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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 #214: An Industry Q&A with Dustin Kerns

In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, Dustin Kerns, Branch Manager (Colorado Springs) at ListenUp shares his personal journey in the AV industry and the different influences he has met along the way.

Home Automation Unplugged Episode #214: An Industry Q&A with Dustin Kerns

This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Dustin Kerns. Recorded live on Wednesday, June 1st 2022, at 12:30PM EST

About Dustin Kerns

Dustin has over 20 years of experience in AV. He got his start working for his uncle's AV business in the Northwest Arkansas region, where he learned the foundation of his knowledge and passion for the industry. Since then, he has gone from working as a technician, to project management, then into sales and executive leadership. He currently manages the Colorado Springs branch for ListenUp,  a company with an amazing 50-year legacy.

Interview Recap

  • The history of ListenUp and different events that marked the company
  • His own personal journey in the AV industry and the different influences he has met along the way
  • The current state of the industry as we face supply chain and staffing issues

SEE ALSO: Home Automation Podcast Episode #213 An Industry Q&A with Ed Gilmore

 

Transcript

Ron:  Dustin, there you are, sir. How are you?

Dustin: Good morning. Doing well, thank you.

Ron:  Awesome. So where are you coming to us from?

Dustin: We are in Colorado Springs, Colorado. It's beautiful here. It's a little bit chilly today, but otherwise it's fantastic.

Ron:  Are you in the office or you're at home? I see some smoke over your shoulder. Is everything okay?

Dustin: Oh, yes. Just a small fire in the background. A lot of plants here at home. I have a small jungle in the house, and it's a minor obsession, just very minor. But I love it. I try to have as many plants around the house as I can. So I've got like 35 or 40. My wife is extremely tolerant of my plant habit.

Ron:  That's a humidifier that is not smoke over your shoulder.

Dustin: Correct, yeah. I have lights for the plants too. They are special, like day spectrum lights for everything. So it kind of gives everything, like a pink hue, but they like it a lot. Having tropical plants and keeping them healthy in Colorado is not the easiest task.

Ron:  Man Colorado air. Being a Florida person and living most of the year at or near 100% humidity, it is always a challenge. I love visiting Colorado. It's a beautiful state, but the dry air gets me every time. I'm talking bad nosebleeds and everything. It's crazy. If your body is tuned to having a lot of humidity, to have all that humidity pulled away, it actually can be tough.

Dustin: It took me a long time to get used to it. I drink probably six or seven of these a day, at least, just to keep from being dried out. But you get used to it after a while.

Ron:  So we have Joshua James posted. He says, "What's your newest plant baby?".

Dustin: Boy, that's a tough one. What's the latest one I bought? That would probably be my Pylea. It's a coin plant, that's what they call it, and very neat little plants.

Ron:  Got it. I love it. If you're taking some time on the weekend, are you heading to the plant store, to the nursery?

Dustin: Since I moved here, I've been propagating a lot of the plants that I already had because they got a lot bigger than I thought they would. As you can see, that one in the back, he's like 8ft tall probably. That leaf is brand new that he just put out. They're still growing like crazy.

Ron:  That is special. All right, so ListenUp. How long have you been out there in Colorado as the branch manager? Because I know you have a background. I know just recently I had John Campbell on from Hometronics, and he was like, "Ron, you got to have Dustin on the show." So here you are. So if it goes well, it's John's fault. If it goes bad, it's John's fault, no matter what it's John's fault. But tell us about ListenUp. ListenUp has a storied history.

Dustin: Yeah, absolutely. A 50 year old company and founded by three really remarkable individuals, Walt and Mary K. Stinson, and then Steve Weiner, their partner, founded ListenUp 50 years ago. Just a really amazing set of people. One of the things that really drew me to ListenUp was the fact that they did have such a cool history and all the things that they had done. They started just like many of us did with just a single place and just trying to sell stuff and being an AV. People that love AV and then went on from there to do some pretty amazing things.

Ron:  You were educating me before we went live that Walt was number one. Walt and or members of the team, Walt and Steve brought originally they brought the CD player to the United States? That almost sounds too big to be true.

Dustin: Some of the very first people to start selling the CD player in America, brought it back from Japan, and in 1986, I believe, sold more CD players than anyone else in the world and just really amazing and helped really kind of bring the CD player to what we know as it is today. Really super cool. Walt is actually from Arkansas, and that's part of the reason that one of the things that I think it just kind of makes me feel at home here at ListenUp is the fact that he was born in the same town that I was and had spent a lot of time growing up with Paul Klipsch and ended up actually Klipsch being the very first brand that we ever carried. Walt said before we even had a store to sell it in, that him and Paul had decided that we were going to carry that brand. We still have, if you walk into the store today. One of the first pairs of speakers you'll see is the reference flagships from Klipsch, right as you walk in the door.

Ron:  Oh, wow. Well, that is nothing short of an awesome background in history for ListenUp, but let's have everyone learn more about your history. Where did you come from? Tell us from as far back as you feel comfortable, you can start at the 6th grade, or you could start at high school. You can start at your first job. What was your origin story that landed you here at ListenUp?

