Home Automation Podcast Episode #118: An Industry Q&A With Eddie Shapiro
In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, Eddie Shapiro, Founder of SmartTouchUSA, shares growth opportunities for home security solutions as well as new marketing and business development strategies he is executing.
This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Eddie Shapiro. Recorded live on Wednesday, May 18th at 12:30 p.m. EST.
About Eddie Shapiro
With over 30 years of experience in the AV and low voltage channel, Eddie got his start designing and installing systems for companies like IBM, Nestle, and Verizon.
Eddie founded Washington, DC-based smart home integration firm, SmartTouchUSA and has since joined organizations such as CEDIA, American Society of Interior Designers, and American Institute of Architects.
Today, his goal is to help CEDIA and industry members build a deeper respect between architects, lighting designers, builders, and the design industry.
- Growth opportunities for home security solutions
- Steps they have taken with staff and customers in light of Covid-19
- New marketing and business development strategies he is executing
- Eddie’s thoughts on the CEDIA 2020 Expo, will it happen?
- Eddie’s thoughts on Crestron Home
Ron: Hello! Ron Callis here with another episode of Automation Unplugged! Our team is still happy and healthy and business is brisk. You know what's super interesting with all these webinars that we've been participating in and additional shows, I was just talking to Eddie, our guest who I'll bring on in a minute, and we were just sharing that there's so much more content being put out there and that includes us. We ramped up the Automation Unplugged shows from one every week to two to three a week. I think we have two shows coming out this week. The feedback has been coming and it's been very positive around you guys valuing hearing from our guests, hearing their perspectives, and how they're dealing with the situation out there. Definitely keep the feedback coming, let us know your thoughts around the topics and the discussions and as you have been doing. Feel free to continue sharing that. I'm proud to bring you a longtime friend. I've known this fella since the origin at least of my business when One Firefly and the predecessor Firefly Design Group. I shall let him tell the story of how we ran into each other at a CEDIA years ago. I'm going to be bringing you Eddie Shapiro of SmartTouchUSA. Eddie is running a great business out of the Mid-Atlantic region and he's also been doing a tremendous amount of volunteering for the industry both with CEDIA and the CTA. Happy to bring Eddie in. Eddie, how are you, sir.
Eddie: Good! How are you, Ron?
Ron: Another day in paradise man, cranking. Not sure what day it is, life seems to be blending one day into the next and things are kind of topsy turvy in terms of mornings and nights and weekends but all is well.
Eddie: There are only three days in a week now, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
Ron: I love that. Is that yours? Did you steal that from someone? That's good, though. I like that.
Eddie: It's been borrowed, for sure.
Ron: Awesome. Eddie, for those that are not familiar with you, where are you coming to us from? Where's your business based?
Eddie: We're located in the Washington D.C. area, middle Atlantic, so we operate in Virginia, Maryland, and D.C.
Ron: How long have you been doing this kind of work? What's the backstory?
Eddie: I've been in the industry for over three decades and I've been working in the luxury high-end space for a while in terms of technology. We do live in that space. We're doing a lot of larger homes with lighting control, shades, Crestron technologies Elan technology, depending on the project.
Ron: Got it. There's a consistent theme here that when I get started in an interview, I always love to learn the backstory and that is how did you actually get into this business 30 years ago and what is that progression look like for you? Do you mind sharing that?
Eddie: Oh no. It's definitely a timeline.
Ron: What were you doing 30 years ago? What did home automation or home tech look like 30 years ago?
Eddie: I actually started in security. I was old enough to drive and I was working doing electronic security only. Do you remember the silver tape that you used to put on windows for alarm systems?
Ron: Silver tape? No, but I remember when you used to have to run wires. I remember those days.
Eddie: So I used to put this tape on the window and you'd stretch it and then you slack it for better. You put a coat over it. And if the window broke, the foil was stretched to the point where if it had any kind of crack in the window it would break. That break in the foil is how the alarm went off. It was a long time ago. This is before there was even a processor for security alarms. But I was in the industry when the processors came out. I started there, I worked for a company for about a year and a half. I actually started selling a security for him. And then he seemed rather annoyed to get calls. Well, how much is this, and how much is that?
People started saying, why don't you come to do my alarm system? There was enough demand out there, that I left. I did that, and I would say the pinnacle moment of moving into pure AV, was many years ago when I did a large home. I worked really hard on the security alarm, went to show it to the customer, and he could have cared less. He was on the floor with his family looking at this huge Mitsubishi big screen TV. Everybody was thrilled with this TV. And I'm like man I am on the wrong end of this business. So that's when I flipped and never looked back. So security is certainly a part of what we do in a big way. But it's not our primary business in any way.
