Home Automation Podcast Episode #22: An Industry Q&A With Todd Girdis
Strategizing the Future of Home Theater
This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Todd Girdis. Recorded live on Wednesday November 1st at 12:30 p.m. EST.
About Todd Girdis
Todd Girdis is the Director of AV Sales and Marketing for RowOne Home Entertainment. He owned and operated Intelli Home Systems, an AV integration company, in SE Michigan for more than 10 years name. Todd also has experience in sales for the app-based universal remote control and automation, iRule, as the Director of Business Development for the AiN Group, and as the Senior Sales Representative for AE Ventures and Relidy. In his current role as Director of Sales and Marketing for RowOne, Todd oversees the strategic positioning of RowOne’s home entertainment seating offerings.
Here are some of the topics Ron had the opportunity to discuss with Todd:
- Todd's current role and the products offered by RowOne
- The CEDIA show
- How integrators may be limiting themselves
- The value in having an established relationship with a furniture company
- RowOne's approach to delivering furniture
- And more
Ron: Hello everybody. Ron Callis here. Another episode of Automation Unplugged brought to you by One Firefly. I hope that you're having an awesome Wednesday that you're not too tired or otherwise burned out from all of your Halloween activities last evening. Let me go ahead and check our Facebook page just to make sure that this stream is in fact coming in. OK so just bear with me here for a moment. Everybody let's see here. Oh goodness there we are. Looks like our lives starting to build audience. So if you're out there thank you for watching. If you're watching this live please like this. Please give me a comment. Just let me know that this is coming through OK. Just say hey I'm here and it looks OK and it sounds OK. That's always helpful. And if you're watching this at some future date that is not November 1st please share this and like this anyway and that helps us ultimately hear from you which is always fun. And it also helps the reach of the content reach more people. All right. So without further ado, I'm going to bring in our guest for today. I've got Todd Gertz. Todd is the Director of Sales and Marketing over at Row One Home Entertainment. Todd how's it going sir?
Todd: Great. How are you doing?
Ron: I am well. Where are you coming to us today from?
Todd: Coming to you live from Ann Arbor Michigan. And we had trick or treaters here had a fun time last night. Eighteen pounds of chocolate collected by my youngest daughter. We're calling that. Yeah.
Ron: So how old is your daughter?
Todd: My youngest daughter she is 10 years old. Sophia.
Ron: She is 10. Do you have more than one child?
Todd: I do. I've got two girls Elise, who is about to be 18 and a senior in high school and then Sophia and in fifth grade. So lots of action but busy year this year. I can only imagine.
Ron: Did Dad dress up as well for Halloween last night?
Todd: Dad only dressed up with a coat and a warm beverage. That's. Well that was my costume.
Ron: Nice. Yeah. My son, his name is Max. He is eight and in the third grade and he actually had changed course, said he was going to not go walk around the neighborhood this year and collect candy and that he wanted to be delivering or handing out candy. And so it was a bit of a change of I guess course for him but we supported him. We should yeah let's hand out the candy. And then here right in the last minute I swear it was around 6:30 last evening he got talking to some of the neighbor kids and next thing he does he runs in the house and says all right I want to go trick or treating now. So we threw a what was it a Star Wars. I think he was Obi Wan Kenobi and I threw on my Captain Kirk Star Trek outfit and my wife she wasn't playing ball so she just threw on a sweater and we went out and hit the neighborhood. So yeah it's always fun.
Todd: Fun night. Yes. And you had the parody of Star Trek versus Star Wars.
Ron: You liked that? Nice!
Todd: Yeah I recognized.
Ron: The old versus the newer but still old.
Todd: Yes. We were having a debate about whether or not the new Star Wars in December is part of a trilogy or if it's standalone. So there's a debate going on right now about that.
Ron: So the new Star Wars it's coming out in December?
Ron: Oh this is Disney. Come on. They're going to trilogize everything they possibly can. There'll be trilogies of trilogies. It's all about revenue baby. All right. So Todd our audience and by the way if you're out there thank you for watching. Our audience may not know you and or your background and it's a pretty diverse background and how you landed where you are today at Row One Home Entertainment. And I want to talk more about home entertainment and the future of home theater and of course furnishings within home theater. But can we start with a little bit about yourself and your background and how you kind of came to be where you are.
