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Automation Unplugged

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

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Home Automation Podcast Episode #94: An Industry Q&A With Ian Williams

In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, Ian Williams of Aspire Audio Video Solutions shares why attention to process and operational excellence is the right approach for most integrators.

Home Automation Podcast Episode #94: An Industry Q&A With Ian Williams

This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Ian Williams. Recorded live on Wednesday January 8th at 12:30 p.m. EST.

About Ian Williams

Ian is an accomplished business leader with over 19 years of experience in project management, product delivery, and operations in the Custom Audio Visual Industry. Ian has owned and operated three integration firms and was fortunate to successfully exit his 2nd business through an acquisition.

Ian is the recipient of 12 CEDIA awards, was named Integrator of the Year by CES/CTA in 2015. Ian has also been featured on the covers of CePro and on Residential Systems magazines. In the fall of 2019 Ian moved to Charleston, SC with his family and has started his newest integration firm, Aspire Audio Video Solutions.

Recorded live on Wednesday, January 8th at 12:30pm EST.

Interview Recap

Here are some of the topics Ron had the opportunity to discuss with Ian Williams:

  • How he approached selling his business in 2017
  • His business development plan for starting a new business in a new market
  • Why attention to process and operational excellence is the right approach for most integrators

SEE ALSO: Home Automation Podcast Episode #93: A Custom Integration Industry Q&A With Jamie Briesemeister

Transcript:


Ron: Hello everybody! Ron Callis here with another episode of Automation Unplugged. This is episode number 94. And of course, Automation Unplugged is brought to you by my day job over at One Firefly. Today is Wednesday, January 8th. Let me go ahead and jump over to Facebook just to make sure that we are coming through loud and clear. Just bear with me here. All right, it looks like we are. If you're out there on Facebook and you are watching, give us a like and throw us a comment, let us know how you're doing and, or where you're coming from. Wes says, "I've been waiting all year for Automation Unplugged." I know, Wes, we are back. We are now in 2020. We've started a new year. I hope you all had a nice and restful break and time away with your friends and family for the holidays. We're now getting right back into action here. I'm going to bring our guest in. I have the one and only Ian Williams! He is with a company called Aspire Audio Video Solutions. Let me go ahead and bring in Ian. Ian! How are you sir?

Ian: Hey! What's going on Ron?

Ron: How's it going today?

Ian: It's wonderful. 66 degrees and sunny here in Charleston, South Carolina.

Ron: Awesome. And Wes actually just says, "Hey Ian!"

Ian: Hey Wes, what's going on?

Ron: Ian, you and I have known each other for quite a while, but our audience of audio/video and automation industry professionals may not know you or know about your background. As always, I'd love to start there. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Ian: Yeah, sure. To kind of give the 10,000-foot view as I always do, this will actually be close to 20 years, this year that I've been involved in the A/V industry. And of course, like a lot of us, I started out in car audio way back when I was a teenager. I tried the whole college thing, didn't work out. And then I actually had my first son when I was 19, so college was cut short, had to come home and become a dad and get involved in some sort of trade. I started as an HVAC technician. That didn't work for me. I opened up the Yellow Pages if everybody knows what the Yellow Pages are still and I thought, "Heck, I love theaters. I love music. Why not go work for some sort of AV company?" So I opened up the Yellow Pages and called them one by one and got some interviews. My first job was with a home entertainment company roughly around 2000 with Mike and Suzanne. That's how it all started. And from there, did some residential work, then went and worked in the Pentagon for a couple of years worked in a mass to military command center. That was fun. I learned a lot and that's really where I honed in on a lot of my technical skills. You know, XLRs and everything. That's where I really learned my technical skills. From there, I went back into the residential world. Then in 2004, I was presented with an opportunity to go into ownership with a business partner with Scott. He still owns and runs Front Row Entertainment today. He and I started Front Row in 2000 and we quickly grew the company, except he had one vision and I had another vision like most co-owners do and we amicably split up.