Dustin: Yeah. So I was working for a landscaping company in the northwest Arkansas area, and I had just moved up there recently to live with one of my cousins who had just graduated from College and got in a place of her own. So we went up there and I started shoveling rock every day and working out in 100 degree weather in Arkansas. I was having a beer with my uncle one day, and he said, if you're willing to work that hard, you should come work for me and I'll show you a trade. He owned a company called Custom Home and Commercial Electronics, and he brought me in at $7.50 an hour to make alarm screens inside of his warehouse with no air conditioning in the middle of the summer.

Ron:  It sounds mostly miserable.

Dustin: It was miserable. It was one of those moments where it's like, yeah, let's see if he'll quit right away, probably. If he doesn't, then let's see how good he can be. He really took the time to show me everything. I didn't know anything about AV. I know nothing about pulling wires or working in a home or what was expected for trying to complete a project. He walked me through every single step of that. I worked for him for probably good five or six years before moving back to the Little Rock area, just to be a little bit closer to my family down there. That was a lot of fun. When I moved back there, I actually left AV temporarily and went into production work. So I traveled around and did concerts. When I met my wife, one of the very first concerts that we ever went to was; I was working at a Taylor Swift show, and I brought her to go to the show with me. We went backstage and met Taylor Swift and hung out with her mom and stuff and, like, ate pizza with the band. It was like one of those magical first dates that you could never, ever top again.

Ron:  It's all downhill from there.

Dustin: It's all downhill from there. But she stuck with me, we'll be married 15 years in November.

Ron:  Wait, so you took your now wife on a first date and on that first date because you were working the crew, you were able to go backstage and eat pizza with Taylor Swift and her family?

Dustin: Yes. It was a lot of fun.

Ron:  Did she offer to marry you right there?

Dustin: Pretty much. I mean, it was pretty much one of those things where we knew we were meant to be together and we've had a lot of fun over the years. So our daughter Sophia is very musical and stuff as well. So we're always been a very musical family.

Ron:  Do you play any instruments yourself?

Dustin: I don't. I've tried to play the guitar many times, and I'm horrible at it. It's one of those things I think I haven't ever committed hard enough to learn it and do it like I should.

Ron:  You see, John just posted here, so I got to put that on the screen. John says on Facebook "A little late, but I'm in love with this man forever and always.".

Dustin: That's my bro.

Ron:  That's your bro. John's a good guy. We're going to tell some John stories. So John, stay tuned. We're going to tell some behind the scenes with John stories. But we're also going to say hello to Tomas. "Good morning, all. Saludos from Panama." Good to see you, Tomas. Thanks for joining us. We also have Pola. She says, such a proud Mama go son, go! So we're giving your mom some airtime here. She is tuned in. All right, so to honor your uncle. What was his name again? And what was the name of his business?

Dustin: His name was Butch Koeger, and his business was Custom Home and Commercial Electronics.

Ron:  Is Butch still with us?

Dustin: No, he sadly passed away about probably eight years ago, I think. But he was a really awesome guy and just one of the probably the smartest people that I've ever met and know more about this stuff than almost anybody. It was one of those things having somebody like that to learn from, like drinking from a fire hydrant sometimes, but just really amazing the layers of stuff that he was able to impart.

Ron:  Was he working right up to the end? Was he running his business?

Dustin: Oh, yeah. Him and his sister were partners in the business, so she was an accountant and did all the accounting for him. He ran all the project management stuff and the day to day stuff and then just had, like, small crews of guys that he worked with all the way up until the end of his life.

Ron:  Got it!

Dustin: Yeah, he helped grow my love for AV. He was one of those people that helped explain that it was a lot more than just plugging stuff up and you really had to get in there and be passionate about what you're doing.

Ron:  So you move back and you're doing live tours and if for nothing else so that you can take your girlfriend and now wife on an amazing behind the scenes, then you check out of that industry because you get married now I'm making this up.

Dustin: Yeah.

Ron:  So what happens next?

Dustin: That was pretty much it. Yeah. I got married and we had our daughter Sophia, and I could not be on the road for eight to ten days at a time and gone more than half the year. So I went back to AV and started a small company in the Arkansas area called Smart Southern Homes and worked there for just a little while until I saw this big box truck one day. On the side of it it had this pretty cool looking emblem and it said Hometronics. So I called the guy and just check out what he had going on. His name was Wallace Hattonhower. Ended up being a really good salesman and just a total mess otherwise sometimes, but a very nice guy. He ran the company for quite some time that I worked at and kind of moved on to one or two other places and kind of ended up meeting John at CEDIA one year and worked at Hometronics again. So it was kind of a full circle back to Hometronics after it was bought by another owner. That was really, I think, a turning point for me in terms of my growth as an individual in AV really helped kind of show me what was out there in the world and have a lot more understanding of running the business on a day to day and what that took in order to really help the business succeed. So me and John have worked countless hours doing that stuff and really one of my great friends.

