Home Automation Podcast Episode #121: An Industry Q&A With Jason Barth and Jamie Carey
In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, Jason Barth and Jamie Carey from The Premier Group, share the impacts that photography, showroom renovations, and increased marketing efforts have had on their business.
This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Jason Barth and Jamie Carey. Recorded live on Thursday May 31st at 12:30 p.m. EST.
About The Premier Group
Founded in 1999, Jason along with his two college friends and fellow bandmates, took their passion for music and technology to start their new firm. Jason uses his comprehensive and in-depth technical knowledge to simplify complex technologies in a way that's easy for consumers to understand.
With a background in marketing and the Director of Business Development at Premier, Jamie marries the two through photography and storytelling in a combined effort to attract new clientele, builder relationships, and architects and designers.
The Premier Group has been named a CEPro’s Top 100 Integrator in the U.S. for 11 consecutive years and has also won the prestigious Best Integrated Home award for the past two years.
- The impact that beautifully shot photography has had on their business
- Changes Jason made in light of COVID-19 such as renovating their showroom, updating their website, and other marketing
- Changes in consumer demand in response to COVID-19
- How Jamie’s addition to the team as Director of Business Development has helped The Premier Group strengthen their company culture and online presence
Ron: Hello. Ron Callis here with another episode of Automation Unplugged. Today is Thursday, May 21st. It is just a few minutes after 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time I hope you are all doing well. I am going to jump over here to Facebook just to make sure that in fact, we are streaming. If you joined me yesterday you know that things can get exciting around here. We tried some rather advanced handoff techniques between computer to phone the computer and well that didn't go so well. So if you want to see some fireworks, watch the show from yesterday had a lot of fun with my guest Kevin Hancock. We had minor technical difficulties yesterday but that is not going to happen to us today because I'm going to will that not to happen. It does look like we are streaming into Facebook. Awesome. So if you're out there give us a like, drop into the comments. Let me know where you're coming to us from. And today I am excited to bring you this, a longtime friend and customer of One Firefly. But just all around super interesting people. And that is for show 121 of Automation Unplugged bringing you Jason Barth. He's one of the owners over at The Premier Group there in Indiana and his Director of Business Development, Jamie Carey. Let me go ahead and bring them on the screen here. Hey guys.
Jason: What's up?
Ron: You told me you were going to have this fancy microphone I'm loving that. What sort of microphone tech do you have there Jason?
Jason: This is from my home studio my AKGC 414 Gold.
Ron: It's gold on the other side of that, isn't it?
Jason: Yeah. Here let's show everybody.
Ron: Oh, that's great. I was so proud of myself when I stepped into the Joe Rogan mic here. Then you had to bring some real hardware to the table. right here.
Jason: This is the real deal. Gross overkill for this but it's what I have.
Ron: Jason for those that don't know, where are you guys coming to us from? Where is The Premier Group located?
Jason: We're currently sitting at our showroom which is inside the Indiana design Center on the north side of Indianapolis. We're in Carmel Indiana.
Ron: Carmel. And you said you're at the design center. So is this one of these facilities where interior designers would go and there are furniture shops and fabrics and audio video companies?
Jason: Yes. It's about a 90000 square foot building with trades. The anchor tenant is Ferguson, high-end appliances. And then you've got all the other trades.
"I've known integrators throughout the country that have zeroed their businesses into being located in these design hubs."
Ron: OK. Have you guys been located at that spot for a while? I've known integrators throughout the country that have zeroed their businesses into being located in these design hubs. Is this where you've always been or is this a recent move?
Jason: Yes so we've been in business 21 years and we kind of went it alone for the first 10 or 11 and then this whole community was created about 10 years ago. We were one of the first tenants. We moved in here about nine years ago. We just renewed our lease this last month and tore the whole showroom down to the studs and we're rebuilding it.
Ron: Jamie, how much of what is in frame is the only thing that could actually be in frame right now?
Jamie: There's some insulation. I wiped the dust off of our beautiful table and we have two chairs to sit in.
Ron: The world would never know. And it was funny because yesterday on my show I had the gentleman, the owner of Frame My TV and he recently partnered with Samsung or he's collaborating with Samsung for the Frame TV. And if I'm not wrong, that's a Frame TV over your shoulder.
Jason: That is. There's two over here that you can't see.
Ron: Out of curiosity, are the Frame TVs all the rage or do you sell a plethora of TV's and you sprinkle in some Frame TVs or is there actually an increased demand for that type of device?
Jason: I think when an interior designer particularly in the center sees the Frame TV they're like "well nobody should have anything but the Frame TV."
Jamie: They only specify this.
Jason: But if you're in our industry, we do a lot of stuff. Our go-to is Sony. We like the Sony displays, good value great quality. LG kills it with the OLED. Samsung kills it with the Frame. I think they're each good at that.
Ron: They all serve a purpose.
Jason: Right, what they each chose to specialize in they really hit out of the park. We love it. But then when you go beyond that you can dress up any TV, whether it's a Seura frame or a mirror or a Leon media décor. There are other choices. But the Frame TV is clearly the commodity choice that actually looks fantastic.
Ron: I moved into the Frame in the fall after seeing put my eyes on it closely at CEDIA last year and I finally did it and we love it. I made the comment yesterday, I don't know that I ever would have said I love a TV but we really like it. My wife loves it which is what's most important.
Jason: I've got one on the sidewall of my formal dining table.
Ron: There you go. Exactly.
Jason: It's like art, people don't even know it's a TV. But you can sit the dining room and watch TV.
Ron: So Jason, you're one of the owners and founders of The Premier Group and I know you have a super interesting story. I want to dig into that in just a moment but I want to jump over to Jamie. Jamie, what is your role at The Premier Group and then actually if you don't mind. I love to go into origin stories at the beginning of an interview. If we could maybe start with you, what was your origin story and how did you land here? Then we'll jump back over to Jason and do the same.