The next day I had $500 in my pocket, this was 2007, and opened up Encore Custom Audio Video. For the next 10 years, I grew Encore organically from working out of the house to a 5,000 square foot showroom facility with full blown Crestron, we had the first Atmos theater in the fall of 2015 if I recall on the East coast. That was very exciting when Transformers came out with Michael Bay. Over those years, I found us to be very successful in winning a resounding 12 CEDIA awards. We were named Integrator of the Year at CES in 2015, Mark of Excellence Awards covers on CE pro and Residential Systems Magazine. I have gone through sort of the gamut and 2017 decided to sell Encore to another local integrator about 30 miles away. I was hired back along with my entire staff to go work for them. I had a two-year contract. And then after that, I left there to become the Director of Operations for Starr Systems in Maryland, which is now part of Bravas. Everybody knows about Bravas. And at that point is when my family and I decided to move to wonderful Charleston, South Carolina to be closer to family. That sort of sums it up in a real short nutshell from 10,000 feet.

Ron: Well, there's a lot to unpack there. I guess I'll start with where you ended. How are you enjoying living in Charleston?

Ian: It is very different from Washington DC. The DC area is about 7 million people and there's about 800,000 people in Charleston. Not only is it smaller, but it's also just a different way of living. Things are so much slower pace.

Ron: You're not in a flood zone, right?

Ian: No. But very close by the Wando river is here in Mount pleasant. That is a flood zone. Fortunately, we do not require flood insurance where my wife and I live. But Charleston's a beautiful city. If you love water, if you love the beaches if you love sunsets and sunrises. It's definitely a wonderful place to be.

Ron: Now, when you were going through your background and you, conveniently or interestingly, you started your second business when you were the sole owner, you started that in '07, which is the same year I started Firefly Design Group, which became one Firefly. So we have that in common. But you went on to take that startup business and ultimately bring home a ton of hardware. There was a good run there for years where you were winning regularly, major categories at CEDIA award competitions and then all the way you became CTA integrator of the year, which is just a really impressive feat.

For those that are listening, that are wondering how do they go about going from where they're at today to ultimately doing projects that are award-worthy, how did you do that? When you look at that now, in hindsight, how do you think you did that?

Ian: Yeah, so that's that's a great question. For many years, we started in 2007, which if we rewind that was about the worst time to open up a small business.

"Timed it perfectly to be the worst possible time in history in the last 100 years to start a business."

Ron: Timed it perfectly to be the worst possible time in history in the last 100 years to start a business.

Ian: We incorporated in I think December 2000, we were going into '08. And quite frankly, I looked at my business, I was entering that business much more from a technician standpoint. I didn't go to business school. I didn't earn a degree. I had a lot of learning to do. I think that's how a lot of integrators start, even today. You have that natural maturation where you start out as a technician, maybe go into project management, leading a group of men and women, you gained some management style background. And you one day wake up and say, "Hey, I see the boss making pretty good money and it seems like a viable business option. I'm going to try this for myself." I was no different in that regard and that's exactly what I thought.

I thought I had the skills to open up my second business. But really I had no idea even then what it took to really run a business. And what I mean by that as, you know, P and L, taxes, all of the things that come with it. I thought, "Hey, you just get on, you order a couple of equipment, you go out, execute, collect a check and goes in the bank. And all as well." Well, there was a lot of learning in between. We incorporated in '07 but I actually didn't enter into a CEDIA award until 2012. I think in between that five year period, I had a lot of growing up to do in terms of how to physically run a business. And like most of us, we fall flat on her face. That's really how you learn, you make mistakes, you fall on your face, you get back up and you say, "Wow, I'm never going to do that again." It took a little while to understand that. And even at 2012, I thought my firm, which was a little over a million dollars at the time in revenue, I thought we were probably too small for the CEDIA Awards.

