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Automation Unplugged

Automation Unplugged is a Facebook Live show recorded weekly with our host Ron Callis, Owner and CEO of the digital marketing agency, One Firefly. In each Automation Unplugged episode, Ron speaks with leading industry personalities and technology professionals to discuss all things business development, technology trends, and more. These interviews are designed to help our clients and members of the custom integration industry keep up-to-date with the latest news as well as learn from experts in the field.

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Home Automation Podcast Episode #122: An Industry Q&A With Ariel Gutierrez

In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, Ariel Gutierrez shares about the impact COVID-19 has had on the Latin American economy and currencies as well as his reaction to the Savant acquisition of GE Lighting.

Home Automation Podcast Episode #122: An Industry Q&A With Ariel Gutierrez

This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Ariel Gutierrez. Recorded live on Wednesday, May 27th, 2020 at 12:30 p.m. EST.

About Ariel Gutierrez

Founded in 2009, Ariel and his wife co-founded Miami-based Polaris Controls, a manufacturer representative firm that covers Latin American and The Caribbean.

Since their founding, Polaris Controls has built a network of over 500 dealers across both regions and developed their A/V and building automation offering for residential and commercial projects including government and hospitality.

Interview Recap

  • Origin story behind Polaris Controls
  • Ariel’s reaction to the Savant acquisition of GE Lighting
  • The impact COVID-19 has had on the Latin American economy and currencies
  • The webinar and podcast strategy launched by Polaris Controls to better help their dealers

SEE ALSO: Home Automation Podcast Episode #121: A Custom Integration Industry Q&A With Jason Barth and Jamie Carey


Ron:  Hello, hello! Ron Callis here with another episode of Automation Unplugged. Here in quarantine life, I know things are a little bit crazy still for all of us. I know if you're here to watch all of these videos you'll see that I'm growing quite the mane here. I'm ready to get to my barber and get my haircut. Hopefully, that's politically correct here sooner than later but anyway. I'm curious, I'd love you to type into the chat what are some of the things that you are doing to help your team through this challenging time in business? I thought I would share with you just real quickly a couple of the things that we're doing at One Firefly. One of the best things that we can do as leaders within our organizations is to keep an open dialogue with your team letting them know the good news, the bad news and maybe there's news you don't have answers to yet. Just sharing that openly and transparently. At One Firefly we actually have added a weekly town hall. Thankfully, the news has been quite positive for the last several months. I didn't know that would be the case but we've stayed nicely busy at One Firefly. Sadly, we have lost a few clients but we've actually gained far more than we've lost.

The other thing that we're doing is we added a bi-weekly trivia. Many of my team and probably many of you are stuck in your homes these days than you have been maybe ever. We actually all log in everyone from around the country and we have a whole system set up, Tina and Allison from our team run it and we do trivia. We've actually decided to keep the teams through this whole quarantine period and we have two rounds of trivia that we do at the end of the day. We do it on Thursdays and it's an open bar so everyone brings their wine, beer, cocktail, or their water - whatever they want to drink. And we have fun. There's no work, just play and fellowship. I know I've enjoyed it a lot and I've heard some pretty good feedback from my team. I'm curious if you guys are doing something out there for your teams to help them get through these times. What are those things? Drop it into the comments and after the show, I'll be sure to drop in there and read all of those and reply. Now on to our guest! I'll be interviewing Ariel Gutierrez, he's the President at Polaris Controls and he's here based in Miami. We're going to talk about who he is, his business, and how things are going for them. Let's go ahead, without further ado, bring in Ariel. How are you, sir?

Ariel: Good morning Mr. Ron Callis. How are you?

Ron:  I had to check my clock, like shoot is it morning? I don't know. Days blend into weeks and morning into night. There aren't many barriers these days. Ariel, where are you coming to us from?

Ariel: I live in Miami Florida. Our companies are headquartered here in the Doral area, which is on the western part of Miami up close to the airport and the turnpike.

Ron:  Awesome. I want to say a mutual friend of ours Tomas Wing, I don't know if you know Tomas. He's from Panama but he's a frequent listener and he goes, "Saludos to Ariel and all the Polaris Controls Latin America crew. Good to have them on the show, great team, and great people."

Ariel: Thanks, Tomas. Tomas is a highly respected client of ours. We see him a lot when we travel. At trade shows, he comes to our trainings a lot. He does a lot for the industry down in Panama. Hola, Tomas! Como Estas?

Ron:  Ariel, just for our listeners that may not know you, I always like to start off the show with your background. You and I have known each other for, I want to say, going on 20 years?

Ariel: That's right.

Ron:  You know what that means? It means we're getting old. But I still feel young.

Ariel: It's not old, it's experienced. Experienced is a new term expert.

