Home Automation Podcast Episode #20: An Industry Q&A With Bryan Stanley
Exploring Networking, Customer Service, and the Importance of Preparedness
This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Bryan Stanley. Recorded live on Wednesday, October 18th at 12:30 p.m. EST.
About Bryan Stanley
As an AV & Home Automation specialist with over two decades in the business, Bryan Stanley, owner of Spycom Technology Solutions has worked with everyone from mission projects for the homeless to local media moguls. He was born in Lancaster County and became a top car audio salesman while still in high school, which led to his current love of all things tech. Spycom thrives in the heart of Amish country, which is a fascinating backdrop for cutting edge technology. Bryan is a member of CEDIA and his company was named one of CEPro’s Rising Stars. When he’s not running his business, you can find him on his motorcycle meandering roads surrounded by farmland or flying a Cessna as a licensed pilot. He enjoys getting to know his customers, which often end up as friends. He always goes the extra mile to make sure to provide quality products backed by great people, which has provided Spycom increased success every year.
Here are some of the topics Ron had the opportunity to discuss with Bryan:
- Bryan’s background in the industry and how his longtime interest in AV and electronics influenced it
- The history behind the name Spycom
- Typical projects that he considers to be their “bread and butter”
- His takeaways from CEDIA
- How he networks with other business owners and the importance of learning from others
- Managing clients’ expectations and understanding their perspective
- The demand for his industry in Amish country
- The importance of preparedness to find solutions
- And more
Ron: Hello everyone out there in Facebookland. Hope you're having a great day. Ron Callis here with another episode of Automation Unplugged brought to you by One Firefly. It is about 12:37 here on Wednesday October 18th. Hope your day is going well. Hope your week is going well let me just check real quick on Facebook to make sure our technology is cooperating. Yep so far we look good. I've got an excellent show lined up for you today I think and I hope everyone really enjoys it. I'm going to go ahead and bring in my guest now. I've got Bryan Stanley from Spycom Technology Solutions. Bryan, how you doing sir?
Bryan: Don't great Ron. Happy to be here.
Ron: How is how the Amish country treating you?
Bryan: Oh it's it's cold now. But last week it was like summer.
Ron: So I was talking to you before we got going about Amish country and you're like Ron there aren't that many Amish people actually here. Is that the case?
Bryan: Oh yeah. It's it must be the Amish capital of the world I think. But you know we have normal civilians here too.
Ron: And so it's I just want to make sure I get this name correct. So it's Lancester Pennsylvania not Lancaster?
Ron: Then did I do it right?
Bryan: Good enough.
Ron: Good enough. All right I'll take that one. So how's your week going so far sir?
Bryan: Oh it's going great. We have a lot going on here and we've got some new things in the works too. So it's always busy here.
Ron: So is business in general, I mean are you busy is this a busier time for you is it the full whole year has been busy or is it just seasonally busy?
Bryan: I'd say the whole year has been busy for us. And I'm sure I know we all across the industry we hear it, you know, it's always hard to find enough help. So we're always looking for new technicians looking for a project manager salesperson. So yeah keep him very busy. We're going to get into some of those growing pains.
"When times are slow you're hurting and you're trying to figure out what to do to get business and when times are good you're trying to figure out how to get it all done and keep your clients happy and maintain quality control."
Ron: You and I were talking offline about that. You know it's like when times are slow you're hurting and you're trying to figure out what to do to get business and when times are good you're trying to figure out how to get it all done and keep your clients happy and maintain quality control.
Bryan: You got it. It's a challenge. It seems about the first thing that suffers.
Ron: What's the first thing that suffers?
Bryan: Customer service.
Ron: Yeah , you got any quick answers or shortcuts or magical potions to resolve that for our listening audience?
Bryan: You know we're finding that having somebody full time just to deal with that to be able to respond quicker. That seems to be working well.
Ron: Is that a full time person managing service?
Bryan: Full-time person ready to go. And then even when things are running smooth and there are no immediate service calls. There's always things to update , you know contact customers make sure they're good like that sort of thing. So definitely a full time job.