Ron:  At Hometronics, you were not only doing local work in Payetteville or the other towns or cities there in Arkansas. You were traveling around the country, weren't you?

Dustin: Oh, yeah. Me and John went all over the country multiple times. We had a really nice contract with Altitude Trampoline Parks, and we did probably ten or twelve of those in a couple of years. That was Florida, all over Pennsylvania and New York, some really fun places to go. So we go all over the country and just have a great time fooling around.

Ron:  Show me the Laguna or tell the audience the Laguna Hotel story.

Dustin: Oh, Laguna. Yes, Laguna was probably one of the best times we had. We went down for a planar certification for the TDF walls and we're out there hanging out and we got in a little bit early. So we're probably like 10:30 in the morning, we're going to the hotel. We're like we're going to see if they let us check in. So we get there and we're hanging out in the lobby and nobody's there. Finally this guy walks out on the front desk and he's like, oh, yeah, we can get you checked in, but those rooms aren't quite available. Would you mind waiting while we get you something fixed up and he's like, let me go make you a sangria. We're like, yeah, 10:00 a.m. Sangria. Perfect. So we get these white wine sangria, little pieces of pear and blueberries in it and stuff. It was the best sangria we ever had. We're sitting there drinking and talking to this guy and we're getting our rooms checked in and me and John are sitting there and he's like, well, there's two rooms, there's a suite and there's an ocean view room. John's like, you haven't been to California in a long time, Dustin, you should have the ocean view. The guy's like, sir, that is so generous. We walk out and he's like, let me show you to your rooms. We walked by this one with a gate and he's like, yeah, this is one of the blah blah suites. Really beautiful. Well, let's go ahead and go in. So we walk into the suite and there's a beautiful living room area that's gigantic. You walk in and there's like a giant walk-in shower and a fantastic King size bed. He's telling us all about the hotel and the history. Then he hands John the key and I'm thinking, wow, if this is the other room, the ocean view has got to be amazing.

Ron:  Right! Of course.

Dustin: We're walking up the stairs and the guys are talking about the view and how gorgeous it is. We get up there and he opens the door and it is like a sardine can. It's so small that I can literally have to turn, like, and hold my arms up to turn in the shower. Like of the room. Every morning, for whatever reason, I still haven't figured out why at 04:00 in the morning, somebody's alarm would go off in the room next to us and ring for about 4 hours. Must have been a very heavy sleeper. John, in the meantime, is down there in the lap of luxury with his living room suite. Nicer than the room that I had. So I'll never let him live that down ever.

Ron:  That's funny. Do good things just always happen to John? Is it infectious or are good things attracted to him? What's your rate on that?

Dustin: Absolutely. Yeah. I can't count the number of times we'll go into like a hotel or something, and we'd be checking in, and then the lady at the front desk would be like, you have beautiful eyes. And he'd be like, I've never heard that before.

Ron:  There he is. I see him posting. John says, for listening audiences. He says, always worked out for me everywhere we go. So if you're out there and you don't know Mr. John Campbell, you need to meet Mr. John Campbell because he is one of a kind. So what is a day? Let's bring it. I don't know that I brought it to the present. I don't know that I enabled you or allowed you to bring it to the present. So your story, you were at HomeTronics. What were you doing there and what happened after that?

Dustin: Yes, I started as the branch manager of the Little Rock market and then probably about a year or so into that ended up moving up to the Jonesboro area to be the general manager over the Fayetteville, Little Rock and Jonesboro branches. So normal day to day is I would go in probably 5:30 in the morning and I would start doing all the warehouse work to pull all the stuff that the guys needed for the jobs, all the miscellaneous parts and materials and stuff. Then I would help the guys get coordinated on their installations in the morning, I would go to probably 30 or 40% of the installations and actually assist with them on the more complicated installs for things that needed to be done, especially when we're talking about traveling like long distances and then normal like approving of quotes and working with John to help kind of iron out larger proposals for huge commercial installations and things along those lines. Pretty much anything and everything that you can do in a given day.

Ron:  Interesting. And what happened next?

Dustin: Well, we had a really bad tornado in March right in the middle of Covid. There's like $100 million worth of damage to Jonesboro, like a town of only 70,000. It was an awful lot of damage. A lot of the businesses closed down and didn't reopen during that time because who would want to invest all that money during Covid when everything was going as crazy as it was? My daughter and my wife were both working remotely. My wife actually worked as my assistant in the Little Rock branch area and then became the headbiller and scheduler for HomeTronics for a long time as well. So we kind of both came together and worked at HomeTronics and tried to see kind of where we could go with it and what we could do with it. But it got to a point with Covid and everything where we said it might be an opportunity to move to Colorado, where we had dreamed of coming for many years. Growing up, my wife had vacationed in Dylan and Silver Thorne every summer. It was magical for her, so she always had this nostalgic dream of moving to Colorado. We found that we were able to make that happen. Our daughter was probably 13, a couple of years from high school. We said if she gets into high school, we're not moving until she's probably out of College. So we just made the determination to look into Colorado and probably in 2018, we had came to Golden for a vacation. We went to Red Rocks for a show there. I had actually stopped by listening up in Denver and just walked through it and was pretty blown away by what they were doing naturally. That was kind of one of the first people that I called and within just a few minutes of calling had gotten a call back from one of the guys, and that was the branch manager, he tried to get me to move out there. So I think it was a fantastic fit, really, for our family. But I sure do miss working with John and stuff. He's one of a kind.

