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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 #96: An Industry Q&A With Ian Dohalick

In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, Ian Dohalick of Relative Home Systems shares on handling business growth while experiencing major personal losses.

Home Automation Podcast Episode #96: An Industry Q&A With Ian Dohalick

This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Ian Dohalick. Recorded live on Wednesday, January 29th, 2020 at 12:30 p.m. EST.

About Ian Dohalick

After 20 years of being in this industry, Ian Dohalick began his career in 2003 replacing DMP panels around the US with ADT for CHASE banks. In 2006, he began working under Kevin Buchannan and Sven Neer with Home Entertainment Inc. before getting recruited to get into the “larger” automation world at the end of 2010. In 2017, he landed his current position as partner with Relative Home Systems.

During this time, Ian was also working closely with his father on building legal marijuana grow facilities in Colorado. He’s been able to use his knowledge and experience to assist in creating the Biophilia and Wellness portion of their business at Relative Home Systems. Being exposed to the medical and recreational concepts surrounding the marijuana industry, he’s able to bring a unique perspective on how these new ventures into the wellness sector can ultimately help end-users and our industry as a whole.

Interview Recap

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

  • Handling business growth while experiencing major personal losses
  • The changes within the Houston marketplace in the past few years
  • Transitioning from a new hire employee at Relative Home Systems to becoming a partner
  • Impact of wellness solutions including green walls and dedicated wellness spaces in the home.

SEE ALSO: Home Automation Podcast Episode #95: A Custom Integration Industry Q&A With Miranda Grantham and Marc Fisher


Ron: Ron Callis here with another episode of Automation Unplugged. Thank you for joining us. I am pumped because I get to bring you one of my friends from the industry, a longtime customer of One Firefly, and all around the super fascinating individual - Ian Dohalick of Relative Home Systems out of Houston. Hey, Ian! How are you?

Marc: Good morning, everyone. Good, man. You doing all right?

Ron: I just had lunch, I just wolfed it down. I've been a busy bee. I was at the doctor's this morning and I'm here now with you and we're gonna have fun on episode number 96 of Automation Unplugged. And where are you coming to us from currently?

Marc: My home office in Woodlands, Texas.

Ron: And Woodlands is in Northern Houston?

Marc: Yes, just about 45 minutes North of Houston, roughly if traffic's good.

Ron: Got it. Okay. All right. Ian, I know you, I know your background, but I would love for our audience to get to know you and understand a little bit about where you're coming from. Do you mind taking us down that path?

Marc: No, I don't. And I'll save a little bit of time 'cause I don't want to get too detailed with it. Essentially, I started in this industry as a lot of the other guys in car audio, but a little bit different in the sense that when I got into the industry it was pre-wiring first. I mean literally just started from the very bottom and continue to work myself up from there. In a very short period of time, I was running a crew doing a few houses a week and then after that, my growth just kind of went exponential from there. I really picked up on it fast, understood connections, understood distances, understood how to properly run the wire, what kind of wire to use at a time that I felt, we were just now starting to talk about introducing Ca6 into homes, which is interesting if you think about it. We're still Cat3 and Cat5 at this point in time.

Ron: What are those years when you started in car audio?

Marc: Oh... 2001, 2002? That sound about right? At least in the Houston market, I'll put it that way. I know that California is usually a little bit further ahead of us in the tech curve, so is New York. But here we have residential and apartment complexes, houses, you name it. Back when we were competing against the electricians doing all the work before a low voltage company was something that you just went out and hired. There were challenges that came with that, understanding what your place was, what we were trying to do for everyone, and then competing against the electricians was pretty difficult to do from a pricing standpoint.

I got out of that and I got into the retail side with a company called Home Entertainment Inc in Houston. They were essentially a spin-off of the original Home Entertainment Inc that became Tweeter before they went out of business. There was no correlation between the two companies outside of the owner of the company used to be married to the daughter of the original Home Entertainment Inc, Kevin Buchanan. Really good guy. Very big, he played a big role in my industry. I'll give him credit on that and if he's listening or if somebody sends this to him, I'm gonna get a phone call, you wait. Also, Sven Neer is listening. He's probably sitting there laughing. Kevin told us one time that he will get emails and phone calls from employees he used to have would give him compliments about his management and all these things. What was funny about that at the time was that we thought he was just nuts, he was just a wild, he was just a wild manager.

The point of saying that is, he taught me a lot about business, inventory. Sven taught me a lot about management, how to treat people. At the time when I was young, I really didn't have that. You know, I was out in the field. There wasn't a lot of interaction between clients and myself outside of other builders, specifically project managers that I would communicate with. And the sales side was all done internally for the company. Past that, I took a liking to Savant, this is roughly 2007, 2008. I went to a training and that was my introduction. Home Entertainment Inc. was a retail high-end Macintosh, Sonus Farber theater company, there was no automation at the time, they were universal remotes, surround sound, receivers, you name it. It was a really nice setting inside and we were right out here in The Woodlands. It was a really nice place to work.

