Home Automation Podcast Episode #33: An Industry Q&A With Lani Godfrey
People, Process, and Technology - the Role of Buying Groups in CI
This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Lani Godfrey. Recorded live on Wednesday, February 7th, 2018 at 12:30 p.m. EST.
About Lani Godfrey
Lani Godfrey began his career in 1995 at Circuit City as a Retail Sales Associate and has since worked in custom sales and installation, purchasing and inventory, operations and process management in distribution.
For the past couple of years, Lani has happily been with the ProSource buying group covering the Southeast region. Lani is a proud University of South Carolina Graduate and enjoys fishing and golfing in his downtime.
Here are some of the topics Ron had the opportunity to discuss with Lani:
- Lani’s background in the industry
- The value of buying groups
- What ProSource is planning for the future
- Best practices for people development
Ron: Hello everybody. Ron Callis here with another episode of Automation Unplugged, episode number 33. Let me jump over to Facebook as I always do. Let's see if our technology is cooperating with us today and having a few internet connection issues earlier in the day. So let's hope that's behind us. If you're out there, please don't forget to like this stream share this stream. Give me a comment, let me know you're out there and watching and say hello that helps the good old algorithms get this content out to your friends and peers in the industry. And what is today? Today is Wednesday, February 7th, and I'm having a great week. It's been an exciting week. We had the Space X big rocket launch here in Florida, I think I was yesterday. So if you didn't know you can go to YouTube and type in star man. And Elon Musk put one of his his Roadsters up in space. There's a mannequin wearing a space suit and you actually get live video camera feeds of all different angles of the car as it is going to circumnavigate the sun for the next billion years. I don't know that his batteries on board last that long, but it's pretty neat anyway, I have another pretty cool guest for you. Let me bring him on. I've got Lani Godfrey from Pro Source. Lani, how you doing sir?
Lani: I'm doing good Ron. Thank you.
Ron: Lani, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule and joining us here on Automation Unplugged.
Lani: More than happy to do it.
Ron: So Lani, where are you coming from? Where is home base?
Lani: The friendly confines of Lexington, South Carolina today.
Ron: Nice. How's the weather treating you up there?
Lani: A little rainy but close to 70 degrees, so that's a positive.
Ron: Wow. Holy moly. I was just on the phone earlier today with a customer of mine up in Maine and they just got buckets of snow and they actually had to go pick their kids up from school. School got canceled.
Lani: Yeah. They have another wave heading their way from what I understand.
Ron: Yes. Yeah. We don't have that problem down here in Florida. It's a nice and sunny and warm, but we don't want to rub that in. So anyway, if you're out there, guys and gals watching this show, thank you very much. If you're watching live or if you're watching it later on a recorded version we appreciate you watching. We're going to have a fun interview with Lani. We're going to learn about buying groups and Lani has a vast wealth of experience working with CI businesses of all shapes and sizes around the country. And I'm hoping to peel the layers back on that a little bit and hopefully give you some golden nuggets and some ideas and takeaways at least. I know every time I talk to Lani, I walk away with a lot of value, so I hope you folks watching get the same if you are out there, please again, like this and, or comment or share this and we really appreciate it here at One Firefly and that helps get this message out in this content out to lots more people. That's the way the Facebook algorithms work. So, Lani, let's first of all start, what is your role? You're at Pro Source, that's a buying group and I want to talk about what Pro Source is, but first of all, what's your role?
Lani: No, I'm the district manager for the Southeast. I have counterparts that carry the same title in the Northeast and Central and out into the West. So we have a team of five of me if you will. And essentially I engage my members about a hundred strong in the Southeast and I work with my vendor resources, whether it's a direct manufacturer, a local rep in the marketplace, and coordinate business relationships between the CI business owner and the vendor partner depending on what fits that particular business model. I like to call it a bridge-builder for the right reason if you will.