Ron: OK. So for our audience and by the way if you're out there watching this live please like this post or like I guess we call it a stream , like the stream share the stream so that your friends in the industry can see this interview and hopefully either enjoy or appreciate the conversation or perhaps you know have a takeaway or two. So please do that out there if you out there in Facebookland if you're watching after this has gone up on our website then please like it and share it as well. There's no reason to wait. So Bryan, a little bit about you and your background. I know that back in 2012 you were voted or I guess it was nominated by C E Pro as one of the industry's rising stars and you're growing and have been growing a very successful central Pennsylvania located integration firm and outside of that you're also a pilot. If I'm correct is that right? You like to fly airplanes.
Bryan: Absolutely. It's been about six or seven years now. Just for fun. Yep just for fun.
Ron: Well if you don't mind, help my audience understand a little bit of your background how did you end up in the custom integration space and where how did that come about?
Bryan: Well Ron, I've always been into electronics. Even my first day. I think it was first grade or kindergarten. I was late, my mom got me up late so the second day I figured out how to set my alarm clock so I can get up on my own. And after that she had said you know what. I think you're going to be good with electronics because you figured out how to. Were you also the guy that program the VCR. Yeah.
Bryan: You know I was the appointed you know family VCR programmer guy that you know what we didn't even have a VCR. Back then we were one of the last ones to get one actually but I guess yeah even today. Every time we visit Grandma you know it's gotta program the VCR, even today.
Ron: In terms of your first career though as it relates to this industry did you start at an integration firm or where did you start?
Bryan: So I was in high school you know really into electronics and then into cars. So obviously the car audio thing was a good fit for me then I spent most of my senior year in high school building speaker boxes in the woodshop because I had all my credits in. So people would come to me and I would do that. I got a job here at the local car audio dealer. And as I matured it went from cars to homes you know and so that kind of took a forefront . Went through electronics school. I traveled for a bit and worked in the telecom industry for awhile. So I did kind of get away from it a while but I never lost interest in AV. So I kind of came back to it and wanted my own business, decided to start my own thing and that's when I actually helped that old employer. He had some troubled programming remotes and his guys would go out for eight hours try to program a remote and wouldn't get anywhere. So he kind of brought me on board and I started doing that. I really enjoyed that, how I could help people with electronics. And sort of found through that and more so under his wing. I found a better way to do it. And so then I went out on my own to do that.
Ron: How long ago was that? How long ago did you start your own operation?
Bryan: So officially I was in business here as Spycom Technology Solutions for about 11 years now.
Ron: 11, always based in Lancester Pennsylvania?
Bryan: You got it.
Ron: Do you generally work on projects in your you know within 100 miles of your office? Or do you work regionally. I mean when you go up to New York will you go down to Atlanta or do you stay right where you're at?
Bryan: Day to day it's mostly here but I always like to go out. Anytime that I can write off flying the airplane, more than happy to do it. So a good thing is we have some customers around here that have beach homes, that sort of thing. So I get to jump in the airplane, take the techs out to a job you know a little further away. We're even considering doing like a little Florida, Marco Island Tour. There seems to be a lot of people here that have homes in Marco Island and they said Hey why don't we go down? Can you come down there and help us out there? So we're looking at possibly doing that but the majority of our work is right around here in central Pennsylvania.
Ron: OK now your name, Spycom, I know when I first met you Bryan I thought by your name maybe you were a security outfit and you quickly corrected me. Is there any particular meaning behind the name of your company and mind sharing where did you derive that name Spycom Technology Solutions?
Bryan: Yeah. You know our name doesn't really stay exactly what we do and that's kind of been painful for us. We've actually looked at changing it quite a few times but people like it, we're kind of well-known and we're sort of sticking with it. But back about eleven years ago, I was helping out that old boss I had and you know I actually bad business decision. I didn't want to offend him so I didn't want to choose a name that competed with him or kind of had audio in it. Like I said you know looking back it was probably a bad decision but it got us through and I end up doing a lot of, at the time I had a lot of customers calling me to install cameras. Networks even since I have a little bit of telecom background we did some phone systems back then. So the spy kind of was derived from surveillance cameras the com was more for you know communications like phone systems, networks, that sort of thing. So that's how we came up with the name Spycom Technology Solutions but pretty much from the get go, I would get calls from people around here they knew me as an AV guy. They knew me as a problem solver. And so we were pretty much out of the gate with programming custom systems and custom AV remotes, that sort of thing. So from the beginning we've been doing it.