Ron: Do you still sell monitored security services to your customers?
Eddie: Sure. Along with Hagi's access network Wi-Fi components, we're doing security, networking, lighting control, electronic shades, video distribution, multi-room audio. The typical flavor products that everybody's installing but we don't sub out our security. We do it directly.
Ron: Hagi is giving you a very nice compliment. He says you're clearly too young for silver tape. So it must have been a story from your grandfather, not your story.
Eddie: I hear you. Thank you Hagi.
Ron: That is funny. So we're obviously all dealing with this COVID 19 situation out there. Are you guys opened back up or what's the state of the Union right now?
Eddie: Our focus is on residential construction. We're working on homes that are under construction, we're outside. We're very serious about COVID 19 and maintaining distancing and everybody's wearing a mask, everybody has hand sanitizer. We've been working on that. We have one team member that goes out to people's homes. They must fill out a form, they must sign the form, they must sign a waiver. We're gonna go into your home. You agree that we are not responsible if you get sick. So you want us. We'll come. But we're trying to make sure that we protect ourselves liability wise and make sure that the customers who are really important to us and our teammates that are important to us are all protected. We'll give a homeowner a mask if they don't have one. We ask that in the questionnaire if you need one. We had one client say sure, we could use about three or four. Well no we're not a PPE supply center. We're not in that game but we're happy to give you one.
Ron: Where did you get this template for the waiver? Is that something that came from CEDIA or is it something you drafted on your own?
Eddie: It's been evolving over time. We work with One Vision. We're a One Vision company in terms of getting support from them because they do a great job. There is one of the members of the group that actually had a template that he shared with everybody. I wish I remembered his name but I don't. But then over time I began listening to what everybody else was doing. A liability issue is large, so I added that. I actually went on to Ford Motor Company's website when Googling for COVID 19 documents and found a few pieces of information there that I added to our latest document. Our document is probably in its fourth or fifth revision.
Ron: What led you to go to the Ford website to do this? That's such a particular path of research.
Eddie: Well I was Googling COVID 19 policies and procedures and they came up and I'm like well Ford's doing it, it's got to be pretty well thought out. There were a few little pieces there that were worth using. If anybody wants the document, I'm happy to share it.
Ron: That would be awesome. We always do show notes on the One Firefly site. Eddie if you're willing if you put that up on a Dropbox or somewhere then we can link to that on the show notes page.
Eddie: Sure, it's in pdf in Pages so we'll have through how to get it into Word.
Ron: Oh no if it's a pdf. Yeah. We'll figure that out. If you're offering to give it away or hand that out to folks then we'll find a good way to get that distributed. One thing that I've been curious about with all of my guests is, what has business development looked like? Either acquisition of new customers or new opportunities. What does that look like in April and what is it looking right now that we're in mid-May?
Eddie: Acquisition for us looks like a lot of Zoom calls. I said to someone this morning that I should become CEO of Zoom. I have mastered it to its entirety.
Ron: You're now a Zoom Ninja?
Eddie: Yeah exactly. We are spending a lot of time on calls with clients and it's actually a pretty smart approach. I mean I would continue to do that after COVID in some regards. There are people that want to get together for things that quite frankly would be smarter to save the 45 minute drive each way and have that meeting online. I am a social person so I think being in person has a lot of value. But I could see a little bit of a mix there.
Ron: Yeah, as I've shared with folks a number on a number of occasions during these shows particularly over the last few months, One Firefly transitioned to being remote or working out of home offices back in 2015. If you talk about productivity just in terms of talking about talking to both prospects and customers. I can interact with exponentially more people in this format than in person. There's value like you said in person. Nothing replaces that face time, being in the same time and space as the other party. But with modern technology especially if you want to share plans or do work, I can imagine you might want to drop icons on a set of plans like speakers here touch panels here. It's pretty cool to be able to use all your tech at your disposal to have those meetings.
Eddie: We've had a number of meetings where we are going over drawings, going over lighting design, spending time with lighting designers and the client and the builder at the same time and it works out really well. I like it. I think it's rather constructive.
Ron: Yes. Look into the future, step maybe three to five years into the future, what does it look like for our industry?
Eddie: Well first I think video is important. Ian used to have company meetings by phone I don't know the platform he used, video calls once a week. I think getting in front of your techs who are remote a lot of the times, once a week is super important. In terms of the three to five-year outlook, I hope we're all back together but I think it's gonna be a good mix of still doing a lot of drawings by Zoom or whatever. I think it's a good place to be reviewing drawings.
Ron: What is the mix of your work Eddie, in terms of residential versus commercial projects?
Eddie: Historically it's always been high-end residential luxury product. We do a fair amount of commercial board rooms per year and we love it. It's a great segment but our expertise is in high end large residential.
