Home Automation Podcast Episode #110: An Industry Q&A With Wim De Vos
In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, Wim De Vos, Thunder Lizard at Genesis Home Technology, shares his thoughts on how the custom integration industry can make it through this pandemic.
This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Wim De Vos. Recorded live on Friday, April 14th, 2020 at 12:30 p.m. EST.
About Wim De Vos
Wim and his team of ex-custom installers have been growing Genesis Home Technology Architects for over 10 years. Defined as a B2B service company with a product offering, Genesis provides solutions from design, training, and marketing programs. Their premium branded products are exclusively sold through a select network of 300 certified installation partners in France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal.
- Update on how COVID-19 is affecting European Installers
- Video marketing and how he’s sharing resources and knowledge to his Facebook audience
- Steps that Wim and his team are taking to make it through this crisis and ways our industry can prepare for these upcoming months
- Wim’s concept behind digital transformation and how it can affect small businesses
- The power of marketing and how it benefits businesses and strengthens their overall visibility and messaging
Ron: Hello! Welcome to another Automation Unplugged show. As we have been doing during these quarantine times, we've been bringing you more shows, more guests, more perspectives on business, on life, and on how our industry is handling this COVID-19 situation both personally and professionally. Here at One Firefly, we've been super busy. There's lots of marketing and messaging support that our clients have needed. I'm happy to say we're still all hands on deck here, everybody is happy and healthy and frankly working harder than ever for our valued customers. And we've also been very busy with webinars.
Don't forget to go over to the One Firefly website under the Learn menu, you'll see all of our webinar collection there. As we record them, we're immediately making them live and available for you. There's no gating of any kind. We put the recordings up there generally the same day or within 24 hours. I just taught a webinar yesterday that had over 100 people sit in and it was around social media strategies to help you grow. I definitely advise that you take a look at that. Without further ado, let me go ahead and introduce our guest. His name is Wim De Vos, he is with Genesis Home Technologies. They are a distributor in the south of Europe. They serve over 300 residential integrators throughout Europe. I've known him for a long time, actually since the founding of my business. I know we're going to have a good time and that you guys are going to love hearing from him. Let's go ahead and bring him in. How are you, sir?
Wim: Very well sir. Very well, given the circumstances.
Ron: Yeah, I wish we were speaking under different circumstances, in a different economic climate. But that's just not the way it is, is it?
Wim: Well, it's like the weather, you know. You have to take it the way it comes and then make the best out of it. We'll be OK.
Ron: We'll be OK. Where are you coming to us from?
Wim: I'm at home, I live in the south of Spain. Completely the southern tip of Europe. Gibraltar, Marbella. Nice weather, beaches, big houses.
Ron: It sounds like a beautiful place. Once we're allowed to travel again, I want to travel over there and check out your town.
Wim: You should. You should come over.
Ron: Alright. Our audience may or may not know you. Actually, I'll let them know how I know you. In 2007, I had started Firefly Design Group. I want to say in maybe 2008 at CEDIA, which would be in September, or '09, I had met some integrators and many of them immediately said, "You have to meet this guy Wim De Vos from Europe. You've got to tell him what you're doing at Firefly and you gotta look for opportunities to partner together." And I did.
I think I sought you out and or they connected us and you and I met for the first time and at that time Firefly was just doing project engineering work. We actually no longer do any of that type of stuff but that's how you and I met.
Wim: But we do!
Ron: hat's what you do!
Wim: So we've copied you.
Ron: Well, copying is the best form of flattery, right?
Ron: Tell our audience who you are. How did you get involved in the custom electronics industry?
Wim: I went to work for Barco Projection in China for the Cinema Division in 2001/2002. I lived in China for two and a half years and then from there, I moved inside of Barco. I moved to the Residential Division selling home cinema projectors. I didn't know how much money people were spending on technology. I mean I had no clue. I fell in love with the business for a few reasons first, you get to play with technology that few other people get to play with. Aside from the millionaires who buy it. Secondly, it's a relationship business which for the pro is not the case. I mean the cinema industry was still okay but comparing it to other industries I mean our industry is a relationship-driven business, which I truly like.
