Everyone in that room is literally your boss. Some of them have opinions and some of them are not holding back and sharing it. I understood that when Miss Mary sat here. She's very sensitive to this, and it gave me opportunities, and it made me a better communicator because it's like, Okay, why do you sit in this seat?" Help me understand that. She would tell me, "Well, when I walk," and I'm like, "Well, if you move two rows down, you're not going to hear what you're hearing here." I can prove that to you. She did that and she's like, "Oh, it's so much better." Look, there's nuances in this room that I'm aware of, but everybody's used to sitting in certain places and so if you can help me, if you know other people that are complaining or whatever, just come have a conversation with me. It started opening the doors. My three months there went really quick, and it turned into a part-time gig to a full-time gig, and I was there for eight and a half years.
Ron: Oh, wow.
Ron: Did you keep your other business going at the same time?
Chuck: Not really as much. I sold the P.A. system, I got rid of the trailer. I was like, if this is going to be where I need to put my attention on, and I have all the tools, if you will, at my disposal, this is what I'm going to do. But there's a couple of clients and bands that were just really fun to work with, and I'd go work with them on places that already had a sound system. I just walk in and mix. I would say I would like to keep my chops up, because in Church, even though we had some incredible musicians, you're not going to have the same type of chemistry that you have with those bands. If you can imagine that the way that most churches work is almost everybody in the band is volunteer, right? There's probably one or two people that are paid, somebody's on staff. Sometimes even the whole media team is volunteer, and the only time they get together is rehearsal and during Church. There's so much that happens in the band that has nothing to do with being on stage. There's personality and there's just understanding how to communicate better with each other and learning things. If you go watch a band that's been playing for 20 years and the lead singer turns around and he does this, the whole band knows what that means, right? They just come to know each other. But when you have a band that plays once a month because the band is rotated, we had a really good problem. We had so many people that wanted to play and that could play. We had, like, a red team, a blue team, and a green team, I think it was. That was just a different band and so they played once every three weeks. There's not a whole lot of chemistry going on there, and they're pretty much playing the same songs. .
Ron: Does that put more weight on you as the and I don't know, what's the term of the role you filled at the Church?
Chuck: Well, if you talk about analog gear, when I first started there, it was mainly analog. We have, like this 80 channel Yamaha board that, I couldn't touch either end of it. We badly needed to go to digital, but it was extremely expensive. It was just starting to become available for smaller size venues. It's still fairly new, but it was going to be a significant investment to go to a digital board. But we were the largest Church in the area, so we did what we did because we were a Church, but we would also rent the place out. So the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra would play there on a regular basis. You have weddings, unfortunately, if there was a very popular person that passed away, like a Mayor, statesman, a state trooper that was killed in action, the majority of the time, it's happening here, right? Well, depending on what they're bringing in, the board that I had was pretty maxed out to accommodate three different bands, so I didn't have to keep changing things. Then we had services that were full band, and then we had services that were Orchestra and choir. So I literally split the board in half. But you have VBS, which is Vacation Bible school, and then you have a youth band. Like, you have to unplug everything, you have to repatch stuff. Everything changes on game structure, and you can take notes, but it's never going to go back to where it was previously. Then comes the digital board, right? Where you can just save it. You do it once, you save it.
So once we switched over to digital, that made it so much easier for me and for my volunteers. Hey, Green team is playing this week, just recall the last time they played. Going back to consistency, that is a big thing that I pass along to churches now that we coach, we just don't install stuff and leave and be like, "See you later." I really don't even want to sell you anything. There's a lot of times that the gear that you have will work if you know how to work the gear, and you just got to find out where they are, how much they know, how comfortable they are, and then start there. Sometimes replacing gear is inevitable, you have to do that. But to be able to just come back and just hit a button and hit recall and it goes in, that's awesome. But there's a double edged sword to that, which I learned at a conference. This is probably ten years ago, which is. Let's say you play guitar and let's say it's your anniversary coming up next week, and your wife just hits it out the park and buys you your dream guitar that you've been wanting forever. It's completely different than the guitar you've been playing at Church for the last three months, two years. We already had rehearsal on Wednesday night, you have anniversary dinner on Friday. She gives you this gift; you're like, "Oh, yeah, I can't wait to plug this in on Sunday." I'm going to break your heart. I'm like, "Nope." "What do you mean? I have to play this guitar today, man." I'm like, "Okay, you plug in your guitar. We haven't checked it yet. You haven't changed anything on your amp. Everybody's wearing ears. What does that sound like to them? They're used to you sounding like you. Now you just changed it. So if you want to bring in different size drumsticks, you want to use a different vocal mic, whatever. It has to be here for rehearsal so we can dial it in, and everybody knows what to expect."