Ron: What, if any, changes are you seeing either in what you're excited to talk about or what the consumer is excited to learn about in terms of technologies? Given that we've all spent a lot more time together in our homes, is there any change?
Eddie: I don't see the change yet but I envision that the change will be that media spaces and theater spaces will come back they'll be larger than life in terms of what people want now in their homes before theaters were certainly shrinking in terms of market use case use. But I think that you're going to see some increase in that. I also think that you're going to see an increase in security cameras and security in general. I actually heard a CEDIA podcast last week from the Tech Council that covered security in the UK a little bit as part of the overall conversation. As the economy dives deeply which it will for a while, the rise of crime will increase as we start to leave our homes. It's not exactly an exciting topic.
Ron: That seems reasonable if you have such a large percentage of the population unemployed. Looking from a security and safety standpoint, I can tell you at my house one of the first pieces of tech we put in was a Vivant security system but we ended up putting their 4K HD cameras around the perimeter of the house and I don't know if it's real security or it just makes you feel secure. But I know in our home, my wife loves the idea that she can go to her phone and see high def video from all corners of the home around the perimeter of the house. It just makes you feel good.
Eddie: Sure. And I think cameras are for archiving history, so they're not really immediate security.
Ron: Unless they scare the bad guy away because they see the camera.
Eddie: Right, unless someone's astute enough to notice the camera. But it does have value. You want to be able to find out who did what where and when and a camera will do that. I haven't seen a project that is void of cameras and while most of our projects have cameras, that makes sense.
Ron: You mentioned just a moment ago the CEDIA Tech Council podcast. I know that you are involved with the CEDIA Tech Council. Do you mind sharing in what capacity? What is the CEDIA Tech Council if folks are listening and aren't aware of that? I know that CEDIA is always on a voyage of making sure or trying to help the industry understand what they're doing and how they're trying to make our industry better and I know that the Tech Council is one of those efforts.
Eddie: CEDIA overall does a lot to encourage people to volunteer. And I would say that it's been one of the best things I've done. In doing so on the Tech Council because I volunteered for it and the Tech Council works on writing white papers for our industry. They also do podcasts and every week there is a podcast covering all kinds of topics and I would encourage everybody to listen to them because right now especially they're doing more of them. And like Automation Unplugged, they're very informative. We work on trying to figure out what's happening in the future. A lot of people probably know who Rich Green is. He's always talking about the future. Along with Rich, we work on trying to figure out what the tech trends will be coming down the road. We're already looking at what's happening in 2025 as an example. So a lot of work is done in that area. We also do some classes. Rich and Peter and those guys are very involved in classes I've been involved in some as a co-teacher. So that part's very good but it's highly rewarding. I've met a lot of really great people smarter than me. They do some amazing things.
Ron: If folks are listening that would like to find out about the volunteer opportunities with CEDIA, what's the path to navigate there?
Eddie: I would start by going to the CEDIA website. If they need to find another avenue because that's not clear enough, they can always email me and I'll put them in touch with the right people just because I don't know those links right now.
Ron: Sure, yeah. No worries we can put them in the show notes. In terms of the Tech Council podcast, what type of content is covered on that show?
Eddie: Leslie Shiner, if anybody has not heard of her, she's amazing. She handles and talks about finance all the time. Quickbooks, how to run your business. She's a no-nonsense, to the point, the practical person talking about processes and you should go back to her podcast. She was on about maybe two or three weeks ago. She's a great resource for our industry. She is a CEDIA fellow which means that she's volunteered for a long time and offered a lot to CEDIA. She's fantastic. And along those lines, talking about that and talking about COVID, Leslie would tell you to go out and get the cash that is on your books. So if you're working for builders, and you're working for clients, you've got to stay ahead of the cash right now. Cash is king.
Ron: In terms of the Tech Council just so that I'm clear, the Tech Council podcast is covering more than just tech or technology. I was making an assumption it was just going to be technologies but you're saying it goes broader into operations and finance.
Eddie: They have different people on. John Penny who's worked at 20th Century Fox has been on. He's a friend of CEDIA. You have people like Peter Aylett and Rich Green and Christian Bewkes that are on. As a matter of fact, they were on this last podcast, which was yesterday. This week they're talking about COVID and the world pandemic and I haven't listened to yesterday's yet but I read the notes. Peter Aylett is an amazing audio guy. He talks about theater spaces and audio and designs audio components for space in terms of acoustic issues and does a complete design so he's a great guy. They're talking about video they're talking about wellness. Anything that you can think of that impacts our industry whether it's looking into the future what's next or how we're gonna be impacted now by COVID or just how to survive right now because of COVID, those guys are talking about it. So, a very wide range of discussions.