Ron: Pro Source is a buying group. We, One Firefly, for full disclosure. We are a Pro Source member and have been a happy member of Pro Source now for several years. And so I certainly could say in my words what is Pro Source, but why should I do that when I have you, I can hear it from the horses mouth. So what is Pro Source? And for those members out there think there maybe, are a lot of integrators that are gonna watch this that aren't a part of a buying group. So they may not know exactly what that means.
"Essentially we take the education from what's working in certain areas, a vendor and business owner alike, and try to build those success stories into more folks."
Lani: We are essentially a collective if you will, that's a member-owned organization. So any of the members among our roster is essentially an owner to the group. And what we've done in that cases, we have a board of directors. It's made up of our members that guides our business direction, approves our budgets, approves me and my travel and my interactions. And we leverage our presence with respective vendors to put programs in place for those business owners. So sometimes it represents savings or back-end dollars in the case of yours and a few others. It's a service vendor that's above and beyond what a box solution or an inventory item would be. So in that case, you're part of that business engagement back into the membership. So we serve both sides. I like to call it two pillars between our vendor partners and our member partners. And essentially we take the education from what's working in certain areas, a vendor and business owner alike, and try to build those success stories into more folks. So I like to phrase it as treating our industry like a real industry and adding credibility to what our industry does.
Ron: Now, how did you come about landing at Pro Source? So I know you had a foundation, I think you started in the industry back in the 90s. And where did you come from and how did you land here?
Lani: Well, the best part is before I walked into a Circuit City and ever sold my first television I was a freshman in college and I literally got tired of smelling like a french fry. And as much as I loved working, as much as I love working at Fudruckers I worked every position in the store so I still know how to grill and cook and make cookies. And I walked across the street to Circuit City and got an interview and I've been in CI in electronics pretty much ever since. Minimal stops to finish my degree. And as I've walked that path, I've run into some pretty interesting people. So I found my way through the CI dealers. And then I found, cause I'd wanted to take control of my sales process as opposed to the retail setting where that's limited. When you're selling better quality, you can only take it so far. And I learned lessons in those business practices, positive and negative. And when I was fortunate enough to be hired at AVAD by Kimberly Brown and Bill Morton, there was a lot more to learn. And more than just being a salesperson was understanding how to engage people's businesses, learn more than just what they like and be willing to tell them what might need to be said instead of what they want to hear. And from that standpoint, after approximately nine years with AVAD, some people that I trusted respect a great deal. I can single out from Martin and Logan and from at that time get an Ed Moran's recommended me to the Pro Source folks. Dave Borkman and Tim Bashford sharing Antonio. And it seemed like a beautiful step for me to continue to be able to do what I like and engage on a more distinct level with business owners as well as vendor partners. So you know, looking back, I don't think I missed much and I don't have any bad regrets, but I'm very fortunate to be where I'm at today.
Ron: Well, what is a normal day in the life of Lani look like? Are you working the phones? Are you out, you know, or are you working in markets and driving around and fly in or what do you, what are you doing?
Lani: Well, no day is the same. I can say the holidays and early on in the first quarter is a little quieter as far as travel is concerned. My barometer for myself is I prefer to have five meaningful interactions during the course of a business day. So if that's a face to face appointment. Charlotte, Atlanta, Charleston are drivable markets for me. Florida's obviously get in an airplane, but whether it's solving something unique through email or responding to phone calls. Most recently we were building our attendance for Summit in Nashville which we've anniversary another record year of registrations. That's three in a row that I understand. My days are different. Some days I'm on the laptop from 8 to 5 and anywhere between 3 and 15 phone calls depending on what's needed for that day. My fieldwork is my favorite, but it's not practical to be in the field three weeks out of a month either. So we try to travel very strategically.