The other point of that, you're asking me if I still did jobs on the side. There's this awesome band that you guys should look up, look them up on YouTube or, like, iTunes or something. Papa Grows Funk, if you like funky music, this band is like supergroup, super funky, killer, killer group of guys. I just loved working for them. I'm going to do a show with them, and they just got back from doing a tour. I think it was like in Germany. They were definitely out of the country. They're telling me this awesome story about they show up to this venue and no one speaks English. The person that's supposed to meet them there couldn't meet them. So they're talking to that person on the phone trying to figure out where they got to go, who they need to find, get this guy's name. They're trying to communicate with the sound guy, like, "Hey, I need more of this in my monitor." The guy's like, "Huh?" And they're like, "Huh?" So they decided when they came home, we need a soundcheck song. I'm like, "What are you talking about?" The leader in the band, his name is John Growy, plays a B three organ and he sings and he's like, "We're going to do it tonight, man." He said, "This is how it's going to go down. I'm going to start with the drummer playing his drums, and we're going to go through every drum that he has. Then he's going to play the drums by itself. Then the guitar player is going to play their guitar. Everybody on stage is either going to play an instrument, check their mic. While they're doing that, we're checking our ears, and then we're going to play a song that we can play in our sleep. We're just going to play it for us. Then everybody's got to dial into that." I'm like, "You know, that's brilliant!" Because in the Church world, especially when the band is trying to learn a new song, maybe the pastor wants them to learn a song for Easter, again, they don't get together that often. We're not going to worry about these other three songs because we play them a thousand times. We need to focus on this one. Well, that's where things can get hairy, because you have people that are singing or playing not with the same amount of confidence as they would play a song that they really know. So they're not playing as loud, they're not singing as loud or whatever. They're trying to communicate with me or the sound guy. Like, I need more of this, and I need more of that. Okay, well, that works for that particular situation in rehearsal. Now it's Sunday, adrenaline is pumping. We're going to start playing the same songs we've been playing forever. Everything is out of whack. Right? What did we use as a measuring stick? The wrong song. We use something that we don't even know that well. So let's go back and make a sound check song. I'm like, that is just absolutely genius. So I stole it from him. It's a simple thing, but, you know, it's amazing how when we share that with just bands in general or just churches, how much easier that makes everything on stage in the booth, the guy's not dying back there turning a bunch of knobs and stuff, and it goes back to consistency.
Ron: How did you transition? I think that's brilliant. I don't see how anyone listening isn't sitting here taking notes. By the way, I never realized audio at a Church could be so stressful. I'm feeling nervous and a little bit of anxiety from all the change in the environment. Not environments, but situations that you on the fly have to be able to roll with and address.
Chuck: I got 16 kids in the Christmas play, and they all got to be mic'd individually, and this one's fidgeting with this and this one's talking when they're not supposed to be talking. We have to work with scripts, we have to work with rehearsals. I had to create cues just like they do in show business. You only need the microphones on for the person that's going to speak, so we have to figure that out. Was it perfect? No, we're dealing with little kids, but it's better than having every microphone on and somebody's coughing or somebody's giggling and all that comes through. It can be stressful just like anything else. If you don't have a plan and then if expectations are not clearly defined with your team and with the parents of these kids and, like, "Look, if Joey breaks the microphone. It's $30 on Amazon. I'm not giving him the $400 mic." "So we're not worried about it. I don't want you to stress over it. If he misses this part, it's going to be okay." It's kids and they're doing something, and everybody's going to love it. Maybe that was one of my takeaways from being there is that I'm not really a serious guy. I'm passionate about what I do, but I'm not so passionate where things have to be flawless. In my opinion, when you try to make that into production, it's no longer organic. I don't want to go see a concert because the band plays perfectly. I'm also not going to celebrate if they make a mistake. But then again, I'm a huge Rush fan. If I go see Rush play live and you know that I play drums and Neil Pert messes up, it's like, "Wow, he's human," right? But I'm not going to throw that in his face and get on social media or anything like that. But I think that all needs to be established with all of our clients. We're going to put this awesome new automated system in your conference room. You got to push a button, microphones are hidden on the ceiling, this T.V. is going to turn on, these cameras are going to follow you. But you know what? There may be a day where it doesn't work. We had a storm come through and knock something out or firmware needs to be updated. It is technology, it's not perfect, but we're going to do everything we can. Then I feel like we do more on the communication side, on setting expectations and making sure that we meet or exceed them so they know exactly what they're getting and what they expect when it's over with.