Ron: Do you mind sharing for your own business what impact on the year do you think this is going to have for your business?
Eddie: So I would say that right now we are doing fine. Are we setting the world on fire? No. Are we in trouble? No, not by any stretch. We probably have enough business for the year. We're close to it. But my concern is what does next year look like? What does 2022 to look like? What does December look like? If we go back up in terms of people who are infected and people who are getting sick and dying things could tighten up and shut down again. They could shut down harder than ever. We just don't know as companies what the next steps are and how they're going to impact our companies. So I think our industry is very lucky that in most states we can still do construction work. There are people that are just wiped out in terms of finance and their businesses. Small business in this country is going to change. And anybody who thinks that the new normal when we come out of this looks like the old normal is definitely delusional and I use that word just like Steve Moore did a few days ago on CEDIA podcast as he's right.
Ron: The concept there is pivot or die.
"You have to change the way you're handling your accounting. Don't be shy to go to your customers who are behind on their payments and see if you can get paid. I've heard some people say to collect a larger deposit and give them a slight discount."
Eddie: Absolutely. You have to change the way you're handling your accounting in terms of like I said a few minutes ago. Don't be shy to go to your customers who are behind on their payments and see if you can get paid. I've heard some people say to collect a larger deposit and give them a slight discount. There are all kinds of ways to handle money and handle the financial aspect of this. But certainly pivoting is going to be important. Maybe whenever we all do next year looks different than what we're doing now. Maybe we won't be doing lighting and shading and video distribution next year but we'll be doing more security access control and cameras and network security and anything more related to keeping the home environment secure and connected.
Ron: Anything that you're doing in terms of the way you're having conversations with prospects or maybe in the way in terms that you're doing your marketing or maybe in the terms of the people that you're networking with to try to position yourself to handle that unknown future?
Eddie: There's this guy that works at One Firefly named Josh and I'm working with him on a few things, increasing our blog and doing a few other things to our website. Also working on some Savant programs with him. So marketing all the time is really important even in bad times because you want to be positioned for when things get better that your name is out there. I'm also a CEDIA outreach instructor so trying to work with different firms that need seat use of which you can now do remotely be it Zoom or other platforms. So trying to get more exposure with the architects and interior designers so that we can stay in front of them. You know now's not the time to retreat in any way.
Ron: Eddie I know that you have been doing some very interesting stuff in terms of the collaboration between CES and the CTA and CEDIA, in particular around standards. Can you fill us in on what you're doing there and what you've been working on?
"In terms of home theater design, we're working on some standards. To keep it simple, a good, better, and best scenario. A standard so that industry folks can build a home theater to one of those standards."
Eddie: I would say it's more about the group than it is me. I chair one of the groups but I am not the subject matter expert by any stretch. You have guys like Joel Silver and some guys from Harmon and again Peter Aylett is very involved, Rich Green's involved, Walt Zerby involved from CEDIA, Leslie King from CTA. All really good smart people are deeply involved in helping with standards to work on home theater. In terms of home theater design, we're working on some standards. To keep it simple, a good better best scenario, a standard so that industry folks can build a home theater to one of those standards. And as long as they meet X number of criteria they'll have a standardized room in terms of specification and testing that will make that room excellent. Obviously a $500,000 home theater probably will land at a different level than a $90,000 home theater. But both are home theaters. I think they're really trying to clarify that and help to guide the industry on how to deliver that. That's obviously in a video scenario and an audio scenario. There's some work being done there too.
Ron: Will it go beyond just home theater in terms of the standards effort?
Eddie: There's also an audio standard. For example, what does surround sound look like? What is 5.1? What does Dolby Atmos look like? I'm not the best person to talk about that standard but they certainly are doing that. There have been conversations of how does a room with a sandbar fall into that as opposed to the typical way you would do home theater with speakers and acoustically transparent screens for your theater? I'm probably speaking a little bit out of turn but there's a lot of work being done there and I think it's good work. It's one of those things that as a volunteer if you didn't volunteer you'd never know about it.
Ron: Let's say it's done and the standard is created. What's the distribution mechanism for that information?
Eddie: In some cases, things are done with white papers. In this case, I would have to check with the team to figure out what their distribution is. But I know that there is a plan for it and some of these things are almost finished and it's going to be pretty exciting.
Ron: That's very interesting. A couple of conversations coming at you from left field here. One is we have CEDIA still undefined as to whether the show, the Expo, is going to happen in September. You're volunteering with the Tech Council so you know some people. So what do you know that just between us friends that you can or are willing to share in terms of is it is the expo meaning at the convention center. Is there going to be an event next September?
Eddie: Well you've asked the wrong guy.