I always had that in the back of my head at that time, that we were potentially going up against some, some much larger AV companies and that I was just wasting my time. And that wasn't the case at all. CEDIA had price ranges up to a hundred thousand, a hundred to a quarter million. And I worked on a really, really cool project. I did it with myself and one other person because the other guys were working on some other jobs and I said, "You know, what, what the heck? Let's give it a try. Let's enter as a home theater." And sure enough, we won. And I know you were there. I walked up the middle and gave you a high five and you guys actually helped us out with that award in terms of some of the design and paperwork along with a couple of other people like Paradise Theaters. It came to me as a complete shock, to be honest with you. But it kinda set the wheels in motion and gave me a lot of confidence that I probably didn't have before as to we're on to something, meaning we're doing things the right way because those awards are judged by your peers. And clearly you don't get awards and things like that unless you're doing something right. So if anything, I came out of it knowing that Encore was on the track to do something fairly well and that we had a good team in place to execute work.

And from there, from 2012 to 2017, we won 12 awards. Within a five-year span, I haven't done any research, but we did have a pretty good run there. And what you said about CTA and CES and all the other things that came with it, was in that time span as well, so a really good five years for the company.

"When you look around and look at integration companies, there aren't many that successfully sell."

Ron: If I were to look at the fact that in 2015 you became CTA integrator of the year and then a couple of years later you were able to successfully sell your business. I know many listening, look at their business and they go, "You know, how would I go about finding a suitor? How would I go about finding someone that would give me the value that I believe this business is worth?" And you successfully exited. I'd love if, for what you're able or willing to share with my audience here. How did you do that? That's not common. When you look around and look at integration companies, there aren't many that successfully sell.

Ian: There isn't. And even to this day. I don't see much of that going on. Of course, most recently we had Bravas, which is a little bit different makeup and I was actually part of that for a year working with Starr Systems. But it's a very interesting question and I'm not sure that I went into Encore in 2007 thinking to myself, "I want to sell the business now." It probably wasn't until we started gaining national recognition for the company that the thought entered my mind. Because of the accolades and because we were starting to grow as a company, both financially both with employees and gaining national attention that I thought maybe we had something to sell. Otherwise, it's hard to sell just yourself in a lot of cases, although I'm sure it's been done in small acquisitions.

Really what prompted the whole thing was really interesting. My neighbor where I had my business was a company that did a lot of 4G networks. So they did a lot of broadcasting antennas. Actually, one of my really good friends works for the company. We saw them all the time coming in and out. Their business was similar in terms of service business and they provided much more commercial than we did. I always spoke to Andrew, the owner, and he brought me in his office one time and he said, "Would you ever be willing to sell your company?" He said, "We think your business has a lot of synergies with what we're doing or in a lot of conference rooms. We're in a lot of commercial buildings. We're constantly in front of the CEOs and we're doing our thing, but I think we can make this work." And I mulled over it. And I said, "Yeah, I mean if it was the right situation. Of course. Absolutely." And I believe in 2012, he gave me an offer which I declined at that time just because I thought Encore was really hitting its stride at that time and I thought we were going to make a lot of significant and crucial moves to grow. I just wasn't ready, but it was flattering none the less. That's what kinda got the gears turning.

And in 2017, he approached me again about selling the company and so that's when it really started to turn the cycle. In early 2017 about February, March, they actually gave me a due diligence package to fill out and I was actually going to sell my company to them. We kind of put that on the back burner, I had some large projects starting and ending and we kind of said, "Hey, let's move forward, but we are going to kind of hold off." In the meantime, really interesting, CE Pro Top 100 happened. Jason Knott reached out to me and asked me if I would like to be on one of the board discussions to talk about showrooms. We had just finished our showroom a year and a half prior and I said I'd be happy to. I am really good friends with Amer Din. I don't know if you know Amer, but he was a Branch Manager at AVID, then worked for Bethesda Systems, and was currently at Casaplex in Maryland. I saw him at CE Pro Top 100 and he asked me about how my business was going and I said, "Oh, it's great. You know, we're growing and things are good." But I was honest with him because I had known Amir for about 10 years. I just said, "Yeah, I think I'm just kind of starting to get a little burnout, it's just kinda going through the motions at this point." Lost some of the fire, and it was a grind at this point, waking up, doing the same thing. I kind of lost a little bit of luster. Later on that summer, we were really doing well. 