I fell in love with what we do but also how we build businesses and how we build relationships. Barco decided to close that division after a couple of years and then I went to work for a big integration firm in Spain, 40 people. I learned the ropes, understood how complex it is to be an integrator on many levels from people management to sales, finance, technology, and so on. I thought to myself, "Well, there's something here." As an integrator, you should be focused 90% of the time on your jobs, on your clients, and on the processes of your business. You should not be struggling to source equipment and you should not be sent from A to B to C to D. If something isn't working, it's always the other guy's fault.
We came up with the idea, a group of ex-custom installers to set up Genesis which basically is, we're not a one-stop-shop for installers but we want to integrate as much vertically as we can. We design systems, we do the training, we do the support. All done again by ex-custom installers. We've been in the shoes of our customers. We're a small business but successful over the last 12 to 13 years representing some e brands that are well regarded in the industry.
Ron: What are some of those lines that you guys currently represent?
Wim: Although I come from video, I really love sound. In sound, we do Steinway Lindorff, Artcoustics, Origin Acoustics, Stealth Acoustics. We have from the top end to the middle. We don't go lower than that. We have in-wall and ceiling. A lot of it is driven by audio control for the electronics and another well-known brand I think in the market over there. Then for cinema systems, we do DT Screens and Barco projectors, back to the roots. For everything that is control, both light comfort and control systems, a Control4 distributor but we also do some luxury. Ekinex is technology here for light control in Europe that's quite dominant.
But again, we do the higher end range so we do some products there. That's basically it. That's four things that we're selling. We're selling multi-room A/V, with the sound brands I mentioned and then quite some video over IP stuff, control, cinema, and networking. Networking stuff is increasing a lot, not so much on the product side but on the system design side, and the trading side that network is really - even now more, network is really growing for our business.
Ron: We're all going through a super interesting time with shutdowns globally, maybe interesting is putting it mildly. How are you guys being affected? I mean, first of all, are you and your family healthy? Is your team healthy?
Wim: Yes. Luckily we are all, thank you. And I hope the same over there. We are at the forefront of this whole cycle here in Spain. I don't know if the news about Spain and Italy reached the US, but Italy and Spain have been hit quite hard. I still think it's because we were one of the first countries to be hit. How have we been dealing with it?
Well inside the company, I posted a few videos basically explaining a few simple things we've done, like making sure your shop is in order, cash flow wise, organizationally, communication, set up regular communication, make sure people are comfortable with the situation, in the sense that aside from all the drama around this it's not that some bad thing is going to happen in the company.
"Rather than sticking his head in the sand and complaining, I know a lot of business has shut down for all of us globally, and you've actually been going and resurfacing books, ideas, and frameworks for thinking about how your business and your customers can actually think about handling themselves during these times."
Ron: I want to interrupt Wim because I want my audience to understand what Wim is doing. I think it's super interesting. Wim has been creating videos on Facebook, I've actually watched his videos and I love the content. Rather than kind of sticking his head in the sand and complaining, I know a lot of your business has shut down for all of us globally and a lot of it has slowed down or shut down, you've actually been going and resurfacing books, ideas, and frameworks for thinking about how your business and your customers can actually think about handling themselves during these times.
Your videos are raw, there you are in your sweatpants. Throwing this up on Facebook is really gold in terms of content. What gave you the idea to start doing that? Do you even mind sharing some of the ideas or the cliff notes of some of the content you've produced?
Wim: Well, this is not the first crisis I think many of us went through. We 2008 and 2012 which was a financial crisis. It's not the first crisis. We had another one before that so every seven or eight years we go through this. I learned a lot from the previous ones and I got through them because other people helped me. I picked up the phone, the first thing I do - and normally what you should do, I think, when you're in trouble. You pick up the phone and call some people and say, "Hey, what do you think?" We're OK, our company is solid during this one. We were prepared so that's fine.