Ron: But what are your bread and type projects today? What sort of you know if a customer calls and has x type of project that makes you really happy. What is that type of project?
Bryan: Mostly in the home space. We do like commercial stuff but obviously home automation is really our bread and butter. And then of course when you get into home automation you're doing a lot of all the other things, audio video distribution that sort of thing. You know just like the majority of our listeners here. But so we still do the surveillance camera thing but it's not as prominent like the name.
Ron: Did you go out to CEDIA this past September?
Bryan: Of course I wouldn't pass up a chance to go to San Diego. What a beautiful place right?
Ron: Exactly. Speaking of write off s right? That's a good business trip.
Bryan: And now I did fly commercial. That would have been a little too slow in my Cessna.
Ron: Yeah. Yeah. What is the Cessna cruise at, maybe one hundred and seventy five?
Bryan: No like 115 knots.
Ron: Okay yeah. That would have taken a little bit to get to California.
Bryan: It's slightly better than driving but it's certainly better than driving much better experience though and no traffic.
Ron: Sure for sure. So what were some of the takeaways from you from CEDIA? Anything that stood out? Do you go for the products or do you go for you know hanging out with your industry buddies or your reps? What was memorable for you?
Bryan: You know I'm a relationship kind of guy I really like that. The relationships you know I mean the people in our business I think are really cool people. So I really enjoy hearing stories and understanding that I'm not alone. You know a lot of the issues that we face. There are other dealers out there kind of facing the same thing. So it's always nice to get together with our peers. So that's the biggest reason why I like to go. Obviously to see the new stuff but what you know with social media and all that you kind of see the new stuff that comes out anyway so it's more so the comradery.
Ron: So you mentioned the relationships. What do you do as a business owner? And I'm sure you were like many business owners a lot of hats in your business. You know you're the chief cook and bottle washer depending on the needs of the business. What have you done if anything to carve out times whether it be during your week or your month to in fact network or talk to other business owners whether they be AV integration business owners or even other types of business owners? I mean do you try to make that a part of your routine talking to other owners that might have some perspectives or takeaways for you?
Bryan: Well absolutely I think that we can learn from anybody. So I wouldn't say so much it's like I'm talking to other dealers every day although you know I like to we just recently had a Pro Source dinner we went to, it was really helpful to hear the other dealers there.
Ron: Yeah, Bobby Dodge just liked this stream. So Bobby's watching you. All right. Hey Bobby.
Bryan: So you know I have I mean you get out in the community go to events talk to other people you know. We're not the only service industry I find that you can you can learn a lot from just about any any other business HVAC is service oriented. You know I do actually put a lot of processes in place here that I learned from customers and who own like HVAC systems or HVAC dealers. Even like car dealerships and that sort of thing I mean you can learn from those guys too. So I'm always learning as a matter of fact I have a lunch coming up one of my good customers. He had quite a life as a high executive and we're going to go do lunch and I just want to talk to him and just kind of pick his brain and hear about his past and anything I can learn from that. So I think the customers like that to come up and say hey let's do lunch and just talk about life you know learn a lot. That's pretty cool.
Ron: Speaking of that I mean do you design a plan for your business? I don't want to put you on the spot. We have talked preemptively about that. But do you have ambitions for where you want this business to be say two or three years from now five years from now? And do you work towards a plan with the actions you take every quarter?
Bryan: Yeah. You know I do it a little differently we do set goals of course that's the biggest thing but we don't track them on a quarterly basis like a sales quarter. I always find it funny when our vendors are calling us up at the end of the quarter like trying to get you know get the number up. You know it's like we figure it all flows into the next. So quarterly goals aren't really our thing but we definitely have goals that we work for towards. I mean there's so many like short term long term and I think that really helps with that is getting the team involved rather than it just be at a management level. We have meetings where we share how we're doing on our goals really weekly whether the target's far out or whether it's you know that month.