Ron:  There you go. We are 20 years experienced and maybe many more years than that. Tell our audience about yourself and what brings you forward to Polaris Controls today?

Ariel: It's an interesting story. I'm actually a biomedical engineer. That's what I studied as an undergrad at RPI in Troy New York. I worked on some interesting projects for the DOD while I was there, power supplies for tracking devices which is an interesting subject. From there I worked for Lutron as an employee for about five years. started in February of '98 and worked for them in the Latin American and training departments and I had a stint in their Florida residential sales department as well, that's where I met you. You and I worked together in the Florida market for a while. I eventually left Lutron and started a business in land development. Our first company was a company that would raise capital for investors or investors would put in money into projects and we returned all the money plus profit to them. We did very well for a number of years and then in 2007 and 2008, the construction industry in the United States basically collapsed. That was a change of scope for us. But it was good, it was a good learning experience for me and for my wife. I actually met my wife and some of the people I work with now in Polaris at our graduate school. We did a master's in construction management. I started there, I think it was in 2002 or 2003 and I completed in 2004. I started a construction business which was my second business, IDG construction. It's a licensed general contractor in Florida. That business is ongoing, I'm the qualifier for that business. At IDG, we would do the project management for the projects that we were raising capital for. We were doing our own projects for a while and then the economy hit.

Ron:  I think, '08 to '10 hit many of us quite hard.

Ariel: Yes. It was a very difficult year. I knew it was coming, though. In 2007, I remember we built some houses, about I'd say about 70 houses in Miami and on one of the houses one of the closings the buyer came - it was a half-million-dollar house. This particular buyer, I'm not sure if he was qualified for that kind of loan.

Ariel: That was back when you could get a loan just by stating your income, you didn't actually happen to show any paperwork.

Ron:  That's right.

Ariel: He came out on the loan with a second mortgage on the property as well and thirty thousand dollars in his pocket. He put no money down at the closing, came out with thirty thousand dollars, and I was like, "You know, something is seriously wrong with this." And sure enough, four months after that's when all the Lehman Brothers stuff happened, that's when the construction bubble came, and it was a difficult ride. 2008 and 2009 were a difficult ride. I went to work for Honeywell for a little bit under a year, a great company. I personally hated what I was doing there but it was a good company to work for. I learned a lot there but I wanted to do something different. My wife was pregnant and Honeywell wanted us to move to Virginia, yet I was still winding down all the construction projects in Miami so I I told my wife, "Well why don't we start a business?" The initial stages of that business was we knocked on Lutron's door again to see if they needed some help with their training in Spanish because that's what I knew how to do well. That conversation turned into, "Why don't you become manufacturer's reps?" We put together a business plan in about two months. I looked for a company name because I didn't have any company related to that field. I love sailing and boats and navigation and Polaris is a north star. We were going to be representing a controls company for lighting control and also the domain name was available.

Ron:  That's the magic right there when the domain is available. That's the ringing endorsement for your new name.

Ariel: Exactly. My wife and I came up with the name Polaris Controls. We registered the domain name with Go Daddy and the rest is history. We started that business in 2009. It's eleven years old now. It was with one manufacturer which was Lutron. My wife and I and we were Reps only for the Caribbean and certain islands in the Caribbean, not the entire Caribbean. Little by little, we started adding lines. As we added lines, I couldn't divide myself into so many bits travel-wise. That's when I hired one of our company team members which is Manfredo, who started with us covering Central America and I would focus on the Caribbean. But then we needed more lines because with one line and three people we couldn't do it.

Ron:  More people you need more revenue.

Ariel: That's right. That's how we started. Today, Polaris is 10 people strong. We have operations in Mexico. There are two people in Mexico. We have an office in Mexico City in Guatemala. In Bogota Colombia, in San Juan Puerto Rico, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and here in Miami. We focused in four different verticals. One of them being automation, the other one being lighting as in lighting manufacturers, lamps, and lighting fixtures. The other one on the pro-AV side. And lastly and more importantly the one on video. We were reps for multiple audio and video companies, audio-video distribution and that's what we do. We're in four different categories throughout Latin American and the Caribbean. We don't do anything domestically.

Ron:  Okay so you live in Miami but all of your territories are other countries throughout the Caribbean or Central America and South America. Correct?

Ariel: Correct. Miami has always been and more so these days like our little capital of Latin America.

Ron:  I was going to say Miami is the capital of South America.

Ariel: That's right. Everyone likes to come here. Miami has become a big destination in the last 15 years. I remember when I first moved to Miami about 22 years ago now. This was a big city but it wasn't like a New York or L.A. or anything like that. And slowly but surely, here we are. It's a big city now with a lot of people from Latin America coming here to establish themselves with business and families and all that. It's become a great city.

Ron:  What are some of the bigger names? I know you love all of your brands the same but what are some of the bigger names that some of the folks listening will know that you represent?

