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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 #209: An Industry Q&A with Tomas Wing

In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, Tomas Wing,Owner and GM of High Tech Solutions Panama shares the power of networks and advisors in running and growing a business.

Home Automation Unplugged Episode #209: An Industry Q&A with Tomas Wing

This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewingTomas Wing. Recorded live on Wednesday, April 6th, 2022, at 12:30 pm. EST.

About Tomas Wing

Tomas started in the audio business doing car audio systems around the late 80s. In 1993, he got the chance to open his car audio shop, which was mainly oriented to High-End Audio installs. In 2000, he went to work for the biggest electronic retailer in Panama and managed the car audio shop while also gaining exposure to the home AV department. 

In early 2010, he decided to venture out on his own and open High Tech Solutions Panama with a family friend who proposed starting a business together to serve the small but wealthy residential market in Panama City.

Interview Recap

  • Similarities running an integration business in Panama City, Panama to the States
  • The power of networks and advisors in running and growing a business
  • How Covid-19 has affected supply chain and inventory in Latin America

SEE ALSO: Home Automation Podcast Episode #208 An Industry Q&A with Chuck Breaux

Transcript

Ron:  Hello, Ron Callis here with another episode of Automation Unplugged. Today, I am here with you to record show 209. It's Wednesday, it's April 6, 2022. I've been living on the road. I've been traveling quite a bit just in the past few weeks. So I did not have a show last week, so for that, I am sorry, but we are here today to have fun and talk together. What have I been up to? Sunday of last week, I was looking at my calendar. Sunday of last week, I headed out to New Orleans and I attended the Azione conference. Last week was a neat week because One Firefly, we were actually present at three different industry associations in the same week. I'm not going to lie, I felt happy and proud that we were able to do that. So I was at the Azione conference with one of my account executives, Josh. I had the pleasure and honor of taking the stage and talking about marketing to all of the awesome business owners, the integrators that were in the room, as well as many manufacturers. Then at the same time in the same week, One Firefly was present at the HTSA conference. We were also conducting training live at that show. Kendall, Jessica and Stephen were representing One Firefly at the HTSA conference. Then the NSCA group, which is on the commercial universe, commercial world, Taylor, our CFO, he was doing training for all of their staff last week. So it was pretty awesome that we were in all those places. For those business owners out there, I'm sure you might be able to empathize with this. What was even more awesome is that I had all members of my team out at all these different places, and it wasn't just me. That was very fulfilling and I'm very proud of that. So after Azione, I jumped on a plane, I flew to Boston. I went to MIT lifelong dream of mine to go to MIT. I was at a business conference through Sunday. Then I got back late Sunday night and arrived in South Florida and jumped right into Q2 planning so quarterly planning for 2022 with my leadership team. So there was a day and a half of those activities. Then, Bam, here I am with all of you. I'm happy to be here and I'm happy to introduce our guest, Tomas Wing. He's a long time listener. Tomas is great because he interacts with us on the chat on the show. He's usually tuned in and he's engaging and he's asking questions of the guests. I said, "Man, we got to have Tomas on the show and let's find out about his business." Tomas is the owner and the GM of High Tech Solutions out of Panama City, Panama. So let's go ahead and bring Tomas in. Let's learn about his business and let's see how he's doing. Let me bring him in. Tomas, how are you, sir?

Tomas: Very good, Ron, how are you?

Ron:  I am good. So to get all of our listeners tuned in, maybe talk about a little bit about your business and your role in your business.

Tomas: Well, first of all, thank you for the invitation. It's been an honor to participate here in your show. My name is Thomas Wing. I'm one of the founders and owner of High-Tech Solutions here in Panama. We are an integrated firm established in 2010. We do mostly residential and corporate, located in Panama City, Panama, but we actually do business throughout the whole country, small country.

Ron:  Help the audience understand how small. You were just going over some of those notes before we went live and I thought that would be cool. How many people live in the country of Panama?

Tomas: The whole country is about five and a half million people, approximately 1.7 in Panama City, the capital. It's a small but it's not an island. One of the nicest things is that you can do breakfast on the Pacific and 45 minutes you can have lunch on the Atlantic and 45 minutes later you can go back again. That little piece is what is called the Panama Canal, which is about 80 km in total to transit. So we're big, but we're small.

Ron:  I'm going to ask a totally silly question that only a dumb American would ask. But is there like a way to get on a boat and go through the Panama Canal?

Tomas: Which way you want to come? You want to come from the Atlantic or you want to come from the Pacific?

Ron:  Well, educate me. Can you do either?