Ron:  No, he is. What is a day in the life? What is a day in the life for you there in Colorado Springs as the GM, what's a normal day look like?

Dustin: So I get up and start pretty early, get in there before the guys get there and try to make sure that everything go over with the warehouse manager to make sure everything's pulled and prepped for the day. It's really been a lot I've only been doing it now for here, and I've only been the manager now in Colorado Springs for probably four months.

Ron:  Okay.

Dustin: 00:22:53.544 So I started out of sales, moved into the management role, and I've been kind of immersing myself in the process. So I've started to take kind of a top down look from operations all the way through, from when the guy greets the person when they come in the door or on the phone, to the process of them becoming a lead and kind of helping my sales staff, my junior sales guys kind of understand the process of sales and what it takes to properly design and implement a system. So we go through I meet with most of the guys on a daily basis to go over whatever projects they might have in their pipeline, go over quotes, and then me and the project manager will discuss different projects that are upcoming and just kind of trying to stay ahead of the game, go out and do a fair amount of hand holding and with the nicer clients and stuff as well, just trying to go through the projects. The larger projects are being completed and make sure everybody's happy and has been properly trained and all of that fun stuff.

Ron:  For those that may not be aware, ListenUp has locations in multiple cities. Do you mind running us through that?

Dustin: Yeah. So we have our main office and our first what we call Store One, which is the Denver store on Pearl Street, is our main location. Then we have Colorado Springs, Albuquerque and Boulder. Then we actually have multiple different locations potentially for our e-commerce stuff that we do through Amazon. But we have a large warehouse in the Denver area that is kind of the main hub of that operation.

Ron:  From your experience both in sales and as GM, how is an operation that has both retail and custom and you have e-commerce? How is that different than your experience in a pure integration type operation?

Dustin: Well, it's a lot different dealing with the customers that come in on a day to day. And those customers have completely different expectations than contract sales customers. They are looking for a product that they can physically pick up and walk out the door. If they don't find what they want, then they'll go somewhere else. So it's the challenge of understanding what products are going to be popular and what you need to stock and keep in the store for those people that physically need a product right that second. Then the thing that I'm finding probably the most fascinating route ListenUp right now is the concept that I had not been previously aware of, of Omnichannel operations. So what they're describing there is a synchronization between every aspect of the business, from website to retail to e-commerce, all the way through giving a person the exact same experience from one end of the spectrum to the other so that they know that they've worked with ListenUp and that it's a quality interaction. So that's been kind of something to wrap my mind around is not just taking into consideration the standard integration format that all of us are in AV are running, but also adding the storefront and then keeping in mind the integration between the web and the e-commerce all in sync together is really probably the coolest thing that I've been learning about from ListenUp.

Ron:  Without disclosing any corporate secrets, certainly don't do that. But I'm super curious of how you're trained in that. Is there curriculum, is there videos? Is it on the job training with senior leaders or coaches or mentors? How is that transmitted?

Dustin: So a lot of it is, like you said, from the senior leadership, there is ongoing leadership meetings where we discuss and learn how we're going to train our staff appropriately to execute these things. Part of it is kind of an ongoing evolution of a process. So we have put a lot of people in place in specific positions in order to capitalize and to help us transition to that Omnichannel approach. So we have like David Huddlesson, he's our ecommerce manager. He has been instrumental in helping design the website and keeping it coordinated to where you could potentially have web sales that are maybe coming in to the store to pick those up or we're delivering them. But it's not necessarily a purchase to ListenUp per se. Maybe it's going through like, Amazon, where we're still getting an opportunity to put a face to a name and to let somebody know that even though this is coming from Amazon and you're getting it Prime or whatever that might be, there's a real person behind it that is trying to supply you with a product at a very high level of quality.

Ron:  Yeah, that's fascinating. I'm curious, given these are stressful times, anyone that listens to the show knows that most businesses around the country are dealing with varying levels of stress. Now, some of that stress is because there's so much work. It's like, how do we get it all done? Some of that stress is caused by some other reasons. First of all, curious high level how is business in Colorado Springs? Like, what's the market like right now?

Dustin: We have far more work than we can do. One of the things in Colorado Springs that we do that's a little bit different than what we would normally do in ListenUp in the other locations is we have really focused very, very heavily on the builder market. So we probably have north of 15 builders that we're working with on a regular basis for all of the projects that they have ongoing for just regular standard AV work. Plus, with ListenUp's, long history and people knowing that we're here and have been in the Springs for 25 years, there's a lot of people that just come in the door on a day to day basis and say, hey, we're finishing out a basement and we want to put in a theater or a multipurpose space home. Networking and stuff has been huge. Trying to just help get people to understand that if you're going to stay in your house a lot more and you're going to use the services, you're going to have to have the infrastructure appropriate to do that makes sense.