Ron: Now there are other buying groups in the CI space, but to my knowledge, and correct me if I'm wrong, you'll know better than I. Pro Source is the buying group that actually has a team such as yours. Whereas you are a member of an outside team interfacing and you use the words bridging vendor programs and relationships with the CI businesses. And in many cases, as you've, and I have talked in the past. In many cases you're acting as you know, a counselor, maybe a therapist to some of these businesses. And is that one of the primary differences of Pro Source in any other group?
Lani: Yeah, the way I like to say it is as we carve our map into five distinct sections, the district managers in those respective territories have their fingers firmly on the pulse of what's going on in that territory. And it allows us to manage to a smaller population within that territory. Even take it one step further where we have our larger markets and our larger memberships are managed by Dave Wartman and Jessica Paskin. So they serve the Crutchfields of the world, if you will. Sherry and Antonio, our Membership Director, add additional support into our power channel and then the district managers have our individual maps. So we have multiple layers carried in addition to the regional focus that a district manager has by focusing on their smaller corner of the map, if you will.
Ron: All right. Got it. Understood. So you mentioned the Nashville event and this is coming up around the corner, right? This is, what is it next month?
Lani: Approximately March 3rd through the 6th. Some folks are leveraging an extra day in national because Nashville's cool. But that's Pro Source's premier event in a lot of cases, not to pick on anyone, but with CEDIA being so far West the Eastern members of ours are attending in a higher sacralization level because they get what they want out of that content. There's a thread of business content and interaction vendor participation. And then the trade show is a component of it, but it's not the everything. It's half of the show, if you will. So we try to cut a good balance, but by keeping it on this side of the country, our attendance is strong because of the accessibility.
Ron: So how would you frame the reason one of your members should go to the summit? It's called The Pro Source Summit, correct?
Lani: Yes, yes. You know, without putting on rose-colored glasses, if you can take away one or two business themes or an adjustment within your own management style or your own business practice and bring one or two of those things home to your individual team, you can take a bigger step forward. You know, most of our members have been in business for multiple years and so they understand their brands, they understand who they sell to and sometimes who they don't. But they typically have opportunities to improve internally. I like to use the service vendor example again because if you add a service vendor into something that you're already good at, it can amplify and improve that particular strength as well as you can use a service vendor to work on something that's an admitted weakness. So the people that show up there are really good about being open to what they're trying to accomplish and what they're trying to work on. And the more value they get to pull out of that show.
Ron: Got it. So would you advise that folks that attend go in with some expectations or goals of what they want to take away from the event? Does that lead to a better rate of success or happiness from people having attended?
Lani: Yeah. Again, it's a reasonable expectation. You won't come to a trade show with the mission of redefining your company. Or if you have a, a list of 20 things, the likelihood of achieving half of them is very small. If you approach it with a top two or three or a takeaway that you may weren't maybe not even expecting. Those are the value points. I get this feedback from members consistently where they go, you know, Lani, I really adjusted the way I manage my personnel or I found this time sheet software that makes my life easier. Or we learned how to use a different ordering system like portal IO. That saves us so much time. If you create time in someone's business or you create increased efficiencies, those again exceed $5 off a speaker. And you want business partners. And so that's really what I hope the goal for any tag number is, is to add partners and support to their business.
Ron: Well, I know that we are bringing a good group from One Firefly to the event and it's the event is one of the highlights of my year every year. So I recommend anyone that's listening or watching to, if you're a Pro Source member to consider going. It's a lot of fun and there's always valuable takeaways. So Lani, what's going on in the world of Pro Source? Any news, what's the state of the union or at least from your point of view as to what's exciting and what's going on in the group.
"We do a member benefit process with every member over the course of the year and we also collect feedback and trends and even business that may not be represented in our group. And we use that data to help guide our ship."