Ron: I don't remember the exact year Savant launched, but 2008 had to have been right around that timeframe?

Marc: Actually, Dan, and I can't remember Dan's last name to save my life, but Dan, has been one of the main reps for Savant in the lower southern hemisphere for a long time. It was his first week because I went to dinner with him and a couple of other people that were just hired there. That's kind of how new it was when I went and I honestly was ignorant of the fact of how big that side of the industry already was because I wasn't exposed to it before, just the home theater portion I was. I just wanted to know everything about Savant, Crestron, Control4.

My career just kinda jumped. I was interviewed by another company that scouted me out from Home Entertainment Inc. Worked there for a short while and learned a lot about restructuring a business, cause that's what they did when they hired me on. I helped reset that up, there was a lot of things that we had to figure out how to not let builders down that we'd had contracts with whenever he was doing a restructuring. A lot of PR went into that, I learned a lot, and I was scouted out again by another company at a trade show which is now part of the Bravas group here in Houston called SES. Kevin Roach over there has always been a mentor of mine. I've got a lot of respect for that guy as well.

Ron: I just saw Kevin last week at the Savant Integrators Summit in Vegas.

Marc: I'm super excited for those guys. I hope that all pulls out, I'm rooting for them. Even though they're competitors of mine now, our industry needs to keep going, man and we need as many people in it as we can with the experience that we need to continue on. I'm really rooting for him. I worked with Kevin for a while, loved it, helped them grow. We moved from a small building to a larger building during my tenure with them. And after that I started receiving text messages from my partner, Boyd Purkis is one of my partners - there's three of us, interestingly enough. He had a picture of an empty parking spot outside of the building and he said, "Hey man, when does your truck," you know, everyone in Texas drives a truck, "when is your truck going to be in this parking spot?" I didn't respond the first couple of times. Eventually, I called him and we had a really good conversation and at this time, I thought I was going to get out of the industry in full. There were some personal things going on in my life, some decisions I had to make. I had my daughter around this time and my wife and I were thinking about having a second one. There was a lot of life change going on, a lot of which usually only parents understand what I'm talking about when I say that I'm trying to adjust, how you take care of more bodies in your house. It was interesting to be the educator, not the one needing to be educated, you know.

After going through that I decided, "You know what? I'm gonna make a deal with these guys. I'm going to give it a shot, I want to see how everything goes." We signed the contract for me to be an employee for roughly three years. At the end of that contract, if I wanted to make a partner, I'd have that option if they still wanted to have me around. That was October of 2013 when I was hired on there and roughly '17 was really when I started playing the role of an owner, and then 18 was when it became official. That's really why I kind of say that the beginning of my career is pretty boring. But it was just a lot of hard work and repeat business at that point to get me where I needed to be. There was a lot of people that doubted if the relationship would work between three partners. It was tough at first but I've just learned a lot. I'm a guy of experience more than anything else. I did not graduate from college. I did try college, it moved too slow for me. I can't sit still. A good employee and friend of mine once called me a fire-starter. He said that in order for me to be entertained, I've got to just light the fire and see who's going to jump on board with me and go for it. That's what it's been like. My two partners, they're the support that I've always needed because that's the way that they respond. Wayne is an operations guy and Boyd is a people person and they keep me in check just like I keep them in check.

Ron: They're the yin to your yang. Relative Home Systems is an integration firm with three owners. How do you guys balance or divide, maybe you just answered it by saying that Wayne is an operations person and Boyd a people person. Do you guys define segments of the business? From day-to-day operations, do you all carry a certain amount of weight or how do you manage that?

Marc: If we're going to be honest about self-awareness, I can tell you right now that being a manager of people is not my best trait. I am probably more emotional than I need to be. I like getting close to people and I get my heartbroken when they leave or something happens. It's just kind of person I am.

Over the years of trying to learn how to become a business owner, you really have to kind of numb that to some extent to do what's right for the business without hurting people and families in the process. I would say that we would assign those types of duties to Wayne to handle and manage and mine would primarily be understanding the marketing and sales direction of the company, what we want to do with business development. I can tell you right now that Boyd would probably be just head of customer service, that's the way I would name it. He really has an eye for detail when it comes to taking care of our clients, I learned a lot from him in that, in that respect.

Ron: I want to take the conversation here in a couple of directions. I've known you long enough to know that the last couple of years were particularly challenging, particularly trying. I'm imagining that many that are watching this live, watching later, or they're listening to the podcast, have faced challenges in their life, personal and professional, and yet the show must go on. If you don't mind, what did you guys go through?