Todd: Yeah thanks from I've been in the industry. It's an industry that I definitely love. I love being a part of it. There's definitely great relationships that have been built over the years and it's a little bit unique in my background. I was an AV integrator in southeast Michigan, owner and operator of Fellow Home Systems and had done that for over 10 years. And we marketed directly to mainly production , semi production , semi custom builders, here in southeast Michigan. Did that as I mentioned for just over 10 years. And it kind of started my knowledge and relationship. Get to know the different players. Of course that's changed over the long haul. And then I had the opportunity to work with a couple of manufacturers. One of them was a startup in the control space called iRule now on controls as well as currently working as a Director of Sales and Marketing for Row One. And then I've also worked for an industry group and got some great industry groups HTSA, AIN Group, Pro Source to name a couple of them and I had the honor to work with AIN group team which is a group of about 225 low voltage companies across the United States. So it's kind of unique in that I've had the opportunity to work for these three different groups and I try to bring that to Row One and the relationships that we're trying to build with the AV community.
Ron: Can you tell our audience a little bit more about Row One? Who and what is Row One and what specifically are your roles and responsibilities there?
Todd: Yeah so Row One is unique in that we're not just a home or seating company but we're also a home entertainment seating company and we have the broadest collection in the industry of chairs available. Not just one group but we have everything from an entry-level with our Row One Direct collection available to the dealer community as well as the furniture channel and we've got those chairs are available on a quick ship basis and then we have our brand new Silver Screen Collection which we'll talk a little bit more about. And the last collection that we have is our Row One Domestic. So made right here in the USA. So just from our our chairs alone we've got some unique products available to dealers and their consumers. Another unique feature about our company is our collection of wood products. So we're the only manufacturer in the seating home entertainment industry that is offering seating along with wood products and those things can be anything from complete home theater columns for molding, crown molding available in 20 different finishes to risers for second and third row seats within home theaters to cinebars. Those are typically used either in their applications behind the last row of seating along with bar stools or in high rises. So and you know our last kind of unique feature is our Diamond Delivery program. And if there's time I'll explain a little bit more about that. So now you had mentioned Made in America is that some of your products made here in America. And is that an important part of the branding for Row One?
Todd: It is. There's still a number of consumers that look for a made in the USA label. We have the Row One Domestic line which is completely made here in America. The factory is located down in North Carolina. And then all of the wood products that I mention in that collection are made in the USA as well and they are made in the state of Ohio
Ron: Now that's impressive. And how did the the how did the company grow from just doing seeding to also doing all these other wood products. Did the company, and if you don't mind could you talk a little bit about the history of the company and the founder Robert and who he is? And then of course the history of the extension of the product lines.
Todd: Yes. So Robert is the president and founder of Row One. And that got started in 2009 originally.
Ron: It is a newer company.
It's a relatively, yes. Correct. So it got started at that time and was actually working the way that the wood products came about is through a relationship that we had with Circuit City one of the former A.V. retailers in our industry and they came to us looking for a way that they could do a quick install of home theaters not just the seating but how could they how could they actually do a complete room and that became the birth of the wood products. And then from the dealer community we noticed that a lot of the owners were doing MDU or the residential power applications. And so from that came about the cinebar application to be able to do that and kind of complete the line out. So one of the things I love about Robert is his relationships that he has with the manufacturing community. So when a dealer has a unique request, for example , in that Row One wood products collection for the home theater in a box piece. If a dealer doesn't have a standard screen of one hundred and thirty inches and their screen is one hundred and ninety inches using the relationships we have built up over the years we can customize that for the dealer and provide them with the same high quality product. Even though it's a custom piece.
Ron: Now you and I Todd , crossed paths at CEDIA. I remember I was I was walking back to my booth and I actually didn't realize it but our our booths were relatively close and I ended up sitting down in a very comfortable chair. And you set me up with a very nice portable ottoman that had a foot massager and I think I woke up several hours later because I was just having a great time. So thank you for that. How was CEDIA for Row One? How did the whole show turn out for you guys?
Todd: Yeah. It ended up being great. And I'm very glad you along with our neighbors as well, other manufacturers enjoyed those foot massagers others and you know stay tuned. We may have a future product announcement about that but it was great and it was great because we launched the brand new Silver Screen Collection. So that's a mid line collection of chairs, all 100 percent top grain leather fully finished backs. 13+ different colors available to choose from. And we had some fun too in the design. There are two chairs in particular that dealers might recognize on our website. If you go to RowOneht.com and click on the Silver Screen Collection. You'll notice that two of the chairs might look very much like vintage cars. One of them is from the '61 Mustang and the other is from the original Corvette. So we've had some fun. And the dealers like that. We're not just about selling the products but we're also about trying to make it fun for the consumer. And so we've got some dealers that are working with us to create some unique ideas in their showrooms with those classic cars as well. But the Silver Screen was awesome and we took a record number of orders and we were just at HTSA fall conference in Chicago. We really appreciate all the dealers there took more orders for Silver Screen and we're looking forward to the future with that.