Ron: Do you have an opinion on whether it should or shouldn't happen?
Eddie: I have opinions and thoughts but keep in mind the CEDIA Expo isn't owned by CEDIA anymore. Emerald will have to make that decision along with I guess CEDIA. I don't know. I've been invited to speak at an event in Vegas at the end of September. I'm currently committed to speaking. I don't know that I'll go yet. As I said we'll have to see what happens with the COVID cloud. The cloud clears then there's a lot of possibilities there.
Ron: What would the COVID cloud clearing mean?
Eddie: COVID cloud clearing means that we can fly on planes with some intelligence, we can be in social settings with some intelligence and safety. It's all about safety. I'm not willing to go look at speakers and flat screens and go to classes if that means that I'm going to be sick and have my life threatened by going to an event. So again we take it seriously. Some people don't think COVID exists. Other people take it really seriously. I think the numbers speak for themselves it exists. I would love to go there. It's one of my favorite things to do especially in Denver although I did love watching you use your scooter in the San Diego Convention Center. That was one not to be missed moment.
Ron: Getting chased by the security guards.
Eddie: That was a great moment in time.
Ron: Yeah, I had to get the classes across that convention center and my back had gone out on me.It was zip through on a scooter or not make my classes.
That's a ridiculous place to have classes. It's just mammoth. But yes. I think that everybody would love to be there especially since we've all been cooped up in our houses for months. But if it's not safe then I don't think it's going to happen. I can't look into the future but I suspect I went to ISC in Amsterdam in February. That was mid-February and looking back now that was a crazy thing to do. The Chinese had already been admitted from a show if you will although there were still plenty of us breaking that even days before the show. There were vendors pulling out. Ah yes. It was not in hindsight the best move on my part or many other people's part. But that is an 80,000 person show that ended up being a 50,000 person show. That's a big haircut. And if CEDIA Expo was a 20,000 person show give or take. It's likely to be a 10,000 person show when this is over or less.
Ron: I'm a smaller vendor that would be at the show and I put my deposit down and I know they're asking for vendors to put additional, they moved the date from May to June for additional funds. It feels like a game of chicken and egg in terms of do you pay it and then let them cancel it. And therefore by contract, you get your money back? Or do you not pay it because you don't plan to go and by the contract you don't get your initial deposit back? And again, I'm a small vendor. There are vendors that spend hundreds of thousands of dollars not only on show expenses but their booths. I mean millions of dollars. How do you play that game? I don't know. There seems to be a lot of unknowns.
Eddie: I was excited to hear that Crestron is coming back to CEDIA. I'm just not excited to hear that they're coming to the Expo this year.
Ron: It's funny, I had John Clancy on this show a week ago or two weeks ago and we didn't talk about that, I knew that he was considering it. I didn't want to put him on the spot and I didn't want to have it get recorded into posterity. His call. On this show, there's hopefully never any gotcha questions. I try not to be that type of show. I'm not going to give you any any any hard ones but I do wonder whether they made that announcement to get the benefit of the P.R. noise. There clearly has been they've gotten a tremendous amount of press which is a really cool marketing move. Do they know that the show is not happening or do they really sincerely believe the show is going to happen? Or is Emerald using that announcement to try to spur other vendors to try to play ball and to sign on?
Eddie: There's so many things that could have happened.
Ron: It's so complex. Like what exactly was the play there?
Eddie: Right. I'd like to know. I'd love to be the fly on the wall for that but Hagi is making some points here in the chat session.
Ron: Oh yeah. Let me put that on the screen. Hagi from Access Networks is saying, "I don't know how CEDIA happens this year and Emerald needs to step up and cancel for everyone's safety. " I'm going to go on record, Hagi, I agree with you. I don't know how I would tell my staff to go to the show. How do I do that and put their lives potentially at risk of getting sick? There's that and then there's how many members of our industry have gone through this war or a number of battles? Let's hope and pray Q3 and Q4 may pick up for many. How do they now pull out of those projects and justify sending themselves or their teams to a show if all that happened? It's not logical.
Eddie: Right. It doesn't make sense. First of all, many people aren't going because now their business has been impacted detrimentally to the point where they're just not going to get on a plane even if it were safe. They don't have the time or the money and other people aren't going to go because we're not convinced it's safe. If the Democratic and the national conventions are threatened in August as to whether they actually still happen. How do you have a session in September for CEDIA that's only a few weeks later? Who's confident that's good? I agree with Hagi. It has to be postponed or canceled.
Ron: My assumption is there's a game of Emerald. Emerald is a trade show business amongst other things. But I would imagine they have insurance. And it's a game of when does their insurance kick in? I'm hypothesizing I don't know any of this. I would imagine when they've met certain triggers in their insurance policy they're gonna be able to formally announce cancellations but they have. But again, CEDIA is one of many shows they put on.