Marc: Of course. I'm not giving too much detail out of respect for my partners, but essentially over a course of roughly four years, one of the best men in my wedding's father passed away from pancreatic cancer. Looking back, I didn't really understand what that was like for him to go through, we're the same age and I hadn't lost my dad yet. I was fighting cancer with my dad at this point in time. That was just a different thing in the workplace to have to go through and understand. Then after that, Boyd lost his firstborn daughter and my other business partner, Wayne, lost his father and then I lost mine in January of 2019. When you talk about having three partners, Boyd had to go through what he was going through. His wife is a big part of our business too and so we had to support them when they were going through that, then Wayne had to take some time off and we had to support him when he was going through that. And then same with me to kind of give you an idea of how that works out. It was also during the time where we had hit our biggest growth spurt in the years that we'd been in business. I think the first year we'd grown almost 32% which we were not planning for that, honestly. We grew huge in a very small amount of time but we ended up managing that and then the second year we had another loss, it just kept getting harder and harder. You just think about all the projects that we have in our heads or that we have written down or the communications that we have with clients and then duck out of the picture for three to four or five months and let your guys kind of scramble to figure out what you're going through. And all anyone wants to do is help you. They understand you're going through some dark times and experiencing loss. It was a rough time. We're still kind of pulling out of that.

Oh, Harvey too. You know, Harvey hit Houston. When my dad was battling cancer, he was actually on the news. He was living on the 44th floor of a building, a Memorial downtown for older people to live in, and the whole first floor and half of the second were flooded. It was still completely occupied by people, the building is still not condemned, there are still some people that have not moved out. That was interesting with all the treatments he had to go through and dealing with that, it was pretty tough. But Harvey did an interesting thing to our marketplace, some people were affected and some weren't. Essentially what it did for us, we were doing a lot of estate size home projects and it just felt like time slowed. A lot of the trades had gone to help with the effort of every building, what they could. And so you lost a lot of talent for, three, four, or five months until they started returning back to projects and getting them completed so that slowed timeline. I mean, like an example would be, we'd have a 24-month build that would turn into a 36-month build.

Ron: Which affects your payout cycle.

Marc: Yeah, a hundred percent, 100%. At the time when this is happening, you actually don't even see that. It's like a year later you feel that. It's so hard understanding your marketplace, what's truly happening in that two to six month period of time after a disaster comes through. Especially in our industry when we're dealing with higher-end clientele, everything is more custom.

An example is, we had completed a home theater in a basement, believe or not here in Houston, they were flooded and we had to redo the entire system over again. This was like a two month, three-month interval between when we just put a brand new system and now had to redo it. That's always tough going back to clients, you know, and just having those conversations when you had such a successful deployment, and you've got to restart and pull different wire. And that's one of the very small examples of a lot of the things that we went through and people like us. Builders we talked to said they were down 60 or 70% on sales or new builds, which was interesting. And if you guys do a lot of business with builders primarily, then you can understand how they'd be affected by that. We relied on our interior designer relationships and architecture relationships to make it through that, and we did.

Ron: How is the Houston market doing now? Is it fully bounced back? There's the silver lining and some of that I'm imagining is insurance payouts would likely have recovered or covered some losses for some of those homeowners.

Marc: It did for most of our clients. I think that maybe not so much from the aftermath of Harvey, but what's really what's going on in the news with government and everything else. And conservatism here is a big push. I'd say our marketplace right now is strong but it's definitely changing. I think anybody that's in Houston and maybe even the Southern hemisphere of the United States can agree that it's changing. The reason why I say that is because there is such a difference in price per square foot purchase here than there is New York, LA or especially in Canada. We're a Milson dealer and about a year ago we were trying to really get Milson off. The biggest struggle we had with trying to sell their product here was that what they solved with square footage, removal of needing rack and doing a built-in or integrated surround sound, people were fine with having a closet over the cost of doing a specialized system like this. It was kind of an interesting thing to see. I learned a lot going through that process of what was valuable to our clients. At that time we were doing the iconic River Oaks High Rise, so that was new for us.

Ron: I want to take you down a different path here and that is. you've done something I think pretty fascinating and or maybe interesting. Many listening might strive to achieve the same. That is you went from being a new hire and an employee to a partner in this business. Number one, how did that happen? Within what you're comfortable talking about. Did you on day one that you would want to become a partner in this business? Would you know the responsibilities that would then be taken on or the risks that would be taken on?

