Home Automation Podcast Episode #17 and #18: An Industry Q&A With Josh Christian
Forming clear standards for the AV and automation industry
This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Josh Christian. Recorded live on Wednesday September 27th at 12:30 p.m. EST.
About Josh Christian
Josh has been a technology enthusiast since a young boy, working hard to earn straight A's as a 6th grade student so he could get the loudspeakers and turntable he wanted so badly. Straight A's were earned, the new stereo was earned, and he has never looked back!
Josh's first job in the electronics industry was as a salesperson at what was then called Wilshire TV & Stereo, now called Wilshire Media Systems in Thousand Oaks, CA in 1995. Josh joined custom installation company DSI Entertainment Systems in late 1998, where he helped the firm grow into one of the largest custom AV installation, home theater, and home automation companies until it was folded into VIA International in 2013. In May 2015 Josh joined Axiom Design, a low-voltage technology consultant specializing in the design and engineering of home technology systems.
Josh is an experienced educator, teaching at the annual CEDIA Expo from 2002 to 2006 and delivering several dozen industry outreach presentations to some of the top architects, general contractors, and interior designers in the USA. In serving in several different roles, as a technology salesperson, a marketing specialist to the design & build trades, an industry outreach liaison, and as a technology consultant, Josh brings years of experience and perspective to the Home Technology Association. Josh's goal has always been to deliver exceptional technology experiences to clients, and in his role as Director of Certification for the HTA, he gets to expand on that goal as he identifies the top home technology installation firms and brings them the recognition they so badly deserve.
Here are some of the topics Ron had the opportunity to discuss with Josh:
- Josh's background in the AV industry
- The response to HTA's public launch
- The big names on HTA's board of advisors
- Why HTA formed
- HTA's goals for the industry
- The value of HTA to integrators, manufacturers, homeowners, and trade professionals
- Details on the certification process and requirements
- And more
Ron: Hello everyone. Ron Callis with One Firefly. Another episode of Automation Unplugged. We're actually on Episode 17. Can you believe that it is 12:34 p.m? I swear as much as I try to start on time. Technology throws me curveballs. The latest is this video has been shrieking so if it happens while I'm live with you today and all of a sudden looks super wacky. I've got a really handy solution I pull my camera out and I plug it back in so hopefully that doesn't happen to us today but I have an awesome guest. I'm going to go ahead and bring him in. I've got Josh Christian. How are you doing Josh?
Josh: Doing well thank you. Welcome everybody.
Ron: Awesome. So Josh is the Director of Certification for a brand new organization called the Home Technology Association. I get that right Josh. You did awesome. So Josh we are streaming live on Facebook. On the One Firefly page so I don't want to be rude but I'm gonna glance over at the page and make sure that stream is coming in. Just going to refresh my Facebook page and if you guys and gals are out there please like this feed. Share this. Share this out with your network so that your friends and industry peers have a chance to listen. Listen to Josh and learn about the exciting things that they share this out with your network. Oh looks like Josh just press play. Technology is always fun like that. So again if you're out there please share it. If you have questions for Josh you and learn about the HTA, learn about the organization and what they're setting out to do. We're going to try to answer a lot of those questions for you today. And but if we don't answer those questions or maybe we're not going in the direction you'd like us to please post a comment or a question here in Facebook and I'll read that off. I'll try to check back often and read those questions off to Josh so that we can all learn about this organization. But Josh, if you don't mind if you can tell my audience just a little bit about yourself. How did you land in the home automation marketplace?
Josh: Sure. Thank you. So I've always been a hobbyist on technology especially audio. That was my passion from being a pretty young guy and I entered in this industry in 1995 out in Southern California, more of a storefront company that we did audio-video and home theater systems. But I moved into the custom installation side of the industry in 1998 and did my first home automation system in 1998 and never looked back and all based in Southern California. So I've been on the customer side as a custom integration contractor since '98 all the way through to 2015 . In 2015 I stayed in the industry but shifted into the technology consulting role , helping work with architects designers and builders and such and of course their clients are homeowners to help them figure out the best technologies for their homes. And in my role as a consultant we didn't sell or install product but did the design and engineering for those systems with a company called Axiom Design inside Northern California. So been an the industry for a while now about twenty-two years.
Ron: Now you launched your new endeavor HTA or the Home Technology Association, you launched that publicly on August 29th or is that the exact date or was it another date?
Josh: No that's exactly that's it. That was the day that the industry came out to know what we were about. There was an article in CE Pro, Jason wrote it and that was the article that I announced to the industry what we are. So that was our public day. And it's been a big hit since then. No looking back. So that was the day it went live and the response has been excellent. Had a lot of conversations with integrators in this country and even internationally.
Ron: You were just telling me before we went live that you've had folks reaching out to you from Australia and England and throughout Europe. Right?
Josh: Yeah. And New Zealand and Canada. Yeah. So this is right now we're focused on United States you know to get this built out. There's a lot of work and putting this together it was kind of a year in the making and it's going pretty much as planned , a little changes because we have to adapt. So we want to get everything completely figured out and ironed out before we complicate things a little bit more by expanding out and making the website work in multiple currencies and languages and such but we will be expanding internationally. So add New Zealand to that list if I didn't say it too. So talked to some nice integrators down in New Zealand and Australia is even sending a list of integration companies and they're already interested in looking into this. So nice to see that kind of response.