Ron: How did you end up transitioning out of the Church? When did Assurance A.V. Solutions get born?
Chuck: So I worked there for eight and a half years, and as I said, it was a part-time gig when I started, and then it started into full-time, and I'm going to keep things P.G. I got burned out. The campus is fairly large, there are three main rooms, if you will. I was the only person on staff in charge of A.V. I had a lot of volunteers to manage, and they were great. I went full-time, I got retirement, I got medical insurance, I got vacation, and we'll park it there for a minute. I couldn't leave, like, running sound or being in charge of A.V. and making sure that this video is edited for this part of the service on Sunday. A lot of that fell on my lap or just managing that. We had people that we would source out some video work to. But it was my responsibility that everything was in, it was tested, it was ready to go for Sunday. I don't want to downplay it too much. But this is completely different than putting some kids in a buggy and strapping them down and rolling them around the Church campus or just being in the room and sharing like a Bible story. There's a lot more to it than that. You can't just put anybody in that position. So I had volunteers that were available to fill in on weekend services. But they barely knew, as long as nothing changed, they would be okay. But the idea of me being able to leave for, like, a week or two and go on vacation, I couldn't. That's something that came up towards the end a lot. I started missing out on family, graduations, weddings, even Christmas stuff where I couldn't leave for Christmas Eve, and we just didn't see eye to eye at the time with what the solution would be. I ended up leaving, and I decided to go work for a company that specialized in high-end home automation because I thought that would be cool, that would be fun. Didn't really enjoy it. That was kind of short lived. Then I'm like, "I'm going to go work for this big A.V. firm, and it's going to be awesome!" We're going to do big sound systems and all this other stuff. and I went to go work there, and I find myself like, we're installing interactive displays in second grade classrooms, and we're putting webcams and, an oil field's companies conference room. I was just bored. I did not agree with management on how things should go. I don't know. I have a friend of mine that says we're unemployable, and maybe there's some truth to that.
Ron: Heard that before.
Chuck: So I'm working for this big A.V. firm that's in New Orleans. I'm living in Slidell, my friend that I told you that I met at the music store that introduced me to the Church, he had a business that had nothing to do with A.V., but it was on my way home, and I would come in, and I would just vent, and I'm like, "Today sucked!" He's like, "Why don't we just start an A.V. company together?" I'm like, "Okay" What does that mean? I have no idea. I've never run a business before. He obviously has, it's successful. I'm going to lean on him. I don't even know how we're going to get this thing kicked off. He took care of everything, man. He did all the legal stuff. He got it started, and boom. One of the things I should mention, we were the largest Church when I was working at that Church, and now it's one of the largest churches in the area. Other churches of that denomination would call and say, "Hey, so and so is donating $10,000 to the music fund. I think I need new microphones. Can you help us out with that?" I go look and say "Well, your microphones are fine. You'd be better off getting better new choir monitors or whatever." I started doing gigs on the side whereon my days off from Church, I'm installing small stuff in churches. The calls kept coming in, and I kept that going. So when I started the A.V. company with my friend, people already knew who I was in the area, and I already had established those relationships with those churches. I just started leaning on them like, "Hey, I'm doing this full time. This is my only gig if you need some help." It's crazy, we started that company, I want to say probably in August of 2012. I want to make sure I get the timelines right. When I worked at the music store, there was a repair technician that worked there that he no longer worked there, but he got a job as a project manager from this company that hired him out of state to manage installing the sound system at LSU Tiger Stadium. So he gave me a call, and he's like, "Hey, they're looking for a local labor force. Are you interested?" I'm like, "Are you kidding me?" I'm going from installing two speakers in a Church to the sound system at LSU Tiger Stadium. This is insane. I was like, "I really want to. I'm intrigued." So I go out there, I go meet with people, and then afterwards, the guys from out of state, they leave. I'm talking to my friend, I say, "Dude, I don't even know where to begin. We can do this. It's going to be good. I know you can make this happen. You know people and blah, blah." I'm like, "I don't know," and then my business partner is like, "We're definitely doing this, once in a lifetime opportunity. We're definitely doing it." We did it. So I want to make sure that I'm clear here. We didn't do the whole thing. We didn't design anything. We didn't sell them the gear. We were part of the labor force that put the system in. There was probably one or two other teams that we worked with and together as a whole, we made that happen in a short amount of time because we didn't have a lot of time to put it in.