But I was thinking, "What can I do?" The people who are really doing amazing stuff are in the hospitals, policemen, firemen. But what can we do? In the beginning, I was truly convinced that this was much bigger than we thought. I think every video, in the beginning, I opened with that. I just said that because I didn't know exactly why, but I sensed that this was like system failure on many levels. I thought to myself, "Well, what about all these small businesses and these people who are now sitting at home thinking, 'I'm going to lose everything.' What do you do for them?" I thought well the only thing I can do is try to take all of these books and all of that advice and repackage it as simple as possible where you can do something with it. There's no point to go through a wealth of networks, 400 pages dense material to figure out like two or three learning points. That's not the way. I thought to make it really, really, really simple and actionable. I threw it out there and the first thing I thought of is the basis of any business is the cash. Just go through that, make that an exercise with your team, do a cash stress test.
The other thing is, your people. Inside and outside of the company, communicate, connect because we're all feeling alone. Make video calls and phone calls, call your customers, and ask if they are OK. What's going on with them? The third element of the triangle is your value add. Your value add was maybe, I don't know, high-end home theaters or hi-fi or whatever. That's not there. What's your business deal value add now in this stage? What is it going to be after this stage? I call it three waves. I think the first wave is, we're all under and we need air and be calm, not try to foresee the future. The second wave is going to be when we're going to look around and see that three out of 10 are no longer standing. The ones that were big are now very small and the ones that are small may be very big. Big in the sense that they look full of opportunity. That's going to be a new start. Then the third wave is going to be our next seven years of bull-run. I mean, there's no denying that's out there.
Maybe not in two months, maybe it's six or nine but that third wave, we're all going to surf that one. That's for sure. The trick is to be alive and well after the first one, which is hitting us now, and not lose our cool. The second one is to be fit and ready for the sprint, that's the second wave. And then the third one we're all going to surf that one. That also depends on where you were in the second. Were you in the first line up or not in terms of that first wave?
Ron: You mentioned that you're reaching out to your dealers. Where are your dealers? What countries are they in?
Wim: France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal. And to set the record straight, we don't call them dealers. We call them partners in everything we do and say because truly everything we know, we've learned from our customers. There's no supplier that has really taught us a great deal. For that, we read their PDF's and product manuals. What we know - how to sell, how to service, how to design systems to make things work comes from our customers and that's why we call them partners. It's kind of, a little thing too to be able to give back to them what we've learned over over the years in business because that's maybe not their strong point business and marketing is maybe not immediately the strongest points of the integrators in our markets.
Ron: And I think that that goes globally. I don't think it's just in your market. I actually have a few questions I want to ask you around that. Our audience here at Automation Unplugged is global, although we probably have a larger percentage of people from North America listening than other markets. I think it's going to be interesting or my audience may be curious about what is the immediate right now. Today's Tuesday, April 14th, 2020. What's the status of your dealers, are any of them working? Are they allowed to work or are they locked down?
Wim: 5% is trying to work and 95% is locked down. To give you an idea, here in Spain I have not been allowed to leave my home for four weeks already. The only thing I'm allowed to do is go to the supermarket, go to the pharmacy, or if there's an emergency. I'm not allowed to walk 500 meters away from my home. I'm not allowed to go anywhere. Businesses were shut down gradually over those four weeks. We are completely in the deep freeze mode.
As is happening everywhere, it's always an announcement of two weeks. You might think that in two weeks it will get better, but now we're four weeks in and it's already announced that there are another four weeks to go. That's eight weeks going through the desert, not seeing your customers, not serving, not getting paid, not seeing your staff. There are people who still do it, then there are countries that could go out there, but honestly, south of Europe the economies have now stopped completely. There's nothing.
Ron: Here in the United States, there were a couple of different government assistance programs have been activated. Stimulus checks are going out to anyone in our society that makes under, I want to say it was either $75,000. Then there was a government program for paycheck assistance of which we and many businesses applied. We actually were received our funds last week. What's happening over there? Is the government subsidizing? Are they providing income assistance?