Eddie: Oh yeah. Emerald's huge.
Ron: I would imagine, they are going to be acting upon many insurance policies for many shows. And so I think there's just a lot more to the story that we're not in the loop on. We're not the fly on the wall.
Eddie: Well I would say that probably one of the hardest hit businesses this year will be Emerald. There's no question about it.
Ron: Yeah as we said, pivot or die. I think that there are certain industries, the restaurant industry, the travel industry, amongst many others that are just absolutely fundamentally changed, maybe forever. Yes. I mean we'll trade shows be the thing in the future. I'll say something else controversial perhaps, buying groups. Buying groups have meetings and you get together and share and you learn from each other. When is that goinf to be politically correct again to do that? Let's say that based on a lot of the scientists, COVID takes years to develop a vaccine. If there's no vaccine how do you agree to get together and shake hands and be in the same time and space as everyone? I think an Azione meeting or a Pro Source meeting or even dealer conferences with manufacturers as long as they're not hardware-based and they're like we're talking. We're having a dialogue. If you can carve out the time with some discipline you could probably be fairly successful with these events online for a little while.
Ron: Yeah I think that virtual is a necessity. I've been in groups now for a while as a company, as a vendor and I love them. We love being in groups, we love the meetings but if there are no meetings, it changes the equation. It's just one of many examples as an industry how we have to figure this out.
Eddie: I've been at Savant meetings for a number of years that were great, dealer meetings and Crestron meetings that were great dealer meetings and you learn a lot. The guy who is 3000 miles away from you on the other side of the country who just wants to tell you everything about your business and you want to hear it because it's interesting. And you just don't get that same level of trust and eye contact and interaction that you would get if you were one to one in front of each other. But like everything else, like wearing a mask, you're going to have to get used to it for a little while.
Ron: Yeah. Let's say we're warriors, we will go do that. But it's not about us. It's who do you then come back to and put at risk? It's very interesting and stressful and complex because it's so game shifting. We have to shift our thinking and the way we approach these things. I think it's definitely going to be interesting. What is your opinion, another sideways question, John Clancy's been running Crestron now globally for four or five years now. I know you're a big Crestron guy. How are things going in Crestron land?
Eddie: Well I think pretty awesomely. The Horizon lighting keypads, the whole Horizon line. Now the new Infinity X wireless keypads I think are probably some of the best-looking lighting keypads in the market. John has been absolutely a game-changer for Crestron. Doug is amazing as well. Those two guys are doing immense work in the residential side. A lot of people criticized Crestron for not being truly in the residential market. I have to say that that is the furthest thing from the truth. John Clancy has reinvigorated. He has put a lot of energy back into this whole division and Crestron residential I think is on fire , doing amazing things.
Ron: Crestron home. That's the new UI, new operating system? Is it Ping 2.0 or is it something reborn? Is it where it needs to be? What's your read on that?
Eddie: Any other questions?
Ron: No man, we're all about honesty. Is that a gotcha question?
Eddie: No, my feeling is different than probably you know if you put three integrators in the room and ask an opinion, you'll get six.
Ron: Just for clarity for those that don't know. Crestron was born and bred with a custom UI and custom coding and frankly residentially because I was there at Crestron when this happened. That's when Savant and Control4 and Elan and others, started really giving Crestron a run for the money because they designed a smaller sandbox that probably did most of what the integrator would need to provide to a homeowner. And Crestron for the longest time, operated in a domain where everything could do everything and thus it was more complex and would cost more for programming and whatnot.
Eddie: Right. The adage is the great thing about Crestron is you can do anything you want. The bad thing about Crestron is it can do everything you want. And there are really good Crestron integrators and implementers out there as there are in any of the control platforms and there are some really bad ones. I've seen badly programmed Savant.
Ron: There is a spectrum and I can say it as a rep. I was a Lutron rep and then a Crestron rep. There's a spectrum. I don't care what brand you sell. In every market, there's a spectrum of quality of business operators. It just so happens in our universe, we call them integrators. These business operators, there are people that are on the high end of the scale. Quality matters excellence matters across everything they do, including their deployments and the way they treat their team and their customers. And then there are terrible businesses and there's a full spectrum. I would not pick on Crestron or any brand for that right. That's my observation.