Lani: Thank you for asking and a lot of this is our theme going into summit. But if you look at some of the partners that we've added at the beginning of the year we've increased our depth in software partners. We've increased our depth in lighting solutions. We've expanded into some of the models that support RMR by way of camera and surveillance and networking and platforms that you can manage remotely. So it's been further addressing out of those service partners as well as a couple of strategic vendor partners here and there where we had businesses that were supporting those channels. We do a member benefit process with every member over the course of the year and we also collect feedback and trends and even business that may not be represented in our group. And we use that data to kind of help guide our ship. And then with the leveraging of the strength of our committees, they help us pick the right partners in those respective channels, be it service vendor or a box vendor but really focusing on the management software for your company and the lighting categories, which we know to be very critical. And then the RMR service categories and the partners that will be supporting those. Those are kind of three of the big bullets for 2018, if you will. And a lot more of the meat on the bone will come at the summit in those presentations and those vendors being present in the display hall
Ron: Regarding RMR. I've had a few guests on the show and we've talked about the topic of RMR. You know, I had Greg Simmons from Eagle Century and he was talking and I had Ted, now of Parasol and I had Mike on from Ihiji prior to their acquisition by Control4 and I know that that Pro Source has formed a committee at some point at some point in the last year, maybe more. And a lot of really leading thinkers are on that committee trying to solve the RMR question for Pro Source members. Can you shed any more light on what the verdict is or what the game plan is in terms of making recommendations or is that public knowledge yet or is that still in the works?
Lani: What I can safely say is having taken the feedback that we've done and Andy Roscoe who drives that initiative we've realized that it's not very likely that there's a one size that would fit everybody. Whether you're buying group member or not, or even within our buying group that we can't just put one lunch box in front of everyone. So when I talk a little bit about the variety of partners there, some of which will need to be announced through summit and some of which have already been publicly put forward. We've realized that we need to have an A and a B option to allow our memberships to select what's best fitting on their business level. So sure, whether a warranty provider and a different remote monitoring software in combination with a support element you know, putting those three pieces together, we may need more than one in a given category. And I think that will be one of the takeaways that you'll see better detail at summit. I won't go too much further into the who's who at that point. I'm sure if they're a current vendor, obviously that partnership's already there. So some of those are easy to define, such as Marcel or Centricity or even OvrC. But I won't go too far down that road to say that being able to blend them will be the success for the dealers.
Ron: Okay. If you don't mind, I'd like to switch gears and maybe use the last 10 minutes or so here to talk about some of your perspectives on technology contractors or CI businesses. And maybe we'll start with what are some of your observations on some of the key best practices of what you would, what in your vision you see as some of the most successful businesses that you call on?
Lani: Some of the most successful businesses have embraced process and structure and they have taught other people what it means to develop the team around them. So when I look at companies and the owner is the only manager in the company, that's not necessarily a great thing. You know, I think people all the time will say they need to hire more technicians, but they may not be actually developing the people in technicians that are there. So my counsel there is: treat everyone on your campus as if they are a business person. And don't worry too much about the titles. The same thing in a 10 person company, you shouldn't have 5 or 6 people putting manager on their business card. I know that there's a self fulfilling thing that makes people feel good, but in actuality, utility players in a 10 person company makes that company stronger. Some folks are motivated differently and you see that. So I said earlier, treating our industry like a real industry with career paths, with abilities to step forward and add to your skillset. I've just been fortunate in that respect that I've had a handful of mentors that showed me that path and you've got to remember to present that to your coworkers that there's an ability to be an inventory manager or a warehouse manager or understanding how process and design works and how to be professional in front of clients translates across all roles within a company. So that's kind of where I've been really leaning very hard in using different tools, whether it be software or just regular communication. Some people prefer text versus email versus a phone call. Being able to define what works best with different partners and when to hit pause and make sure the clear line of communication is open. I think that a lot of folks like to say, I get it in the morning to get my crews out the door. While in actuality that's not a meeting, that's a process that could be improved upon and other people empowered to help you do that. So that's really something that I drive further into when I meet people. When I walk into a showroom and everything's in its place and people understand what the common good is and they have development plans for people on staff. And I know that's a big one for Greg Simmons. He's presented for me in that regard before. Knowing that people have steps within this industry and within the company they're in is much more reassuring at times. Than when there's someone that's going to pay them another dollar an hour or not. And that's where I really think focusing back on the people that are in our industry is important.