Marc: Honestly, I knew nothing. I just knew that I had a contract and my terms were judged on if I kept my word and I kept my word. At the end of that, it was time to reap the benefits of that. I'm not a majority partner by any means. I have a very small percentage of the company. Wayne and Boyd very much still run the day to day operations of the business and make a lot of the major decisions. They ask me for my opinion and they do take it very seriously. But I have a lot of respect for those guys. They started it in 2001 and they've been able to keep it running without me, so my ego never got big enough to where I was like, "Oh, if I leave they're going to go out of business," no, life goes on. I would say the most interesting part that I was really not ready for was being an employee then becoming a partner and watching what happens to your relationships with those colleagues. Right. and, and that was tough to deal with a little bit. I'm a very personal person and I like to be close to people and know they're doing okay. I think at some point in time employees start to pull back a little bit with what they want to talk to you about, so that was different, it was definitely something I was not expecting and I didn't want to have happened honestly. But other than that, it was a journey and it was a lot of fun. It was really. We did a lot of cool stuff and the team I have supporting me, I had back then too and they just really were always supportive and onboard. I've definitely been called nuts a couple of times in my life, but my team was always like, "Let's just get it done."

Ron: Wellness, you guys are jumping in, I don't know if both feet is the right way to say it, but you guys are excited, pumped about the future of what wellness means for an integrator, for an integration business. You have your own belief systems around why it's needed, how it helps customers and even some of the paths that you're running down with wellness. Can you speak about that?

Marc: Sure. Let's start with the basics as an industry as I believe we should be doing for our clients. And that is essentially, humans are creatures of habit. Good habits, bad habits. It doesn't matter, but you have habits whether you like it or not and whether you're willing to admit it. Everybody has habits and those habits define who we are on a daily basis. If it's health-related, physical fitness, the way you dress, the way you act, how you write an email. These habits are literally the book or the video of who we are as individuals to others. I think when we look at the media and the content that's within it psychologically it can be frustrating and maybe even debilitating for some people to sit there and read all these posts and get FOMO, fear of missing out. All those kinds of things. I'll tell you a little backstory.

I had a meeting with a client one time and this was probably 2014, '15. It was a large house, a very expensive project. The client had told me "Listen, I'd like surround sound in these rooms, bedrooms, living room, game room, theater room, and one in every room." And for me coming from a conservative Houston background, it was kinda like, "Hey, I want to tell you that I really don't think that it's necessary for you to have all these surround sounds. I really think you're overspending in these places." But what's the thought process behind it? It was that he wanted to separate his family. He literally wanted everybody watching TV in different rooms. A little bit of my background real quick, I came from a family that was broken. I remember growing up as a kid and I missed being with my family in one room. So when this client hit me with this I dwelled on that but he did become more sensible to the conversation and then he started understanding some of the psychological impacts that this may have on his children, believe it or not. He wasn't ignorant of the fact that that could cause some issues. We talked through it and we came up and settled on not as many areas. We did put some speakers in those rooms, et cetera. But it was still for me, kind of an eyeopening thought process as a salesperson. Because I'm sitting there my entire life going more and more and more, better speakers, louder speakers, more amplification, more TVs, you know, more sources, better image, better audio. And then I was kind of stopped dead in my tracks that day. The question was raised internally for me. What was I doing it for? And that stuck all the way up until I'd say my dad's passing. January of last year was a big thing for me. And when he passed, I realized that I missed pretty much a lot of my life with my father and the type of relationship I wanted to have. I asked myself, is what I'm doing for living causing that in other families? I wasn't trying to be a hero and take that on and change the world. But my point was, as an individual, I wanted to look at how I could take what I love to do for a living and apply it towards bringing people together and also making them healthier, whether it's mental health, physical health even business health, business health and relationships.

I just started asking a whole bunch of questions that were pretty pointed and would demand pretty honest answers. Being a parent of three young, I have three young kids and I'm 35, which is relatively young for someone to have three kids and a lot of my clients that are in their later forties have kids around the same age. So we get along on a level that we had never really thought was going to be possible. And we would tell stories about our kids. I was talking to a client of mine about remodeling my house and soundproofing wall and she goes, "What do you do in your business whenever you have a client that needs some alone time?" And we were already talking as an organization about taking what we do and creating a space for our clients that would allow alone time. And on our Instagram we actually have a rendered video, an example of a meditation space or what we're going to deem biophilia theaters. And what we're doing is taking the last 20 years of our knowledge in the home theater industry, right where we came from, understanding sound, understanding acoustics, and general understanding what kind of emotions these spaces are supposed to bring to an individual, and implementing those into a design and a concept that allows clients to take their personal attributes of their life and help us create a sanctuary essentially for them to go. When I mentioned that to the client, she asked, "Okay, can you build that for me?" And the answer is yes, we can. We've built theaters before, no problem. And then you start asking yourself, where are you going to put in it? And that's when Pandora's box opens. You get in the conversation with natural materials. How health conscious do you want to go? Air purification, water filtration? Do you want any technology to be in the space, music, audio, video, whatever. And that thought process kind of triggered something inside me to start asking, could I have created a better environment for my father before he had passed? This is where stuff started getting interesting. If you look back at your experience in life and you've lost somebody so close to you that it literally changes who you are internally as a human being.