Jamie: I grew up in Indianapolis and got recruited to play softball at the University of Ohio. Didn't go far.
Ron: You were a college athlete?
Jamie: Yep. Did that, also managed to graduate. Believe it or not, got a marketing degree. I'm going to quickly roll through this, but started my career at an ad agency and worked there for three and a half years and just decided that it was something that I really wanted to dig into. I taught myself how to shoot manual, started buying really great equipment, and it quickly became something that needed a lot of my attention because I was getting hired. Now, this is while I was at my 3 1/2 year stint at the ad agency. It quickly became something that was taking a lot of my time and I needed to make a choice. Was I going to continue to try to do both? Which was very time-consuming. Was I going to focus on one or the other? I was young, I decided to take a leap of faith and left that career and focused on photography full time. That was back in 2007 when I left that job and started photography. I did that for 15 years and slowly tried to get out towards the end of that career even though I didn't know I was trying to transition that's what happened. I wanted to get out of wedding photography not because I didn't love it.
Ron: What type of photography were you doing, was it portrait? Was it architectural?
Jamie: It was almost all portrait photography. Meaning families, weddings, event photography. But that also meant shooting on the weekends and I had two young children and I was missing a lot of their stuff. So towards the end of that photography career, I tried to transition out of weddings simply to be with my family more on the weekends and not miss soccer games. And I thought maybe I'll offset that income. I would focus on another passion of mine which was architecture, specifically modern architecture and thought that would lead to some commercial opportunities that would be during the week to again still provide for my family but free up my weekends. That was really how I got the introduction then to the Indiana Design Center. I was hired by the center itself to start marketing it, to start photographing some of the showrooms. But for the design center, as a subcontractor and then that led to the introduction from the Executive Director here to Jason and now I've told him now that at that point I didn't know when I was invited in that I was sitting down for a job interview. I thought he was just going to hire me to start photographing some of the previous projects because that had happened with other people in the center. They had met me just walking through here and said hey can you come photograph some of our projects? Sure. I did not know I was sitting down for a job interview and it wasn't just one interview. It was over a couple months.
Ron: Did you know, Jason, that you wanted to add this kind of this capability or skill set to your team or was it initially you just met Jamie to photograph your projects and you said wait a second I think there's more to this?
Jason: Yeah. I specifically did not meet her to photograph projects. I was looking for a Director of Business Development. My motivation was not the photography although that's a very important part of our business in marketing is having photographs of all your work. That was a bonus. And I've told the story a number of times as we sat down to interview the thing that struck me the most was that Jamie was the general contractor and built her own house. You meet a lot of people and they might be good at marketing or social media or whatever. But to understand our business is very challenging right when we were in a difficult industry, there's a lot to it. It's very complicated. And here Jamie comes along and she's got a Control4 system in her house and she's using the technology every day. She built the house so she hired an architect and built a custom home from scratch, bought a lot, designed a very modern house.
Jamie: It was the perfect marriage of what I wouldn't have even known was the skills.
Jason: Everything she's done from her education to her corporate large branding to rebrand Premier and bring the branding perspective right out of the gate to the photography to the business development building your own house. And then we start going to events and Jamie I walk in builder events, banking events. It's better to have a partner in crime walking in than going in by myself. I'd walk by myself walk around these events, say hi to builders, have a drink. Jamie and I could walk in and work the room. I just think it's a lot more effective. We're better as a team than either of us individually.
Ron: One very noticeable impact of you bringing Jamie onto the team is that you guys have been better publicizing your work and you guys have now won back to back awards at CEDIA. Share with our audience because you guys have some serious hardware and maybe you're shy. I'll bring it up.
Jason: This year is not our last dance. But we are going for the threepeat. We won 2018 and 2019 we were fortunate to win Integrated Home of the Year at the CEDIA awards. It was Jamie's photography and storytelling. Obviously the project has to qualify. The projects that we submitted checked every box.
Ron: I'm going to attempt to get technology to behave here so let's see if I can do this. Bear with me there you guys are. I think I'm in the folder. This is the Winter Premier so I wanted to share some.
Jamie: That's 2018. Yeah.
Ron: This is the 2018 project.
Jason: That project checked every box. We did all of the lighting design from scratch. We did all of the design work for every inch of the home. Amazing audio system throughout the house. There's a full swing golf simulator, motorized shades, heating and cooling control. Every aspect of the home is automated but we are most proud of the lighting design. It's a really special lighting project but it's a client that came in and said Jason we've never built a house. This was a couple that had lived in the same house for 35 years and decided that they were going to build because the lot next to theirs came available and it's a better view of the lake.
Jamie: Did you get that , they just moved next door?
Ron: That's amazing.
Jason: There was a house that went into foreclosure and they were coming back on their pontoon boat on the lake and were like wow that house has such a great view. The next day they bought it , knocked it to the ground, hired an architect, found out that the architect that they hired had designed the original house that they just knocked down.
Jamie: They had to either face that architect and say we're going to knock down your work.
Ron: Or we're going to let you design a new design new masterpiece so don't be angry at us. Don't hate on us.
Jason: They did this in every category in the house. When they first sat down with us they said listen we don't know what we should have in this house but here's what we're doing and going for. And so please put in what should be in this caliber of home. It's only a six thousand square foot house and I say only that's a large home. In our industry that's kind of a small home. They were going for ultra-high-end finishes. Every inch of this house, every little detail, is custom. The walls are covered in exotic stone. They've got petrified trees that are sink basins. It's just nuts.