Tomas: You can take a Disney cruise from Florida and you can go all the way to LA through the canal or vice versa. Your goods that you receive, some of them are being held at the Los Angeles Port. They go through here.

Ron:  They came through the Panama Canal.

Tomas: It's heavy traffic at this moment.

Ron:  How far is your office from that?

Tomas: From the canal?

Ron:  Yeah.

Tomas: I'm about less than 10 miles from there.

Ron:  Oh, wow. Okay.

Tomas: We are short city on the shores. It's less than 20 to 30 km from the water. It's a very small city, but it's not small. If I'm not wrong, the numbers out of the top 15 tallest buildings in Latin America, we have nine here in Panama. Out of those nine, six are within less than a mile of each other, it's something impressive.

Ron:  Well, before I describe what I remember. So if the country has 5.5 million, what's the population of Panama City?

Tomas: About 1.7 to two, approximately.

Ron:  Okay. I appreciate for all my listeners we're getting a little geography lesson here and I always love learning. Sorry, we're not talking about AV stuff yet, but I love just the basics. If you're out there watching or listening, please do give us a comment or question. I've got Guillermo Valdez. He says "No more than 25 minutes."

Tomas: Guillermo works at the canal.

Ron:  He works at the canal! Oh, my gosh, that is so cool. Guillermo, you have to give us some more facts about the Panama Canal. Folks that are ignorant and uninformed, like myself are eager to know. So please don't be shy. Give us some more factoids. But I did cut you off there, Tomas. Do you remember what you were going to say? If not I'll keep trucking here.

Tomas: No problem, I don't.

Ron:  All right. So you have been listening to this show for a while. You tune in and I can tell you when you're in my seat and you know that there's someone out there listening live because we have a live audience on Facebook. We have a live audience on LinkedIn. We also produce the show, this part of the show, the interview, and we package that up and put that out as our podcast so folks can just listen to the show when they're out walking or exercising or in the car. People consume these interviews in different ways. But you have found value and I'm curious. I thought it was really interesting. You said that you'd listen to people and you had actually captured or make a point of regularly writing down some of the Golden Nuggets that our guests shared. Do you mind just kind of sharing?

Tomas: I don't remember all of the names of the other guests, but I sure have a couple ones. I have two here on a little post-it here, "Be a service company with a product offering," that was said by one of your guests. The other one is "Don't think with your wallet." It's kind of hard, this one, but it's true. I mean, we are in a luxury market. Unfortunately, this is not for everybody. But if you want it, there is a price to be set. It's not just the actual product. It's the service, the knowledge, the how to, the documentation. There's a bunch of stuff that people just don't realize. This is AV systems, lighting controls, whatever you want to call it. You need to have certain knowledge. I'm not an engineer, I'm just a person that actually have understood this from the ground up. I don't consider myself not even close near the middle of it. But that's the reason I watch the show, because we don't have the amount of jobs on a daily basis or on a weekly monthly basis as some other countries, because of the size of the markets. Our market is small in comparison. I always say when I have the chance to meet with senior members of the manufacturers and I always tell them our problem is not how much it's going to cost. The problem is that 99% of the people and I think, I'm pretty sure it happens everywhere have an idea, but they have no clue what goes into what they are thinking, that they are going to get the expectations. Another thing that is always repeated every time on the show by all the guests is set your expectations clear to the client because there's a lot of people that sell smoke. They sell dreams, "Oh you're going to be able to do this or you're going to be able to do that." I always tell the clients when they come to me and say, "Oh, we want a lighting system." My questions are "What do you want to do with the lighting system? Do you have art? Do you want to showcase something? You want to do a wall wash? You want to do a particular piece that you want to focus on it?" They just get like, "I don't know, I just want to do it from the phone and you just do this." I tell them I have my opinion into that and I have a discussion with our peers and I tell them if you want something to turn it on and off because from your phone, I'm not going to sell it to you. That's not the pieces we are in. You go to houses, they have this impressive, spectacular work of art paints and there's no showcase. So why were you going to sell 15, 20, 30, 40, 50 thousand dollars worth of lighting if the only thing that they want is to show their friends "Oh shit, I can do this from the phone," that's not my business. I need to educate and tell them what they are able to get their money's worth.

Ron:  When you are working on your business, you're not just selling or doing an installation, but you're actually working on the business or improving your craft. Where do you go? Is there training or events in Panama? Are they in Central or South America? Do you come to the States? What do you do?