Ron:  We have a few more comments here. Taylor Campbell says if he can keep 1000 plants alive, he can keep his clients happy, no problem. Then everybody loves Recon says, thanks to Dustin, they're getting all my money. So I'm thinking maybe that's a ListenUp customer.

Dustin: Absolutely. Yeah. That's my friend Jose. He's pretty awesome. Met him through ListenUp and ended up going and hanging out with him and his family and stuff. His daughter, same age as my daughter. They're going to the same high school. So it's been cool. He's a lot of fun.

Ron:  How are you guys handling supply chain issues? Have you guys found workarounds maybe because of your volume or what are you dealing with right now?

Dustin: It's really about looking at availability on a larger scale and trying to figure out what items are getting pinched harder than others. I think the main things that everybody's seeing big problems with are Lutron and Crestron. The lead times on Lutron Dimming modules right now is 24 to 32 weeks. Lead time on Crestron for just a TSR 310 is north of 39 weeks, maybe 40.

Ron:  That's the handheld remote.

Dustin: That's the handheld touchscreen remote. So it's been really just a situation where we've looked at those product lines and said, well, what can we provide to the customer that is available? One of the things I think Control Four and Snap AV have done remarkably well is navigate the chip shortage and be able to use multiple different sets of materials in order to still get the products out the door. Whereas companies like Crestron and Lutron that use a specific chip for a specific function have been most negatively impacted.

Ron:  Got it. How are you handling the hiring shortages, or are you seeing hiring shortages?

Dustin: Yes. It's awful. Finding qualified people is nearly impossible. It's just looking for a needle and a stack of needles. But I think it's going to be one of those things where we're going to have to hire guys and train them and understand that that's a two year, two and a half year process to have a competent, functional technician and just understand that in the meantime, there will be a lot more work to be done.

Ron:  Got it! Does it simply mean that you're booking further out in your pipeline, you're booking projects month or quarters out, whereas maybe historically it wouldn't be that far out?

Dustin: Oh, we're definitely booking at least six to eight weeks out at a minimum. Then for service work, we're trying to fit it in faster than that, obviously, in the two to three week category. But it's an ongoing challenge, and things are getting pushed out farther and farther. Then we added an extra component of difficulty by starting an electrical department in the Springs recently. So the President of our company, Ben Larkin, he holds the electrical master license for our company. So we have an electoral division now.

Ron:  Tell everyone Ben's story. Ben, he's worked his way up.

Dustin: Yeah. Technician to project manager to really becoming a partner for Walt and having Walt pass on the mantle of the leadership of the company. Walt is a very strong leader. He's a very smart guy, and he speaks with wisdom and integrity. For him to select someone was not going to be just some task that he was going to undertake and have it be something that wasn't completely supposed to be there. Ben is just absolutely to the core an exemplary representative of ListenUp. He's a super fantastic, really smart guy. It's an incredible insight into all the different levels of what goes on with the business. So when I have questions about maybe how to proceed on the process or whatever, he almost always has an answer right there ready for you.

Ron:  That's cool. How are you feeling the second half of 2022 is going to finish out for maybe the business at large and then your Colorado Springs location?

Dustin: Yes, I think our location in particular, we're really poised to finish out the year very strongly because of all of the builder business that we have going on. We've got several large homes that are going to be finishing out in the September timeline for the parade. So that's a big deal around Colorado Springs every year is the parade of homes. These larger, more bespoke custom builders that we're working with want a $2 to $5 million model home that they will show off all of the things that they can do. We've been really lucky to partner with them in a lot of ways to help showcase what we do and then also kind of help explain automation and stuff to people who still maybe don't quite know what it is. I think that's one of the bigger challenges of what we're going to be doing in the next several years is just helping people with all of the Google Homes and these little do it yourself solutions, helping them understand why it's so important to have a fully integrated system.

Ron:  So there's rumblings of a recession. Maybe we're in the recession, maybe the recession is going to be forthcoming. Do you have any feelings on whether that's going to potentially impact business as you look ahead, maybe beyond six months, but to the next, say, 24 months?

Dustin: Yeah. I think that having the rise of COVID and what we all saw record numbers year over year now for several years, I think it's not permanently sustainable. There's going to be some form of contraction. It's not going to be gangbusters every year from here on out. If it was, then that's fantastic. But I don't think that's something that we can expect. I think that people need to be prepared for the supply chain crunch and then also the downturn from people being able to be more free and getting out again. We're just going to have to kind of ride that wave like everybody else. I think that we've been smart as a company about managing what we're doing and keeping ourselves economically poised. Well to continue no matter if there's a downturn or not.

Ron:  So when I think of Colorado and I've spent a little bit of time in Colorado Springs and you think of nature, you want to spend as much time outside as possible, or in your case, you brought outside inside because you have your jungle behind you. What types of solutions, I'm thinking from an integration standpoint, sometimes there's regional trends. If you're, for example, here in South Florida, people at least in the winter are spending time outside on their patios by the pool, some music systems and sound systems and TVs are popular outside. What are trends, if any, that you're seeing in your marketplace? What are the types of solutions that are really in demand right now?