Ron: That is spectacular. I want to share some more of your projects. And in fact, I want to even dive into the deeper strategy around actually doing not only great work. I know you guys have been doing great work for a long time but the importance of showcasing that work to the world. And I'm going to venture to say that Jason you perhaps realized you and your team realized that you needed this. This would be a smart thing to do and then it so happens that you found Jamie and there's a good dynamic. And she's good at helping you do this. Where did that epiphany come that you went from doing good work to hey I actually should start telling the world about this because this might be a good business strategy?
Jason: My nature is very contradictory to that. I've always joked that if I could just do the work and nobody saw me.
Ron: And I know that. I know you're very introverted and you're quiet and so that's something happened where you were wise enough to know to bring Jamie onto the team to spot talent and then let her shine. Where did that happen or how did that happen?
"When Jamie first started just photographing and posting internal, we have an internal newsletter Facebook and she'd started posting that. That alone made a big difference in how people internally felt about the work we were doing."
Jason: It was really thinking about that I wanted this for my team. I wanted Destin who builds the racks to show his best work and Kenny and Matt and David and you know and even Karen sitting in the desk office management and Julie in customer service who takes amazing care of our clients after the job. I built this amazing team over 21 years and wanted them to get credit for it. To really feel that they were getting it. So many of them don't get to see the finished product. Michelle does all the purchasing, she doesn't make it out of the office to get to walk through these jobs. When Jamie first started just photographing and posting internal, we have an internal newsletter Facebook and she'd started posting that. That alone made a big difference in how people internally felt about the work we were doing.
Jamie: But there was really no script. I think there was an outline of all these things that you envisioned my role being. I think I just I took that and I made my own assessment of the company when I started and viewed marketing as not only external but internal because I think it was really obvious to me that I needed to look at the company culture as well and if I could help that in a way it was going to make us better. What I mean by that is like you said Michelle does all the purchasing. She probably purchased under Harrison Home but never could put a name with a face if that makes sense. And by the face, I don't necessarily mean the client I mean the project. So Karen who answered every phone call from them would speak about the Harrison or whatever the last name is but never ever knew what that meant. When they started seeing the work it gave them something to be proud of.
Ron: It's really about pride.
Jason: Karen gets a check in the mail and a big number and a progress invoice and she thinks well that must be a really good project. But it's just a transaction to her. How do we connect the whole company with the amazing work we do and how is each person at the company really critical to our success? Success it's not just the sales guy on the front end or the technician near the back end .
Jamie: I immediately recognized the challenge with company culture in our company specifically was that we're not all under the same roof. I'm here at the design center but twenty-three other employees are operating out of another office just blocks away and then we have half of that team that only reports there in the mornings and then they're out in the field. To even communicate, let's say a traditional company. I'm not talking in our industry but where you're all in the office all day long and you see each other and you don't only catch up on personal but you have lunch together or you hear peripherally what's going on and you go and you just know. Well we had that logistical challenge of not being under the same roof. I took my marketing, those bullets that Jason had down. It's requirements or job roles or descriptions and then I tried to break it down after I did my own assessment of what we needed to do and like I said it started with branding, brand awareness, internal communication, company culture and then that really just resonated I think and made it more of a splash externally.
Jason: It came all the way down to you guys need new shirts and hats and jackets.
"There's something to be said for sure to have credentials, have the company being recognized. The pride that instills in your people."
Ron: I was going to say, can you show the camera? I saw on your shoulder you had a CEDIA award-winning 2018 winner? There's something to be said for sure to have credentials, have the company being recognized. The pride that instills in your people.
Jason: Yeah and I forget about this but I was standing with a client and he was asking about another project that we're doing. And I said, "Yeah, I was really happy that we got this other project." And he goes, "Yeah, well it might it had something to do with that patch on the side of your jacket." That's why he's proud to have hired us because of the patch on my jacket. He likes to brag to his designer and architect that you know he's got Premier working on his project. I don't historically think like that. I'm not a keep up with the Joneses kind of person. But I think that in our industry we really need to take pride in craftsmanship. I have two sayings around the office and one is that I don't ever want to hear somebody say that's not my job. And the second is that I want to be the company that's known for doing the difficult work that most people don't want to do. Whether you call that craftsmanship or just taking on a challenge and custom spraying, speaker grills to match the wall , and doing it in house to really difficult stuff. But just the details.
"All I had to do was just market that, create the culture, make sure that our image, the way we looked in people's homes, the way that we dress, the way we presented ourselves made sense for the high-end homes that we were working in."
Jamie: Yeah. And I should say too then, it wasn't like it was a super tough job for me walking into this role and trying to market the company because I wasn't trying to market us as something that we weren't. The work was already amazing. The projects were already there. The portfolio was huge. The people with years and years of experience the best at what you do in each role in our company. They were already there. All I had to do was just market that, create the culture, make sure that our image, the way we looked in people's homes, the way that we dress, the way we presented ourselves made sense for the high-end homes that we were working in. Everything had to work properly and I just felt like that really made my job easy. All I had to do was just act upon that. That was it. We probably could have won awards before but it's a cumbersome process of getting those submissions ready.
Ron: Jamie, how do you feel about the impact of photographing of projects and these award wins? How do you feel about the impact that's had on Premier Group?