Tomas: We mostly go to the States because of several reasons. This is the root of the business. We are able to get into a plane from here to every single major city in the US. Mostly 6 hours flight is the most, which is LA or closer to New York. It's more expensive sometimes for us to travel to Central America than to go to the States because of the dollar. I mean, you have your high seasons, which you can pay ridiculous amount of money to go to a two and a half hour flight to Florida, but then you can find it at $260, which in fact, this morning, I got an advertisement of it. So that is mainly the reason I have not been renewing my CEDIA subscription because of COVID, we were not traveling. I do like CEDIA. CEDIA and INFOCOMM are the ones that I have currently because you need to meet with people. I'm a firm believer that you need to make networking connections, know people that know some other craft. I had the chance when we were with CEDIA until we stopped. In 2013. I got invited by one, CEDIA did a task force to do the Spanish CEDIA fundamental book, which is the certification book in Spanish. I got invited and I got a chance to translate the whole book with some other peers from other countries. We did the translation of the book. And that's something that I understood that being part of it could open doors. By the time I got a little bit before I got, we're Crestron dealers, and I remember the first time we went to CEDIA back in 2011. My wife said, "What is that over there?" One of the latest days that before they decided not to go anymore. I say, okay, that is a Ferrari. Why don't we go there? I said, "No, we're not going to go there because I don't have what it takes to handle at that moment, that product here." There were people doing jobs here with Crestron. But when I actually started to look out, let's see if we could... I mean, training a programmer at that time. I needed to have a guy sitting there just doing that. I wasn't able to allow our business to have a guy just to do that. Either he does multi tasking or we're not able to get into with that product. So time went by and when we did the translation of the book, I have a good friend in Mexico that he works with the Crestron Latin portion. A few years later, one morning I was at the office and I said, "I'm going to call my friend Sergio. I'm just going to call him to ask him what do you need to have in order to apply for it?" Long story short; I called Sergio and say, "Oh, hey, good to see you. I'm just calling you because I'm interested in this." He said, "Not a problem. I'll give you a call back in five minutes." In ten minutes I have my inbox full of all the paperwork. A guy called me and said, "Oh, Mr. Tomas, I'm calling you in regards to this guy and I just want to welcome you on board." I said, "What are you talking about?" He said "Fill me out the paper and send it to me." And I said, "What do you need from me?" I don't need anything from you. I have a letter here that said, "Go." Okay. So I closed with the guy and I was like, "Okay, what just happened here?" So we started with it and I like to do my homework as much as I can. I said, "What do we need to do?" But things didn't start as planned. I mean, everybody knows that Crestron is like a seven head dragon. So you need to do your homework prior to it. So we didn't do our homework. We failed at doing certain things. I think it was 2017 that they cut, like 30% of the dealers. I received a call, "You're not doing anything." I said, "Okay, what do we need to do? What are you missing?" I mean, could I blame him? Probably, but I didn't do my part either, so I just said, "Okay, fine, give me a time frame. I mean, we're trying not that we are just sitting here. Oh, we have a project for this brand." So we started, during that time, I went to headquarters. Okay, this is our warehouse. And you see that humongous building with gazillion, millions of dollars inside, your perspective about what you're getting into change completely. That was a long time ago.

Ron:  Not to get into the specifics, but you're a Crestron house today. Are you selling other brands and are there reasons? When I talk about brands, naturally, you're selling other brands, but are you doing other control lines? Are there times where you sell Crestron and times where you sell URC or Savant or something like that?

Tomas: Crestron is our go to product now because of Crestron Home? We understood it. We suffered at the beginning. Now it's still expanding. Even though we have a small market, it's a very difficult market because we received every single information. Like if we were in Florida, one flavor does not feed everyone.

Ron:  You mentioned Crestron Home. Do you put Crestron Home in commercial applications?

Tomas: No. When we do, we do mostly corporate, you know, boardrooms and stuff. We have a few guys that, we learned the hard way. The first CSP that we hired was a no go, and we lost a few dollars there. I said, this is not going to happen to me again. So I started doing my homework. So I have a couple of guys that we work now, and even Crestron Latin America has a division in which they are able, if you want, they can do the programming for you. So what we do is we kind of design the UI, which is after a few years, we understood that everything goes from the UI back and Crestron not the other way around. So once we understood we were more successful because we understood how it works. So we have guys that do you custom UI for us, like a lot of people in the States and other countries do, and the programming depends on how complex is it. We are able to do certain levels of programming. But when we did the numbers and I go, like, we are not programming every single day and let's do what we are able to do and move forward. Other brands, well, I would say there's a bad brand on the market for me. There's a saying and I try to translate it in Spanish. It's not the arrow or the boat, it's the Indian. But if you're good at shooting, it doesn't matter which one you're going to use. You're a straight shooter. It's that simple.