Ron: For our audience. Let's just back up a little bit. What is HTA and why did you launch or create the Home Technology Association? And what's your mission statement what's the purpose of the organization.
Josh: Sure. The Home Technology Association, what it is, it's a third party company. We have not had a standard in this idustry of what good looks like you know what makes a company excellent. And so that is what we have gone about to create. And the reason that this started is for multiple reasons actually. And one of them is that the reputation of the low voltage installation industry is remarkably bad amongst consumers, architects, builders, and designers. Too many of these people then let down in the past by poor installations, bad service, clients that can't use the technology and such. And this has led to the reality that consumers often ask for less technology in their next home which is a fail for everybody. Right. No one wins there. So our system needs to be put in place to educate and inform homeowners and to help them choose the right immigration company. So that's it for the. So this is really a consumer facing organization this is designed to help homeowners find the right technology integrators for their needs their size their project and the complexity of their project. But it also was created to help manufacturers. So some interesting statistics or something we all recognize it for in this industry is that great brand names in this industry have had their names solely by poor quality installations as we know on the complicated control systems and lighting systems when they're installed correctly. It's like magic. Clients love it when it's installed poorly they hate it and they'll often blame that manufacturer. So this is an interesting statistic here. About 90 percent of manufacturers tech support resources are spent on the lowest performing dealers , you know supporting them and troubleshooting with them because they're hiring.
"Back in my Lutron and Crestron days that when there would be upset customers they would reach out to the headquarters and then headquarters would get in touch with me as regional and they would loop me in on the situation and it was pretty funny it was usually the same handful of integrators causing most of the havoc."
Ron: If you don't mind, I was going to just mention for the audience remember back in my Lutron and Crestron days that when there would be upset customers they would reach out to the headquarters and then headquarters would get in touch with me as regional and they would loop me in on the situation and it was pretty funny it was usually the same handful of integrators causing most of the havoc. You know whether it be in their installation practices or their poor customer service, in the way they were dealing with the customer and yet the best of the best. You'd certainly never hear anything negative from. So I concur. There are all, just as all plumbers are not the same and all car mechanics are not the same all integrators are not the same. Doesn't mean they don't, they can't get better or they aren't trying hard but there certainly are grades or segmentation or classes of companies in the way they treat their customers.
Josh: Well said, couldn't have said that better. That's excellent. That's true. So with the Home Technology Association, what we're doing with it is by recognizing these better integrators the ones that aren't creating these technical are these customer support problems and making phone rings. These manufacturers come in here and fix this problem. We want to use this as a tool to shift the business away from those poor performing integrators up to the better performing integrators and give them and the consumers a tool to do so to highlight and shine a spotlight on those companies that are doing a great job. And that's what we're helping with manufacturers but also on the dealer side of course. This is where so much interest is coming since we launched on the dealer side. Great dealers consistently lose business to inferior installers because homeowners unfortunately view all companies in this space pretty much as equals. And because of that they often hire on price. So you know since there's a lot of confusion on the homeowner's side we wanted to simplify it and simplify the hiring process and help them make smart decisions.
"I don't know if you want to go through that list of who's on the board of advisors for HTA? It's kind of a who's who from the automation industry. How did you do that coming out of the gate with no proof of concept right?"
Ron: Josh, quick question for you, I mean you're a brand new organization and I looked and I think you have it on your website. I know I certainly know it through conversation. Your board of advisors that you have now it's not a board of directors right? They don't have fiduciary responsibility but it's a board of industry leaders is really impressive that you.. I don't know if you want to go through that list of who's on the board of advisors for HTA? It's it's kind of a who's who from the automation industry. How did you do that? I mean coming out of the gate with no proof of concept right?
Josh: Yeah there's nine excellent people on our board of advisors and they and you know some of the names on there we have John Clancy from Creston. We have J.C. Murphy from Savant , Bryce Judd from Control4, David Weinstein from Lutron, Jason Sloan from Data Innovations Jason Knott from CE Pro and Noah Kaplan from Leon Speakers, Frank Stearns from Sony and Richard Glides from Azione. So we have nine of these people all well-known in the industry full of information and experience advice to help create this standard. And you're right, this is what made us really excited about how this came about is a concept that came up about August of last year August of 2016 and at the CEDIA show in 2016 we went around and had meetings with these professionals and said hey this is a concept we have, didn't even have a company name at this point just the concept of what the whole technology social network eventually came to be and said here's a concept we have. And what do you think? Is this something right? Should we do this? And if so would you help out would you like to be on our board of advisors and the resounding response was yes this is excellent. The industry needs this so they all signed on to agreed to help us craft and create the certification standard and all nine of these individuals took a personal interest in it and helped craft what became or what is the certification requirement. So all the things we talked about thus far they understand it very well they live some of the experiences that you mentioned when you're at Lutron and Crestron about you know getting customer complaints they wanted to go away too. So this could help them do that and make clients happy with that technology. They are all for it.
Ron: Now Josh we just got a comment on Facebook from Azione. It says happy to see I don't know who's behind this handle but it's the official Azione Unlimited handle, it says happy to see One Firefly chatting with HTA. We heartily endorse the HTA. And of course One Firefly is part of the Azione family. Yes we are. Richard, we're very happy to be a part of Azione and that says it's all about amalgamating. And I think amalgamation is the theme of the next conference next month. If I'm correct. So I just wanted to let you know Josh you had that on the page and Azione, Richard is one is one of the member of your board of advisors correct?