Dustin: Yeah. I think the biggest one we're seeing is people are still uncertain about what will happen in terms of Covid. So they are building more infrastructure into the homes. Even when we're bringing in the outdoors as a solution and helping landscape audio systems, outdoor televisions, all sorts of outdoor lighting. So we're doing Coastal Source, outdoor lighting, outdoor audio. Bringing those solutions together and then keeping them all automated under the same platform is hugely popular right now. Then the home theater bubble has just been incredible. We have seen more home theaters. I've probably seen more home theaters done in the last two years here than I have probably in the last ten years in Arkansas. I mean, it's just a gigantic upswing.

Ron:  Are there basements in Colorado or where are people putting these theaters?

Dustin: Everybody has a basement, and that's all, pretty much all where they're going.

Ron:  That's interesting. When you get the project, are you getting in at the new construction so you have plans and you get to design it out of the way?

Dustin: Yeah. With most of our builders, we're getting in on that phase with people that are coming in the store. Typically, they've already been in contact with a general contractor and might have plans for framing already drawn up. Then we would come in and help them design the theater. Most of the time I say theater, it's probably a 50 50 split between actual real home theaters, dedicated movie room spaces, and what we would call a multipurpose room. Or maybe you've got a large TV, maybe like 100 inch TV in there instead. That way you can keep the lights on, you got a pool table in the back, you're hanging out, and it's zoned audio throughout that space so that you can then turn it up in different places as you need to and then kind of keeping all that in one kind of integrated room.

Ron:  Speaking of movies, have you gone out and seen Top Gun Maverick?

Dustin: I'm going to see it this weekend for sure. It looks amazing.

Ron:  Yeah. I took my family this past weekend. It's good old school summer blockbuster fun. It's not a Marvel movie, which is fantastic. For any Marvel fans out there, I don't want to offend, but my God, just bring us a good summer movie that isn't a Marvel movie. Top Gun is it! It was fun.

Dustin: When you see Tom Cruise, I mean, at 60 years old, he looks magnificent.

Ron:  It is ridiculous. I'm not going to lie. My wife and I were talking. There's like a scene where he's out playing touch football on the beach and he's like out there supposedly tackling and getting tackled with a bunch of early 20 something men and women that are in the peak fitness of their lives. He held his own. The man was fit. It was impressive.

Dustin: He does a lot of his own stunts, too, which makes him like, that's pretty ballsy. If you're going to get out there and jump off of a building or something like that, you're doing it up well.

Ron:  So most of the scenes where he's in the cockpit and even the Talon in the movie, a lot of those scenes are real. People are in planes and they're going through these high maybe they aren't pulling ten GS like in the movie, but they're pulling high G maneuvers. And you see the skin on their face getting pulled back and the struggle to breathe. It was intense. It was good. It was a movie I'd watch again. For us old farts that know the original movie like my son's never seen the original, so he didn't have any nostalgia for the scenes that are making references to the original. But if you're into the original and I probably watched the original 20 times, then there's just so many points where I'm not going to lie. You're going to tear up. It's good stuff.

Dustin: Nice. Yeah. I love movies. That's one of the things I do a lot is I have hundreds of movies and just kind of roll through watching even some that I really enjoy. I've watched probably 100 times.

Ron:  All right, what are five go to movies? This is going to make it into our comments list. We're going to put this in the feed on social media. Give me random, zero pressure, I'm not even going to say your best or your favorite. But what are five movies that if you're going to go and turn a movie on on a Saturday evening and enjoy time with family, what are those going to be?

Dustin: Let's see. I love Step Brothers, pretty amazing. Pretty much anything mostly with Will Farrell, he's awesome. I love the Lord of the Rings movies. I'm a big Star Wars fan. I have probably 25 different Star Wars T-shirts that I wear on an ongoing basis and a lot of other ones. I would say if I'm watching it with my wife, huge Titanic fan.

Ron:  Yeah, I remember Titanic when it came out. I think I watched it like three times in a row at the theater. It was amazing.

Dustin: Oh, it's a fantastic movie. Then if you want to get something a little bit scarier, I'm a big fan of the original, IT movie. It was awesome.

Ron:  Wow. Okay. I personally stay away from all horror, but I've heard good things about it. If you're into getting the shit scared out of yourself, which is usually not my cup of tea, I see Everybody Loves Recon posted here; Little Shop of Horrors, obviously.

Dustin: Oh, that's a good one. Yeah. I've got one of those in the other room.

Ron:  Sean from Audio Quest, he goes, I hear Star Wars. I totally heard Star Wars too, Sean. My son is going to love that. Then when you said Lord of the Rings, I was like, my threat to my family is that if there's ever a dull moment or a moment where I'm looking to fill it, it's either The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. They're going on. I could sit there all day or all weekend and watch those movies again and again and again. I love fantasy.

Dustin: Oh, yeah.

Ron:  But it is not for everyone. Everyone does not love fantasy.