Ron:  I think you know how you walk away with quotes from this show. I'm pretty sure someone's going to walk away with that quote from you.

Tomas: I try to do my best.

Ron:  But it makes perfect sense. I've said that for years that these manufacturers, I mean, there could be things that you don't like about them or there could be things you do like about them. But in the hands of someone that knows what they're doing, that's really where the secret sauce is. How do you know how to put the right pieces and parts together? And do you know how to ultimately make them do what they're supposed to do consistently.

Tomas: After all these years? I understood that you need to share your knowledge. Back when I was younger, I actually come from the car audio business. I did, 22 years ago, high end car audio. I mean, I put $15,000. The biggest job that I did was $25,000 in a car. When I did that job, I went home and said, "Hey, mom, you know something? This is stupid." And she said to me, "But, you know, they have the money and that's what they want." They just didn't find somebody that could do that for them, which is fine. But I understood that I don't know everything. I have a lot of friends that know a lot of stuff. But you tell them about just audio streaming. What is that? What are you talking about? Can I blame them for not knowing that? I've known people in the States that have no idea what streaming is? I've done, throughout all these years, a network of people from around the world. I have friends in the Arab countries and I have no knowledge about Arab, but they do speak English. And I said to them, "We like certain things that we saw on these pictures that you put on social media." I said, okay, suddenly this guy is from Dubai. .

Ron:  I want everybody listening. I have to plug this. So you're saying you're posting content on social media and you're getting leads from that?

Tomas: Yeah, ironically, most, if not all of our corporate clients have come through Facebook.

Ron:  Now I have to jab you back and say that's probably because there is no website.

Tomas: That's going to be a separate conversation. I know it's coming, but yeah, I have taken my hard hits at marketing. Even though I understand it, I make mistakes.

Ron:  Don't worry, we all have and I make a pattern of doing it regularly. I try to fail hard and fail fast.

Tomas: One of the things that we try to do when we post a picture for whatever it is. When I started learning about social media, I just wanted to see what the others were doing so I know what I was doing. I just need to know what they are doing so I know what they are not doing. One of the things that I always said from the beginning is that all our pictures have to be real, people dirty, people sweating, people on top of a ladder. We send our clients pictures of the guy hang on the TV brackets even though we're concrete. I need it because I have had issues with that. They pay $6,000 for an 86 tiny inch TV and they are handed a $12 bracket. One day we had an issue with a TV that just fell and I said, you know, this is not going to happen to me. Why would you buy a $6,000 TV and you put your fate on that twelve dollar bracket? I can bend it probably. So then you go and we use this other brand. Why? Because when I'm going to the door, I know that thing is going to fall as simple as that. We don't sell products or our tools. We provide service and knowledge every time we do or we started doing the things the way it's done in the States. No, because there are no regulations here, but not because there's not a regulation, t doesn't mean that you have to do it whichever way you want it. That's the reason you attend CEDIA. That's the reason you attend Infocomm. That's the reason you become member of AVIXA. I haven't had the pressure to go to ISC, but I will soon because it's a different way. You see the UK market, for example, a lot of learn even though they say that they learn from this side of the pond. There's a lot of people doing European products right now. Another thing that I learned from these twelve years in the business is that sometimes you always want to work with the top, but you need to realize if you're actually able to work with that product from that level. Just to give you an example, you have the whole catalog $180,000 for one speaker. I don't think we're going to have. But if somebody wants it and they have the money, I know where I'm able to look for. I could tell you that probably we have a roof for power speakers. It's just $5,000. Oh, do we have people that have Meridians here, which is $45,000? Yes. There's a couple of guys that have Meridian. I know there are some fancy brands, but it's not the norm. You need to educate from a smaller or a lower level. I'm not going to say entry level, but just because we don't sell entry level and I try to teach them on the difference. But how can a client understand if you point them out at a in-ceiling speaker, which has a white grill like the rest of all the speakers, and you tell them this one here is about $50, but this one is $2,000, what do you think they're going to tell you? It's simple. It depends on the end, what you have on your book and how you want to play with it.

Ron:  I would challenge it's worth figuring out how to do that because the labor to install that $2,000 pair is the same labor as to install that $50 pair. So learning and practicing the art of selling better quality gear seems to be from my observation point, seems to be a trend across the industry, across the world, particularly right now because of really the intersection of labor challenges. It's been hard to get new people, at least here in the United States. And the fact that there's more money. So that's what I was going to ask you is like, you're a company of six? Did you hire people that joined your team and they came from other integration firms, or did you grow them up from scratch?