I called him up out of the blue and I was curious as to how they handled their sales structure for their salespeople, whether it was 100% commission, was it a base salary? And as soon as I opened my mouth, he says, "Are you still interested in selling the business? "And I said, "Well, I'm always open to having that discussion. Never say never. Right?" And he goes, are you willing to meet me and Derek Goldstein next week? The owner of Casaplex. And I said, "Sure, why not, talks never hurt." So from that discussion to kind of wrap it up, seven, eight months later, I sold the business to Casaplex.

Ron: Wow. I want to transition here, cause I'm just mindful of the time and how much time we do have with you.

Ian: I just want to end that on one note for anybody thinking about selling their company, one stipulation I did have with the sale of my company is that I was to be hired back in a managerial role along with all of my employees. That was important to me.

Ron: That was a term of the deal that you wanted to make sure happened.

Ian: Yes, I didn't want anybody to be without work. That was important to me because Encore was certainly a family environment.

Ron: You had a stint at Starr Systems was that acquired and absorbed into the Bravas acquisition that happened this past fall. You exited and made the decision for you and your family to ultimately move to Charleston, South Carolina. I've been to Charleston, a beautiful city, wonderful food, and restaurants. And you decided to do something crazy, ambitious, which is you're going to go do it again. You're going to start a new integration firm. Can you share with us, what was your thought process? Why do that, for example, versus "getting a job"? Why go start a new company? And then when you made that decision, how did you design your plan to be successful?

Ian: Really great questions. When we made the decision to move down here as a family, of course, it was a family decision. I have three sons. We all sat at the family dinner table, made a couple of trips down here and I have family here. That was one of the deciding factors. My mother and my sister live here, have for 13 years. And then my in-laws live just a couple of hours away in Wilmington, North Carolina. So that was a big deciding factor. It's just not like we uprooted and just moved to somewhere. We made a decision and one of the things was that I actually still had a contract with Starr, interestingly enough. So when Sean Weiner and I agreed that I was going to move down here, but we were going to sort of wean myself out of Starr Systems over the course of the next couple of months. And this was all during the Bravos acquisition. Even at that time, I wasn't sure whether I was going to work for Bravas or not on the corporate side. None of that had been decided.

When I first got here, I was actually working from home running Starr Systems as the Director of Operations which was roughly about 60 people and flying back to Washington, DC, and Baltimore every two weeks. But I knew that that was ending. And so my plan was in order to understand Charleston because of a new town, new people. I had no idea what the building was like here, what relationships were like here, whether the work was done mostly in the city, was it done in Kiawah Island? Was it done on Daniel Island? Was it the beaches North Charleston? I had no idea. My thought process was, the best thing that I thought that we could do is come here and go work for somebody. In a management position.

Unfortunately, there's just not a whole lot of companies here in Charleston. There are a few and there are a few that do really good work. But they're not always necessary hiring. Right? There are smaller companies. I did find a company, I did go and work for them for about two months, and it wasn't intentional that I was going to quit, but it was within that two-month timeframe that I really got an itch to own my own business again. When I was hired for them, the intention was for me to actually take over the Charleston area. The current branch manager was going to go open up a new facility in Charlotte, North Carolina. My intentions were to grow as the branch manager of this company in Charleston. Unfortunately, it wasn't that I wasn't happy, it was a great firm, we have a great relationship to this day. It's just, I'll have to be honest. Ever since I sold the company in 2017, there's been a fire in my mind and in my soul that just hasn't been sparked and completed. I just really felt that this was the time. I felt confident. The three-year break that I took, I learned a lot working for larger organizations in terms of process. I thought that if I did it again this time, I could do it even better.

Ron: Let's get tactical here without giving or sharing any of your secret sauce. You're in a new market. They don't know Ian Williams. They don't know your legacy brand, Encore. You're entering a new market, you know stuff, you have an industry specialty through experience and industry knowledge. What were you thinking of how you were going to go out and develop business? Let's talk biz dev, what is it?