Ron: Whenever you watch a game or go to the Stadium, do you think about your work?
Chuck: Oh, yeah, absolutely. The first game that system was up and running, that Monday, they got over 300 complaints for how loud it was. I was like, "Sweet!" It could probably outdo the crowd noise, but when there was a huge play or a touchdown, obviously there's the roar of the crowd. The area is used to that, but they weren't used to having the type of horsepower that they had. We were just dialing it in and off of being on the install team and putting that together. My friend, that was the project manager. He had left the company to go for another opportunity, and they end up tapping me on the shoulder and say, "Hey, would you be interested? Because we have to provide so many years, seasons of on-site technical support for the audio system." I'm like, "Let me get this straight. You want to pay me to go to LSU games to make sure that the P.A. is running okay?" They're like, "yeah." I'm like, "I'm in." So I did that for four seasons, had an absolute blast, met some great people, wish I had a helicopter. The traffic was the only negative thing. But those are things that will live with you for the rest of your life. I still have relationships with some of those guys on that team, and it's really cool.
Ron: So when did Assurance A.V. get born?
Chuck: All right, so I started an A.V. company with my friend. We did LSU, and then we did another monster megachurch job right down the road. Then we were gaining momentum. We'll just say, as the company grew, like, the A.V. company was my baby. His company was his baby. As the company was growing, I wanted to do things differently. We just started having, I'm keeping it really simple here, but it's that typical song that people know when you have a business partner, you don't see eye to eye. I ended up resigning from the company in 2015. I had such a bad taste in my mouth from being in a leadership position of a business, I wanted nothing to do with it. So I went to go work for another A.V. firm. Like, I'm just going to be the sales guy. I just want to sell stuff, get paid, and go home. I went to go do that, and the way they do things was completely different on how we did things at my previous A.V. company, it didn't work. That whole, you know, whether I am unemployable, I don't know. But it was a mutual thing. I worked there for, like, four months, and we were getting close to Christmas. My kids were younger, I have three boys, they were younger then. I just reached out to him. I said, "Look, man, I don't see this really working out." He was hoping to get a big project in Louisiana, like, in my backyard, and he would take that project and that money to pay for my position. That project didn't come through. So I was eating out of his bottom line, and the sales weren't happening. I'm like, "I don't know what I'm going to do, but I think I'm just going to go back and start my own A.V. company because this isn't working." He gave me his blessing, and I was like, "Look, if you can just keep me on until after Christmas, because I need to make that happen for my kids. Then let's just say the last week of December 31 or whatever, I'm out." He was like, man, "That's a huge burden off my shoulders, because I was just talking to my team, and we were getting ready to tell you that we were going to have to let you go." So we shook hands. I stayed there till December. I had nothing in the pipeline. I'm online, I'm starting the whole legal Zoom thing. About two weeks later, this is the middle of January, I get a phone call from a Church that I've been talking to, like, two years ago that wanted to do this massive video project. They wanted these huge 16 foot wide screens. They wanted them all linked together. The pastor went to a conference, and it was like the lion of Judah or something. The lion just ran across all three screens, and you can make three screens do independent stuff. You can merge them together. You can do all the stuff and he's like, "I want that.".
Ron: That blew his mind, huh?
Chuck: It blew his mind. I was talking to them probably about a year or so before and just gave them some preliminary ideas and numbers of what that would take. So I get the phone call from the tech director, and he's like, "We're ready." I'm like, "Oh, cool. How ready?" He's like, "We're ready to start as soon as you are. It's like, Are you good? You got a team together? Like, I heard you started your own." I'm like, "Dude, I'm great. Yeah, we can definitely handle that." I had nothing. How am I going to pull this off? I got awesome friends and just reached out and put a team together and just sharpen the pencil and started figuring things out, that job, snowballed Assurance, and it put cash in the bank. That was like my little line of credit that snowballed and let me bankroll the next job, et me bank roll the next job, and then it's just been going on and on and on ever since.
Ron: You work with your wife, Jolie.