Tomas: The guy that actually, it's our lead tech. I have a partner and they have been working together for some time. The day that we started our business, he brings in the guy and I met the guy and I said, there's something here. But we left the guy at the job site. And I said, dude, this house is a friend of mine and I want everything done correctly. I want this and this way, done that way. And he said, not a problem, but on my mind, we left and we came back to pick them up in the afternoon. I was on the elevator going up, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to have an issue once I get there.

Ron:  You were preparing yourself.

Tomas: Yeah. When we go in, I said, okay, "Where is it? Where's the rack?" And he said, "It's in here." I said, "Why is it there? We had said that we want to do it here." He said. "Well, your friend came to me and said, if I could put it here, it's the owner. What do you want me to tell you?" And I said, "Why didn't you call?" He said to me, "Because I didn't saw a major issue. He didn't want it outside. He had a closet and he took out the levels. And I said to him, I can do it there." So when he opens the door of the closet, there was the rack. And I saw every single cable that came from the wall, neatly done. And I go in like, I mean, who did this? He said, "I did."

Ron:  Did you give him a spot raise on the site?

Tomas: I said to him "I was prepared to fire you on site because I had this premonition that it wasn't going to be the way that you showed me." At that point I said we need to talk tomorrow at the office. We're going to have breakfast at the office. And I said to him, I need you to go from here and I'm going to take you here. Okay?

Ron:  So you spotted town.

Tomas: Everywhere in the world is the same. I've heard this in many interactions in the industry. If you have one guy, even though if you make one mistake, you need to ponder that mistake because if not, you're going to lose more firing that guy and making a huge hole on your business. We have had our differences, but at the end we cross again and he comes and said to me, you know something, I've learned so much through all these years. He even went and opened his own business. But he works for me. And I said, you know, our business is on a different structure right now. And when Covid hit, I said to him, what are you doing now? He said, Well, I'm here. I said, okay, let's have a coffee, let's talk. I don't have to worry about anything. I can leave those. I always tell the guys that when they go to a new job, the first day they're going to go through the service elevator at the building on the back door, the next day they are going to the front door because you're not construction workers, you're specialists and you need to make people understand that you're not going to tear down a wall. You're going to do some things that people do not understand why and how they're done. So either you take your presence, you need to put value on yourself representing our business. But it's you out there when you are out there, you're us. So I remember we sat them early when we started and we were having a webinar, but the webinar was in English. And I said, okay, I know it, none of you understand what that guy is going to say there. Well you pay attention, check all the things that he's doing on the screen and I'll tell you in Spanish when we finish. And then, I like tools a lot, I like cars, therefore I have my tool cabinet there. I'm a very handy person and one of the things that I learned from when my grandparents were alive is that there is never an extra tool. You will never know when you're going to need that tool.

I have a car that when I bought the car, they got into the projects and Jesus Christ, you saw that current case that they have you need to differentiate yourself from the rest. You need to add value to what you do. In here, we have issues. It's a huge issue in my opinion. When you do a quote and they go like, "Okay, Mr. Client, this is the quote." And they go, "Why is it so expensive?" And you have like ten pages on top explaining, doing the division, this area, this zone and this other. And they just go and I had this one time, couple of years back when I realized that what we do is different. We sell luxury, as I said at the beginning, and I had this client very well. And a couple of years before, we missed a quote or we lost our business because somebody else won. But we lost the business because the other guy was $30,000 less than we were. And they said, this is crazy, $30,000. That's a lot of money. A year later, a person that called us to quote that project called us back and said, hey, can you come to a project? Which project? The one that you tell me. Remember that you called us? Oh, yeah, I know. And they go and say, you know, I have an issue here on the project. We go to that. I mean, a year and a half has passed. We found hundreds and hundreds of feet of cat cable. This is by the shore and it's one of the most expensive places in the city. We have a bunch of cat cables just on top of a huge pond of water. And I said, just to give you to be clear, tell your client that that thing is not going to work. It's as simple as that. It was still in construction. I said it's a year and a half later. I need your help. No, we need to take all this down because this the way it is, it's not going to work. We are not better known less than anybody. We just love what we do and we try to do it the best way possible within what we learn on a daily basis. Well, we didn't do anything else about that for you. A couple of years later, that same client hired another design and we did a pitch house for him. And this client was in Johannesburg at the time. We did a call an hour before I sent him the quote. Well, we get into a quote and the first day, "Oh, nice to meet you, Tomas. Blah, blah, blah. Let me ask you a question. How much are you going to take me off of the price? What's your offer?" I said, "My offer? I sent you the quote an hour ago." I mean, for some people, what I want to say, it could sound cocky, probably, but it is what it is. I said to the client, "I sent you a quote an hour before. Were you able to read it?" "No, I did not read it." And I said to him, "Well, why are you asking me a discount if you have no idea what we are offering?" And then the guy said to me, "Okay, give me a second." He opens the quote, and he says, "Okay, this is so and so I'll give you this." I said to him, this is a very powerful person, I said to him, "No, the price is that at the end above the double line on the paper." "No, but I want to do the work with you." "No, that's the price." We closed the project. We did the project. At the end of the call, he said to me, you are one of the few persons that never have given me a discount. And I said, It's a pleasure doing business with you. That was my answer, and I just closed. So at that time was the first time that I actually understood the value that we have, what we bring to the table.