Wim: Again, it varies per country. It's a moving train because I guess what you know today will be different than two weeks. But what I'm trying to get out there to the partners we have is that should help you bridge a gap, but not more than that. It's not a life-saving measure. You should analyze the side, act on your own. Because government help, a lot of them come in the form of loans and things like that. While you're trying to get all of that, if it's a loan, you're spending money you shouldn't be spending that you still off to pay it back even if the interest is low. And if the money arrives too late, well 70% of small businesses go out of business because of cash flow, not because of a lack of profitability or lack of market - just cash flow.
Ron: Can you go deeper into that subject? I know that you recorded a video on it and you even created a worksheet tool. Educate us. What is the cash flow management that partners or integrators should be following right now?
Wim: It's different for every business. There's no silver bullet or a magical rule. What I do know, is that a lot of small business owners the first thing they think of is salaries, fire people. I would say should be your last resort. If you really think cash flow, you're not thinking cost. You move from a result-based view of your business to a pure cash view of your business. That's the first thing you should do. Getting paid is much more important than firing your people. Cutting costs that are not needed whatsoever in the next three months is much more important. than firing your people. I'm not saying you may not have to reduce staff or use government help, there are some countries that are offering up to 80% of the salary of your people. But your people and your team you should make them understand that cutting a bit of their wage or security was your last resort. That's not where you start. That's where you end.
That's what a business owner does, you analyze the situation and if you're serious about your business in our industry, then your people are probably one of the biggest assets you have. When you're fighting for your livelihood hoping, you're building up your business again in a couple of months, you're not letting go of valuable assets. You want to secure them. Cash flow is getting money in the bank now and spending as little as you need to. You may not want to want to reduce your people in the first two weeks of this crisis. You may want to talk to them because some of your people may come up with solutions.
Ron: I want to jump into your thoughts around, for example, if your partners are shut down from a business transaction standpoint for the next 60 days approximately, what should they be doing right now to make sure they come out on the other side of this better stronger, faster, and ready to win?
Wim: The first thing we mentioned, take care of your survival and prepare for 90 days, not for 30. It's like when you're on the water. I used the analogy before when you're underwater you want to have 10 or 20 seconds more air and not be five seconds short. Prepare for 90 days, not for 30. And secondly, what I would say, and we are doing the same I mean following my own advice or sharing what we are doing depends on how you look at it is, call your customers and call your existing customers. It's not the moment to go and find new products, new customers, new suppliers, new opportunities. It's a time to connect with the people who have served in the past, ask how they are.
It's probably the first time in history that we're all in pretty much the same situation. We're all working from home, we're all having trouble with the Internet, we all have a spouse who's also working from home, and we have kids running around the households streaming 4K video and Facebook at the same time and they all want to watch movies together every evening, which never happened in the past. What I suggest call your 50 most loved clients, ask how they are, really care, and basically ask if there is anything you can do for them. Maybe it's simply to explain to them how Zoom works or help them with their network settings. That's the only thing I think you can do. If you're lucky enough that people are buying stuff and you can go out there and install, well all the better. But I truly think people always remember how you made them feel.
They don't remember what you say or what you can do. Now is a time to make sure people remember who you are and what you can do. I think we're all digital doctors and network nurses. We're not saving lives, that's for other people. But we can do our part. We can call the people who gave us their money to put stuff in their homes and now simply ask, "How are you dealing with the situation? How is the homework thing going?" That's what I recommend people to do because you can't deny that this is going to be 30 to 60 of the weirdest days in our lives.
Ron: What do you think changes on the other side of this? Up until the first week in March and again I'm speaking the US, when did Spain start going on lockdown?
Wim: Yeah, beginning of March beginning March.
Ron: There was the world before that and there's gonna be some version of normal after this quarantine. Is business the same? How do you think business is different?
Wim: It's a broad question. I think business fundamentals remain the same. But business has been changing for the last hundred years already and accelerating. I don't know exactly what will change. There's too much going on at the same time. I also don't think there's any point in trying to predict the future with everything changing around us but it is clear that we are all creating new habits 30 to 60 days in a row and a lot of these habits are here to stay.