Josh: Right. That is right.
Ron: Yeah that's that's cool. Now what can you summarize and maybe you've said this but I'm asking you to kind of package it for me. What are the goals of the HTA if you're successful. What is it that you are trying to achieve? What's the outcome?
Josh: There are three main things really. One of them is to raise the bar in this industry the second is to create a respected standard of performance for integrators. Now there's a definition of what great looks like and third improve our industry's reputation and build consumer confidence in our industry both with homeowners themselves with the technology they have and also to the design to build professionals like architects designers and builders. We want to raise the reputation of our industry to these professionals so they engage technology integrators much earlier in the process so we can get this technology integrated in people's homes in a better more useful better aesthetic way.
Ron: What are the benefits? What are the benefits to the integrator? If the integrator gains an HTA certification now I also believe there's a couple of different levels of certification is that correct?
Josh: Yes there are. There's a basic set of requirements that all firms must meet to even be considered HIPAA certified and then once a company is certified then they are classified in one of three different tiers and all the tiers are excellent, it's not saying one is better than another it's just classifying them on the type of projects what their sweet spots are. So for example we want the consumers to find the right fit for the complexity and size of their project because some firms and actually I've talked to literally hundreds of integrators throughout all this and some firms are excellent at doing shorter term projects smaller less complicated projects. They're great. They have a system at it and they are very profitable at that field but they are not into the larger custom estates that take often several months to years to build. They're not set up with project management that way. They're not into the heavy-duty engineering documentation that is needed to do those projects well. So it's not saying one's better or another but this is the type of projects these companies excel in because we want the consumer to find the right size company. So that is what those three tiers are about. We describe them pretty well on the website which is at htacertified.org there is a page on there that says HTA certification defined and it kind of spits out basic requirements and then what the different flavors are between the three different tiers which are called Foundation Luxury and Estate. So we described them there. To answer your question about value, what's the value to the integrator? This is a good way to illustrate it. Michelin star has a huge value to a chef. And the same can be said about a five-star safety rating for a car. You want to protect your family safety ratings make a big difference when you're shopping amongst different vehicles. Well HTA offers that same sort of third party endorsement to say this firm is one of the best. So this is a reality that most consumers are going to discount the claims made by someone trying to sell them something . Like I'm the best I'm better than this guy over here , hire me. Well the next company is going to say the same thing about themselves and we're so used to that in our lives that we often discount claims made by the salespeople even if they're true. Let's assume they're true. Oftentimes we'll get discounted. But if an unbiased third party says that a company is excellent and they're rated well also it carries that weight of fact. So we want the Home Technology Association to be the catalyst to shift that or to create that standard. But also the benefit to the consumer or to the integrator , in this case, is to shift roughly what we estimate to be about four billion dollars of business going in this country by way of four billion dollars in the US of business that gets awarded to firms that are not really qualified to execute at that level and bring that up to those integrators that are performing at a high level. So we want to shift business away from the companies that are not really qualified to do it up to the better firms that are qualified to do it and not only are qualified but have a demonstrated customer service so they can keep those clients happy for years into the future.
Ron: Can a company hold multiple levels of the certification? I mean have you found through your research or through people that have already been moving through your process that some firms might say fit into multiple categories?
Josh: Yes. So if you are certified at a higher at the more let's say larger project certification such as the Luxury and the Estate tiers, by my assumption that means that you could handle Foundation Luxury and Estate projects. But here's something we find is very interesting. As many of you know in the audience in this industry firms vary dramatically across the landscape. So for example, in the firms that are already certified some of those firms like to take projects at all sizes they're qualified to do the projects of the large size. They have the customer service, they have aftercare support policies in place , and they've also demonstrated by the project mix that they've done in certain price tiers we ask all that on our application that they execute out at that level of size of project and the manufacturers that we check into our background checks would say yes this firm is great at these larger projects. So boom they get this this designation as being in let's say HTA certified at Luxury or Estate tiers. But, to answer your question on there some of these firms like to do smaller projects too. They like the quicker turn of 10 to 30 thousand dollar projects in and out , done in a couple of days or a week or so. Uou know these quicker projects whereas some of those firms only really specialize in large projects. Big estates, they might be very small staff ed, they might have six to eight people. You know let's say under 10 people and they only do a handful of jobs a year and they're typically you know a half-million dollar and up projects . Now a firm like that , is not interested in smaller projects. So there is a way that they're able to indicate on the application what project sizes that they are interested in. So they don't show up in searches on a small project. So that keeps them from being annoyed let's say on a project that they're really not set up or interested in taking on.
Ron: Now Josh I've got a couple of comments here on Facebook that I want to read out to you, one and it has to do with this classification question. K&B Communications says "But the size of company has nothing to do with it? It's all about the type of projects they do. So you could be a small firm but prefer to do large projects or you could be a large firm that prefers to do small projects." Is that correct?
Josh: That is absolutely correct. And we're seeing exactly what you just said that for that exact sentence is really playing out to be true. Matter of fact at the Estate level of certification it's the most stringent one to meet and 33 percent of the HTA Estate certified firms at this point are 10 employees and less including the owner. So these are smaller firms and it's really I've actually been really enjoying this process of getting to see the vast difference in business models and company sizes of great firms that have all these kind marks from their industry peers that are so different and yet they do they know their craft well. So yes size of company does not matter at all this is not about size of company it's about professionalism excellence and making consumers happy with technology.