Ron:  I think there's a lot of value in a business owner helping a customer or prospect understand why the price is the price. The price is the price because of the talent that you've been able to accumulate and the experience that you've been able to accumulate and your experience working with those products in a particular way, back to your point, the bow or the arrow, they don't do the work, the human does the work, and that's worth every Penny. When a customer pushes back on price, an answer should be; "No problem. What do you want to cut out?".

Tomas: Exactly!

Ron:  We can lower the price.

Tomas: I always tell my friends, if they want to do any type of entrepreneurship, and I said to them, this is not for everybody. You need to have that clear. And this is a business. I mean, you don't go to College and study this because there's not a career on this. You make your own career. You have any amount of people on your show with different backgrounds. I always tell my friends, and I tell, if you're gonna do an entrepreneurship, you need to understand what you want, who you want to target. I'm very clear on what the type of client that I want. That doesn't mean that if somebody that comes and approach to me, it's very different. If you shoot me, "How much you're going to discount me on that" question, rather than, you know, I wasn't thinking about spending that much amount of money because that changed the whole conversation at that moment. I have all levels of clients. I always say when we have big projects, which are two, three, or four a year, depending on how the year goes, that's crazy. But you need to live out of something else. Now we understand more that if the client wants just lighting, we do the lighting. If they want just the audio, we do the audio. Now, we're very focused on the outdoor living. You're focused on that because not every client wants the same thing, not every family enjoys the things. Probably in a family, you have the kids that do the PlayStation, the Xboxes or just the gaming. Then you have the mom that only wants the audio, dad wants, a huge home theater or whatever or has another kitchen because the guy does the barbecue and stuff. So you need to learn how to read your client way before. I always tell the client, Mr. Client, I'm sorry, but just to let you know, I have a million questions here, before I put a number on a piece of paper. Why you need to ask so many things? I need to understand how you work in your home. What do you like? What type of music you want? How is the decoration? What colors are the walls? All that! I have a good friend, Ariel from Polaris and his team. It took Ariel about four years to convince me to go to Sonance. Because I did not understood the product. Once I understood the product, sometimes depending I use something else. But my go to product for in-ceilings and all the things that they have now, with the addition of Gain speakers and all that, we have our own disposal. I tell the clients, you want to work, what do you want? But you need to ask the questions because it's not a recipe.

Ron:  No, it's custom.

Tomas: Exactly and that's what you need to sell.

Ron:  So we have a quote here or a comment from Guillermo. Is it Ka or K? Do you know. He says, "Great interview. Best in the industry, High Tech solutions. Greetings from Toronto to my friend".

Tomas: Guillermo, schoolmate, same as the other Guillermo.

Ron:  That's awesome! Question, Tomas. What keeps you up at night, if anything?

Tomas: Challenges, when we want to do something different. I understood from the get go when I was in school, I didn't want to do or have anything that the others had. And I understood that to be different, and I don't consider myself different, I just don't like doing things the same way over and over again. Even though you are able to standardize that, there's always your personal touch. Two things. Nowadays, 99% of the installs we do, we do centralized. We use a rack. Why do I need a rack? You'll see, have faith and trust. So when they see I have a collection of pictures from takeovers. I don't like takeovers because what you receive from a takeover is. But man, I just paid X amount of money and I said, well, you have two choices. Fix it or just live with it. Fixing it is going to cost you this. But you need to set your rules up front. Are you able to flexion? I think yes, you can. It depends on the client that you have in front.