Ariel: We're reps for Lutron, that's the first line that we had and we will eternally be grateful for the opportunity because it was a difficult time in the world's history. We have Sonance which has been a key line for us. The folks at Sonance have been wonderful to work with and gave us an enormous boost with the responsibility that we have because we do manage Sonance for everywhere in Latin America from Mexico all the way to Argentina and all of them.

Ron:  Wow, you have Sonance for the entire continent?

Ariel: That's correct. That's a great line. Great people there, great opportunities, great product. I can't really say enough about Sonance. We have Savant for Latin America and the Caribbean except for Mexico and Brazil. They have a very strong distributor. It's Audio Gene and they've done a really good job with Savant in Brazil, they're good people. Those are the main ones, we've been on the lighting side. We have our Lucifer lighting is one, DMF lighting is another one. DMF and Lucifer have both been very involved in CEDIA lately because they're trying to develop CEDIA.

Ron:  I've been seeing a lot of DMF. We at One Firefly are in a couple buying groups. I know I've been seeing DMF, Michael, and team. Wait a second there's another Lutron connection over at DMF isn't there?

Ariel: Andy Wakefield is there.

Ron:  I see a common thread through a lot of these brands you're mentioning here.

Ariel: It's true. I'll tell you that Lutron does provide great training for folks on the sales and operations side. There are a lot of ex Lutron people in this industry because they've done a really good job in training all of us. It's a good company.

"I think my career start at Lutron, I couldn't have asked for a better place to start in terms of building a strong foundation."

Ron:  It's the best training. I mean I've said this many times on this podcast even. I think my career start at Lutron, I couldn't have asked for a better place to start in terms of building a strong foundation. As you said, you can take your years at Lutron and then just look across the industry at all of these movers and shakers and they originated in many times many cases at Lutron.

Ariel: Yeah. More than three manufacturers that we're reps for started because of some kind of Lutron connection Lucifer's Lighting started from there. Sonance obviously started from there. DMF started from there. It was a great school for me. I still learn something new every day from them. It's a good company.

Ron:  You mentioned Savant and there was news that broke. I want to say it broke a few hours ago and Savant just acquired G.E. lighting.

Ariel: That is a huge step for Savant.

Ron:  What do you think this means?

Ariel: I think it means that Savant obviously is interested in becoming more and more front row with the lighting side. The G.E. lighting acquisition is not only for the automation side of things, but it's also for the lamp side of things. I don't know if you know this, but G.E Lighting makes up 40 percent of the lighting brands in retail locations. You can go to like a Home Depot and a lot of the lamps that are available for people are G.E Lighting lamps. In my opinion, this allows Savant some room to negotiate better deals with manufacturers because it is a much stronger name. It also gives Savant strength in some sales opportunities. If you take a company like Crestron or Lutron that have been in this industry for 40 plus years and you compare with Savant that only started in the early 2000s, it gives strength.

Ron:  Yeah. G.E Lighting, Thomas Edison. 130 years ago, I mean it doesn't get more O.G. than that.

Ariel: Seven hundred employees plus, It's a huge deal for Savant. I think they can leverage a lot of what they've been doing with the lighting side with that and it's gonna be great. I think it's a great acquisition for them and it shows you how forward-thinking Savant is. They called Bob Madonna, the guy that can look around corners and I agree this acquisition is a good acquisition.

Ron:  Just to dive a little bit deeper and I don't know if you know this answer or if it's speculation. I only know enough to be dangerous so I'm putting that out there on the record. But I know that the USAI fixtures that Savant has been partnering and been selling, does it change that equation at all to your knowledge? Or is that public or is that determined yet as to what that means?

Ariel: I don't know what that means. It could, it could not. USAI doesn't manufacture lamps. They manufacture fixture with the housing with an LED engine. It's a different type of lighting fixture altogether. It may change it. It may not.

Ron:  We have some speculation in the chat feed here so let's put some of the speculations up on the screen. Nelson Vega, he says, "They're going to try and develop a Ketra style fixture and compete at the highest fixture levels. That's a good theory. I like it. And then what do we have. We have Juan Pablo, Garcia Guerrero. And he says, "They have a partnership with USAI Lighting so I believe they have this portion." There we go. And then Nelson says, "I can't imagine they acquired GE to grab the average consumer.".

Ariel: You'd be surprised.

Ron:  I grew up with that that GE on a lamp, the Edison lamps. Now I'm I guess as Ariel and I said a moment ago, we're now experienced. Some of the younger listeners are gonna go, "What are you talking about the G E on the lamp you'd screw in?" All they've known is LED light bulbs.

Ariel: The thing with the LED, the consumer sales with GE. Just look at the amount of cash that would start coming in through Home Depot sales for example. And electrical distributor sales and those are channels that Savant didn't have. And now they're gonna have this steady income that's not as dependent on high end residential or commercial projects as it has been before. So who knows.