Ron: Now I've got another question here from Sean Sturmer. He's a good regular here on Automation Unplugged never afraid to ask questions. Thank you Sean. Appreciate your engagement. And Sean says Will you be marketing to consumers to steer them to the custom marketplace? Or will there be any consumer outreach for HTA? That sounds very expensive but is that in the cards either now or in the future or what's your take there?
Josh: That could be in the future. But to answer it more succinctly. Our main avenue of outreach is actually to the design and build communities, to architects designers and builders. They are often the ones that are feeding the integrators with projects early on and I can tell you I get a lot of outreach in my in this career so far since 1995. Subcommittee architects designers and builders get a lot of outreach a lot of lecturing and I could tell you that they are overall like I said earlier are unhappy with this industry and I've been let down too many times. If we could give them an avenue to do to find the good integrators the filter if you will a company with proven excellence they're going to eat this up and so far by the way the response to them has been very good. So we are reaching out to architects designers and builders both through direct e-mail campaigns. We have a newsletter for them to sign up out of which could be done right on the website. The Subscribe link at the bottom, integrators, anybody can sign up to that newsletter so if you're interested, do that. And also through Facebook and LinkedIn targeting ads and retargeting in general to the architect designer and builder community. So that is a more attainable goal as we open up in each market. We are going to be focusing on architects designers and builders and those markets as we go throughout the country and open up more and more markets.
Ron: Now are you getting some cooperation Josh from your integrators that pass certification? Are they aiding you in your ability to reach out to say their network of the design trade designers architects and builders? And are you cooperating with your certified partners in any way?
Josh: Yes this is this has worked out extremely well from the get go. We wanted to, we had this in mind to say once a firm is certified we call up and let them know. Congratulations your firm met HTA certification requirements. By the way are the architects designers and builders that you work with. Maybe they're not saying you work now would you be marketed to they know who you are they're a little unsure of you. It's a new relationship you're trying to build. Give us their name and their email. And what are they , an architect designer , builder and would you like us to reach out to them on your behalf and let them know that you're certified so that puts you in this rarefied classification that you're now an HTA certified firm and so that makes that company look really good. Because you have an outside third party touting that company's benefits that they're good. And the second thing that does it is also brands the HTA. So it's a win-win . Now they get to understand what the Home Technology Association is , why that benefits them as an architect, and how that benefits their clients too. That's gone very very well in the last week. Just 2 integrators have given me a roughly 50 names each on architects designers and builders I should say 50.
Ron: Hello everybody Ron Callis here with One Firefly and Automation Unplugged here for another episode, episode number 18. Now today is Wednesday, October 4th. It's 12:30 pm here on the East Coast. I'm down here in South Florida in Cooper City Florida and we are having back our guest from last week. Josh Christian we actually had a bit of a technical failure in that I lost at a power spike here at the home office and we lost our internet connection and just enough so that it caused disruption in our interview last week with Josh. Josh was kind enough to come back. So let me just first of all make sure that our stream is populating our page. So give me just one moment here while I check these details I'm going to bring Josh in. Let's see here. Yeah. There we go. It's like we're live. So let me go ahead bring Josh in. Josh How you doing man?
Josh: Doing well. Good morning everybody.
Ron: Josh thank you for joining me again for another episode of Automation Unplugged and sorry about that abrupt shortened end to the show last week yeah.
Josh: No problem. Tech happens.
Ron: Yes it does. Yes, it does. How's your past week been?
Josh: It's been great. Been another busy week. It's been doing very well. Talk to a lot of integrators throughout the entire country. This week it's been a busy week.
Ron: I can't imagine now Josh because of the abbreviated episode last week and some folks maybe are joining us for the very first time here to hear about HTA and learn more about you and your background. Do you mind just giving a little bit of a foundation? Very particularly about HTA. What is that organization that you're now running?
Josh: Sure. So the Home Technology Association is the first third party association that verifies integration firms as to three different main tiers and that would be their technical ability, their customer service, aftercare support and their reputation. So we're looking to create a standard that looks for, vets, verifies those companies to a standard that's been created amongst us and a group of nine industry veterans that made up our board of advisors.
Ron: OK so I want to get to those board of advisors and I want to dig back and peel back all the layers about HTA but what I always like to do here on Automation Unplugged is actually learn more about you and your background you know what brought you to this day where you're running HTA. Where do you come from and how do you get your start in the A.V. business?