Ron: Okay. That makes sense. That's good to know. You had mentioned a little bit ago that you're very busy and that managing and maintaining customer service or quality service for your installed customer base is of primary focus for you right now. And do you feel that you have that one knicked, in that you've figured out how to do it. Or is it a work in progress? And can you just expound on that a little bit further in case there are others watching that maybe are in a similar boat? I mean I know many folks around the country are very busy right now so maybe some of the tips and tricks that you've implemented and what your success or results have been.
Bryan: Well I certainly don't have it all figured out by any means. But just like I said about how learning from other industries that have sort of adopted some of their styles and it's really helped us to be a little more proactive and I knew that I mean over the years it's just pretty obvious that you you have customers that have immediate needs. I mean you know just the other night. Customer text me late at night because he went to sit down and turn on cable watch a little news and there was a blank screen. It's like immediately we get blamed for that. It ended up being a cable company problem and it resolved itself within a matter of like 10 minutes. But you know when something like that happens they immediately think it's our fault. And you know if you have the relationship that I do with my customers I mean I'm getting text immediately. But we have a good way to combat that but everything is just so immediate.
Ron: And so what have you done to get past that that demand from that client that thinks it's your fault and they are calling you at 10:00 on Friday night when they want to watch their you know pay per view UFC fight or something and the TV doesn't turn on. I mean that your clients expect that white glove treatment right? They expect that immediacy. How do you and or how have you heard other integrators are dealing with that?
Bryan: Well we don't have to nail down precisely but I can tell you what we do. I think it helps us. We have a tech that's like it's a dedicated 24 hours like that's his job. Actually the 24-hour thing the emergency thing is like after hours we all share a role . So my technicians and even myself we'll be like on call that week but we don't want to just open it up to anybody and make everything free obviously because I feel I feel like our business kind of came up in the Pro Source dinner here the other week last week too . We have the best customer service in the world I feel and most of us give it away. So we're trying to capitalize on that a little bit better and I find that a lot of a lot of the issues that creep up like maybe like a cable box needs rebooted or something like that sort of ends up solving itself especially if you have your systems in place to do that like we do. So what may seem like an immediate need to a customer ends up you know sort of resolving itself. So we do, we have got an emergency line. You know you call in email you call our main number. Press 3 for emergency at emergency rate. So you put it upfront like it's going to cost you money if we have to come out. So we're able to kind of weed through and if it's really a problem for a customer he'll press 3 and will get through to us and they're willing to pay a substantial fee for us to come out immediately to deal with that. And like I said it weeds out true emergencies. And then we know that we're not just jumping into water for free. And I think that there is a level of value that you know that the customer sees in that.
Ron: There's been a movement I've talked about it a few times with different guests here on Automation Unplugged in this industry at least that I'm perceiving that you know some of the service-based companies are monitoring technology companies. So there's monitoring technology built into various pieces of network hardware. There are companies like Ihiji and Domotz and perhaps a few others that are trying to put technology pieces or monitoring devices into the home. And then you, from the integration side would perhaps preemptively understand network traffic or issues if things are going offline and thus maybe being in a position to do a service model or a maintenance model with a customer. And you know I'm hearing varying levels of success of people trying to implement that across the country. And I was just curious have you guys at Spycom, have you tried to implement such a strategy and if so what have been your successes or failures on that front?
Bryan: Well absolutely. I mean we do everything we set us up for remote service the absolute best we can. I mean there's just sometimes you have to go out. So but you know what we really concentrate here. I understand my employees have a life outside of this. And I do too. So we try to make it as easy on ourselves as possible to serve the customer. The best way possible. So you know if we will get a call late at night, one of the first things we're doing is we're looking in you know. I mean we use Pakedge we use OvrC. you know we try to set those up so that we can respond remotely without having to roll a truck. And it definitely helps as far as maintenance goes the guy that we have that his full-time job is to make sure that our service is taken care of. You know he's always looking for checking in with customers making sure that they're maintaining, that sort of thing. As far as a maintenance plan put in place , I have to admit we don't have a good one. I don't think anybody says that theirs is great.
Ron: I haven't heard anyone say they had a great one yet but I keep fishing for it.