Ron:  It's gonna be fun. We have Angel and he says, "Welcome Ariel, Saludos from Mexico.".

Ariel: Saludos. Nelson and I go back too. I like Nelson a lot. He works at Sound Components. Great guy, very knowledgeable, funny as hell. I go to Nelson, he's my go-to guy for all things Cuban food in Miami, Florida.

Ron:  Where's Nelson at now? Nelson, drop in the comments here. Where are you at these days? Is he still at Sound Components?

Ariel: I think he is. The last time I spoke to him which was a couple months ago he was, and he probably still is. Great guy. If you want to get good Cuban food anywhere in Miami or Fort Lauderdale because he's a busy man.

Ron:  He's a man about town. He knows his Cuban food in South Florida.

Ariel: Exactly. You can ask Nelson. Nelson is still at Sound Components.

Ron:  That is cool. I think Bill still running that place right? Tell Bill I said hello. I haven't talked to Bill in many moons. Ariel, how's business man? I know my wife is from Brazil and we're watching the news and Brazil is getting pummeled right now. That's a data point that I have. That's close to home. What is happening throughout the Caribbean and in Central and South America in the custom integration business?

Ariel: Lots of places are in lockdown. Mexico is in lockdown. Brazil is in lockdown. Ecuador. Guatemala. It goes day by day mostly lockdown, a lot of the islands are on lockdown. They've only started easing things up in Puerto Rico this past week. Actually last week it's really when it started. I apologize the landscaping.

Ron:  Am I hearing the landscape guy that you warned me about? Is he outside the window?

Ariel: Now there are three floors right in front of my door. This only happens when I do this.

Ron:  It only happens when you're live in a Facebook Live or a webinar training.

Ariel: There are three leaf blowers. Incredible. They'll leave in a short time.

Ron:  Yeah. No worries.

Ariel: I would say then there are places like the British Virgin Islands. The British Virgin Islands have had zero. I apologize.

Ron:  That's all right. I'm pretty sure it'll end soon. I'll pay attention to the comments here for a second while we wait for the sound. Lou Wing says that Panama is opening too. Lou, drop into the comments man. Let us know what's going on in Panama. Are you able to get out and do projects yet? Is it appropriate or deemed the responsible thing to do by your local government or your federal government? I know here in the US it depends on the state and even sometimes the city as to whether you're simply allowed to go out and do business.

Ariel: Even Miami. A lot of people don't know this but Miami is two things. Miami Day County. Which is comprised of different cities and then there's the city of Miami. So within Miami Day County, different cities have different stipulations . There's things that you can do in Doral that you can't do in Hialeah other cities in Hialeah that you can't do in Coral Gables and so on and so forth. So it's changing every day. Let's see what Lou Wing says, Panama is opening too? Not at the moment maybe in the next two weeks , we'll be able to. Yeah, there's still a lot of places in lockdown. Business-wise.

Ron:  Yeah. What has it mean for business? I mean I can imagine there's no other way to slice it. It's got to be terribly challenging.

Ariel: It's challenging for the dealers. It's challenging for the end-users as well because they can't leave their houses from a health perspective. It's challenging from an economical perspective. It's challenging as well and not just because business has stopped. That's one part of it. The other part of it is that the U.S. dollar keeps getting stronger against some of the local currencies. Things you could buy at one rate before, you're now having to pay 20-25 percent. 30-35 percent more than you did three months ago.

Ron:  Does the consumer? You're both on the resi and the commercial side of the business. Let's just do the luxury consumer that might be putting toys in their house. Do they hold their money in the local currency or do they hold dollars or do they hold both?

Ariel: Both. They have accounts for both.

Ron:  It's really their local currency is getting crushed by the strong dollar.

Ariel: That is correct.

Ron:  I'm only a hobbyist. And that's putting it mildly with a capital or a lowercase has a hobby. But in terms of macroeconomics I find it fun and interesting. But from what I'm reading or consuming I believe that this trend of a deflationary dollar or a strong U.S. dollar against foreign currencies it seems like this is only going to accelerate or continue for some time. I mean this is not going to end in the coming weeks.

Ariel: You'll be surprised. Brazil has seen a change in the dollar, in the strength of the dollar in the last week or so.

Ron:  It was up at five reals for a dollar right?

Ariel: Correct. And now it's coming back down. Little by little. And hopefully, that will continue to be the trend. So that the Brazilian market in general not just our industry but in general can start up again soon. It's been on hold. I hear Tomas, they've been 80 days in lockdown. And it's affecting everyone.

Ron:  That's why Tomas is attending all my webinars and my live sessions. Tomas has nothing else to do. Thank you, Tomas. I hope for you and me, Tomas that business gets back to normal. And I hope you remember us when that happens because I'm sure we won't see as much of you.