Dustin: Yeah, I've read all of those books probably five times. So it's my favorite series of books and movies like of all time.

Ron:  Alright, I'm being asked to ask you if you've ever seen King of the Hill?

Dustin: Absolutely. It's my favorite show, my all time favorite shows. My real dad actually sells like propane accessories. So it's like a really close to home thing.

Ron:  That's awesome. Then Sean says, ListenUp, number one. ListenUp store now in my books.

Dustin: Awesome.

Ron:  I think. What are you saying there, Sean? Number one, ListenUp store now in my books. Shawn, you have to clarify. I got to remember, man, I'm post Covid here. I'm not totally clear and coherent. So you got to tell me exactly what that means. The Lord of the Rings, Sean. All right. I promise. I'm going to get back to questions. But, man, bringing the movie topic up. The channel blew up, Flight of the Navigator. Thank you, Paula was his favorite when he was little. Flight of the Navigator. Is that the one? Flight of the Navigator.

Dustin: That's where PeeWee Herman plays the robot voice for the spaceship. The guy, you know, the kid gets taken by the spaceship and they go across the country and back in time to get him back to his family.

Ron:  Is that the one where he gets out of the ship and he goes pee and then the robot asks him if he's leaking?

Dustin: Exactly.

Ron:  Yeah. I totally know that movie. I bet you I watched it 20 times as a kid.

Dustin: Oh, it's a great movie.

Ron: That's awesome. All right. I like him the best of all locations because you love Star Wars. So Sean is a big Star Wars buff or fan, if you didn't know that. I think it was just Star Wars National event or trade show recently. I saw Sean on social media at that event in full regalia Stormtrooper regalia and hanging out with all his other Stormtroopers. So that's nice, Mr. Sean. So question in terms of rooms, I'm curious. I've seen a trend where the home office and this is really over covid the last two years, the home office became a thing again. Builders were specifying it on their plans. Integrators were being asked to put in infrastructure or technology solutions. Did you see that? And are you still seeing that?

Dustin: We're definitely still seeing it. People are going more back to the office, but they're still keeping a home office. Most of the time now you're getting pretty robust home network going along with that. Pretty much the foundation of everything that we sell builds off of the home network. Then we go from there because if we can get that right out of the gate, everything else is going to be much simpler and much less problems down the road.

Ron:  Pre-Covid retail, we'll keep the channel clean in case there are customers watching, so we'll talk retail installed. What would pre-covid what would a network go for in a home and what's post-covid and people really, I'm theorizing appreciating the value and importance of a robust network.

Dustin: Yeah. I mean, a lot of times it's the difference of just the access points in the routers themselves. So you go from instead of a $420 access point, you might go with a $1250 access point because maybe you've got gigabit into the home and you want to make sure that you've got WiFi Six capable and everything into end is going to be gigabit throughput. So you might even run like a Cat Six A or Cat Six AS, get some shielding on the cabling and just so taking the standard of what you would do and then just raising that a couple of levels really in just in terms of product.

Ron:  In terms of dollars or the spend by a consumer, what would they spend before Covid and what would they spend today?

Dustin: Probably be a couple thousand dollars before Covid. Now we regularly do networks from $4500 to $7500 for somewhat larger homes.

Ron:  Got it for our listeners. They know this. I've bragged multiple times, multiple occasions, but I got really randomly lucky. I moved into this house in September of 19 and the first thing I did was for the first time I spent real money and I got a real network. So I've got up in my closet up here, Middle Atlantic rack, all my Cisco gear. Oh, gosh, what's the ruckus access points inside and out. My friends over at Advanced Home Theater or HT down in Miami helped me out. When Covid hit, obviously the demands on our home network, were the highest. I'm here video streaming all day long with my customers and people in the industry. My son was video streaming and we might be listening to music and so stream all the demands on our network. I might add, we have a Fiber AT&T fiber connection, one gig connection to the house. So we all cruised and never missed a beat. I mean, it was awesome and there's no other way to fly. I imagine that your customers and the customers of our Integrators today see the value of a network and they're ready to spend money for good gear and reliability. Do you see that reverting back? 00:49:39.790 I don't think so. I think that people are going to maybe here in five years or so, six years. People are going to be so used to having that level of connectivity, it will be like you couldn't imagine not having it. So I think it'll be one of those things kind of like with each advent that has been better in Internet and gotten significantly better and better and better, people get to a point where they can't imagine what it was like without that stuff. I think that's a real benefit to us as Integrators, the more comfortable people become with this stuff, the more time they spend with the technology, the more money they're going to find to be reasonable in search of creating a system that works for their family.

Ron:  We have a CEDIA coming up in September. Are you going? Is your team going? Is ListenUp, going? How are you guys thinking about the show?

Dustin: I know I was on the books to go last year, but then we decided at the end that we weren't going to go because it was just a little too crazy. So I'm sure we probably will show up in some force this year. I know there's probably some of our commercial teams heading down to Infocomm. So I know you mentioned having a booth down there. Congrats on that. That's pretty awesome, man.