Ian: One of the first things I noticed here when I moved to the Charleston, which of course when you move to a smaller town, they're all great and they have this charm about them, but they're not like LA or Miami. I'm not insulting anybody that lives in a small town. I like the small town feel. But there's not a sense of urgency here. I noticed that we have moved into a new house here and even the subcontractors that were doing a lot of work. We had a bunch of stuff on and there was just never a sense of urgency with the subcontractors. And after talking with a lot of the neighbors, that seems to be a reoccurring theme. One of the things that I thought would be a major difference-maker and something that I would lead with going into this biz dev, was that we were different from what we say that we're going to do and with what we do, meaning our integrity. When we say we're going to do something, we're going to do it. In a lot of these meetings, I've led with that and I've kept these meetings very short.

One of the things that I did, is I joined the CHBA which is the Custom Home Builders Association of Charleston. I got a list and I was very tactical and mindful of a strategic email that I composed. I sent it out to every single biller - production and custom. All I asked was for a meeting, 15 minutes of their time. I actually had a very high success rate. With that, I was able to compile about 10 to 15 face-to-face meetings with these builders. And in the meantime, anybody that didn't follow up with me, we drove around and dropped off handwritten notes with Starbucks gift cards. It was sort of a secondary follow up. While we were doing this, I was doing the same with the AIA. I was doing the same with the ASI ID. I was doing the same with Crane, which is a local architectural firm here just for the Charleston area. And then what I did is I, I leaned on my CEIDA years and all the people I knew at CEDIA. Being a registered COI. I leaned on that and so I teamed up with the Custom Home Builders Association and I will be doing lunch and learns once a month in front of architects, builders, and interior designers. I've had an extreme amount of luck with this. Matter of fact, another builder just reached out to me this morning, the Vice President and a Purchasing Agent booked a meeting for the 21st.

That being said, it's one thing to get the meeting, that's the first half of it. The second thing is, what do you say when you go into the meeting being the "new guy" with a brand new business, not knowing anybody? What does that approach look like? That approach for me has been very simple. Doing a lot of listening during those meetings, trying to understand why they're not happy. What are they not receiving from the local integrators here currently doing their work? Asking a lot of strategic questions, why did they take the meeting with me? Because if they didn't have a need or if they didn't have an interest, they wouldn't have asked me to come in and meet with me anyway. People are too busy nowadays. I did a lot of listening and my follow up to what I heard was, they were struggling with people showing up and finishing the jobs. It wasn't so much the pre-wires and the trim out, it was the final execution. It was that last 5%. And so as you know, talking with enough builders and being in this industry long enough, what happens is, the clients end up calling the builders. What I gathered was that clients were just sick and tired of being sick and tired.

They were tired of the runaround and so they were calling the builders and saying they weren't happy. "We can't get in touch with so-and-so." "This hasn't worked in a month." Something needs to happen. They didn't come out and just say that, but that's what I get. My one line to them is the proof is in the pudding. I could sit here and talk to you until you're blue in the face and tell you how great Aspire Audio Video Solutions is. All I'm asking is for an opportunity and that was it. That's closed 70% of the deals. I said, just give me one opportunity to show you that we do things a little bit differently. And that's it. But you better bet your ass if they give you an opportunity, you better go out and execute.

Ron: What are your goals for 2020? How would you determine it? Is it so many relationships? Is it a revenue goal? Is it to do so many types of projects? Is it to be a little higher a year from now?

Ian: This is such a different experience from 2007. I opened that company with $500 in my pocket. I literally had gone out and bought some computer supplies, was working out of the house. And this time's a little bit different, go round. Over the years that I've learned what to invest in and what not to invest in, what's really important and what's not important. Where I thought that the shiny things over here was important. Now that I'm 42 and this is my third business, those things aren't so shiny anymore. For me, it's about making money and making clients happy.

"The relationships that I garner within the community with the interior designers, the builders, and the architects are what's going to funnel this business in Q3 and Q4."

My agenda and the way I went about opening this business is very different than the last two companies that I opened. For me, this year, especially in Q1 and Q2, are very, very important with relationships. The relationships that I garner within the community with the interior designers, the builders, and the architects are what's going to funnel this business in Q3 and Q4. In the meantime, what we need to do is work with someone like yourself, which you guys are working with us and helping us with our SEO and our branding and our blogs, getting some of those organic homeowners to call and get work that way. But we're really hitting the builders, architects hard, and interior designers, very, very hard and doing a lot of local education.