Ariel: It's going to get back to normal. It'll be a different set of conditions you know whereas people before dealers in our industry were going into this wearing booties. Now it's going to be booties gloves masks, in some places respirators It's going to be a different landscape out there when everything starts opening back up. We all have to get ready for all of this because life has to continue . It's just going to continue in a different way.

Ron:  Juan just answered my question he says end-users. I'm assuming this means throughout Central and South America. He says typically hold their savings in U.S. dollars but their local businesses run in their local currency. Obviously any currency fluctuations are going to directly affect them in that way.

Ariel: That's correct. And you see that with sales right? When the dollar becomes strong and the local economies become bigger then you see a hold off in purchases from dealers. Nobody wants to buy more expensive than what they sold. It's got different effects. That's one of the things that's important when you look at dealers in the U.S. who are unaffected by currency exchanges and they're unaffected by lockdowns of ports. You can literally place an order here in the states from a manufacturer. Let's say that manufacturer has limited resources at the warehouse because of this COVID thing. Let's say it ships two days after the normal shipping time, you'll still get it within four days when it ships. In Latin America, it's different. In Latin America, if you have to place an order, the order needs to ship to the manufacturer to your freight order. The freight order then has to consolidate, ship it to wherever it's going to Latin America or the Caribbean hoping that the local ports are open. And if the ports are open, hoping that the customs officials at the ports are working because they may be locked down too. It's a totally different set of circumstances for some of the dealers that are in the Caribbean and Latin America, that are unseen to the naked eye. It affects business long term for them as well.

Ron:  Here in the U.S. we are seeing and I think it's a fair statement. I'm talking to enough people most days of the week that I think I know this but I'm not willing to say I know I know this. I think I know that there are in many cases on the upper end of the scale, in terms of residential consumers. We're seeing an increase in demand for home tech. We're seeing home networks, home entertainment, outdoor entertainment, seeing an increase in demand. There's a number of companies, many companies I've talked to are seeing peak levels of demand right now in the middle of this craziness. Are you seeing any of that in the Caribbean or your markets or is it able to break through yet because people simply aren't allowed to work?

Ariel: Well I think number one there is a lot of trends that are going to change in the industry altogether. Home theaters are coming back. There was a period of time where the dedicated home theater kind of took a step back.

Ron:  Pre March I would have said they were dead.

Ariel: Yeah. Correct. Because everyone was using a space for multitasking. The living room was a home theater, the kitchen was part of the home theater. We just had a theater yesterday that wanted a 7.1 system. And when we asked him what he was using it for, two of the channels were in the kitchen. There are things that are happening that didn't happen before. I think dedicated home theaters are going to come back. I think you'll see an uptick in projector sales and the projection screen sales. Outdoor audio is on its way back as well. I don't think it ever left. I think it's just going to be stronger now. Automation systems I think are going to come back as well. Automation systems for some time were on their way down. I think they're going to tick back up.

Ron:  What about voice, do you think this triggers an increase in the desire for voice? The idea of touching things and passing germs versus voice commands.

Ariel: I think voice will make it. I've never really been a believer in voice because I have an accent. Most of the people that live in Miami have an accent. In Latin America, everyone's got an accent.

Ron:  In my house, as you know with Lutron, you and I were talking. I just put my Lutron shades in and my son figured out how to plug his Google Nest touch panel.

Ariel: I saw him!

Ron:  Did you see the video? I posted a story on social media. He did that 100% by himself. Then one hundred percent by himself. I don't even know how he did it. I don't know. I don't know either because he had three window treatments going up and I haven't been able to do that in my house with a single command boom.

Ron:  He did it. He's 11. He figured it out. I was skeptical because I was telling my wife, "Don't let him do this because he's going to break something and we just got it working." He's like, "Dad I got this." He's 11, did I say this? Anyway, he went and configured it. 15-20 minutes later my wife is sending me a text video because I'm on a Mac so that shows up right on the Mac which is pretty cool. I saw the SMS and there was a video of my son giving the windows commands.

Ariel: It's great. My son yesterday, he was working on a project for school. The project was basically on biomes and the instructions were for him to do a presentation passing the pages and recording himself passing the pages. I said, "Well why don't I show you how to use Keynote? I'll show you how to scan it. " I taught him how to scan the pages. I taught him how to start it on Keynote and by the end of the evening , he did the presentation himself. I just helped him on the technical side. Kids these days are very good with computers and everything voice-related. Going back to what you're saying. I think networks is going to be a key issue in the US.. I know there's a lot of integrators especially the C4 guys that have had the brand that C4 acquired some time ago and now that C4, Snap AV bought out C4, the OvrC brand. I know that all those integrators have the opportunity to buy and sell network solutions. That's gonna be huge going forward as well. Network is gonna be big, security I think is gonna be big too. I know I'm touching a lot of spots but these are things that I think are trends that people need to be on the up and up with.