When you've experienced this type of loss and you start to question not only what you're doing but how you're doing it and the effect that is going to have on the future legacy of yourself for your children, for your colleagues, for your friends, what have you. I thought about my dad and I thought about all the people that were by his bedside, the dinners we went to support when he was passing, all the GoFundMe pages he had for his cancer that he was going through and how many people supported it. I just realized that having a space to feel healthy in, in my opinion anyway, is going to be something that is very important to consumers in the future. I think we're all starting to realize right now that we've been inside for too long and it's causing us to be unhealthy. That's kind of a long story there but the bottom line is that it was just kind of a concept that came into mind and it's grown exponentially from there. The next thing for us was how can we assist clients in healthy lifestyles. Like earlier when we were talking about food.

Ron: I remember telling Ian before we went on air, 'cause I was quickly wolfing down my lunch that I use Hello Fresh. They deliver the food and your ingredients to your home and you cook them. They're fresh. They're the right size. You're friendly to the environment in that you're not ordering a bunch of food and then throwing out half of it. I love it. I don't think I've ever eaten healthier in my life than I have in the last 12 months since I've been using such a service. And it makes such an impact on you.

Marc: What do you love about it the most, Ron?

Ron: Well, a number of things. Number one, I just, I love good food. I live in West Fort Lauderdale and frankly, it's no New York, it's no Houston, it's no San Francisco and it's no Miami in terms of just the quality of restaurants and quality of food. It's just not what I would call great food out at most restaurants. So discovering that service and I'm not a spokesperson for Hello Fresh, maybe we're evangelists cause I'm here telling all of you that we love to eat it 'cause it tastes great.

My wife and I are both home all day. She loves cooking, she loves the kitchen. She loves making delicious food and it's an educational experience as well. Our portfolio of skills in the kitchen, as silly as this might sound, has exponentially increased because we've learned all of these different ways of making sauces and making broiling foods. And I'll give you a little tip here, I don't know if anyone's gonna appreciate this, but if you put broccoli and a little olive oil, a little salt, and pepper, and you broil that for about 10 minutes, it is the most delicious food you could ever imagine. I grew up my entire life hating broccoli. We discovered this new technique, you could get me on a rant on eating good food. I'm a big fan.

Marc: Let's just say, too, that maybe you love the fact that it's automated, right? Someone else is picking the foods for you.

Ron: The boxes with just our meals in it, it just shows up. And it just happens. It's easy.

Marc: If you look at that business model that they have, a lot like Trunk Club, these other clothing subscriptions. You can read all kinds of articles on how a lot of these businesses are losing money over the cost of the entry, trying to get people to sign up and selling different things to make money. My point to that is, there's always been a movement for self-sustainability. We look at it in houses as adding a generator. Power goes out, you're self-sustainable. You can get your grid backup.

I think that that for consumers it hits home because they like to have a Plan B when it comes to safety and quality of life. If you start looking at all the people purchasing organic foods, going to organic restaurants. It's because we're all starting to understand the importance of the things that we put into our bodies on a much greater scale because of social media and the fact that you can go on Instagram and educate yourself. You can go on YouTube and educate yourself. If you find somebody that is worth being educated by. You can see a big calling for gardens and a lot of people out there trying to create a homemade gardens, they get into it, they do it a little while and they fail, or they do it a little while and they succeed, but then they realize the maintenance of it is just too much to do when you're an entrepreneur or whatever it might be.

Ron: Are you saying there's a play for an integrator to get into the garden business?

Marc: We've gotten into the garden business.

Ron: All right. Please do tell.

Marc: There's a company called GLTI, the owner's name is George Irwin, he's out of Jersey. There's a whole backstory that goes to how I even got onto this concept and it goes into my business with my father and essentially what George is, he's an educator in special education and he's also a world-known curriculum writer in the educational space. Two of his partners are runners up for Nobel prizes. George is a really interesting guy. We became really close and decided that we see a play to bring in automated growing of not only produce but vertical art using green walls.

An example of that would be, we have a client that we're going to be doing one around a kitchen window. It's a small space, but it's literally there to provide aromatherapy in the kitchen as well as a really pretty art piece of greenery inside bringing in a biophilia design to the space. The second piece of that is we're going to be doing a garden for her and we're going to automate all of it.

Ron: Automate a garden. I'm terribly curious.

Marc: Let's break this down and make it really simple. Let's say you have a plant on your desk at the house and this plant requires a certain amount of water, a certain amount of nutrients, a certain amount of sunlight. On a daily basis. You don't have any high expectations out of that plant cause it just sits on your desk. Throw food in the bucket, plan to be self-sustainable, and see how much pressure you feel to grow it and make sure that it is sustainable and provides for you.

How do we take that scenario and turn it into a conversation piece? How do we turn it into a device for producing for your family without you having to babysit it? That is to automate the nutrients and water flow to the plants themselves or produce. We're gonna use Crestron. We have gotten with George and we're pulling some of the nutrients dispensing systems that he uses for his other business, which is the cannabis industry. He essentially sells these containers that have vertical growing walls in them for the marijuana industry because they can contain in yield way more plants than normal marijuana would grow out in Colorado or California or wherever you're going to do it.