Ron: Just out of curiosity, in the past, you were COI certified. Did you have to do anything to re up that certification?

"I'm really big on process and that rather than more of the sales side and the education and operations."

Ian: I did not know. I called CEDIA and I've done enough of it over the years at Casaplex. I took a hiatus at Starr at nine months because the position I was in, it just didn't afford me to go out and do those types of things. But now I already have 10, I think COI's scheduled for the 2020 year. Along with a lot of sponsorships that we've been, blessed to be able to contribute to in the local community, which is going to get our name out there. And again, it's really about the execution. I'm really big on process and that rather than more of the sales side and the education and operations.

Ron: To close this out, I want to cover a couple of quick categories. One is I'm going to get your contact information out there. If those are listening or watching either here live or they're listening to the podcast after the fact, how can people either follow your business or follow you personally?

Ian: Anybody can reach me with any questions, concerns from A to Z at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. They can reach me at (843) 841-6700. Someone who answers the phone will know how to get in touch with me. Also on Facebook, anybody with any questions in terms of business and operations, feel free to DM me or give me a call. Personally, I'm a true believer in helping others within this crazy industry that we call home.

Ron: Last thing I'd love you to cover, Ian, if you're game. Those that are listening that maybe feel stuck in terms of where their business is at, what would be with some specific areas of focus? What would be some things you'd advise they focus on if they want to take their business to the next level and grow it?

Ian: I'm an ops guy. Always have been, always will be. I can sell only because I love what I do. It kind of comes naturally, but I'm not a hunter, I'm not a gatherer when it comes to sales and I never will be but I do love talking about our industry. First and foremost is process, process, process. Wash, rinse, repeat. Don't make this more complicated than it has to be. I think a lot of times when talking with others, we have a tendency to overcomplicate this industry.

Of course, we're on the verge of cutting edge technology on a daily basis and it's forever changing. We don't always have to be in that mindset. Find out what works within your own organization and stick to it and write a process around that. Or better yet, write the process first. That took me a long time to understand that without a process you're just driving around

Ron: When you say write the process, and I agree with you, I want to hammer this home a little bit better. Give us an example of an operational activity within an integration firm and how one would go about writing that process, and then the purpose of writing that process.

Ian: Everybody's different because all the size companies are different. Whether you're a one or two-man operation or a $5 million company and you have 25 employees, or if you're like Starr, $10 million company and you have 60 employees. I think it's the same across the board, it's just how granular you're going to get. You have to have a business plan. That's the Quran, that's the Bible, that's the roadmap. Without a business plan, how do you know what your goals are? How do you know what your expectations are? How do you expect to know where you're going to get to and how and when? You can refer to that business plan every month and say, "Hey, am I on track?" And then, of course, revise that business plan quarterly because you may not be on track, you may be ahead of schedule.

You want to constantly be looking at your business plan, revise your business plan. Secondly, I'm a huge proponent of some sort of financial software which is going to be QuickBooks. There's a ton of software out there, whether it's D-Tools, SimplyReliable.

Ron: What is the reason to document a process? I'm going to zero back to my question. I'm going to restate it. What is an example of a process within an integration company that should be documented? And once you've documented it, what do you do with that written document? Like what's an activity that happens in business from installing a TV to building an equipment rack? What's a good example and help my audience understand what is the benefit of having produced the said documentation?

Ian: At the end of the day, it comes down to a P and L. You have a profit, you have a loss. Are you making money on the job site or you're not making money on a job site? That's the purpose of process. If you don't know how many labor hours in your departments, whether it's just you, whether it's project management, whether it's design and engineering programming, installation throughout your three phases, which we typically look at stuff, pre wires, trim finals -- if you don't have a process for that and understand your labor hours, how do you know what type of money you're one making? And two, how do you know about what process to improve upon?