Ron:  There is a comment here from Juan Pablo and he says, "I think home entertainment and technology would have a peak in the upcoming months. Latin America is always delayed from the US regarding trends and everything." .

Ariel: I agree. Well , there's a delay in Latin America for a lot of things. One of them was COVID. It didn't really arrive into Latin America until probably about four weeks after the US. That's why you're seeing the peaks now that you saw in U.S. cities about four weeks ago. There's also a delay in the deployment of technology as well. For whatever reason. One of the reasons why we started Polaris was basically to give Latin America more of an importance to some of the manufacturers. I was very surprised to see at CEDIA, large manufacturers that simply didn't know the difference between Puerto Rico and Costa Rica or that Puerto Rico was in the middle of the Caribbean and not part of Mexico. But that was my same reaction, I'm going I can't believe this guy is the President of this company and he doesn't understand where any of these places are. That's why we wanted to start a business like Polaris, only focused in Latin America to give the Latin American dealer more opportunities for products , get the information out there quickly so that the delayed response that we've traditionally seen in Latin America can be shortened a little bit.

Ron:  Yeah, That makes tremendous sense. We have another comment here actually Matt was on the show just recently, Matt logging in here from Dallas. He says sorry he's late. No worries Matt. You can always watch it on replay buddy. But appreciate you joining us. And better late than never. And then Tomas has given us a little more feedback on voice. He says We've done a few projects with Google Assistant is best. One we've used for Spanish only speaking clients.I contacted Josh AI but no Spanish availability yet. I was laughing regarding my son programming it because my wife still has a still relatively strong accent. My son and I listen to it and it sounds normal to us but when she tries talking to Google it doesn't want to listen to anything she's asking it and she gets frustrated and so now she'll have my son give the shade commands.

Ariel: I think from all of the assistants out there. We have three in our home. We have Google, we have Alexa, and we have Siri with one of the home pods. I agree with Tomas that Google is the one that's most flexible of the three. Siri and I have a communication problem. We don't speak well. It reacts when I don't want it to react. In the middle of the night, it starts music in my room for no reason.

Ron:  Oh my God, I would have a heart attack if had happened.

Ariel: Exactly. But I do agree. Google is probably the best one for them.

Ron:  So in terms of the way you've been supporting Polaris has been supporting your dealers you said you've been doing lots of webinars at an elevated or escalated rate. What have you been doing and how well has attendance been and how's that been working out?

Ariel: I'll tell you this because we are used to distances because we're in Miami, our office is in Miami but we have an operation all the way down in Argentina. We already had a platform for webinars that we use which is Go To Meeting which has always worked flawlessly for us. Our company is run on Google so even though you see at PolarisControls.com as our domain. It's actually a Google platform. We have Google Hangouts for that and Google Meet for that. We also have Zoom. Since the last day I traveled was the 10th of March. I was coming back from Grand Cayman. By the 13th of March, we already had a plan to do webinars three times a week on different subjects and that's what we've been doing. We do webinars on Tuesdays Wednesdays and Thursdays at 11:00 a.m. every week on different subjects. We've done Lutron, we've dont Savant. We've done a lot. Today we did Ice Cable, Lucifer Lighting, Screen Innovations, digital projection. We've done all sorts of webinars on all sorts of subjects too. Not necessarily on brands that we're reps for. That's kept us in the loop with a lot of dealers. We've had webinars that we've had over 100 people participating as attendees in the webinars with over 80 percent attentiveness rate which is huge.
We've been doing webinars for three years and we've never had more than 50 people on a webinar. Now we're seeing 100 people there. We've done webinars for two hours and there are still 80 plus people on the webinar. We started a YouTube channel three years ago and I'd say by the beginning of 2020 we may have had twenty-five videos here. Right now we have over seventy-five videos thereof webinars. We'll do the webinars, we'll record them, we'll edit them and then we'll upload them to YouTube. We started a podcast where we're interviewing people from the industry, we will release a podcast once a week.

Ron:  What's the name of the podcast?

Ariel: It's called Polaris Controls Interactivo. It's usually in Spanish. We've had English speaking guests. It's available on Spotify and on Itunes so Polaris Control Interactive but with an O at the end to make it Spanish and it's available on those two platforms soon to be on Google Podcasts as well. We've kept up, participated in a lot of trainings from our manufacturer partners so that we've elevated our own technical level more which has been great for us. We started with a company called RF Venue. They make wireless transmission and reception systems for microphones and any monitors for concerts and churches. And we've learned so much from the webinars regarding RF and communications and things like that. That's been great. So we've taken these three months. It's gonna be three months in about a week or so, to really train ourselves. Train the dealers that we do business with and get more and more involved in the design side of projects than we were. It's been a good time for us. It's been a difficult time for us to be indoors and not being able to see our friends because a lot of our dealers are our friends. We develop relationships with them. For the last 10 sometimes more years or so. We're kind of working on this. That's one of the other things that we're doing, we're making our website revamping it a little bit.