Ron:  But the rules you're describing are the rules or standards you have around what gear you have and or what sort of installation or protocols you set in place. Right?

Tomas: It depends if I do what they call, for example, something that I don't work with, I need to let the client and I have to be honest, Mr. Client, we don't handle that. So in order for us to fix it, Unfortunately, I need to take this portion out, we always try to recycle as much as we can if it's possible. Every day, more of the control systems, which is the core of it, they are open to working with others. But there are some things that you're not going to be able to work with.

Ron:  I think to your point where this started, you mentioned someone on the show stated that you need to stop thinking with your wallet.

Tomas: Exactly.

Ron:  I didn't come from money. I didn't come from wealth. Just for clarity, I grew up in a small house and I went to work at Lutron and then Crestron and then One Firefly. So I've been exposed to the luxury consumer. I've met them and I've talked to them and I've been in their homes. And at the end of the day, you and everyone listening has in your best interest to give the customer the best solution that solves the problem that they have. The customer has plenty of money. So I promise you, everyone listening, they have more money than you. So the need to discount or to feel bad about offering a best in class solution, it is entirely in your head. And that customer has amassed their wealth not by accident. In many cases, it's because they will work to their advantage, the hearts and minds of those that are trying to help them. They'll ask them for discounts and you often will receive that request and go, okay, I'll give you a discount. All you're doing is hurting yourself.

Tomas: Exactly.

Ron:  And your ability to serve that customer in the future.

Tomas: In service, because we're a service company or a service business, the majority, even though you said retail, if you are in custom, it's a service. Forget about you XYZ brand that you have on the shelf.

Ron:  It's a service business, I agree.

Tomas: We try to establish relationships with our clients because you're going to be married to them until the day that they don't want to use anything of the things that you sell them. So when somebody comes and we do a job and we don't hear from them anymore, I'm pretty sure that I noticed that from the get go or at some point before the end, because with all due respect, because they're not to blame, they don't understand. Probably they don't want to learn. They find it complicated. Even though we are a firm believer of the Kia's philosophy, keep it simple and stupid or anti-dummies, which is famous book. There's a reason for that, because not all the people that are able to invest in this or what we do have the knowledge or the minimal knowledge just to do. When we do aligning system, for example, within the pricing, we cover all and the Graving of every single piece that we put on the project. When you see people that goes into a house and they see that every single bottom has an engraved, a name or something, and people are like, I never seen this before. How? And then you listen to the client and say, well, these guys just told me that they were going to do this and they sent me a piece of paper in which I put the name of whatever I wanted to see. If you want to log an icon or whatever, we give you that choice. And I tell the client, once we give you the project, we handle the project. We're going to come 30 days later, and in that time, we're going to give you the chance to make any change without any charge, because we do mostly new constructions or whole remodeling. You're moving in a new space. You have no idea how you're going to act or work on that space. And I tell them, put it on a piece of paper. If you're sitting here and you have a view to the golf course, just picture yourself how you want everything to look at 6:00 in the afternoon or whatever, or you have this painting here if you would like to open the door of your house and the only thing that you want to be shining is that piece of art that you have on the other way. But it's difficult because you need to want to learn to do more. I've gone through very expensive projects here and sometimes my guys say, but are you happy with finishing? I said, yeah, sure, I'm happy. It's a business thing, but I'm not happy because we were not able to actually get the client to the level that we feel everything around the project deserves. And that's one thing I always tell to the designers, we are here to showcase your work. I mean, no promotion whatsoever to the products you have, Walt Smart, you have sealess products. Flushpan. We are very good friends with Tom Lambert from Basalt. And he always said to me, but you serve products. And I said, I will go personal if I had to go to Belgium to get those products once I get the first one, because I just want it's an experience. So that line. I spent many hours with him through other shows and she chatted with him and explained, I always ask him, how are you able to sell this? Because markets are very different. It's a big trend in the US now that people might build these huge houses and they just finish it and sell them for a gazillion million dollars. It's a trend. It's a business and they just use top rates. But understanding luxury market is very difficult. We have about 25 of our clients are expats. And you know why? Because we are able to talk to them in another language. Yeah. And we understand nothing that they are going to spend here. This is just a quarter of what they will spend in LA. For example, if they have a house here and they live in LA, it's penance in comparison. But we have understood and they have a different set of expectations. So if you're not able to get because they think that you're cheaper. I don't have a problem with that. I mean, there's business for everybody here.

Ron:  Tomas, I want to close on the following. You've been in business for twelve years, in the automation business for twelve years. That's not easy. And you've been in the automation business in Panama and which has experienced other challenges that folks in the States don't even know or maybe even understand. What is one or two keys to your success?