Jamie: I'm definitely proud of it. But what makes me proud is that I see the pride on everyone else in the company's faces. We literally have certain teams of people that sit in an office all day long and they're not client-facing and they're not in the homes. There are programmers there are engineers and so I don't think anyone necessarily wants the spotlight shined on them individually. But who wouldn't be proud to say in all of North and South America, this was my focus for two years. Some of these projects literally go for years they're that large or that in-depth or they're that custom. I take pride in it but what's rewarding for me is to see that pride on everyone else's faces and it's not like they're you know we expect them to walk around with a swagger it's just now they know that that that that has legitimized their hard work all over. They're even more proud to work at The Premier Group and they're conscious of it on a daily basis. We have a large project that we're finishing now that we believe we'll be able to submit for next year. And it's by far our best work yet. I have to give credit to these homeowners. They have to trust us and allow us to do what we do. They have to have a sizable budget to compete for these top awards and there's no question about that. But literally, my guys, when they wired this house we wired this house about two and a half years ago and it's in finish stage now . When they pulled the wire, they pulled a different color for every single discipline and they lined the wires up one by one in all the wiring trays as they come into the mechanical room color-coded and write down. And as we're terminating the racks right now, Kenny brings it down. I see him in the office a couple of weeks ago. He goes, "we're going to win Best Dressed Equipment Rack for this one. " I stopped out at the job site a few days later just because I want to see how it's coming along. He's brought all the wires. You can literally see the wire come all the way across the mechanical room you can spot each individual wire and we're talking like 11 miles of wire. And it comes in, you can see the wire come down into the equipment rack and then it's braided. He braided the wires across the back equipment rails and then turned them into the equipment. Seriously? Is this even serviceable? He said oh yeah. Totally serviceable. And then he showed me how serviceable it was that it was actually better because the wires stay in place and how he made the journey.
Jamie: I need to get back out there and photograph that.
Ron: I was going to say that's got to make you excited to capture that photograph.
Jamie: Well yes. When I started that house was already out of the ground but that was a good time to start because I wanted to make sure that that project was documented well enough to where we can show how proud we are of the work we're doing behind the drywall that nobody ever sees. Especially on a project at that scale. Twenty thousand square feet.
Jason: Sixteen thousand. There's an enormous amount of outdoor decks and patios and hardscape and cabanas. Yeah. The outdoor living space is probably equally as big as the house.
Jamie: It's going to speak volumes to be able to see what's behind the drywall and then see the finished product for sure.
Ron: I'm eager to see those pictures. Jamie, what makes for a good architectural photo? Anyone listening that wants a tip or trick. I know you've had many years of acting as a professional in this capacity.
Jamie: Still, I'm self-taught.
Jason: She clearly has a natural talent for photography because her framing architecturally is really good. Interiors are super hard to shoot. I think I've tried myself and I think I'm good at things like that and it's hard. It's very hard.
Jamie: Gosh, I don't know. I always try to capture the real feeling inside the room meaning I try to nail the exposure. I try to make sure that any dark spots I've got light on them. But really I just like it to be evenly focused and I prefer daylight. I'm shooting 100 percent of the time without artificial lighting because I want to capture that true feeling of what it feels like when you individually are sitting in that room versus my portrayal of the room just through a one-dimensional photograph in that example. That's a commercial project. Jared Venture consulting that was a cool project.
Jason: It's a huge video wall on the right. And that changed their entire lobby. It brings so much life they cannot imagine the lobby of their office without that enormous video wall. It would just be so flat and quiet and stagnant.
Ron: Yeah, I'm going to bring up your website now. Jason, I want to jump topics just for a moment. COVID, the topic that everyone's tired of hearing about but we're going to live with it probably for her quite a while longer. How has it affected business for The Premier Group?
Jason: Yes. To say that we're not affected would be an understatement. We're greatly affected and yet we haven't felt the effect yet. That sounds weird to say. One of my service technicians, about week three or four of COVID. He looks at me and goes I don't get it and I'm like What. Yes, we're just basically being inconvenienced. That's all we've experienced. Well, the reality is in our business we're working on projects that we contracted last October nine months ago a year ago two years ago two and a half years ago that book of business is there and we're still working on those projects. And it's a big book of business. When COVID hit, I said boy, I went through 2008 I didn't wish that on anyone and that was brutal. And I was a young business owner. And let's face it that was 12 years ago. And I made a lot of bad decisions where I didn't make decisions. Doing nothing is also a bad decision. We just kind of wrote it out and it took me about eight years to dig out of that hole. But we didn't get hit when the financial crisis hit in 2008.
There's a lot of types of businesses that got hit immediately. We didn't feel the impact till 2011 when all the houses that were contracted finished and then all the builders filed bankruptcy at the end and then we got stuck for hundreds of thousands of dollars. And they did it to all the vendors. That's when the construction industry got hit there was a big lag. What I'm concerned about with COVID is the lag. In twenty-one years, we've always been wiring houses. We've wired there's not a day goes by we're not wiring. We're at multiple houses wiring houses and wiring houses brings trim out work and finish work and all that down the road. When it hit I think we went five weeks and we couldn't get in a house to wire it. Thankfully Indiana labeled construction essential. I've done quite a few calls with our HTSA group with dealers from New York and they're just shut down. It's brutal. In Indiana, we haven't had that experience we've been able to continue to work. In probably the first four weeks, we did more security and network upgrades than we did in the two years prior to that in a like a month. It was it was unbelievable. The phone was ringing off the hook. Those are five thousand seven thousand dollars jobs. Pretty hard to replace a $750,000 job with a bunch of network updates.
We immediately took some very proactive actions to preserve cash flow whether my employees understood it or not the goal was to make sure that we all have a business and jobs to come back to as things progressed. We're making a go of it. The irony is we said well if we're going to have some time, let's tear the showroom down to the studs, let's rebuild the website, let's start the delivery program, let's revamp our service department. But we haven't slowed down so we're trying to do all those things and we kind of set a very aggressive eight-week timeframe to accomplish all these things. We're in week five and we're a week or two behind because we're so busy. We're incredibly fortunate. What I'm worried about is what is this Fall look like. I know that we've got work probably through the end of August. We have some jobs that we've wired that we'll be finishing in November or next year. But is it the steady incline that our business has had the last two-plus years since Jamie came on board? We were flat before Jamie and we hired Jamie. 16 percent increase, 16 percent increase and year to date this year we were already up 7 percent over last year. And we're holding that but I'm much more concerned about the future. Because we know that and we can address that now, we're being very proactive about the kinds of things that we're doing and the kind of business that we're looking for to fill the gap so to speak if there is one.