Josh: Sure. Thanks. I enter the 80 business back in 1995. I have always been a hobbyist especially on the audio front so I liked home technology. In 1995 I went to work for a hybrid model store. It was a retail storefront that also did custom installation out in Thousand Oaks California. Southern California market. So that was 1995. By 1998, the end of 1998 I went to a pure custom company, no showroom. Just pure custom, got into the high-end home automation projects so I kind of moved up in the industry into basic systems up until seven-figure projects at the company I worked for in L.A. later on. So got to grow this industry and into large projects which has been a lot of fun. So I've been on the custom integration contracting side. You could say from 1995 all the way through to 2015 and then in early 2015 I went to the consultant side so still in the same industry but not a contractor but a consultant designer engineer and so still working with architects designers and builders, something I was very fond of before. That was something I've been doing for a long time to get business at the companies I worked for and but now as a consultant, so done that. And then about a year ago the idea a little over a year ago the idea for Home Technology Association came up and in talking with some industry professionals and coming up with the concept of this. So what drove Home Technology Association to start was the realization that there are the.. There's a few reasons. One of them, the reputation of this industry has suffered a lot in the eyes of consumers and the referring partners that refer projects to integrators and architects general contractors and interior designers so realizing that a problem in the industry is technical. The clients have been burned by their last botched installation. Now want less technology on their new home. That was a realization that was really bothering me and a lot of other integrators we talk to. Another thing as well, in any market integrators know there are great companies, companies that you compete with on a fair basis and then you have an inexperienced lesser qualified firm that is punching way outside of their weight. They're bidding on our project that they really have no experience on. And often the clients will because there's confusion in this industry on how to hire integrator. They will make a decision based on price not on technical capability. And the company that would really do a great job with this particular project that integrator doesn't get the project and instead goes to a firm that's unqualified for it and you know how that ends, it ends in tears. Everyone's upset. Clients are not happy or can't run their home they can't get service from the company that put it in and maybe didn't even finish the project and then the original company or the company that should have got the project in the first place gets called to do a takeover. So sorry for the long-winded answer on that but those are various reasons very much realities that integrators have been facing throughout the country on problems that exist. Let's fix this. How are we going to fix this? Let's make a standard.
Ron: You launched the Home Technology Association in August. I know you've been working on it for a while leading up to the official launch. What's been the initial reception from the industry in terms of both the manufacturers' side and of course the dealer side the folks you're looking to become members?
"About 90 percent of the tech support calls that manufacturers handle are from their bottom performing integrators."
Josh: It's gone extremely well. Yeah. So August 29th is when we kind of came out with this in public through a CE Pro article. And the response has been great. So the following week was the CEDIA Expo so I got to shake hands with a lot of different integrators there that heard about it and the response has been great. Sometimes a little bit of you know misunderstanding what we do. It takes only about a minute and a half of explaining what we do and they get it instantly. So the response has been very very good. I'm getting responses from the show very positive from emails and applications that are just starting because the application process starts on our website online. So some of these applications and it just started organically without me even reaching out to invite the integrator to apply. So from that integrator side it's been very good on the manufacturer side it's going very good too because the problems that are talked about in this industry are well known. It's not just amongst the integrators, the manufacturers also struggle with this in reaching out and creating the Home Technology Association and reaching out to get a word of advice with members and such and just basically vetting is this idea? Good idea. Should we start this business. Manufacturers one and all without exception said the industry needs this. And one of the interesting statistics we learn is that about 90 percent of the tech support calls that manufacturers handle are from their bottom performing integrators. Now the top dealers, often you don't hear from them because they know how to install that product. I'm not relying on tech support. So manufacturers oftentimes have to spend more money on tech support or support companies. But the other thing that they see the advantage of the Home Technology Association is that if better dealers, the most qualified dealers are installing their product. The chance of consumer success goes way up and that's what we're really looking for we're a consumer-facing organization. We want consumers, architects, builders, designers all to have a great experience and they realize that when the best integrators put the products in, the clients are happy. Yet, when a botched installation happens the client doesn't know if it was the integrator that did a poor job or that product on my wall just stinks and it doesn't work. But oftentimes the brands get blamed for a poor performing installation but the client doesn't know that. So they jumped at this ability on the board members to help craft this certification standard. But I'm getting a lot of other support from every manufacturer I've reached out to. How can I help out you know what can I do to help out? So it's been very positive across the board.
Ron: I have a lot of follow up questions to help my audience learn more about this and help me learn more about HTA. Before I go there, I just want to acknowledge we have people watching live on Facebook. If you're out there, please like this post, please share this feed so that other friends in the industry can hear the same conversation and engage with us. And if you're out there watching, by the way Mario, thanks for the like. And Christie, thanks for the comment. If you're out there please if you have a question for Josh and you'd like to learn more about the Home Technology Association, please don't be shy. Raise your hand post a question and I'll do my best to engage. Last week when we were right in the middle of a really fun part of the conversation, we had a tremendous amount of engagement and it was right there where we lost the internet connection so knock on wood. Hopefully that won't happen today and throughout there. Please please let us know your thoughts now. Josh, is the HTA in conflict in any way with CEDIA? Would it be, should it be, is it perceived as being adversarial in any way with CEDIA? Or is that not the case?
"In a perfect world, every single installer out there would be trained, have some certifications that they can get through organizations like CEDIA."
Josh: No it's not the case at all we're two completely different organizations and in our mind actually complementary organizations. What we like about CEDIA, a matter of fact Home Technology Association is a CEDIA number so it's right on our website. We very much are believing in what CEDIA does because they help educate technicians and people in this industry and we would. In a perfect world, every single installer out there would be trained, have some certifications that they can get through organizations like CEDIA. CEDIA is great for that, they offer certifications for individuals. Where the Home Technology Association is different is we certify companies so we don't look at the granular level employees we look at the company as a whole. So it's not in conflict at all. So that is the major difference there and they're complementary. So much so that on the dealer profiles on our website, the website's htacertified.org if anybody wants the split-screen, see what the website looks like. On the dealer profile, we list that dealer as a CEDIA number. And if any of the staff have CEDIA certifications we'll list the certifications that that company has within it. So education is something excellent because better educated more technically minded technicians in the company is just going to make them do a better job if they know technology more so we hope more and more technicians out there get certifications such as CEDIA that would just help the industry in all, overall.
Ron: Overall, how do you grade or delineate the different types or classifications of HTA membership? You have several, I think three different categories is that correct?