Tomas: 01:01:14.210 Perseverance and passion. It's difficult. You said to me what doesn't make me sleep at night? It's not the dues that I have to pay. Obviously, sometimes you get it. You don't sleep because at some point I think the majority of the people in the industry, you know when you're going to start, but you have no idea when you're going to finish. That sometimes opens a huge black hole and you need to know what to do. But even that because of that, I think I'm a firm believer that you just need to do the right thing because when you have such a small market, your margin of error is the same size. Everybody in the industry, we need to understand that our problems are the same as yours over there. Technicians, supply chain now, Crestron, if you're listening, I'm sorry.

Ron:  Get my man Tomas some product, please.

Tomas: Oh, and clients don't understand. They think they understand. I have one part that we are just waiting to finish. And he said, but I import from China. How do you explain that to him? Well, Mr. Client, I'm sorry, I just don't do a Z. There's 300 chips waiting on the Changi Port to dock.

Ron:  Guys, it's everybody in the world. I was just at this conference last week and one of the guys that was running a very successful business out of the west, out of the Arizona market was a roofer. And his product that was previously 60 days from an order to getting the supply is now 14 months full stop. The product he doesn't have it's across industries and it is a global problem.

Tomas: It is. I mean, there are some manufacturers, I'm not going to say all of them, but there's a few that they have found a way of balancing a bit. How many we got in? $10,000? We need to share that in this batch. With these guys on the other patch with the other guys. And it's good because that way you don't feel stuck. But it's a problem everywhere. Technicians, as I said, same thing.

Ron:  So what was your word? You said passion and perseverance. Amen! We're going to sign off to that? Tomas, how can the folks that are listening, how can they get in touch with you?

Tomas: Well, you can write us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or you can write direct to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. You can follow us on Instagram at Htspanama, and we are on Facebook as High Tech Solutions Panama. Soon we are going to have our website. I'm going to have that conversation with Mr. Callis in the next couple of days.

Ron:  We're going to get you squared away, my friend.

Tomas: Thank you. Thank you very much for the invitation, Ron. And as I said, it took me by surprise, but I do appreciate your invitation. Thank you.

Ron:  I think everyone listening now knows why I needed to have you on the show. You're humble and smart and passionate and willing to share with me and with everyone listening. So you earned it. So thank you. Thanks for coming on the show.

Tomas: Thank you, Ron and your team.

Ron:  Yeah! Yeah. Go, David, go, Jessica. We have an awesome team here at One Firefly. Just so we capture it on the show. Before we sign off completely, Guillermo jumps back in. He says "It's been a pleasure to be here with both of you, learning a little bit about this topic that for me is totally unknown." Dean says, "Hey, Ron, to your point, not only do our clients have more money than we do, they most likely are much better at negotiating than we are and they will always ask for a discount. Be prepared to back up your numbers. Great show." Appreciate you, Dean, thanks for tuning in. Tomas, we'll talk soon, buddy. Thank you so much.

Tomas: Thank you, Ron. See you.

Ron:  All right. See you. All right, folks. So there you have it. Show 209 Automation Unplugged. Yes, we did take a week off. Last week was literally a Sunday to Sunday, seven days straight of travel and meetings. I'm not going to lie, I'm a little bit tired. I need to kind of get a good couple of nights sleep and eat healthy again. Too much good food and too much good drink there for that many days. It's fun and then it's not fun. So I'm in the phase where I need to do a good cleanse and get back to my morning walks. But we're going to be back on our pattern of doing shows. We'll have a show next week, David, who runs our Automation Unplugged here at One Firefly. He has a full slate of guests that are booked and ready to go and ready to share with all of you. So remember, if you have not already done so subscribe to the audio show in case you can't watch us live, you can tune in to the audio versions. We're about getting them up about a week after we do the shows. I know we fell a little bit behind, but we're catching back up so definitely subscribe to the show on that note visit us or give us a call and I will see you all next time. Thanks everybody.

SHOW NOTES:

Tomas started in the audio business doing car audio systems around the late 80s. In 1993, he got the chance to open his car audio shop, which was mainly oriented to High-End Audio installs. In 2000, he went to work for the biggest electronic retailer in Panama and managed the car audio shop while also gaining exposure to the home AV department. 

In early 2010, he decided to venture out on his own and open High Tech Solutions Panama with a family friend who proposed starting a business together to serve the small but wealthy residential market in Panama City.

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:

Tomas 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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