Ron: Well what exactly does it mean that if you were not wiring houses for five weeks what does that mean downstream? And you mentioned Fall. Does that hit you in the Fall? Or is this going to hit you in 2021? When does it hit?
Jason: From Fall on. If it's a 10-month build it's going to hit us in the Fall. If it's a year and a half build, a lot of our projects are 16 18 20 month projects they're big homes. That's going to hit in 2021, we're going to say where's the steady flow of finish work? So we need to be more proactive now to target remodel work , to target existing homes, outdoor systems, you name it.
Jamie: There's plenty of other things we can go after that don't require the lengthy pre-wire work.
Jason: As people start pulling the trigger again on the big homes and there are houses going up. I'm pleasantly shocked and surprised by the amount of work that's continuing to go on. It has slowed down in terms of one trade on a site at a time. We were doing a project and the electrician pulled off. He said we're not coming out to the job, we're going to close our business down for two weeks and self-quarantine . Well, that stopped a construction site for two weeks that backs everybody, that backs all the other trades up. There's no question, it's been incredibly challenging to navigate almost on a daily basis. But I do have the foresight of the things that I learned in 2008 and we have some time here to focus on what we can do differently and what we can target. We're a big Crestron dealer but we don't do a lot of commercial projects. But we brought in and revamped our own conference rooms with all the new Crestron Flex products for Zoom rooms and Microsoft Teams and it's amazing. It's absolutely fantastic stuff and so suddenly we've got four quotes out to clients that say hey we need to add Zoom rooms to our office.
Jamie: It's taking advantage of this pandemic in marketing things that I wasn't marketing before. But they're very relevant now. Like those products that Jason's mentioning . .
Ron: This is pure tangent but I just learned about it in the last maybe week and a half and that is Crestron's new Home Time product. Are you guys familiar with that? That's the new camera in the living room. It's brand new. Do you have opinions on that?
Jason: Yeah, I think it's phenomenal. Probably five or six weeks ago my wife and I are sitting in our family room. We've got a 10 foot. It's our family room is our media room right. We've got an eighty-five inch and a beautiful built-in we've got a big ten foot by twelve-foot couch.
Ron: You told me this story when we were doing your Web site started it and I told this story to John Clancy. Before John could tell me what the news was, he was teasing me. I was like well here's an application. And he goes I know. So go ahead finish the story.
Jamie: I think this is amazing and I'm so thrilled that they were actually thinking about it before I was experiencing it because I want to put this in all my client's houses. We're sitting on the couch, we've got our dogs and I Facetime my best friend who's in Dania Point in California. She's with her little twins and her husband and they're quarantined on a beach in a beautiful area.
Ron: Dania Beach. That's not a bad area.
Jason: I like to go visit the Sonance factory because I get to visit my friend Nikki. We're Facetiming and she's holding her phone and she's walking around the house and she comes back and she sits in her family room. I know her, she's got a big beautiful family room and a TV over the fireplace and the kids are there and she's on the phone. She says hey George, say hi to Jason and Melissa. Hey Jordan and showing us the dogs. And I'm thinking to myself if I had a Crestron Flex system in my family room. I had the camera and the integrated audio system with my touch screen and my Zoom room and she had that with 120 degree or 150-degree field of view with intelligent cameras in the high-end audio built for a 20-foot square room, the audio experience would be better, there wouldn't be this echoing in the room and we could just sit back on our couch. We're not holding a device, I'm just sitting back on my couch chilling out with the dogs, looking at Nikki and her family in their living room with their dogs and their kids and just having an interaction. I think this would be amazing. Why are we not all doing this? We've got to do this.
Jamie: This seems realistic that this is in our future now.
Jason: 100 hundred percent, I want to put it in everybody's house now. I think people would just love it. I think to sit in your family and have a room not a desk and a workspace with a huddle cam or an iPad but to actually just incorporate that technology into your primary family room where you already have a display and a seating area that faces the display why not talk room to room instead of device to device.
Jamie: Yeah there's plenty of good that can come out of this and definitely from a marketing standpoint. Those types of things people's home networks kids Zoom calls while the parents are trying to conference call, while the TV is are streaming music or television content. There's plenty of that that we took note on immediately and recognized what we could market or bring up in our meetings or our in-home consultations.
Ron: Jamie, are you seeing a difference in demand for the technologies from the home from the consumer? Really in the last eight weeks due to this pandemic this quarantine?
Jamie: Well that's really a Jason question. Is the marketing working?
Jason: Yeah. Indiana is just opening up. So we have key people that are still working from home. And Jamie is one of them, the showroom side open. We have been taking private appointments but when we tore it down, nobody's been in here in five weeks.
Ron: Got it.
Jason: I took a couple of meetings here in the conference room here over the last number weeks and we were the only people in the entire building. Jamie has been working from home. Karen, Michelle and Julia customer service and all that was working from home. From the text, I joke with clients, we're not a work from home business, we're a work in your home business. We need to be able to work in your home or we're not generating any any revenue.
Ron: That makes sense. I was just curious, that solution you're saying clearly makes it you know we can visualize this in the future that our room to room conversation and embedding the audio and the right are the microphone technology and the audio technology with the video technology. I can see that future. I'm wondering if customers have started demanding that or other types of solutions?
Jason: What we're noticing for sure is that once you demonstrate, just like everything else in our business, when you demonstrate a quality audio experience for this field for video conferencing etc. They can't unexperience that and now they have to have it. The next session they're on, they're like oh my gosh the room is distorted and I hear the room and there's so much reverb in it, echoes and I can't hear them. I was on a call with a client yesterday and he was working from his home office and I just said man I got to stop I don't mean to be rude but what kind of a system do you have? And he's a big high powered attorney, really amazing guy, extremely valuable to his clients. All I'm thinking is, if this is the system he's talking to clients on, this is terrible. We've got to do something about this. He was distorted I couldn't understand him. I had to turn the sound on my end up really loud and just sit and listen very quietly and just to try to understand him. And he said, "Yeah I bought this thing and it's terrible." He realized it and now he's bent on he needs to get a better solution fast.