Eddie: What happened or is happening or still happening is if you use Crestron to its fullest capabilities, writing in a program called Simple, you can create great UIs. They are custom, every one of them is custom and if you're a really good high-end A.V. company, you're delivering a very good UI that works. The problem that Crestron had was that a lot of these dealers or some dealers were not delivering good products. That damages the brand. The reason that Control4 and Savant do well and have good reputations and I think both have a good product is because it's hard to make a mistake and go off course. So Crestron did what they should have done. It's a great opportunity to take a really good solid hardware platform and software platform and make it static like the other platforms from the other companies and make it right. You're in a sandbox you're delivering a product that looks good, is slick looking, it's intuitive, and it's repeatable in our business. If you're not using the same product all the time and repeating the success that you had from the last project then you're probably having a lot of issues. If you're that kind of company that is always out there trying the latest and greatest product and you're using Elan one year, Control4 the next and Savant the next , Crestron the next. If you're always trying new widgets and third party add ons you're probably in a painful place. But if you're using the same product over and over again because it has succeeded for you and your homeowners which is the most important person to worry about is the client, then you're doing well. Putting you in the sandbox of Crestron Home 3.0 is a really great thing for a lot of companies. The reason I said did you have another question is that it still has a few limitations. It is really good. I really like it. I would say by September it will be a product that has no limitations. They are working hard. I know that John Clancy has put his heart and soul into this for at least two and a half years. He is not going to let it be a failure. And it is far from a failure it is doing really well.
Ron: Yeah I know I've heard whispers. One Firefly, we have our UI University, our video tutorial product and we've had that out since 2016 and our clients have Savant UI, C4, and Sonos and Alarm.com and we have not had Crestron. Notably, we have not had Crestron. Can you wonder why we have not had Crestron?
Eddie: Yes of course it's impossible.
Ron: It's impossible. Every dealer is doing something different. It was not possible. But now with Crestron Home, it's possible.
Eddie: Yes. Looking forward to that.
Ron: So we're actually in production right now and we are full disclosure working with Crestron to get that captured and shot and I know there are software updates coming later this summer that we're actually making sure are in what we're capturing now. So you're out there listening or watching stay tuned. There'll be announcements but I've already tipped my hand here. But we've got some cool Crestron stuff.
Eddie: I'm excited for it. I think that the UI University is great and I think that the UI from Crestron Home 3.0 is absolutely a game-changer for anybody doing Crestron and probably for most residential clients. It's a superior product.
"Often in downturns, businesses downsize and in downsizing, it feels painful but a lot of those folks go and start new businesses and those new businesses in many cases will discover as an example Crestron. Then, all they'll ever know is Crestron Home."
Ron: Yeah, I don't know if you perceive this as a good thing or bad thing Eddie, but I'll just tell you an observation from where I sit. Often in downturns, businesses downsize and in downsizing, it feels painful but a lot of those folks go and start new businesses and those new businesses in many cases will discover as an example Crestron, and all they'll ever know is Crestron Home. All they'll never know is that sandbox. There's legacy, history that moves through a market of what was and I know John and Crestron are fighting that. What the market has known is custom, full anything can do anything. But there'll be a day where I'm imagining if they stick with it which I'm optimistic they will, that this thing will gain traction.
Eddie: No it will, Crestron Home isn't going anywhere it's going to get bigger and bigger and for the smaller integrator it's the smartest avenue you can take. We do our own programming and we do it well. But it's not for everybody. And we didn't always have the best programmers. We have extremely good programmers now. It just goes to show you that that again it relies on your team . Team is everything for this. OS Home 3.0 from Crestron will make it so those good solid integrators can deliver really nice product.
Ron: I had teased Eddie just looking at the clock or we're going on almost an hour here. I teased in the opening that I was going to have you say to the audience how you first met me or what that first interaction was. And I think it was at CEDIA. But I might be misremembering. Do you want to share that?
Eddie: Sure. It was back around 2007 or 2008 at CEDIA in Denver. My favorite venue for CEDIA.
Ron: Mine as well.
Eddie: And you were running around the convention floor with a backpack and that was your office. And then we basically found a place to sit down and you went over all the things that Firefly does or did at the time and that's how we met. I remember when SNAP AV was across the street in a mobile trailer and that was their booth in 2005, '06, or '07. And look at that company today, look at One Firefly, a vastly different company today than when I met you all those years ago.
"Pivot or die my friends. Listen, my little business was born in the last great recession. And to say it was the school of hard knocks is putting it lightly. And I'm happy to say many of those lessons I learned dealing with that, have aided us this time around."
Ron: That is so true. Pivot or die my friends. Listen, my little business was born in the last great recession. And to say it was the school of hard knocks is putting it lightly. And I'm happy to say many of those lessons I learned dealing with that, have aided us this time around. And the business is actually doing quite well right now in that we're able to help lots of people which is definitely putting a smile on my face and puts a smile on the face of my team. Eddie, close with this, actually I'm going to close with two things. I'm going to ask you a question and then I would ask you how people should contact you if they want to get in touch. The closing question is what word of advice do you have for business operators or people within integration firms that are listening? You've been at this as you said for three decades starting in the days of silver-tape and bringing us to Crestron Home here in the present. What parting words or advice do you have for those that might be challenged or struggling right now dealing with this economy and running a business?