Ron: Yes I want to come back to HTSA. But before we go there I just would like at a 30000 foot view. What is your perspective on what's happening right now in the world of home theaters? Are homes theaters on the rise or they on the decline and what sort of trends are you seeing at the manufacturer level?
Todd: Yeah thanks Ron. I would say that you know the home theater market itself is not anywhere near to where it was pre recession. It has come back. There are definitely more opportunities in some hot spots but one of the opportunities that we see in the industry is really the home entertainment side of the business. The days, you know we've had cup holders for examples in our cars we always tell our our dealers you've had cup holders in your cars now for at least 10 years as a standard feature. So when you look at home theater seating it's a growing opportunity. But the real opportunity is in home entertainment seating at looking at the great rooms looking at the media rooms the game rooms.
Ron: What's the primary difference from a home theater seating product to home entertainment or a multi-purpose room seating product ? Are the chairs the same and it's just putting that product into a different environment. Are there different products?
Todd: Yeah it's it's essentially the same chairs. The difference is that with any one of our chairs you can build it into a powered sofa powered recliner a power love seat. Because in our collection we have an armless chair option. And so that's the difference. Think of it like a traditional sectional when you go home tonight and you go into your family room you sit there and there might be a sofa and a recliner or a sofa and a love seat recliner collection in those rooms and any of the seats that we offer have that capability to do that.
Ron: Okay. No that makes sense. Now in terms of whether people are again I would say the integration marketplace. Are they primarily buying these days or selling? Right. Because they're buying from you what they're selling to their customers. Are they buying powered seats or unpowered seats? I mean what's the ratio of what you're seeing move these days?
Todd: The majority is by far powered seats because the differential in the dealer cost of a manual versus a powered seat has really changed in the last five years significantly to the point where unless the consumer is asking for a manual chair specifically price wise or at the retail level it's all powered chairs.
Ron: Now it's all powered chairs.
Todd: Yes. We just updated our pricing sheets and we've actually kind of just shown under options, a manual chair to show you the difference in how the markets change. We used to list manual and power chairs. We've completely eliminated the manual listing as a line item. We just show it as an option now.
Ron: So I have a marketing question for you.
"The average small businesses in the marketplace, the integrators and maybe the retailers that are buying or in the market to buy and I don't imagine a stock. They purchase your products."
Ron: And that is you know the average small businesses in the marketplace, the integrators and maybe the retailers that are buying or in the market to buy and I don't imagine a stock. Right. They purchase your products.
Ron: All right. Are you seeing that they're generally open to talking to new vendors or do they generally buy from a portfolio of vendors and the marketing question is why do they buy Row One products versus say Brand X Y or Z?
"Generally, when you think Made in America you think, you're going to sacrifice. You know you're being loyal and or nationalistic but you're maybe sacrificing in that you might have to spend more for said product. And I would challenge in some cases some customers are willing to spend more."
Todd: Sure. So generally what we see is that the AV dealer talking about you know the customer as our customer , our direct customer, the AV dealer generally will have at least two furniture manufacturers in there or under their umbrella. Usually they'll have a really high end retail furniture manufacturer. And then what they're looking for and what's been kind of missing from their portfolio is something underneath that really high end. And when we talk about really high end, you know we're talking about a chair that retail might be twenty five hundred dollars or higher. And so the benefit of Row One and why the dealer community looks to us is because they're looking to capture a lot of the sales that they've lost or have been kind of given up to the furniture retailer as a competitor. And that's our advantage. Our advantage is that we have seating at an entry-level point. When I talk about entry-level we're talking about a chair. All high quality, all equal profit margin opportunity for the AV dealer. We're talking about a chair that would start at under a thousand dollars retail. In the case of our entry-level Row One direct to the Silver Screen at a retail price of under two thousand dollars for top grain leather. So these are price points that the dealers recognize that they've missed and in the past they've not had a place for the salesperson to go. And now they recognize that hey we don't have to give up that profit opportunity. We can actually have places to go with the consumer that they didn't have before.
Now how have you guys been able to do that? And I'll just say at a high level generally when you think Made in America you think, you're going to sacrifice. You know you're being loyal and or nationalistic but you're maybe sacrificing in that you might have to spend more for said product. And I would challenge in some cases some customers are willing to spend more. Maybe not many but some. And yet you guys from what I'm hearing are making your furniture in North Carolina and Ohio and that's you know I think furniture capital of North America. I'm not an expert but I know I always hear about furniture being fabricated in North Carolina and yet you're able to hit some price points that are fairly novel. Is that accurate? I mean how do you guys do that?