Ron:  Yeah, thank you. We're picking up more and more commercial clients, and there is, I think, a lot of opportunity to help a lot of people.

Dustin: The partnerships you've been announcing lately with Josh.ai, that's some really cool stuff. So really super glad to see that for you. That's awesome!

Ron:  I appreciate that. I think that there's an opportunity where manufacturers want to drive their agenda. They want to get their message out there into the wild. Integrators are often doing volumes of businesses with manufacturers and earning some level of MDF funding or rebates. I'll just call it a bucket of marketing dollars. The Integrator has the website with the traffic and the social channels and the email lists. So we've been inventing programs that are kind of acting as the middle man, connecting all the dots, connecting the vendors with the dealers through the channel. So the dealers are getting the leads and all of that information is protected and not shared with the vendor. But the vendor gets their voice heard, they get their story out there on the street. And it's being received very well. We've got exciting programs with Sony, and you mentioned Josh. At the beginning of the year, a big one was we were formally announced in partnership with Lutron MDF, so dealers can spend their marketing dollars with One Firefly and most services are pre approved. So, yeah, man, it's just part of pushing the ball forward. Sometimes it feels like you're pushing it uphill and sometimes it rolls backwards, but you just got to keep pushing and that's what we're doing. So question for you, Dustin, what technologies have you excited? What are the trends? What's out there on the cutting edge, either for the industry or for you that you're excited about?

Dustin: Well, it's funny if you ask me that a couple of years ago I might have said something different, but lately I have been just really impressed with the push forward and shading and window treatment solutions. It's one of the things that we're really trying to focus on in terms of learning and growth for sales potential because it's something that traditionally, I think for a long time Integrators had ignored and now are coming around to embrace it full circle. That and probably lighting is probably the two things that I think I'm the most excited about right now. So I mentioned briefly that we opened an electrical department for ListenUp, doing line voltage work and stuff. So we're actually getting to do outlet upgrades and switch upgrades and fixture upgrades for people and helping them understand digitally addressable lighting like Ketra. Starting to kind of understand how changing that lighting during the day and stuff might be appropriate for a good solution for what they're looking to do and helping them to understand all of the different types of warm dimming and other features of these lighting fixtures that otherwise people would probably just have a $25 Juneau six inch can in the ceiling.

Ron:  What I want to know is, would your plants be happier if they had Ketra lighting?

Dustin: My plants would be much happier with Ketra lighting. That's one of those things that you never know might be in the books, in the house, here in the near future.

Ron:  I hear them whispering to me up there through the universe. They're saying, Bring me better lighting. No, I'm just joking. So in terms of Ketra, are you finding that there's demand at the consumer level, at the designer level, at the architect level, or are you feeling that you're raising it in the conversation as a solution to some problem you've heard the customer exhibit? How is that transacting right now?

Dustin: Yeah, I think that it's more on the designer level than it is on the customer level. The customers are excited about it and there's a lack of knowledge, I think, in terms of why circadian rhythm lighting or color tunable lighting might be appropriate for a specific situation. But designers really understand the value of lighting and doing it in layers. That's one of the things that people don't necessarily think about. You go into a lot of bedrooms and there's a fan and four cans and that's it. The light is not really evenly distributed in the room. There's no lighting down low or eye level lighting to help the light transition through the space as it should normally through the day. A lot of those things, once you put them in, can be heavily automated. So the client has very little interaction. I think one of the things that is interesting to me about home automation is the entire idea behind automation is control. Ideally, in a perfect world, in order to be really automated, there's no human interaction whatsoever. We think about home automation in a little bit of a different term where we think about it, we'll pull out our phone and I can manipulate everything on my phone and control my home. But the reality is what we really want to push towards is a situation where the human has to have very little interaction with the system whatsoever. And that the system understands what the person needs and the times of day that they would need those things and we would help bring that to bear for them.

Ron:  I agree and I think on that note, Dustin, we are going to wrap. We're right at the hour. For those that have enjoyed listening to you and your thoughts, opinions and ideas, how can they get in touch with you? What are the best recommendations on how to do that?

Dustin: They are welcome to email me, call me anytime. My email is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and phone number is 501-766-1898 and I would love to contact anyone. Be very glad to learn and grow more with anyone in the industry and then also reach out to me on my LinkedIn or Facebook page anytime. You can post that on the feed or whatever and be glad to talk.

Ron:  Yeah, we'll drop those handles into the chat stream, into the comments stream on social media as well as our landing page. Dustin thank you, sir. Thanks for joining me here on show 214 of Automation Unplugged.

Dustin: It was a real honor to be on. Thanks so much, Ron.

Ron:  Awesome. Thanks, Dustin.

SHOW NOTES:

Dustin has over 20 years of experience in AV. He got his start working for his uncle's AV business in the Northwest Arkansas region, where he learned the foundation of his knowledge and passion for the industry. Since then, he has gone from working as a technician, to project management, then into sales and executive leadership. He currently manages the Colorado Springs branch for ListenUp,  a company with an amazing 50-year legacy.

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:

Dustin 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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