Jamie: Yeah, we're just trying to figure out what to show customers that they need that they didn't know they needed, right?
Jason: And we were on a conference call about motorized shades because they're working from home and the sun comes glaring in and they've never been home during the day before. And now we need to put shades in the study and the great room because the sun beats it.
Ron: Can we talk about your showroom remodel? You tore it apart, you just showed me insulation over there to your right. What are you guys going to do at the showroom? What's the plan?
Jason: The showroom was 9 years old. It needed what I call a refresh. You think like oh you know at some point we'll just clean the flooring and paint some walls or something. It just evolved into our lease deal was up. I'm going to go ahead and thank our landlord. Our lease was actually up December 31st and I was too busy to read negotiate our lease. I just figured well they're not going to turn down a check. I'll just keep signing of the rent check and then COVID hit and then I said you know we should probably renegotiate the lease. They said no let's wait till this thing's over. Just keep sending your check-in. I said no, we should probably renegotiate the lease right now. And as a result, we got a very favorable renewal deal. They paid for 100 percent of the construction which you don't usually get on a refresh. We got free rent while we're doing the construction. We got a no rent increase for the next four years.
Ron: This is the time to renegotiate your rent deal.
Jason: And buy a car and do anything else if you're in a position. So obviously we double down. I said let's do this and the stars aligned and so we ended up tearing it down to the studs. Really, the goal was to take the space and really update the lighting. We're going to refresh audio and video displays and all that. We put in this last handful of months ago the new short throw projector from LG with the Screen Innovation short throw screen and some displays that are really wow factors for clients' new stuff. But the whole showroom is going to be a light lab. We're going to have all of our seven primary lighting fixture manufacturers prominently displayed with unbelievable fixtures. We've got a fixture from Apur that's smaller than my pinky that puts out a thousand lumens out of a tiny pinhole in your ceiling.
Ron: Is this for a downlight application or is this your art spot?
Jason: It's a 20 40 or 60-degree downlight that comes out of a pinhole on the ceiling. Tech Light is a big manufacturer of ours, Diode OLED, Cove Light, RGBW, Tunable Light, all the high-end adjustable lights. Museum-quality light, decorative light, the whole showroom is redone and we're basically showing every application. We built a new bar, it's gonna to be this amazing matte black bar. We've got the under cabinet light, we've got a pendant hanging, we've got toe kick, we've got these little Apur lights shining down through the cabinetry. It's just stunning. These are vignettes that I think are really going to resonate with customers in terms of what great light is.
Jamie: They're going to be very applicable. The goal was to take the existing showroom. That was a little more AV focused, into something that felt like a home, into showing individual vignettes that showcase a lot of things in one vignette. It's not like we're focusing this vignette on AV and this vignette on lighting, and this vignette on and on. It really is taking that integration idea to a level that I don't think we really had other than our actual verbal sales pitch and demonstration when we walked clients through. I don't think that somebody walking through on their own really could grasp the whole home integration aspect of our business. I think that they could pick and choose what they saw. Obviously we would never let anyone walk through here without being talked to but we would want them to take away that holistic view of what we do versus just being in a big company.
Ron: How how has lighting control, I'm going to say that's been part of your lexicon part of your business model for a long time. Lighting now means control and fixtures. And that lighting and shading piece of your business, how has that evolved over the last 10 years? What do you see it being today versus what was it five years ago or ten years ago?
Jason: About twelve or thirteen years ago I had the vision that we would become the electrical contractor. Yet, we have great partnerships with all the electrical contractors in town and I don't want to step on their toes. But the reality is we're in a unique position because I do a lighting design in-house and have been passionate about lighting design for almost my entire career with Premier. We design, we specify all the fixtures, we layer the automation, and we're capable of turn keying the entire project and then integrating with everything else in the house. There's really no other trade or individual that can do that. An interior designer certainly has input on a lighting plan and is bringing decorative product to the table. But, they need us. They need us to wire it, they need us to automate it, to layer in the other layers of lighting. The cove lights and accent lights and down lights and all that. The architect might do a lighting plan but he's not turned keying the project. We frequently see some dots. What is this fixture? Well nobody knows yet, it's a dot on the plan but what's the color rendering index? What's the color temperature? What's the beam spread? What's the output? What's the height of the ceiling? What are we trying to cover? What is it lighting? Is it a wall washer or an adjustable? Nobody knows and I've been impressed in the last few years that I think customers have really resonated with great lighting. I give everybody the same story and that is you build this house, you've got a billion decisions to make. You're going to be 20 percent over budget before you break ground and you're trying to figure out what to cut. Everybody's in the same boat, champagne tastes, beer budget. I still say if you paint a room wrong repaint it. If you don't like your island countertop it's going to cost the money but you can rip it off and you can put a new island if you don't like a decorative fixture you buy a new decorative fixture hang a new decorative fixture. But you don't get to redo your recessed lighting, your lighting plan, your electric plan. It's all behind the drywall it's all wired very purposefully, so you really get one shot to get that right and that's the lighting you're going to live with for the rest of your life in that house.
It's really important and it was frustrating that we would see builders put in sixty thousand dollar appliance packages for the kitchen and three thousand dollars for some cheap six-inch canned lines. It's just out of whack. You don't build a million and a half dollar house or a three million dollar house or a six hundred thousand dollar house. It's all relative and spend that percentage on appliances and plumbing fixtures and not pay attention to the lighting. I think we've really brought lighting to the foreground as our whole industry is attempting to do.I like to think we've been on the cutting edge of that. Thirteen years ago, we wired a series of houses a very special project we did an enclave, all fully automated with Crestron lighting control, all with the very first tree Cree LR for fixtures that came out and we've never let up.