"Bringing some of that technology integration into all the other plants and produce that you're going to eat, the food or just plants that you want to look at because they're beautiful and adding technology to automate that and doing that as an integrator."

Ron: That's not even taking a lot of the technology that was invented around the grow business with obvious marijuana blowing up all over the country. 20 plus states have now legalized it in some fashion. Obviously there's a tremendous amount of technology innovation there. Bringing some of that technology integration into all the other plants and produce that you're going to eat, the food or just plants that you want to look at because they're beautiful and adding technology to automate that and doing that as an integrator.

Within this wellness line card or this wellness/biophilia conversation, you're now adding this new thing to talk about to your customers. It has already happened and you are talking about it or you're planning to talk about it? And that's a plan for 2020?

Marc: One secret I can't give away, but we'll do a big announcement. You'll be a part of that. Two things I can't give away. We did sell a green Greenwall already in a vertical garden. Those are contracted and they're going to be out. We'll do a whole coverage on that on our Instagram page of those going up and being created. The second piece of that is we have done a really good job of letting people understand that not only can we use green walls as art pieces.

Like during Christmas, let's say you have poinsettias growing. You would pull those out, add some red or some color to this wall without having to repaint the wall. You do it in a natural way and it's literally as easy as swapping one four-inch or six-inch planter out for the new plant that you're swapping it with. Then on the automation side of it, we're going to have the code written with images that state what those optional plants are that you can switch them with, the gross cycles, nutrients and all that will be under the info on the Crestron touch panel. But it's fascinating. That was kind of a small little example with putting the poinsettias in and getting added colors from there. It allows people to get artistic and decide what they want to do, that's one little piece of kind of the first start of selling a green wall. Then the second piece of that is that it almost runs like a square footage or a volume space for removing negative VOCs.

Ron: Like a chemical mold, chemicals, molds? Is there a map where you can put enough greenery in your house that will in fact clean the air in your house?

Marc: In the singular space. Yes. That's the big misconception. You can Google this. Clients will say, "Well, I'll go buy a plant from Home Depot and put it in my house and all of a sudden I'm going to notice a dramatic change in my attitude and my mental," but that's not how it works. There's a mathematical equation to the proper amount of square footage needed to cover and the vertical wall space needed to do those things.

Ron: So you're saying that the science says that it is possible, in a room in your house, that I could put enough plants on a green wall and the air quality in that room is in fact better than in other areas of the home.

Marc: That is correct. Yes. Let's even pull air quality out of it for a second 'cause there are so many other ways you can do air filtration and the green walls. The biggest things that are going to get out of a green wall is the environment that you create bringing outdoors in, the conversational piece of the artwork behind it, the common stuff that people can relate to.

The next piece of that and what's more important to me is aromatherapy. I'll give you an idea of how it would have helped if I created a space for my father. Lavender is a calming scent and then peppermint, if you have nausea, you can get rid of nausea with peppermint, smelling it and inhaling it. Thieves is a natural almost antibacterial type of solution that you can mix with water and you can use it. Through aromatherapy, you can wipe your hands with it, use it as hand soap, that's an antibacterial natural form. When you're talking about in a space of removing all of these non-organic, it's all-encompassing from the soap that you put on your hands or the chemicals you put on your skin. What's really neat about aromatherapy, what I love the most is that it's what I call clarity forming. When you're going or trying to get into a meditative space. You meditate at all, Ron?

Ron: I've practiced it on a number of occasions. I'm out of practice right now. And as I think you'd agree, it is a practice. There's no perfection.

Marc: I'm a big believer in meditation and what it does for you for sure. A lot of people meditate and they don't even realize it. To me personally, depending on who you are and what you're capable of doing for yourself, using your own mental power, dealing with your emotions, etc, you may stop and take a break to take a deep breath in the middle of your day for 10 seconds. Well, that was your body forcing you to meditate to some extent. It was your body forcing you to find the center. To kind of go, "Hey, deal with the pressure, deal, distress, deal with the anger, sadness, whatever it might be." That's your body. You're waiting until the last minute and your body goes, "Okay, you need to take a deep breath."

Just like the comment about a lot of the wives and moms they take their deep breaths in front of their kids. They take their deep breaths at the moment. They've got a kid screaming, saying they're hungry, and they just stop. They close their eyes for a second, we've all seen our wives do it. They take a deep breath and just like, "Oh, if I could just get five minutes to myself." That's your kind of your natural meditative state, your body getting you to extinguish the situation. Here's another piece of this too. If you take a theater, and use it for a meditative space, at the same time the mom is feeling that stress psychologically, the kids are feeling the stress as well. A lot of people don't think about it, it's coming from both angles. Kids are screaming for attention for a reason and it causes stress. Imagine having a spot that you could maybe take that one kid out of that situation that's creating a stressful scenario, taking them to that room, knowing that it's soundproof, knowing you can't hear any outside influence, maybe turning on their favorite song and sitting with them, and having someone on one time. It's about understanding the situation on a daily basis that you have with your family and having a place to take them to, to enjoy whatever it is that gets you guys back to the center.