What I think will change, it's more than thinking - I'm convinced what will change, is that the winners of yesterday may not be the winners of tomorrow and the startups of yesterday may be the winners of tomorrow and that could go very fast. There are a few things that I think will define the winners of tomorrow, which is company culture, the way you deal with people, and your own team - if you could work in this situation and produce great content and work and do your craft with trust between each other. Then digital transformation. If you haven't worked used digital platforms, you should get started like yesterday.
Ron: You're probably feeling it right now if you haven't been prioritizing that, I would imagine.
"The business fundamentals remain the same, I think it's more about the experience and relationships, not about product and specs."
Wim: Yeah, and I think big companies or winners who were able to still swing it up until December 2019, they will be so out of touch in six to twelve months. The business fundamentals remain the same, I think it's more about the experience and relationships, not about product and specs. I think the companies that get the culture and people thing right, plus digital transformation will come out on top of the deck of cards. They may have been in the middle all along but now suddenly they see, "Hey, where have all of these dinosaurs gone?" Well, that's what they were dinosaurs. It's also it's an opportunity for many of us, I think. I see opportunity in the context of terrible things happening.
But from a business point of view, it depends on how you look at it. If you want to go back to December 2019, then I think you're in for a rough ride. If you want to go into 2021 with a level playing field and open to see who's ready to take the prize, you may be in for the biggest growth sprint of your life. That's what will change, I think.
Ron: One of our listeners, Sean, just posted, "Really solid chat again. Very sound very valid comments around just having a conversation are important for all clients dealers and vendors." Sean's a great demonstration in the way he's leading his company. Talk to me about culture. What are the aspects of your company culture or just the company culture of the partners that you work with that you think are in their best position to shine given these circumstances?
Wim: I'm not a big believer in stars. I believe that when the end we're all just fairly normal regular people. But we all look for something to bring to the equation. It's about offering people a chance in a company to shine.
Ron: By the way, speaking of, your name on this intro is Chief Thunder Lizard.
Ron: Your team all have funny names. Do you mind sharing with my audience how you all have developed your own titles there at Genesis?
Wim: That's part of it. The idea was Phil's, who does our marketing. He says, "Well, how do we do the title thing on the website and everything?" and everybody had their own ideas so then we said, "Well, let's just go back to what do we each think we bring to the equation," in the broadest, wackiest way over a beer. For example, operations. They always have to solve the impossible. There's someone on our team who is like Wonder Woman, you have to do the impossible every day and that's your job when you're in operations. One of our team members is titled, ex-firefighter. Why? Because almost all of my team are ex-installers. He says, "Well, that's what I bring to my customers.
I'm telling them I was where you were. So I'm an ex-firefighter trying to do all of these things at the same time." Mine was Thunder Lizard. I picked up the term from a Stanford podcast from Mark Maples about growing businesses. Basically you go for the prize. It comes from Godzilla, thunder lizards are hatched from radioactive eggs, swim across the water, smash buildings. When you build your business, that's what you do. I also think we don't we don't have to take ourselves too seriously, that's a problem with many businesses. If you look at the suits, you look at the big companies at the trade shows.
I mean, those people take themselves way too seriously. We're not saving babies' lives, we're building businesses. We're doing some cool stuff but we're in the luxury industry so be who you are. I mean, that's it. I think in company culture, that's what it's about. There's this great book I read Drive, which talks about intrinsic motivation versus extrinsic motivation. I think that's what it's about. People don't come to work just to receive the highest paycheck, people want to want to bring something and make a difference. Those are the companies that will win, in my opinion moving forward.
"A lot of people in our industry, primarily here in North America, look at marketing at the bottom of a long list of priorities for their business. I'm here fighting, swimming upstream to try to challenge that thinking. I'm curious about your perspective."
Ron: What role, Wim, do you feel that marketing plays both now in the middle of this crisis and afterward? I mean you're big on marketing, you have a member of your team that runs marketing and you've been a great marketer for years. What is the philosophy you have? I'm going to give you an observation that a lot of people in our industry, primarily here in North America, look at marketing at the bottom of a long list of priorities for their business. I'm here fighting, swimming upstream to try to challenge that thinking. I'm curious about your perspective.