Yes, that is true. So once a company is certified they're gonna fall into one of three different categories. And the differences are based on that. First of all a legit company with vetted verified history of those things I mentioned about technical ability in customer service and aftercare and reputation that those there's a there's a basic set of requirements that every company must have. But once someone is certified there are little shades of differences there amongst the tiers. So there's a lot of detail that kind of goes into what makes the different tiers but the gist of it is to try to get the consumers the right fit for their projects size and complexity. So for example there are firms that do an excellent job on smaller-scale projects and they're set up that way. Projects that may take days or a few weeks to to do and they're excellent at that. But if you put them on a 15 or 20 thousand square foot house that's going to have a two- three-year build cycle, needs a ton of project management, lots of engineering documentation, drawings back and forth architects designers. They're not set up for that and that company would often fail on a project like that. So we need to make this simple for consumers. We can classify these integrators into three general buckets and there is of course a little overlap and then we can explain that on the site. But to give them an idea of here's what we are educating the client on you want to hire an integration firm that has experience in the size and complexity of project that fits your needs and that they are proposing to you and we expose that data on the dealer profiles. So that's why we have the three different classifications. So you got great companies. But is it the right company for your needs. And the reason that's needed is if we put ourselves in our in our clients shoes they don't know this. They did they think everyone's equal right. Anybody that calls themselves a custom integrator they're all the same. Now that's an industry. No, there's there's differences. I'm not necessarily saying one better than another. They just have different sweet spots of their business in their core competency. So we're breaking those out to make sure that the projects that company's great at are going to be aligned with those consumers.
Ron: Now how do you plan to measure your effectiveness i.e. what are the goals say for the next 12 months and how are you measuring whether or not you're moving towards those goals and are you sharing that information publicly or is that in terms of and I'm making some up I don't know if they're your goals you know perhaps quotas for numbers of dealers in different categories and or maybe engagement on the website or something like that? What are those numbers you're looking at?
Josh: I don't have a set number of engagements per say. We are tracking with thanks to things like Google Analytics. We are tracking every HTA certified dealer. We have it set up in Analytics that every dealer has a real pocket of data. So we want to make sure that you know so we're able to track ourselves are we getting traction on the website. One of the ways that though we are gauging if this is going to be successful. Well it's already being successful we've been in let's say public for a little over a month and we're hearing back. There's only by the way the initial launch market was Southern California as a test market so there are applications coming in throughout the country right now. But right now our HTA certified integrators all based in Southern California. We're getting responses that are already within a couple of weeks actually of responses back of them using this as a tool. Meaning this. In both cases, they were fairly large projects and you know in six-figure projects and as is typical in the past it's a race to the bottom who's the cheaper price. You're overcharging me. Why are you so much more than this next guy? But in both instances, the integrator was able to tell in this case both times it was the builder requesting the proposals. Hey I'm HTA certified builder says what's the HTA certification pointing to the website explains, you know we're amongst the top integration companies in the country. Don't take my word for it. Look at this third party organization that has put us through testing and vetting process we're amongst that firm. The builders latched onto it right away and the conversation changed from price to competency. Am I equipped to even put a proposal in on a project of this size and they are able to point that to go to the website to our website and look at the statistics that were in the profile and say look how many projects I've done at this price range over the past three years and it changed the dynamic. That's the point. So we're getting feedback from our integrators already that the tool is instantly helping them to change the dynamic of these proposals. So I mean this has just happened in the past couple weeks. I'm following up these integrators to see you know did you land that job? There's another integrator today in San Diego I know that I talked to last night who has a big proposal against a non-certified integrator and it's a big big project and we're going to see how that pans out. We're going to be hearing a lot, of we'll be asking and our integrators will have communication with them to get some success stories. We are also reaching out to, I guess another way to gauge success is we are engaging the architect designer-builder community, the specifier community. That's our main marketing channel. We do this in a couple ways but probably too much detail to get into now unless you want to go down there.
Ron: Keep it high level and then maybe we'll peel the layers back.
Josh: OK. So the high level is we're reaching out to them to let them know that the Home Technology Association exists as a filter if you will to determine who the best companies are in a given area. So we're doing that in a couple of different ways ones. One of them is getting direct information from the certified integrators another one is through Facebook LinkedIn targeted advertising retargeting. So our advertising campaign is letting them know hey there's a tool out there to find the best integrators. They've been burned. They're looking for something like this. They want a filter to use. So we're attracting them to the website and to use our budget calculator which is not anything to talk about but also asking these people to sign up to subscribe to a newsletter. And we're getting organic subscriptions to our newsletter already. So I'm seeing that newsletter list build up organically and I'm looking at who they are because I have to say are they a homeowner architect designer-builder whatever? I am getting good responses or a good amount of sign-ups already from that. So I'm getting response, it's starting to come in right now. From those architects designers and builders.
Ron: So when a company goes to the website and what is that website? You want to give me that? I'll type it here into the notes on Facebook.
Josh: Sure. It's htacertified.org.
Ron: All right. Just for everyone watching you can go to our page and there you'll see the link. Yeah. Perfect populates with the image pretty. So when a company goes to the page and your website, htacertified.org and subscribes or not subscribes but applies to be certified How long does that process take? And if they don't immediately meet their requirements are they allowed to go offline, make some modifications in their business and then come back to you?