Ron: What do you call these spaces from a marketing or sales dialogue standpoint?

Marc: Our biophilia theater.

Ron: I know we have been reading about this word biophilia. Does the person that you're speaking to know what that word means?

Marc: Some, yes. If you have a client that's into horticulture, they're going to know what it is. If you have anyone that knows anything about E.O. Wilson. It's a long conversation, it'd be better if everyone just kinda did their own research on this. There is also an E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center. He's a thought leader behind this concept.

"As marketers, we're representing hundreds of companies to thousands or tens of thousands of consumers. We have a responsibility to get this and understand it intimately."

Ron: Everyone can Google, you're all big boys and girls. I will add this, Ian. All of this conversation has expanded really over the last 6-12 months on our channel. I've taken it to heart. As marketers, we're representing hundreds of companies to thousands or tens of thousands of consumers. We have a responsibility to get this and understand it intimately.

My small little way that I'm doing that personally in my house is on Saturday and Sunday mornings, I've been going to my title library and playing forest sounds. I have whole home audio distributions in almost every room in the house. I'm usually the first one up so when my wife and son get up, they are listening to the sounds of some rain forest, birds, maybe trickling water. It's at a really low volume, but it makes you feel like we're literally sitting in the middle of a forest. I love it. It's so calming. I think there's something deep-rooted in your brain that just goes, "Ah, this feels right."

Marc: It's because that's what you're supposed to hear when you wake up in the morning.

Ron: Right! If you look genetically, we've only been sitting in houses for maybe the last I don't know, 500, a thousand years. And our species have been out there for, depending on the school of thought and Darwinian theories, for a couple of million years.

Marc: You can start to see it coming back in the construction industry on architectural plans too. We'll jump into this really quick and we'll jump out of it. But essentially, if you take the word or terminology, biophilia out of the scenario and let's just talk about what would be considered a biophilic or biophilia atmosphere dating back to when humans first were on earth. Cave dwellers, everyone made supplemental or different types of housing for themselves. They adapted. As construction began to form, the first space I would say would be like a back patio. Just a deck, no cover on it, you put some seats out there. All of a sudden people were like, "Oh, I really love having a back porch. I sit down and it's enjoyable to be able to look on my property and do these things." And then somehow as a culture, we're like, "Hey, it's great to have a back porch, but we don't like mosquitoes. Let's screen it in." Now we're a little further away from nature and then they're like, "Oh, I don't like the airflow to come through. I just want a sunroom to keep me warm." So they glass it in. And then after that, they're like, "Man, it's too hot. I could really use some AC in here." What actually had happened more in the '70s and '80s was indoor atriums. Do you remember when they used to stick them in the center of the houses? And then after that, because those used to mildew so bad and just get so hard to take care of, that's when skylights came into play as a big function to get natural in the houses. Right now we have automated skylights and fake skylights. It's interesting to me that on the technology side, we're believing it's okay as an industry to sell fake skylights. It's not that I'm against getting a proper light and circadian rhythm into a room. What I'm saying is that if you meet a client early enough in the design stage, you've got to bring this topic up for them. And here's why. If you don't, the designer or the architect is going to be. The second they do, the technology that we need to guide that direction properly is still being formed and everyone's going to revert back to the most natural way of doing things, natural building components, you name it.

"The environment that we hope to create is a full circle. The entire package. Because right now, it's just pieces of it. The entire package is an environment that can be internally located, it's not in addition to the already proposed square footage, it's just reusing a room."

The environment that we hope to create is a full circle. The entire package. Because right now, it's just pieces of it. The entire package is an environment that can be internally located, it's not in addition to the already proposed square footage, it's just reusing a room. That room has access to either a nanowall to be opened up completely outside when the weather is right, it'll have access to air filtration even water purification if you want to. A yoga room, clients using them for yoga. Sweating, wanting to a water fountain, you name it. Instead of saying, "Well, I want to do water purification for my entire house," that's really on the plumber to understand, right. What we're talking about is one zone that's encompassing an entire healthy environment. That's it.

Ron: Interesting. So one room where you've accounted for air purification, water purification, circadian rhythm lighting, smell-o-vision - what's the, what's the smell stuff? Aromatherapy. Combining all of those, I know people out there laughing, "Did Ron just call it smellivision?" But putting all of that into one space and one package, that probably is easier to talk about. And it's probably easier for the customer to say yes to. It's more approachable.