I'll give you an example. If you have a hundred hours that you sold on a project, and let's just for the sake of ease of this time, you divide it 20, 20, 20, 20, 20. You have a pre-wire trim, final programming and design, and an engineer - 20 hours each. It took me 40 hours to program that job. If it's not documented and if it's not documented as to what we did and what that process was, how can we fix that on the next job we sell that is the same job?

What you're going to do, is you're going to continually lose 20 hours on that same programming job every single time. Well, why not make that adjustment charge to 40 hours? And then that way you're not losing money. You're actually making your P and L that you set out to make or your gross margin because what you do, and this has been my experience, Ron, over the years, we all know what we're making on the black boxes. We all know what we're making on the projectors, the TVs, the amplifiers, the speakers. Typically it's a 50 point margin, sometimes 40, sometimes 30, sometimes 60, sometimes 70. We know what that number is. The number we don't know in what this industry is terrible at is labor. Labor is the most difficult thing to try to figure out. One thing that I did that is complete that one day I'll get to share it with the world, somehow. I spent about 18 months developing what's called a labor calculator. It allows you to plug in about 25 or 30 blocks and then it generates six different areas of labor, generates the total hours, turns out the time. It's a very intensive Excel spreadsheet that I created. What I can do with that is I can take those numbers and then put them into something like Simply Reliable to ensure and then cross-reference and make sure my labor hours are on point.

Labor hours are either going to make your business or it's going to kill your business. That's one. Secondly, Is the service and support. Most companies out there are probably not charging accurately for their service and support because what they get thrown in their face all the time is, "I just spent $100,000 with you, six months down the road that should be working. Why should I pay $150 for you to come out here and service and support my system? This should work forever." That's about setting proper expectations upfront and that it's electronics. there's going to be a problem. In my new business, it is non-negotiable that every client of mine is on a service plan. Non-Negotiable. It's written in the proposal.

Ron: Does that mean you're charging the client some amount of money and they're agreeing to some terms of service post-sale and post-installation?

Ian: Yes. And if they don't, they won't be a client of ours because it's impossible. We struggle as an industry so much on the service and support side. Whether you have your own service and support team internally or you use something like Parasol or OneVision which are both great companies. We personally use Parasol. It's very inexpensive, in my eyes, $50 for 24/7 support a month, it's a no brainer. Working with two larger integration firms, the service and support departments were the most difficult to run.

Ron: Yeah. I think we could spend a whole other hour talking about service and support and maintenance plans. We'll put a fork in that one if you will allow. I'm mindful of your time and your next meeting. Believe it or not Ian, we've been talking here for almost 50 minutes. I wanna thank you for being gracious with your time and your willingness to share so freely and transparently with my audience. It's been great having you on.

Ian: Absolutely loved every minute of it.

Ron: Awesome. It was great having you on Ian.

Ian: Yeah, absolutely. Take care, Ron.

Ron: All right guys, gals. There you have it. Episode number 94 of Automation Unplugged. I hope you enjoyed the interview. If you have not done so already, please go over to your favorite podcast platform and search for Automation Unplugged, you'll see we're doing our best to get certainly all-new shows up on the platform for podcasts. You can subscribe and then in due time we're going to get our older shows up there as well. So definitely take a peek, check that out and subscribe. And on that note, I will bid you adieu and I will see you next time. Thanks, everyone.

SHOW NOTES:

Accomplished business leader and industry innovator, CEO of Aspire Audio Video Solutions, Ian Williams, shares his unique experience from selling one of his previous businesses to starting a new business in a new market.

Ron Callis is the CEO of One Firefly, LLC, a digital marketing agency based out of South Florida and creator of Automation Unplugged. Founded in 2007, One Firefly has quickly became the leading marketing firm specializing within the integrated technology and security space. The One Firefly team work hard to create innovative solutions to help Integrators boost their online presence, such as the elite website solution, Mercury Pro.

Resources and links from the interview:

Make sure to follow Ian Williams and Aspire Audio Video Solutions on Facebook @AspireAVS and LinkedIn @AspireAVS. Visit their website at aspireavs.com

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