Josh: Yes. So a couple answers there. The Apple just a little late. Everything about the application process. It's all done online through a form and you can stop and start it and save an exit functionality come back and pick it up . Once that application is completed we're notified then we have to vet it and some of the things we have to do is check the endorsements. There's a series of endorsements that the integrator has to put out. So we have to call email and check those endorsements that might take a little time and get some evaluation scores from some of the manufacturers. So that process could vary depending on the responses we get back from those people, it could be a week to three weeks. It just depends on how quick. We're out there trying to get these endorsements and evaluation scores as fast as we can. But it might take a little time depending on those individuals we're trying to reach. So the answer to your question is if the company does not need certification standards we will tell them in a high level why. I mean sometimes it's something very obvious and basic like hey your license is expired or your insurance is out of date. You need to get your insurance policy, we check that stuff. Some of that stuff is very easily fixable. It is the secondary goal of what we've done here is besides creating a standard and elevating the companies that need it is the second part of that is to raise the bar and get those companies that maybe don't meet certification now, to give them some help to raise their standard it might be increasing some of their customer service policies defining the customer service policies. There is third party.
Ron: Now, are you providing information to teach them the better way of doing it or the preferred way or the HTA way of having you know you mentioned customer service policies? Is there some method of communicating to these companies what you're recommending as the best in class method?
Josh: Yes to answer that, there's a lot of questions that we ask about the customer service policies and we even state at the application. Don't let this scare you because you probably know company earth that has a positive answer to all of this but we will let them know if the answer is I don't have this I don't have that I don't have this I don't have that and it looks like they obviously haven't figured that out and we're going to get going. When we check our endorsements you know that's probably going to correlate. I haven't had a bad case like that yet that the company doesn't have good customer service policies and sure enough to go out and get endorsements from clients and tradespeople and find out that their service is slow. Yes we'll have some specific help to begin because here's a neat thing. Some of these companies that are applying are under 10 people and that's fine. The smaller companies they might not be big enough to have dedicated service staff. That's OK. There are companies out there even, One Vision and others that they could even use as an outside source to help with customer service so we could point them in in other directions to help them. So it's not like saying hey do you need to hire more staff? For other things that we can help them out with. Let's say they do large projects but they don't do engineering and design documentation. Well that's important on the larger projects maybe they don't have the staff inside the company to do that. We could point them to a handful of different companies out there throughout the country that do that specific service for integrators. So that's a win for everybody right. That's helping that integrator do a better job. It's helping my client get a better experience because when client innovation companies have design and engineering docs, the end product is better . Quicker install , better service, all that stuff. So we will help them. We will walk them in and give them some suggestions on how they can improve because we want them to up their game and come back and reapply and make that certification cut.
Ron: Now how have the buying groups the different organizations such as Pro Source, Azione, HTSA, Nationwide .. Am I forgetting any there might be another one? How are those groups embracing HTA or is that part of your outreach strategy to try to get in front of those groups in order to spread the word about what HTA is?
Josh: Since we've launched, the only formal outreach we've done is with the Azione buying group. Richard is one of our board of advisor members and he helped quite a bit with great advice. While we were crafting these standards he's a big believer in this. He gets it right away. You know what we're doing. And he sent out an email last week actually to the Azione members basically endorsing us saying this is something I kind of held up with and by the way members, this is something you should look into. And so that's the only time we've reached out specifically to a buying group yet and the response has been very very positive. So that's great. So I might replicate that in the future. I'm dealing with all those applications right now, we've had 20 applications come in since last Tuesday which is a lot of work for us but it's working the response has been positive. And beyond those 20 I have phone calls even today on some of the members that I reached out to us from that email to ask more questions. So some people get it right away. Some people want to know a couple more questions about how does this apply to my business in my market. But it's opening a great dialogue and the response has been extremely positive.
Ron: Are you getting manufacturer support? Any manufacturers maybe that even sit on your board or are they distributing the message out to their customer base.
Josh: Some of them have yes.
Ron: I know that might be a little touchy. That might be a little political. So I don't know if that's something they're going to do.
Josh: Well we haven't formally asked any manufacturer to do that except in other words do marketing on our behalf to their members. We haven't formally asked but one of the companies have reached out to their rep base and say this is a great tool. The certification is a great tool for the integrators that sell our product to know about. So they're not really advertising for us but letting the rep team know that you know the company is definitely behind this. So in that sense. But beyond that there's no manufacturer support yet. We're not taking sponsorships or anything like that from manufacturers but manufacturers have been a big help that we've reached out to a few of them and asked us in certain markets that you know because we're opening up a whole country here I'll reach out to the manufacturer rep in certain regions of the country where I have applications coming in and asking them hey I've got such and such integrator applying you know a couple different integrators in this market applying. Are there some great integrators in your market that sell your product that I should be aware of? And oftentimes the manufacturer has been saying yes you need to talk about this integrator this integrator and here's why it's a great service it's been around for this many years. So the manufacturers have been a big support on identifying companies that just do a great job with their product and the firms that they know make their clients happy. And that's what is a huge help to us identify those firms that are making clients happy with the technology. I'll go out reach out to those firms personally to invite them to apply.
Ron: Is the whole country opened up at this point or are you staying focused on southern California? What is I guess the areas of the country that you're taking on first? And is it just the U.S. and Canada? What does that landscape look like?