Eddie: Well for general businesses, I would go back to the conversation about money. You've got to get on top of the money so whoever owes you money, collect the money in a nice way of course. But it's time to collect your cash, you'll need it. For integrators, I would focus hard on service and support. Clients want really good support. They're demanding good support. They're willing to pay for good support. So it's not about slamming a system in and walking away. I've seen too many of those. It's all about support or as they say in the UK aftercare.
Ron: Is that how it's branded in the UK?
Eddie: Yes aftercare.
Ron: I love it. And today do the majority of your customers , are they on some sort of aftercare contract?
Eddie: Some are, some are not. We've actually spent the last I'd say COVID month. That's different than a normal month actually in a lot of training sessions with One Vision, getting our entire team up to speed to make sure that we can deliver at a level that meets everybody's bar for really good support. And it's a great time to focus on your support. I don't care how you deliver support in terms of whether you join Parasol or One Vision or have a different plan in place. But I would tell you that it's hard to do it alone. So joining One Vision as an example, will give you a lot of processes that you wouldn't even think of gives you a lot of discipline. So Joey and his team, Alex, Julia , all those guys are just really hitting it out of the park.
Ron: They are a first-class operation and I know often when I just simply want to brainstorm something going on in the industry, I'll give Joey a call. He's really a gem in terms of a strategic thinker. He keeps me on my toes through any conversation. If I'm looking for that then I'm giving him a call and he also hires amazing people.
Eddie: Some of his team are amazing. Jason also, don't want to forget about you Jason and Alex is outstanding just absolutely an amazing trainer. So a really good group of people very thoughtful very smart. You're heading in the right direction.
Ron: Agreed. Eddie, how can folks that are listening to this or watching this and they want to get in touch with you directly or follow your business. What are the best ways to do that?
Ron: All right I'm going to attempt to put that onto a scroller here.
Eddie: Looks good.
Ron: All right. Well Eddie it has been a pleasure to have you on episode 118 of Automation Unplugged. Thanks for coming on and doing this.
Eddie: Thank you , Ron, really appreciate it. Great to be here today.
Ron: Awesome. Thank you Eddie. All right gang. Well there you have it the one and only Eddie Shapiro, really an industry veteran and what I think makes him even more special is his willingness to contribute and give back to the industry through volunteering time both to the CTA and to CEDIA. And I know when I'm brainstorming things here at One Firefly regardless of whether he plans to buy or consume said product or service I can count on always bringing it to Eddie and he'll give me good feedback and that's really priceless. As we're growing a company, it's important to have those people in your orbit that can really give you critical thinking and they're not yes people. Eddie's not a yes person. He has no problem to tell me what seems right and maybe what seems off and I really value that. So thanks Eddie for coming on the show and thank you for everyone watching and listening. And if you have not already done so please subscribe again. That's just a great way to consume the show if you haven't already done so share it with your friends.
I had a neat story. I met some folks from Italy and England recently and they were just thinking about starting their business and I actually pointed them over to my podcast as well as some other industry podcasts and actually got an email back Friday last week and they said they've been consuming the show listening to all the integrators and the guests and manufacturers and folks and they found the show tremendously important and valuable and that's really why we create this. That's why I put these shows together and I have an awesome team behind me. Most importantly Stephanie and Allison that help get these shows, all the artwork, all the scheduling, all the podcast management. I have the easy part. I just have to show up and talk into the microphone and interact with my guests but really my team is the one carrying all the weight. So they are the folks that make things happen. So special thanks to my team behind the scenes and on that note gang, I'm going to sign off. I think we're doing another show this week. Stay tuned to our Facebook page. I think I know this , correct me, team, if I'm wrong, but I think I know that it's Matt DeVance over at DeVance in Dallas. If you guys want to check that out, stay tuned later this week. On that note, be well. Stay strong. Wash your hands, hug those around you and we'll see you next time.
Eddie is Founder of SmartTouchUSA, a smart home integration firm based out of Washington DC. Eddie has over 30 years of experience in the AV and low voltage channel and now enjoys helping CEDIA and industry members build a deeper respect between architects, lighting designers, builders, and the design industry.
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:
- Crestron Home
- CEDIA Tech Council Podcast
- UI University
- CEDIA Volunteer Opportunities
- COVID-19 Client Screening Form PDF
To keep up with Eddie and his team at SmartTouchUSA, visit their website at smarttouchusa.
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