Bryan: But I think the best thing that we can do, which leads into a maintenance type of plan is to set the expectations up from the customer. That's one thing that we found to be helpful. I don't think there's any system that we've actually sold that never needed any maintenance. I mean I do a lot of the sales and I know that as a salesperson you want to promise the world you want to know hey we're never going to have any problems sir, just hey can you sign here and give us your deposit? I mean that's you know that's kind of what we want to say and we want to believe that their system is gonna run perfect you know nonstop. But the reality of it is we definitely do have to go back and maintain that system. So we have to set that expectation with the customer upfront, make sure that they know that and they know that it's going to happen. We'll be calling them.
Ron: Just to jump topics here. You're located in central Pennsylvania. And I picked on you and said you're in the middle of Amish country. And the vision that comes to mind is not a market that maybe is in high demand of technology and automation and that's being judgmental and probably clearly not fair. So I was just curious what is what does the demand for technology look like in your market? And do you think that you have to be in quote the big city to be driving and pushing automation technologies or do you think from your experiences that demand really anywhere in the country?
Bryan: I believe it's everywhere in the country just here in Lancester were slower to adopt it and I'm still struggling with that. You know I talked to my buddies down in Houston and the builders are banging on their door. They need this stuff.
"Texas is just an anomaly. All in and of itself Texas is super and bigger than life in every way at least that's been my experience in dealing with all the businesses down there."
Ron: Texas is just an anomaly. All in and of itself Texas is super and bigger than life in every way at least that's been my experience in dealing with all the businesses down there. That's the fun market.
Bryan: It's just we're a lot slower to adopt things here. But it comes around you know and as far as the big cities and all that I mean you know we do some work out in the Baltimore, Philly area. And I'd say that if we were located in a bigger city we would definitely do a higher volume. But we've been pretty good here. Being very profitable here and I would say if I was in a bigger city I'd probably have a lot more techs, like that sort of thing.
Ron: But more employees doesn't mean necessarily mean a better business right?
Bryan: Oh absolutely yeah. I think that you know one thing about what we do here is I think that we really do a good job of making a lot out of a little.
Ron: What's a typical project for you? What is the type of installed system that would be your bread and butter?
"When I think bread and butter I think just small home automation system."
Bryan: The bread and butter. When I think bread and butter I think just small home automation system. It might be like a main great room. Great room master bedroom and some maybe like four to eight zones of audio is this sort of our bread and butter. More entry-level system. So we'll do a lot of jobs like that now. Not to say that we don't get the hundred thousand couple hundred thousand jobs even commercial jobs. We're definitely capable to handle that as well. We just did a really cool basement job here but it's getting closer to Philly now. But it was about a hundred thousand dollar job where we did 120 inch Screen Innovations screen. That sort of thing, the guy was into sports and it turned out really cool. But I'd say the majority of our work is a few rooms, home automation, people love door locks and they like to see who's at the front door.
Ron: So we might have some people watching that are newer in business whether they're in senior leadership positions or owner-operators . And you've been at this Bryan for 11 years and you've learned I'm assuming quite a few things along that path. Any tips or advice that you would give that newer business owner?
"One thing that I learned over the years is to look at it from the customer's perspective."
Bryan: I think one thing that I learned over the years is to kind of what got us started is to look at it from the customer's perspective. I don't believe the customer is always right but you still want to see it from their perspective. I mean that's how from the beginning we've programmed systems and it's all about the customers the one using this not once we walk out the door, they're left with it. So do it from that point of view. We do the same thing with customer service too. Especially in a time where everything needs to be so immediate. We make sure that we keep the common things on the truck like we walk into a customer's house and let's say they call us because they want like a remote control or door lock or light switch or something. And we find that their Wi-Fi is terrible. We're prepared for that. We have those systems on the truck ready to go. We prepare our technicians with proposal software where they could whip up a quote in a matter of minutes get the signature right on the iPad.
Ron: And what is it that software if you don't mind sharing?
Bryan: Actually we've found success with sales tools you know just like anything else it takes a while to set up right. But we use sales tools to manage our techs and a schedule we use Field Service Management through Quickbooks. You know I think everybody is looking for the perfect software but I think we're doing well with that and it's all about preparedness. We don't like to revisit customers. You know we would rather if they need something have it you know sell it install it on the spot. Take it take the payment on the spot. We have our technicians trained where they'll take payment. They'll invoice and take payment right there. That way we don't have to do it in the office. You know and I also say time kills deals. So if we can be there, do the proposal have the stuff invoice it and get payment on it the same day. I mean that's just amazing. Because isn't that what we all want?