Ron:  It's a good time to work on marketing when things are a little bit quieter. This is the web site, everyone. And if you're listening to the podcast, it is PolarisControls.com and be forewarned Ariel did say he's working on it. So if a link doesn't work don't judge him by that. But I was going to jump over here to Avatel tell because you've also launched Avatel. You've also launched this engineering business. Can you talk about how you're supporting your dealers through that business and or services?

Ariel: Yes. One of the things that we've seen in the last 10 years is the lack of tools for project presentation. In the years that we were working and those tools can be things like Web sites things like presentation tools things like what you do with One Firefly. If I remember correctly that's how you started. You started as an engineering-based firm and graduated to the marketing side of things.

"I realized that in order for my engineering business to exist, I had to start building integrators websites and doing their marketing to enable them to present themselves in the right light."

Ron:  That is entirely accurate. Yeah, I realized that in order for my engineering business to exist, I had to start building integrators websites and doing their marketing to enable them to present themselves in the right light and have the confidence to talk about why design and engineering line item of labor exists and costs what it costs. It takes smart people with lots of experience working diligently to put lots of pieces and parts together in the right formulation in order to give you this beautiful outcome that you desire.

I see a comment here of, "Avatel America's rocks." Look at that. Thanks Rodolfo. So many integrators do this stuff for free or they don't do it and their projects suffer.

Ariel: And that's a trend that we saw that we needed to correct. Number one, a lot of AV stuff let's call it that, gets put into a project after the project's been completed. More so in our region than it is here in the States. And that's an issue, the construction technique in Latin America is different than here . Here, it's like Alice in Wonderland. You have these walls that are drywall and then you can go in and you can take out the entire wall and nothing happens.

Ron:  That's right. Poured concrete.

"We need to provide the dealer with tools that they can use to present projects with solutions from the beginning and not as an afterthought after the project."

Ariel: That's right. Things have to be planned for in advance. So we need to provide the dealer with tools that they can use to present projects with solutions from the beginning and not as an afterthought after the project.

Ron:  Because you need conduit in place.

Ariel: That's correct. We started a company called Avatel Americas. Avatel basically focuses on three client types. One is a dealer, a dealer that needs help in the developing specifications of bills and proposals for projects that are presentable that can be part of construction documentation for the project. Remember, I have a Master's Degree in Construction Management. That's what I studied. My wife has a Masters in Construction Management. Manfredo and Birding in Polaris Controls have a Masters in Construction Management. We really come from the construction side. So if we can give the dealer a set of tools to help them present projects earlier in the construction phase, that's what Avatel America wants to do for them. We also offer the services to architectural engineering firms that don't have the means or the expertise in the A.V. side of things. And the automation side of things to be hired as consultants as part of a project. So that the project can come out with specifications of control systems of proper lighting and audio. And thirdly we offer the services to end-users or large hotels that want to have a firm that specializes in that to provide documentation services of things to develop scopes of work. We're attacking three different things, three different sides of the business just to get the project specified correctly from inception. So it's not an afterthought. We've had to evolve as has time has gone by.

Ron:  Sounds like you're inventing the necessary capabilities that are required for you to be successful in the markets you serve us.

Ariel: And more importantly the dealers. The dealers for us are key. We really fight for the dealers in the regions. We want to make sure that whoever is in the country gets a fair shot at projects. I personally don't like integrators from other countries to go into a country and simply sell something and then leave. And then the end-user is left in the dark and the local dealer has to come in. We do everything we can to make sure that the dealer is best equipped to be able to perform a project in-country locally and support it adequately.

Ron:  Yeah I don't see how that's not in the client's best interest to have a local integrator designing, installing, servicing that customer for life as opposed to some American integrator swooping into X Y or Z country doing a project and then what happens when the thing goes down on Friday night? How does that customer get serviced?

Ariel: But you know what? Situations like COVID bring to light what we're discussing now . Yes, you have your system working in your house. But what if it stops working then it's the guy in Miami that has to fly down to Aruba and he's not going to do it and there is no flight and the airport is closed. It's a whole different kind of thing. COVID is definitely going to help a local dealer explain better why their solution is more adequate than whatever.

Ron:  I'm assuming this is part of your strategy. Just because I know you and I know the origins of your Lutron belief system around driving specifications through the design community. I imagine your dealers should be going to architects designers and builders and presenting that position. You need a local company to design install and service this project. What if this pandemic comes back or what if another one happens? Your customer is going to be high and dry.