"Marketing is about defining your message and getting it to the people you want. You want them to hear your message and then make it resonate, so make it into an experience that it's an emotional message."
Wim: Well, you're about to be helped a lot, I think, by the situation because marketing is about defining your message and getting it to the people you want. You want them to hear your message and then make it resonate, so make it into an experience that it's an emotional message. Honestly, most of us in our industry are pretty poor at that but it's at the core of what we do.
You build great systems in terms of technology in a home. There are these millionaires out there with older representatives and the architects and you want them to know what you do and on top of it, you want them to choose you. There's no other way than marketing. I mean, it's basically where a business in our industry starts.
Ron: How do you handle the challenge? Your dealers are going to tell you that, "I don't need that marketing thing because I get all my work through referral, so I don't need to invest."
Wim: That's marketing. If you want your customers to repeat what you do and the experience they have thanks to your services, that's marketing. That's what you do, you prepare a message and a way of helping your customers give you referrals. That's marketing, that's the key.
Marketing is much more than a website. A website is probably the least important of all. It's crafting the message and finding exactly who who you communicate with and how. For example, the tone. Talking to an architect or talking to a client or an interior designer has a totally different way of communicating. That's all the marketing, getting the message and packaging right and bringing it in a convincing way. You've pivoted from when you did the system designs. People build great software tools for that and I think that got absorbed lower in the value chain and everybody thought they were doing their marketing right. And you basically took that and you said, no. That's where I can pull the best practices and knowledge.
I think you did a great job of doing that because we have somebody internal in our company to handle marketing but we outsource everything in terms of the work. The only thing we do internally is deciding what we need to do but we don't produce anything, that's up to professionals. A lawyer, an accountant, and a marketer you want to have truly the best professionals around you to advise you in my opinion, to build a business. Now more than ever.
Ron: I couldn't agree more. What is just a closing piece of advice? You manufacturers, distributors, partners or dealers around the world listening to this. Everyone is going through varying levels of fear and anxiety, varying levels of excitement around the opportunities to come. What are some closing pieces of advice? Whether something to consider, a book to read. What would you put out there?
Wim: Well, I've been talking to like 47 people now in the last four weeks, consistently asking them what they think. I would say two things first, everything's changing. Don't try to predict the future just see what happens around you but don't try to analyze. The second thing is, be calm and take care of yourself, your health, your safety, your mental health just as well as your physical health. Be calm. It will all be OK. This is not the end of the world. It will all be OK. But now is a moment to just accept what is. Things will happen and we'll all be OK. And just wait, sit this one out.
Once you've taken care of what's important, sit it out for a month two months, be calm. And a takeaway, I would say, call people that you think can help you with solid advice, don't buy the quick fixes or the crash course in super-duper management or whatever just. It's all simpler than people think. You've started up a business before, it's gonna be a new startup scenario and you're going to have a head start. You know a lot more, you'll have a good team, you have customers, and you'll have to go back to basics and that's fine. It's maybe a healthy thing to do once in a while. Everything's changing. Stay calm. We'll be OK. Take care of what's important, your health, your family, your relationships and in a month or two, three or four we'll come out of this flying.
Ron: Amen. Wim, it has been a pleasure to have you on episode 110 of Automation Unplugged.
Wim: Thanks, Ron. Keep well.
Thought leader and innovator, Wim De Vos, Thunder Lizard at Genesis Home Technology, shares his perspective on the power of marketing and his thoughts on how our industry can make it through this crisis.
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 became the leading marketing firm specializing within the integrated technology and security space. The One Firefly team work 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:
- Gensis "Home Technology" Page
- One of Wim's Facebook videos mentioned
- Mark Maples Podcast: Starting Greatness
- Gensis "Team" Page
- Drive by Daniel H. Pink
- One Firefly Webinar Archive
Make sure to stay in touch with Wim and his team at Genesis by visiting their site atgenesis-tech.eu. Also stay up-to-date with them on social media, Genesis is on Facebook and Instagram. You can also find Wim and his motivational videos on his Facebook page.
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