Ron: What percentage of your business in 2020 do you think willl be lighting and shading?
Jason: Yeah it should be about 40 percent. About eighty-five percent of our business is our top clients. The other 15 percent is all the other service work and all the small stuff. A top client might call and say hey I need a new TV in my exercise room and it's five grand and you just go do it. But the project projects, pretty typical setup is about 40 percent audio-video, about 40 percent lighting and shades and fixtures and lighting automation and the whole category. The last 20 percent is probably some combination of home security, camera surveillance, networking, equipment racks, surge protection, all the ancillary things. They're super important but they're just not as big of a ticket. People like to spend money on their audio experience or their video displays or their home theater or their family room and now lighting and shades. The ability to showcase that in every possible way that you could embrace lighting in our showroom with these. Basically our entire showroom is going to be a lighting lab. It's going to be amazing.
Ron: No it sounds amazing and Kenny is on your team. I know Kenny. I used to work with Kenny at Creston. What's up Kenny? He says I need to visit and everyone out there that's watching and listening you need to ring up Jamie and Jason and you guys need to go visit or Kenny or Ken. All right. Ken you're going to eat that.
Jason: He's chatting in here but Ken is my right hand. Ken knows it, does everything at Premier. He's amazing works his tail off. Hardest working guy in show business. .
Ron: Kenny is a rock star. Love me some Kenny. That is awesome. Question, and Jason I think this might embarrass you a little bit and I know that you don't like to talk about this. Do you mind sharing with what your background is and you're a bit of a rock star. You are a rock star and you were in rock n roll.
Jason: They call you has-beens now, I don't like that phrase.
Ron: I even have something cued up. But why don't you share with the audience what your musical background is. Because you used to tour, you guys were a big name but you also used to tour with some pretty big names.
Jason: Yeah. I went to DePaul University in Green Castle, Indiana. I'm originally from the North Side of Chicago and went to DePaul. That's how I came to Indiana. I met my best friends freshman year in the dorm, first day. You meet some people and a couple of guys that we really bonded over music and other things and one of those was Tae. Tae works with me here at Premier. Matt runs our Operations side of the business.
Ron: It's pretty awesome that you met dudes in college. How many years did you do that? Your rock and roll group was called Push Down and Turn.
Jason: God knows how we graduated but we did by our senior year our tour bus would pull up outside the campus quad and we would walk out of class and onto the bus and we were gone for three days for the weekend. We had no Friday classes. When we first started playing we were doing the college and club circuit and then they would drop us back off sometimes Monday morning, sometimes Sunday night or Monday morning walk right back into class. Our lead singer was two years behind us. I've got no idea how he graduated. We were doing, I think his senior year we did 120 shows or something ridiculous. And then after that once he graduated, we played over 200 shows a year for ten years. We toured for about 12 years.
Ron: That's crazy. You lived on the road, you were the road touring rock and roll band.
Jason: Yeah. '91 to '02 roughly.
Ron: That's amazing. What were some of the bands that people might recognize that you you toured with?
Jason: Yeah. We did shows with the Counting Crows, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Bo Deans, Melissa Etheridge, Primus, Neil Young, Blues Traveler. We were kind of in that mainstream rock vein back then.
Ron: You named a couple of groups that I've I saw in the 90s you perform and then I know there were always opening bands. I'm wondering if I watched you from the crowd.
Jason: Counting Crows are my favorite rock band of all time.
Ron: I've seen Counting Crows a couple of times live in the 90s.
Jason: Modern-day would be Foo Fighters. But Motley Crue in the 80s, Counting Crows in the 90s, Foo Fighters today. Those are my three. Another story but now I'm into all electronic music. We were playing with Counting Crows and they didn't know we were from Indianapolis. Our hometown college crowds are IU and Purdue and we come through and we're playing Elliot Hall on the tour. It's a 7500 seat theater and we're open we come out with what we would call our hit at the time, Jaded, and we started with this guitar part and the curtain goes up and 7500 Purdue kids get on their feet and starts screaming, just going crazy. It was like our home town and here we were coming through opening for Counting Crows so they were excited for us I think. The Counting Crows come running out of the dressing room onto the side stage and they're like what's the heck?
Ron: Who are these people?
Jason: Right. They'd been on tour and they said that was their best show of the entire tour because they came out all kinds of fired up. They weren't going to let us upstage them in our hometown.
Ron: Alright I'm going to attempt to play this. It's going to switch audio. Let's see if I can do that. I'm going to turn up the audio a little bit.
Jamie: This is the reunion show a few years ago.
Jason: We didn't play a show for 13 years. We hung up the tour and people started getting married and having kids and all that boring stuff.
Ron: Is the audio coming through Jason, can you hear it?
Jason: I can hear it..
Ron: I am going to play it just for a few minutes. There you are.
Jason: This was our reunion show after 30 years of not touring we played the vogue in Indianapolis which is where we got our start. It's about a thousand seat capacity club really fantastic and this was the on call at the end of the show. We used to play Purple Rain by Prince back in the day. This was several days after Prince passed away which we didn't plan obviously. So we closed with this.
Ron: The Purple Rain. You got it raining and where was the venue where you performed?
Jason: The Vogue. It's in Broad Ripple in Indianapolis.
I'm going to put here on the screen for those that want to know how to watch that video. LDRStudios.com .