"The profit opportunity is being lost simply because they don't have the product available on the show floor. It's not from a lack of consumer interest in that product."
Todd: Yes. So the way that we do it, we're not unique in the ability to get those price points. What we do is we do have to take the Row One Direct line and the Silver Screen line and we are actually manufacturing overseas and then we're bringing that in. And the way that we're able to bring in the entry level of Row One Direct that pricing level is by limiting the color choices. We know that dealers need to have something at that price point because a lot of that opportunity is being lost to big box furniture retailers or even like Costco. And so the profit opportunity is being lost simply because they don't have the product available on the show floor. It's not from a lack of consumer interest in that product. So in the same true with the Silver Screen and a lot of that goes back to our talk about Robert our founder and president and just having relationships . Robert's been in the furniture industry for over 20 years and he's built a lot of relationships with manufacturers not just domestically in the U.S. but also overseas.
Ron: So Todd you spent years running an integration firm. And now you're on the manufacturing side of the equation. How has your experience as an integrator helped form the view you have running sales and marketing for a manufacturer.
Todd: Yeah I think it's helped me because when I'm able to share that with the dealer there's some rapport and built in trust by them. The best example that I could give is you know a lot of the dealers are worried about the impact of the Internet in terms of pricing and protection and you know having the dealer background that I have it's at the forefront of my mind. So one of the ways that we do that is we implement certain pricing requirements for anybody that is trying to offer the seating through the Internet. And you know the dealers appreciate that. They want to know that hey you've got our back. And because of my background I think that that helps put them at ease with that aspect of the business.
Ron: What are some of the reasons you think that integrators perhaps are not selling theater media room furniture? What's holding them back?
Todd: I think a lot of it. And again this is just you know from my experience in talking with the dealers is a lot of them haven't returned back to the opportunity of selling seating or they're just not they didn't believe that there was a manufacturer that had product available to them at the price points we do so that they could compete with the furniture big box retailers in the furniture channel. And so a lot of it is just that what we work really hard at is just bringing awareness to the AV dealer community that hey you know this is the situation you now actually have a high quality product available from Row One, a reliable manufacturer in the industry. We're excited to work with you and provide you with product that the consumer is buying today not from you but from a big-box furniture store as an example. And we want that profit to come back to you because it used to be with the AV dealer prerecession the consumer really didn't know about a powered furniture recliner to the way that we have it today is kind of a standard given that well of course my chair going to you know power recline and have a cup holder and those types of things. So that's really the message we want to share with the industry is that hey give us a call. We've got a great collection of chairs. We've got some unique wood products that are add ons to that seating sale and we've also got a program that called the Diamond Delivery program and that's a second good example of concern by the dealer. When we talk with them they're worried about how am I going to deliver furniture chairs? Because a lot of them you know they had big box trucks they could deliver those pieces prerecession all of those got sold and the new fleet of the AV dealer doesn't have a 20 to 24 foot box truck on it.
Ron: Yeah they got much smaller vehicles in their fleet these days.
Todd: That's right. There are other pickup trucks, their Ford Focus.
Ron: How do you help them handle or address that or do you?
Todd: We launched what was called Diamond Delivery and it's out of their feedback. So Row One's the only seating manufacturer in the United States that offers the DiamondDelivery. It's a white-glove service. What we do is we essentially deliver the chairs from our warehouse or factory direct to that 80 dealers customer site. And it's a two-man team. They take the chairs off the truck put them in exactly the room that the consumer is asking. Unpack them inspect them. That consumer just plugs them in , we train it and we take all the garbage away and just ask the dealer to go back and take the pictures for their Facebook site. .
Ron: No that's cool so typically or prior to the Diamond Delivery an integrator would have to be able to receive these pieces of furniture, stock them or store them for some period of time and then transport them to the job site. And you've removed all of that all those logistics.
Todd: Correct and any quality concerns with the inspection. I mean if there's anything wrong with the chairs for whatever reason you know the chairs get taken away all that is also handled by Row One.
"It also sounds so obvious like why did someone not think of this before. But a lot of the most you know some of the best solutions strike you that way so congratulations on figuring that out."
Ron: Interesting. That's awesome. Sounds like some pretty cool innovation. It also sounds so obvious like why did someone not think of this before. But a lot of the most you know some of the best solutions strike you that way so congratulations on figuring that out now you just came back from the HTSA conference. I believe that was last week or in the last couple of weeks. How long have you guys been members of HTSA?