Ron: How do you, how do you position that the average or could be the above average or below average, but how do you surmise that these business owners would learn to advance in the way that you're describing? What are the avenues you think they should go read books? Do you think they should sit in a seminar? Should they..
Lani: It's a mixture of both. You know, because you have to put it into practice. And so what I said earlier, you can't just make a list of 20 things that you have to get better at or get done with. It's one or two. And if you're not great at utilizing software, you should try to define the process of what it takes to actually implement a software. And I like to recommend portal.io because it doesn't cost anything, but it's a great test for other business management softwares that you might need above and beyond that tool. The same thing if you have a messy warehouse and messy vans and things like that, clean those items up and put them into a alphabetic order and stage your jobs in the computer by the job name because you shouldn't be touching inventory more than one time in one timeout. So putting those practices into place, adding structured meetings to your people and your staff as a leader and then teaching other people in your company how to conduct those meetings, that opportunity is different from business to business. Some people are very good at the people business, some people are very good at the process business, some people are very good at the selling business, but you have to have awareness and people in those other silos to help execute and train into the rest of the team. So to me, sometimes the examples are very basic. It's getting out of that mentality of, well, we've always written invoices this way and we've always communicated with our customer this way and we've always signed for inventory this way. Being willing to look at those things and make a shift or a change and empower your teammates to see things that way and not be afraid to recommend a change. That's really where business gets better. And it's not just in the CI side, it's in the vendor and distribution side of our business as well.
"Some tech thinks they can do it better. Their boss isn't that smart. They're smarter, they're going to go start a business. And thus our industry has grown since the beginning of time in that way in many cases."
Ron: What are your thoughts around the startups? So there are startups happening every day. It's always been that way. It probably always will be that way. You know, some tech thinks they can do it better. Their boss isn't that smart. They're smarter, they're going to go start a business. And thus our industry has grown since the beginning of time in that way in many cases. What are some of the?
Lani: No, I liked the question. A big part of my focus during my time at AVAD was growing those members. And as those members got larger, they eventually had more direct vendors and became large enough to reap benefits from being in buying groups. And, and I could rattle off a bunch of them, but what, what ultimately led to their success, whether they want it to stay small or grow, they kept their list of business partners shorter. They did not add tons of lines. They tried to narrow their business into fewer distribution partners initially. And I personally believe that we need healthy, responsible distribution that feeds employees into the vendor channel as well as feeds businesses into the direct channel and eventually the buying group channel. So for a one to two-man operation that's just beginning or that's been in the business for a year, figure out who your mentors in the market are, whether it's I'm a speaker rep or whether it's a manager at a distribution office or an operation specialist at a distribution office and trying to walk some steps and paths from them. Take counsel and coaching in how you execute your business. Obviously attending sessions and learning things through business practice and trade shows are good, but that day to day reminder from the people that you do business with consistently is the one that stays in front of you. So in any given day, you might work with a distribution two or three times, or you might work with your speaker or your receiver rep two or three times over the course of a week. You know, it's the same thing for us when we're communicating. Just make sure that the content is valuable and that you don't saturate and communicate strategically. So that's my counsel. I've watched those companies grow and it feels good when people that have been in the business 10 or 15 years that are on solid footing now from starting out in a garage. The success stories are still there. You just have to be willing to engage in and be different. But take input.
"It's the idea of giving your people pathways, right? Giving them choices, in many integration firms I don't see as much of that and I don't see as much in many cases, many firms don't even have job descriptions written."