Josh: Right now it's U.S. only. And just because we kind of had to start this from somewhere and get all of those systems all figured out before we complicated it by going international. But we will be going to international next year sometime in 2018 will open up Canada. There's positive news and it's something I love. It makes me really feel like we're doing something right. I've received several emails from Canada, one from New Zealand and several from Australia and a few from the UK already, saying hey what is this going to be here? So the good news is we built the website from the get-go to handle internationals all that functionality is not turned on. But we did know from the get-go we would be opening up this international. But for now in the US we've just launched in a focused market Southern California but it's opened to the whole country now. So I have applications that , I didn't count the states before we get on the thing today. But there's probably ten or eleven different states maybe even more. 12-13 different states that have applications. I mean and so it's a little bit scattered makes it a little more challenging for me. But we have applications coming in all over the country.
Ron: Over the next 12 months, what are your goals? You and your board. What are your goals in terms of certified companies? What are you hoping to have?
Josh: We would love to have at least 350 certified companies. If there's that many out there to certify that we are a guesstimate is and it's kind of hard and some interesting figures I'm talking to a lot of people to try to find out how many companies consider themselves custom integrators. We hear between 10 to 15 thousand depending on who you ask. So let's say that people that call themselves residential integrators 10 to 15 thousand. Our guesstimate with this. What is creating this sort of standard is that of those about 10 to 15 percent of them make that qualification cut. That's our guess. So that would allow what depending on how you look at those numbers anywhere from them on the pessimistic side a thousand potential members on the being generous side up to 2250 potential people that would qualify. So that's just a guess at this point. We just we've already had a few companies that applied that didn't make certification and you know it's doing its job, it's filtering out companies that have some problems and these companies were well reported on by the way. So there's a couple of things that they have to fix and then they could reapply. So that's the good news. They're going up their game and come back and reapply. They're very flexible things with these particular companies. So we'll see what we do but we hope to get 350 within one calendar year and then say two years out. We would love to have 750 companies total.
Ron: OK. So if we have any folks out there listening that might be interested Josh in learning more or taking next steps, if you're speaking directly to them. What's your message?
Josh: So I would say go to the website, read it through. Look at the advice that we're giving the consumer. I think as you look at the website and see the articles, the advice given, and then play with the budget calculator. There is a budget calculator link right there on the home page. You can use that to validate your proposals even now getting very very positive response about that budget calculator. You could use that as a tool now. And it's educating your clients it's going to change the conversation from price to am I qualified to do this. So look at the site. Look at the FAQ section. There's a lot of topics we didn't get to today of why it might be or probably are answered in there and apply and you could do that. There's two links at the home page that say get certified the direct URL is our website htacertified.org/apply will get you through the application process and then you can start and stop to do it. We try to get those things done within two weeks so we can get on the job of endorsing them. But why this is going to make sense for you , if you're a great integrator and you're sick of losing projects to lesser qualified firms that you know are going to ruin this job. You need this. So , for example, a Michelin star has a great value to a chef. If you're a car manufacturer having a five-star safety rating on your vehicle is going to help you sell cars and it's not me the dealer saying my car is five-star rating. Here's an outside organization that says this car is safe. Here's the initial in a group saying that I'm a one-star or 2 stars a three-star chef. That has weight. So we are a third party validation for great companies. And one salesman made claims about how great they are. Clients often discounted, truthful as that may be clients often discount when companies brag about themselves. But if a third party says that a company is certified often that carries the weight of fact. That's just reality. Reports show that, Wall Street Journal reports, if you look up reports about these things consumers want a third-party validation. This is your third party validation. It should help you close the right projects and raise your reputation in the market because you have someone else saying I met this standard don't listen to me. Look at this. I am qualified to do a project of this caliber. It will make sense. So I urge you to apply. If you have any questions you there is a contact form right on the website. Reach out to me with any personal questions you have, I'd be more than happy to spend the time to answer any concerns and questions you have.
Ron: Awesome well Josh that is all the time we have for today. Thank you so much for for your willingness and patience with us and your willingness to come back on for two weeks in a row. Back to back.
Josh: Thank you for having me. This is an honor and a privilege to be on your show and to address your audience and this has been a fun thing so I'm glad this is a vehicle to get the word out more. So thanks for tuning in. I really enjoyed it.
Ron: There you have it folks. That was Josh Christian from the Home Technology Association an exciting new entry into the custom electronics marketplace. I think the mission of HTA is quite noble. They're trying to help the consumers and the architects and designers really know who to bring into projects and are our industry. You know I've been around a little bit 17 18 years now and it's my opinion that our industry really needs this the consumers really need it. And so I hope if you're interested if you're one of those good firms out there and you want to have that super badge that HTA badge that differentiates you. I think it's certainly something to take a good look at. So anyway we'll actually be back tomorrow at 12:30. I've got another great episode for you. We've had a guest that we've had to bounce a few times. Stay tuned to the Facebook page and other social media platforms. We'll get that exciting guest announced here. Actually it might already be up on our page. Let me navigate. Yeah. Chris is already there. So Chris Smith from Cloud Nine out of New York. Chris is the V.P. of Business Development just a rock star industry professional and I'm excited to have him on the show and talk about all things relating to our industry and kind of how he got here as well. So I will see you tomorrow. And on that note have an excellent rest of your day, great weekend. And we will see you very soon. Thanks so much everyone.
Josh Christian serves as Director of Certification at Home Technology Assocation. The HTA is a newly formed certification body for custom integrators, providing clear standards for integrators and helping homeowners and trade professionals find the best technology experts in their area.
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 in 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.