Ron: Tell me about her role in the business and how you guys work together.
Chuck: So she recently joined Assurance, probably about four or five months ago. She's our operations manager. She has an extensive background in admin, and she worked for a management services company. So she's very familiar with systems and processes and looking at efficiencies, and one of her main jobs when she was at that company is that she was a dispatcher. We're going to need one of those one day, we got some trucks, I've got technicians. Somebody has to delegate who's going to go where, when and navigate the schedule and where she was, it was just taking a whole bunch of her time. Things were going really well here, and it's not the best reference, but going back to when I was working at the Church, I missed out on a lot of opportunities. I wanted us to be in a position to where I want to get to the point, Ron, where if I want to leave for two weeks, the company is going to be okay. If I want to leave for a month, the company's going to be okay, and that my wife wasn't in some type of critical position where she couldn't go. I just want to go and pack a bag and like, "Hey, I got a plane ticket. We're leaving." I want to be able to do that, so we had some discussions about what does that look like if she was to leave the company she was at, come here part-time, and we made a decision, and there's no regrets whatsoever. She's been huge, absolutely huge.
We haven't even touched on this, but the whole implementation of software, right. So when I started Assurance A.V. Solutions, it was out of my two car garage at my last house. That was my office. That's where the guys would come and we would build racks in the garage, and we'd bring it out. Then you go from there and you start renting storage places, and then you get a small office and it grows and grows and grows. Now we are where we are today, which we have a sweet little spot that we're outgrowing. But I'm trying to figure that out where we are. Going back to bringing my wife in, I decided, I went to NSCA in 2020, and that conference happened right before the lockdown. I have a great friend of mine that owns an A.V. company. I'm talking to him about I need help on keeping everything organized. I really like to believe that I'm OCD with file keeping and documentation and paperwork, and I've got Excel spreadsheets over here. I've got like a Dropbox thing where I have client files over here. We got drawings over there. I'm doing proposals out of this. I want something that can put it all together. So he starts telling me about this program called D'tools and how they use it. So he allowed me to talk to some of his team members and get an idea. They had been using it for years. So D'tools just happens to be at the conference, so I start talking to them. Shortly after the conference, we're on Covid lockdown. I'm at home working, and the guy from D'tools reaches out to me and he wants to do like a virtual demo. I'm like, "sure." We did that, and I was sold. It's a powerful tool, but if you don't know how to use it, that's one thing, but you have to build it for your business. It's not just click this button and everything's going to be magic. So it takes time and you have to learn it. So we've been working on it since 2020. They kept telling me that, "Hey, this will work great with QuickBooks. Oh, yeah, it's seamless push this button and they're going to talk to each other, and all this information is going to transfer." So I have a business coach, and I'm going to go a little off here, but there's an awesome analogy that I heard. If you ever come to my office, when you walk into the front door, there's this huge, I might have to send you a picture thing of this airplane. It was actually at NSCA. There was a guy that was talking about how he always wanted to be a pilot, it didn't happen for him. But he's like, "I meet entrepreneurs all the time that are like airline pilots." And I'm like, "Where is he going with this?" He says, "Got this big, beautiful dashboard in front of them. They got all these gauges, and here they are. I'm the business owner. I'm going to come up with intercom like, hey, I don't know how high we are. I don't know how much fuel we have in the tank. I don't even know where we're going. But everything is great. You all sit back and just enjoy the ride." There's a lot of truth to that. If you don't know numbers, you don't know your business. So I've really gotten to, everything now is on an Excel spreadsheet. If I need to make a decision, I'm pulling out a spreadsheet and I'm creating an Excel spreadsheet. So we really have been digging into metrics of the business. How well are we doing when we sell this job? How well are we doing when we quote labor? Because we have to stay competitive.