Ariel: Exactly. We're providing the dealers with products through Polaris Controls. We've gathered a very good group of manufacturers in each of the four verticals that are all very good companies. We're providing the hardware and we're providing also the design elements to it if they need it. A lot of dealers don't need it but if they do need it, count on usas a group of people that are working side by side with you.

Ron:  There's a comment. And then when I close and get contact info here for everyone listening that might want to get in touch with you Ariel. Alfredo Pimentel.

Ariel: Yeah. Dominican Republic.

Ron:  There he goes Alfredo says. All right you go ahead and read that for me. I'm going to mess it up.

Ariel: I have used Avatel's services. This is 100 percent recommended.

Ron:  How do you say his company name?

Ariel: Altamontesato in the Dominican Republic. So it's like automation. But in Spanish to be automated.

Ron:  That's a beautiful endorsement. Ariel, I wish you and your team nothing but success here as you guys forge forward through this quarantine. And we will get through this.

"We just need to use this time to prepare correctly for when those signs come and be able to deploy quickly because it'll be an avalanche of work for everyone in this field."

Ariel: I know we will. We have to be optimists in this environment. I know that the circumstances are difficult for a lot of people, lockdowns, economies that are stuck. But we will make it up. We will be stronger. Our services collectively will be needed more in the future than they have been in the past. So we just need to use this time to prepare correctly for when those signs come and be able to deploy quickly because it'll be an avalanche of work for everyone in this field. Thanks, Ron for having me on your program. The last thing I want to say, we do have an Instagram page that you can follow us. One of the comments from Tomas Wing was that the Omni Mr. video short. We do video shorts that are a minute long on different things. Usually starts with the clap and we try to make them fun so listen in on us and let us know if we can help. Thanks Ron.

Ron:  If they are logging into Instagram what do they search for? They search for Polaris Controls?

Ariel: Polaris Controls just as it appears right over there.

Ron:  Awesome. And Ariel, how can people get directly in touch with you?

Ariel: You can write to me at aeg like Ariel E. Gutierrez at Polaris control.com or info@ PolarisControls.com. We're available to you 365 days a year seven days a week. Anything you need if you're in jail and you need someone to talk to, call us.

Ron:  Will you bail them out if they call you?

Ariel: I won't bail them out but at least they'll have a well-dressed friend.

Ron:  What more can you ask for?

Ariel: Exactly.

Ron:  Awesome. Ariel, it's been a pleasure bud.

Ariel: Thanks, Ron, and thanks for everything that you do for this industry with all the marketing that you do these podcasts.

Ron:  It's a podcast, it's live and a podcast. It's both.

Ariel: So it's both. It's great. It's really interesting. I know you're in a lot of organizations buying groups and things like that. And you've always being a very good friend to me and to the industry. Thank you very much.

Ron:  I appreciate those kind words and I do it because I love what I do and I love helping people. Particularly this show in particular I've had people reach out directly and say that just listening to guys like you guys and gals my guests and just hearing different perspectives how people are approaching life and business their ups and downs, it's helpful. Because I get the feedback that it's helpful I keep doing it.

Ariel: The sun always comes out, we'll get out of this and we'll all be better you'll see. Thanks Ron.

Ron:  Amen. All right gang. Well, there you have it. That was fun man. I've reconnected with Ariel in recent years. He and I used to go back many moons. We used to talk quite frequently and then we fell out of touch a little bit. And in recent years we've reconnected and it's been a lot of fun. He's a mover and shaker, running a great organization and he's really changing the game in the markets that he touches. It was an honor to have Ariel on the show and I appreciate everyone's comments. The comments have been alive and well today. Everybody that's been interacting and commenting and Ariel and I will actually jump into the comments here post-show and later today and we'll let you guys all know our thoughts and answers to any questions and whatnot. That's always one of the fun parts of my day is going after a show and reading the comments and interacting with you guys. On that note, if you do not already and I see some of you are still here live with me. I do have a homework assignment. If you have not done so already please go to your favorite podcasting listening environment whether that be Apple that's how I listen to mine. And don't forget to search up Automation Unplugged and follow the show, subscribe and that way maybe you can't watch the live show but at least you can listen to the recording and that's it, gang. Today's Wednesday, May 27th. A little bit after 1:30 and I'm signing off and I will see you guys next time. Thanks, everybody.


Ariel Gutierrez is Co-Founder of Miami-based Polaris Controls, a manufacturer representative firm that covers Latin American and The Caribbean. Polaris Controls boasts a network of over 500 dealers across both regions and has developed their A/V and building automation offerings to span both commercial and residential.

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:

To keep up with Ariel and his team at Polaris Controls, visit their website at polariscontrols. Ariel can also be reached by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  Be sure to follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

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