Jason: My buddy Clark owns LDR Studios. They came out and filmed the whole thing in high def. We had 13 cameras in the venue. Again we hadn't played in 13 years, we just got this idea we should probably do a reunion show. Remember when we were touring, the iPhone didn't come out so 2007. Five years after we finished touring. There was no social media there weren't MP3s, we were listening to cassette tapes from the studio. It was interesting. We posted on Facebook. We think we're gonna do a reunion and we put a date out there and we put tickets online and the thing sold out in a couple of days. People came in from 37 states all over the country to for this show.
Ron: Did you have any second thoughts like maybe we should get back into this?
Jason: Oh hell yeah. We all got excited for a moment.
Ron: For a moment. Did it die the next day with the hangover?
Jason: No I mean there's no question. We all miss it. When we got back together for the first rehearsal we started playing the setlist and it was like we played the day before and the day before. We've played thousands of shows together literally. It was like we hadn't missed a beat. It was pretty cool. I'd like to say that was my transition. I've always had a passion and love for entertainment and that's where our industry started. I think twenty-one years ago when I founded Premier. Our industry grew out of largely audio enthusiasts and then we became video enthusiasts because Sam Runco preached it to us. And then CEDIA said you need to own the network and everybody start doing security and then now they're saying we got do lighting. I think we've been about 10 years ahead of the curve on all that stuff and we've been doing it all for a long time. I think that's why my core team is so good. Like a band or a basketball team or football team, we all read each other's minds, we know what we're thinking. We don't have to over communicate too much on what the expectations are and putting a system together. Even my programmers, it's been a long time coaching them to not program like a programmer but to think like an end user and they just knock it out of the park.
Ron: Jason, Jamie it has been a lot of fun having you on show. What is this? This is show 121. 121, lucky number 121 of Automation Unplugged. What was it scary? Was it scary Jamie, was it OK?
Jason: The scariest part was thinking about how I had to wear normal clothes today. She's not wearing sweatpants. I'm dressed to go to work. That was the scariest part.
Ron: You were saying your kids actually were surprised this morning, they were like "Mom, you're in your dress, what's going on?"
Jamie: As if I'm dressed for prom or something. Really I'm just in a denim jacket and not yoga pants.
Jason: Mom has real pants on. My wife says she hasn't worn pants in two months.
Ron: That's funny. Jason and Jamie thank you guys for being on the show.
Jason: Thank you Ron.
Jason: Thank you.
Ron: And by the way, Jason real quick, if folks when I get in touch with Premier and or you guys, what is the best way for folks to do that?
Jason: So here's the deal. You're going to go to our website and I'm going to give Ron a shameless plug here. The only thing I'm equally or more excited about than our new showroom is our new website that we're building right now. I truly think we have one of the best websites if not the best website in the industry. Phenomenal. Jamie's photography, the storytelling. Ron your team's capabilities are absolutely fantastic. You're helping with our brand. We've kind of created three tiers not to go on about this but Premier Design is our high end tier. We created a brand called Premier Express which is ready to go, quickly deployable solutions repeatable solutions and then Premier Care is our service team. Your team has helped us brand those processes within the Premier group which we're loving and the fact that's all going to be represented on our new site with a lot of interactive technology that you can experience. I think we talk about this a lot in our industry. You say first impression is everything but your first impression always used to be old school in person. You'd meet someone, you'd shake their hand and how you shook their hand and looked them in the eye and repeated their name was your first impression. And now it's not you anymore, it's your social media, everything on the Internet. We have to really, all of us in the industry, we really have to be sensitive to what our first impression is that we're giving so that people call. I only have one negative down story about that I lost a job last year because the client said our first impression was too good. He said your showrooms too nice, your website is too nice. You clearly must be too expensive.
Jason: That's your fault if you pick really nice stuff. I'm just showing it to you. I don't make the stuff.
Ron: I don't make you spend the money. I just show you what your options are.
Jason: Right. We're just show shopping. That's what we do. This is like our curation. Our showroom is the combination of curating all the products in the ways that we do things that I really think make a difference. And our website needs to also show that great in story because we think that we're getting it right. And so of course we want to tell that story we thought it's going to resonate and be attractive to our customers so our awesome place.
Ron: Your website is going to be beautiful and the reason I know that is because you guys are going to be supplying us amazing imagery and video that's going to be featured on that website. You're doing much more than half the work by giving us great content. It's easy for us to make that content look great. It's a great collaboration and so thank you guys. I agree. Well thank you guys. Thanks for being on the show.
Jason: Yeah. Appreciate it. Thank you.
Ron: All right gang. There you have it. Episode 121 of Automation Unplugged. I hope you enjoyed it. Jason and Jamie are quite the the dynamic duo over there at Premier Group and they just have a great team. I've had the pleasure of meeting multiple members of their team over the years. I also love that they now have this really neat insatiable hunger to win more awards, to put their story out there, share it with the world. They're proud of their work, as they should be. For many of you listening that aren't photographing your jobs or aren't doing video or aren't doing awards. There's an opportunity there to up your game and to start doing some of that. I also love the spin. It wasn't really spin but it was a perspective that awards aren't just for the outside world. They aren't really so much in the Premier Group's mind for the consumer and creating demand but really it's what they've done for their internal company culture and showing off the quality of work they do and enabling their team to be more proud of that work. I thought that was super neat. Gang, that is it for episode 121. Thanks again for joining me. I will see you again next week for a couple more shows. Be well and if I don't talk to you, I'll see you next week and have a wonderful weekend.
Jason Barth is co-owner of The Premier Group, an Indianapolis based integration firm. He uses his comprehensive and in-depth technical knowledge to simplify complex technologies in a way that's easy for consumers to understand. Jamie Carey utilizes photography and storytelling in a combined effort to attract new clientele, builder relationships, and architects and designers as Director of Business for The Premier Group. The Premier Group boasts awards that span the last several years such as CEPro’s Top 100 Integrator and Best Integrated Home.
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.
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