As the company grows, overhead grows, everything's going to grow. Now more than ever, with product availability and staying on top of that, just where is my margin really? I think my margin is going to end up at this when the project is done. But where did it really actuals versus estimates? So I started getting into D'tools ears with my trainer at D'tools. And I'm like, where am I going to get that info? Because you guys keep telling me that. Oh, yeah, it does that. I'm like, where is it? Where's that magic button? Well, you don't really get that with QuickBooks Online. You're going to get some of it, but you're going to get more of it if you go to QuickBooks Desktop. Okay, so we start researching QuickBooks Desktop. Well, we need the contractor version that can do inventory, and it's a monthly subscription, and it's based on how many users you need. And, oh, by the way, you can't just put it on your computer if you're going to have multiple people in there, you need a server. Well, it's Covid season, not everybody's working in the office. I have an outside accountant, I have a CPA, then I had an in-house bookkeeper and she was very aware of Covid. She was a nurse, right. She retired and she loves doing books. So she would come in, wipe the handles down and how you all doing. And she's like pumping the hand sanitizer. Very aware. And if she didn't have to be in the office around a bunch of other people, she'd rather work from home where she can control things. So then we got to get a cloud based server because an in-house server that just didn't seem to meet our needs at the time. So that was last summer. I'm using the tools for generating proposals and drawings and stuff. I'm using QuickBooks online, but there's a lot of work that ends up becoming redundant and that's not good. We're making this investment to increase efficiencies and the streamline stuff and automate things as much as possible. All I need to do is connected to this thing. So I ended up hiring two independent contractors to take on this task of putting both systems together and making sure they can launch because fiscal year, like our books close on December 31. We have to be ready to go with this new program on January 1, no matter what. We did. It's kind of like I had this great team. I love cars. I love using cars as an analogy. We were building this race car and we're getting it ready for the big day on the track. We bring it out there on January 1 and it starts and it's misfiring a little bit and this tire is losing air and like, send it, we got to go, right? We're here. We've been waiting for this day and it's doing this on the walls, right. And it's really been doing that. It gets better and better. But I would say really, until March 1, it was just chaos, a lot of headaches, a lot of frustration. I wish I had a smash room, like office space. It was unbelievable. The things that used to take two minutes to do took ten, and then we would lose the connection on the server and this person forgot their password. So as a safety measure, it locks everybody out. Then you have to reach tech support to put this in place. I'm just going to go back to the way things work.
Ron: Please, tell me there's a light at the end of the tunnel. Tell our audience here, where are you at now?
Chuck: Well, in talking to others, I have friends that have A.V. companies all over the country, and they're all like, yeah, you're going through the pain, but it's well worth it. I almost feel like where my company was or is maybe it's like we're at 8th grade, junior high, and we're trying to implement things to do stuff that's at like a senior and College level, but we're going to be so much better for it because this company grows consistently, 15, 20% every year. If we don't start getting our ducks in a row and putting systems and processes in place, and if you miss the mark on a job, that's 50 grand, 75 grand, it's not going to hurt as much. You miss the mark on a job that's half a million dollars. That's a whole another ball game. If you're bleeding on this project and a small Band Aid patches it, now you need, like, you know, you're in critical care over here, but everything follows. If you don't have a way to track that and catch it while it's small, it just grows. Then when it gets your attention, it can be catastrophic. Right? So if you don't know your numbers, you don't know your business. I'll add this, too, right when I started Assurance A.V., I had a great friend of mine invite me to go here. His name is Brad Sugars. You ever heard of him? He started a thing called Action Coach, and he's very successful at taking businesses that don't do well.
Ron: You want to hear a secret, Chuck?
Ron: I've had Brad on the show. I interviewed him a couple of summers ago.
Chuck: Dude, he's awesome.
Ron: So now you and Brad can both say you've been guessed on Automation Unplugged.
Chuck: I love it. I follow him on social media. My business coach is an action coach. If I could pass this along to integrators out there, we need mentors. I want to pay it forward. I have people that are coaching me because they've been there. They started from ground zero, and they want to see people succeed, and I want to do the same thing. I want to take what I've learned and I want to pay it forward. When Brad came and spoke, he said so much that I'm just trying to soak it all in. Right? But the one thing that's been sticking with me since day one is "Run your business like you're going to sell it." If you do that, that really should eliminate all temptation to do stupid things. You get a windfall in business, that's not my money. That's the company's money. What am I going to do with that? To invest it's where? Yeah, that was great. We had a windfall. Well, I want five more of those. If I just do something stupid, then I'm going to get stupid results. So you've got to have a plan together. But putting that all into play, making the investment in getting into details and QuickBooks desktop, hiring these two people on the outside, where that's their sole mission is to get that to work. It's March 24, things are working like they should. We need to fire up POS. I click a button, boom, it goes out it notifies the accounting department that this has been ordered. It notifies the office coordinator that you can contact his client, notify them that we've got this, this and this. If the project manager at any point in time he wants to look at, where are we on this? How many man-hours have we used on this job? There it is, all right, we sold 400 man-hours on this job, and we have 83 left, and we're at 80% completion. We got two people on the job. We're going to be fine. Or we have three weeks left and we have 80 hours left. We've got a big problem.