Todd: So we've been a member of HTSA now for two years and looking forward to continuing into 2018 the fall conference was last week in Chicago. We're very honored to be a part of that group. It's an exclusive Association and the dealers gave us great feedback. They're excited to build the relationship and really a lot of them have that one relationship right now with the really high-end seating company and so they were they were cited to add the Row One lines into the future. So we're looking forward to growing with John and his team and working closely to help those dealers have a great 2018.
Ron: Now are you guys members of more than one buying group or is that you're only buying group at least in the A.V. channel? I know you may sell furniture in other spaces or other verticals.
Todd: Yeah I would say in the A.V. channel we're members of the AIN group the authorized integrators network. We're also members of Brand Source Pro Source as well as members of Nationwide. And we are a CEDIA member so we care about this industry we're passionate about it. And mentioned, both Robert and I personally love working in the industry we appreciate the opportunity to do it and we want to demonstrate that by supporting the different associations and giving back to help everybody grow and have a good run.
Ron: Todd. If people, integrators who are listening to this and now and or in the future and they're interested in learning more about Row One. Are you the singular person they should reach out to?
Todd: Yes. So the main number for Row One I'm happy to share. 6165833700. Any of the staff there. I'm the Director of AV Sales and Marketing for the company that 's ext 5. Our website is an awesome tool.
Ron: I'm going to type it in now into the comments here on Facebook. What's the eeb site domain?
Todd: The Web site is www.rowoneht.com and phone number is 6165833700.
Ron: All right we'll see how we operate here folks we're typing in live. All right cool. We had a bunch of people just join in if you're out there watching live please. Like the feed please share the feed and if you have any questions for Todd we're actually getting close here to wrapping up. But if you have any questions for Todd please type those questions in and or just type in a comment and say hello. Let us know you're out there your feedback and knowing you're out there is always welcomed. Now Todd when you are not busy helping integrators grow their home theater seating and or their entertainment seating in their business I understand for fun you like to ski and specifically downhill ski. So I'm going to tell you my one story I only have one because I'm afraid of heights. I long ago was talked into going and riding a ski lift to the top of a mountain. And I remember getting off that ski lift. I had a snowboard strapped to my feet and I remember being terrified that my life was about to end. And I remember laying on the ground so that at least I wouldn't accidentally start rolling off the mountain. So that's my downhill ski Black Hill. I managed to get down the mountain but it took a long time and it was very slow and painful. But do you go skiing quite a bit or what does downhill skiing for you? What does that mean for you?
Todd: Yeah. So where did you embark on that adventure that one time where did where were you?
Ron: Yeah. You know what. You're going gonna laugh at me if I tell you. Let's just say it was not West Coast it was east coast. It wasn't even the big stuff but it was, a third story house is enough for me. So you get a couple thousand feet that's enough to terrify me.
Todd: Yeah. So when we say we downhill ski in Michigan of course it's a little bit of not true mountain heights. Like you might see in Sun Valley out in Idaho or anywhere Colorado the nice stuff. Yeah. So it's a safe version of downhill skiing. I guess would be the best way to put it I've done it since being a small child. My dad taught me and now I teach the girls and so we enjoy it it's about time for snowflakes to fly. Here in Michigan and we're looking forward to spending some time before Christmas hopefully at least once or twice.
Ron: Do you have to go far to go skiing?
Todd: No not really. You can get to a decent downhill ski facility within a three hour drive from from the Ann Arbor area. So yeah.
Ron: Well cheers. Well Todd It has been a pleasure sir. Thank you for carving out a little over thirty five minutes for me here on Automation Unplugged. It's been a lot of fun learning about you and your background as well as the successes you're having there at Row One home entertainment.
Todd: Thanks Ron we appreciate it. I love the format. I wish you guys all the best. And to the A.V. community we love conversations. Please consider to give me a call or reach out to us through the web. And we wish everybody well and continued success awesome.
Ron: Well ladies and gentlemen. There we go. There I am. So thanks for joining me for another episode of Automation Unplugged. This was episode 22. How cool is that? Time's flying the guests are racking up. And on that note have an excellent rest of your Wednesday, rest of your week. Happy Halloween. We've got Thanksgiving coming up here. We're going to blink and Thanksgiving is going to be upon us. So I will see everyone next week same bat time same bat channel. Thanks everyone.
Todd Girdis is the Director of AV Sales and Marketing for RowOne Home Entertainment. He is responsible for overseeing the strategic positioning of RowOne’s home entertainment seating offerings. Todd was previous owner of Intelli Home Systems, an AV integration company and also has experience in sales for the app-based universal remote control and automation, iRule, as the Director of Business Development for the AiN Group, and as the Senior Sales Representative for AE Ventures and Relidy.
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.