Ron: I follow that art form as well. You probably would attest to that. Right? It's nothing like closing the deal when someone expresses interest . Speaking of sales you in fact were telling me a bit of an anecdote something that you had just experienced this weekend and you were in regards to selling and selling strategies. Do you mind sharing that story in terms of your takeaway from that experience with that car sale?
Bryan: OK well about a month ago my girlfriend decided to get a new car. She said she thought it was time. So she was ready to make the switch from BMW and Mercedes Benz So she had a certain model in mind that she liked we went and visited a Benz dealer and to our surprise they actually did not have the models she wanted on the lot anywhere. And the salesperson was a great guy we really liked him. We spent the majority of the day there going through what she wants and looking at custom ordering a car that sort of thing and then he was a really great guy and the kind of guy that you just you want to buy from we would even be willing to spend a little more just so we can buy from him. But he didn't have anything you know. And then this whole time of everybody wants it now and you make a decision you want it you want something. It's you know we want it now. So obviously we left there with a few good ideas and just like anybody else we check the other dealership across town. Went there. They had the model she wanted but they didn't have exactly what she wanted. So that salesman worked it a little differently. He ended up coming up with a solution on the spot which you know in hindsight I look at and say wow that guy was a genius. He got her into a car very similar to what she wanted. Told her that she can order what she wants, in six months it'll be in and already worked a deal on buying this new car she's taking home today. Buy that back in six months and she'll have the car that she wants because we're going to order it. And I thought that was genius and he totally stole the sale from the other guy because he came up with a solution and she was ready to buy. He had sort of what she wanted and in the end she's going to get what she wants. So I thought that was a pretty genius idea.
Ron: So how do you implement that or try to implement that in your own business? Is there any takeaways or metaphors there for you and how you run your business or how you sell.
Bryan: Yeah I mean it happened very recently here. It just made you think it makes you think. But one of the things we do kind of along those lines is like I said we try to stock our trucks with common products like things that we commonly need. I mean obviously we would have we would pull 18 wheelers if we had to. Yeah I mean if you had to stock everything but just the basic things that we kind of go through a lot you know I mean we're Control4 dealers so like AA1 bundle the AA3 bundle like that sort of thing you know we'll do laps and all that and we just are ready to respond if a customer we're in front of the customer. That's the best time to get them. That's the best time to make the sale. And we are prepared to do that.
Ron: Got it. Awesome. So that's the advice is to be prepared with common items that you know you're going to need or that clients might ask for and that immediacy enables you to make the sale right there on the spot.
Bryan: And if I can add to that if you don't have it. We have our technicians. They have sales tools on their laptops. They can pull out sales tools, do a quote on the spot, get approval and get the deposit check. Also, schedule the install right on the spot. So if you don't have it. I mean they're locked in. They've signed it. They signed the approval they gave you a deposit and they're already scheduled for the install. So we know we got that sale so you don't have to have the product.
Ron: That's awesome. Well Bryan you've been very generous with your time today sir. And we try to keep these to around 30 minutes approximately 30 minutes or so. And I think we're right around 33 minutes at the moment. So thank you very much. I appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with me and our audience.
Bryan: Absolutely Ron, it was a pleasure.
Ron: Awesome buddy. All right everybody. There you have it. That was Bryan Stanley with Spycom Technology Solutions. Thank you for joining me for another episode of Automation Unplugged and I will see you next week. We'll have another fun guest and we'll keep it going. And by the way if you are enjoying these and you'd like to see somebody in particular on the show please just shoot me an email. It's Ron@OneFirefly or you can go over to our Web site. Onefirefly.com you can see all the past episodes all of our guests and we'll just we'll keep it going. So on that note have an excellent rest of your Wednesday have a great week. And we will see you guys on the flip side. Thanks so much.
Bryan Stanley is owner of Spycom Technology Solutions and has decades of experience in the industry. Spycom thrives in the heart of Amish country, which is a fascinating backdrop for cutting edge technology. Bryan is a member of CEDIA and his company was named one of CEPro’s Rising Stars.
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.