Ron: That's brilliant, real time job costing.
Chuck: Exactly! As you get bigger, A.V. is a lot like construction. A lot of it can't be done in a month. These bigger projects take a long time to complete. So where are we? And if you're not doing whip and you take a big deposit in on January, your PNL looks amazing in January, right? February and March, you start ordering gear, it starts coming in, they're invoicing you as it chips out. Wait a second. Why are we on the negative? Well, we had a really awesome, go back and put the PNL back to January. Oh, okay. We're doing good. But how did we really do and then tracking man-hours and all the resources that go with it, it just makes us better. And I hope I'm not coming off of some metrics expert, because that is far from the truth. It's just something that's been introduced to me about a year and a half ago on how to be better at running the business. I'm just embracing it, but during that embracement, there's been a lot of frustration and there's been a temptation just saying, you know what? Screw this. This is painful. It's expensive. Everybody's frustrated. We'll just go back to the way we were doing things in 2020. But 2020 is going to give me 2020 results. We're pushing through where it's definitely working, and we're getting to the part where the car runs straight. Now we can tweak a few things here and there and really get it dialed in. That's going to be ongoing. That's not just we're going to do a tune up this weekend and leave it in the garage and it's going to be great. It's constantly stuff that you need to look at, measure, evaluate as things change. So I don't know if I would use the word excited, but I'm relieved. I guess I am a little bit excited and that we're getting past the pain point and we're going to start seeing what this thing can really do.
Ron: I think that is a perfect note, Chuck, for us to sign off. We're just past the hour, and I would love to know if folks that are listening or watching and they want to get directly in touch with you. What's the best way for them to do that?
Ron: Well, I think you're an inspiration. You and your wife running this business together and growing. By the way, 15% to 20% year over year annualized growth, that's pretty fantastic. I think anybody listening would be proud and happy to have similar growth. You're going through a lot of the same pains and challenges that are growing pains. So if you decide to stay the same, if you decide to not grow, then you could maybe stay the same. But if you decide that you want to grow, that requires work that's hard.
Chuck: Going back to the point, Brad Sugars is like, how many people can leave your job for a week and be okay, raise your hand. How many can leave for two months? Well, those people that can leave for two months, those are business owners, the people that can't you have a job. I have a job. This business cannot run without me right now, and I am fully aware of that. But I'm working on getting it to a place where you can make it like a franchise. Here's the manual, here's how we got to where we are. Rinse and repeat. Right? We'll get there one day.
Ron: We'll get there one day. Well, with focus and dedication, you'll get there. I'm confident of that.
Ron: 01:06:17.630 Chuck, I want to thank you for coming on show 208 of Automation Unplugged. We will share all of your contact information that you've provided in the show notes and in the comments on social media. I want to say thanks again for joining us, sir.
Chuck: Yeah, man, it's been great.
Ron: All right, folks, there you have it. Chuck Breaux with Assurance A.V. Solutions down in Louisiana. What a passion for music and a passion for entrepreneurship and really focusing on finding a way to provide for his community and for his family and growing a successful business. So when we met, Jessica and I met Chuck and Jolie at the BLC conference, we are like, man, we got to have you on. You got some fun stories. I know a lot of people listening will relate to everything you're saying, because I can tell you as an entrepreneur, I'm feeling you, man. I'm feeling you, Chuck, there's nothing but opportunities but challenges. The road of entrepreneurship is paved with a lot of lessons learned along the way. That's just the nature of the beast. But on that note, everyone definitely stay tuned. We're going to continue to come back with more shows if you haven't already done so, don't forget to subscribe to the show on Spotify or Apple podcasts and you can continue to hear the latest shows. We'll keep them updated, on that note, definitely check us out on onefirefly.com if there's anything that we've can do again, this show is sponsored by my day job over at One Firefly and until next time, I will see you all later. Thanks everyone.
Chuck founded AAVS in 2015. With years of experience in retail management, AV productions, and working as the technical director for one of the largest churches in the area, it was a natural transition for him to start a professional integration company. For Chuck and his team, relationships are the top priority. As a result, AAVS has grown on average 20% in business each year. The team comprises techs with 30+ years of combined experience with installations and live shows and 2 Boston Terriers that can be found lounging around the office.
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.
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