"We have a 30-90 day programming policy at the end of finishing or completing a project.. We call it 30/60/90 and the reason for that is we give the client 30 days to call us back as soon as they move in to say, "Hey, I want a little bit of programming changes now," and the next 60-90 days, live with it and we'll come back and make some more changes there."

Marc: And affordable. That the biggest push here. I'm not trying to save the world. What I'm trying to do, what we're trying to do as an organization is simply - any of these estate homes you go into these days, Ron, they're gorgeous. It doesn't matter who the architecture is. If the builder's a good builder, the architects, interior designers. It's amazing what people are doing with homes these days. Absolutely incredible. But we're not focusing on actually living in them. We have a 30-90 day programming policy at the end of finishing or completing a project, that 30-90. We call it 30/60/90 and the reason for that is we give the client 30 days to call us back as soon as they move in to say, "Hey, I want a little bit of programming changes now," and the next 60-90 days, live with it and we'll come back and make some more changes there. It's amazing. I'm sure a lot of people agree with me how much their thought process changes from the time they're building the house to when they're actually living inside it. We like to think that as an industry, we're asking the right amount of questions upfront for what they will be doing regarding technology. But more importantly, we should be asking what will they do? What will they be doing habitually that we can help improve their quality of life? I'll give you a small example. How many times do you go to the grocery store, Ron? I mean, probably not that much now you have Hello Fresh, right.

Ron: Much less.

Marc: When was the last time you went to the grocery store and forgot something or wondered if you had it or not?

Ron: Well, my wife is going to laugh if I answer this honestly because I don't know that I've personally been the grocery store in maybe 10 years, but my wife and son will go often.

Marc: Do they ever text you and say, "Hey dad, you're there. Can you go check and see if we have this in the pantry?"

Ron: 100%

Marc: Why don't we put cameras and pantries?

Ron: So they could see what they have. That makes sense. Why not be able to see what's in your fridge?

Marc: Why not in your fridge too? That's my point, right, we look at like a habitual thing like going to the grocery store. How many times you go the grocery, and ask yourself "Oh, do I have that? I know I've got this. Do I have that one ingredient?" One small example for ease of use from there, have you put cameras in pantries?

Ron: Not yet. I don't imagine that, whether it's husband or wife, whoever does the shopping or the cooking, I can't imagine they wouldn't want that. I've never heard it talked about before. That's like such a good idea. So that's, that's the

Marc: Smallest of my examples of ideas that I have to kind of simplify little things that happen in lives. I'll tell you what I did at my house. I have a 2,500 square foot house I remodeled last year and I have 16 cameras on it and my neighbors think I'm nuts. They don't understand that four of the cameras on the front of my house are actually for judging the play area of where my children are. I have lines at the end of the street on one side and at the end of the street on the other side. And they know they're not allowed to pass those lines. So I have cameras at that line and a camera at this line in two cameras in the center. And without having to get off my butt I can check-in and make sure my kids are paying attention by using my camera system. So there are these little things that we need to be thinking about from an integration standpoint. And the only way to know what to ask is to go off of your own experience.

Ron: My son is 11 and I've done the same thing around the perimeter of my house. You don't have to feel alone. He knows he's not allowed to play in the yard outside of the span of the camera view.

Marc: It's just amazing how many things you can learn. One from having kids and two, from just considering changing small items in your automation programming to assist clients to live a better quality of life. We always say we're doing automation to improve quality of life. Give me an example, right? Somebody can type in there in the chat. Give me an example of what you did. And I can almost guarantee you that if it truly improves the quality of life, it is almost always surrounded or surrounding somebody's habits.

Ron: You're hearing it folks, it is challenging. If you're out there listening, Type into the comments here. Ian, believe it or not, we have been on air for almost an hour and 10 minutes.

Marc: Oh wow.

Ron: And this would make this interview officially one of my longest, if maybe not the longest out of 96. So congratulations. It was a pleasure to have you on the show on episode number 96. I think I'm terribly curious. I know our audience is curious as to how this plays out, the green wall strategy and the wellness strategy. So if you're game, I'd love to have you on maybe a little bit later in the year and hear how that's

Marc: I really appreciate it man to be on your show and I'm humbled by it. I love you guys. You guys do a great job and I love our industry. I hope everyone out there if you're having any tough times, feel free to hit me up. Give me a call, talk through it, business sales, whatever you guys want to chat about. You know, I'm here, I'm an open book for it and I appreciate your time and tuning in. Thank you so much.


Advocate for wellness solutions including green walls and biophilia spaces, VP at Relative Home Systems, Ian Dohalick acts speaks with tremendous passion for the positive impact they have on families and individuals.

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 and Relative Home Systems on social media! You can find Relative Home Systems on Facebook @RelativeHomeSystems, Instagram @relative_home_systems, and LinkedIn @Relative Home Systems. You can also find Ian on Instagram @ian__dy

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