Ron: I want to zero back just for a moment on the people development side of the equation. I agree with you that that's an area that's often overlooked or misunderstood perhaps. And it's the idea of giving your people pathways, right? So giving them choices, you know, in many integration firms I don't see as much of that and I don't see as much in many cases, many firms don't even have job descriptions written. Right. So what's your job and you'll get, you know, cross-eyed look like, what do you mean, what's my job like? And I believe it often starts with knowing what the business needs and writing the job description and then bringing the right people in and moving them around and coaching and nurturing them. What is your opinion, or what guidance can you give around how integrators could do that better or more effectively?
Lani: No, it's funny because that's a very common topic between me and my membership as I travel, you know, across cross all my states. Step one in my humble opinion is you need a development plan for yourself. And I mean that includes you and me and the business owner and you have to put one in place for yourself before you can set that expectation for other people on your team and then that you install some manner of consistency that brings you back to it. Personally, the way our businesses navigate, and my leadership does this with me currently and my previous leadership did this. We meet quarterly and we talk about the objectives and the areas that we wanted to bring attention to. Areas where we may have met expectations and areas where we may have come up just short. And that's really bringing the attention back to that and having that type of meeting as opposed to 7:30 AM and we load the vans to get on the road. Again, I don't view that as a meeting and it certainly isn't a development cycle. So that's kinda dear to my heart is treat them like business people. Have a plan for yourself and then try to have a plan for them. And second to that, when they come into that meeting with you, that you assign them to bring something to that meeting that they want to work on, something that's important to them. My favorite exercise was always you have one win, one miss and one opportunity. If you're a leader in a company and you collect that data from your employees consistently, even just via post it note, you'll eventually find trends within your own company and your employees are participating in that exercise. So they ultimately believe that they're providing you the feedback. You have to respond to it in order for them to gain faith in it. So that's my roundabout way of starting the people development process and giving an exercise that I've seen work.
Ron: Well that is gold. That's sage advice. Lani. And by the way, Josh from portal.io just commented on Facebook. He says, Lani is one of the best dealer advocates in the industry. So thank you, Josh, appreciate you posting. And Lani, thank you very much for joining us. I have a question for you. When you're not helping dealers and helping vendors. What are you doing for fun? What do you do outside of the CEDIA world?
Lani: Trying not to lose golf balls. Attend multiple South Carolina athletic events. I seldom miss home football games. But I'll go to a basketball game or a soccer match or I love their baseball team as well. That's part of my fabric. But being an average golfer and a below-average fishermen is my consistent. I'm good at casting, but not so good at catching.
Ron: Amen. I'm actually taking my son camping this weekend. We're going to go Friday through Sunday and we're probably going to do a lot of casting. Last time we went, there was a lot of casting. There was no catching, but we're going to try to change that trend this time. We'll see how that goes. Yes, sir. So Lani, thank you very much, sir. Thank you for giving us just letting us I was going to say borrow, but it's not borrowed, you gave us some of your time. So thank you very much. It's very generous of you and I wish you continued success at Pro Source.
Lani: Oh, absolutely. Thank you so much. And look forward to seeing you in Nashville if not sooner.
Ron: Now I'm going to see you around the corner. Thank you sir. All right ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining me for another episode of Automation Unplugged, brought to you by One Firefly. So I hope you can join me next week. Next week. We're not going to be on Wednesday. We're going to be on Thursday. I'm actually doing some traveling on Tuesday and Wednesdays, so needed to move things around a little bit. By the way, Sherry just posted Lani, you rock. Yes, Lani, you do rock. That was a great interview and for those of you out there, again, thanks for joining us and we will see you next time on the next episode of Automation Unplugged. And if you're going to be out at the Pro Source summit in early March definitely stop by and say hello to us or stop by and say hello to Lani. So alright guys, have a great rest of your day and a great rest of your week. Be well.
Lani Godfrey is currently working with the ProSource buying group covering the South East region. He began his career in 1995 at Circuit City as a retail sales associate and since then have worked in Custom Sales and Installation, Purchasing and Inventory, Operations and Process Management in Distribution.
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.