I AM CEDIA: Justin F. Kern, JFK Automation

Ed Wenck | May 02, 2019

How did you get into the industry?

I began my working life as a cabinetmaker in 1992. During my apprenticeship, I would be sent to a customer’s home to remove old cabinets and install new ones. During that process, I realized that a lot of the equipment I came across were old-school stereo units, either inside or on top of their old cabinets. I would offer them the ability to hide their existing equipment in the new cabinetry and then install in-ceiling speakers throughout the home. I would do this after hours or on the weekends, and offer a range of services, such as in-wall volume controls, multi-room video over coax with modulation, and IR Control.

With virtually no experience, I then moved from cabinetmaking to IT and was hired as an IT manager for Sony Central. They were transitioning from paper invoicing to computer-based invoicing, and I was hired to help with that transition and also to assist their sales team to introduce new products, such as the VAIO laptop computers and the Sony digital cameras, into the home.

I assisted the sales staff to sell to the end user, and this resulted in me teaching customers how to use their products and how to do digital stills and video editing. Along with this, customers would buy various products from the Sony store, and I was able to install these for them after work each day.

Sony had a system set up where customers would pay a predetermined fee for the delivery and installation of that product, and then that install would be assigned to the most competent person. A contributing factor was having a large enough vehicle, so I bought a van and started installing almost every day. It was very successful, and the best part was, it was all done through Sony. I would install TVs on a cabinet top but also offered further services that I would charge for directly, such as mounting heavy TVs to walls. I had the skills from my cabinetmaking days to be able to mount a very heavy 80cm or 90cm TV to a wall.

When plasma TV’s came into play, it was a lot easier, albeit scary, trying to mount a $15,000 42” or $20,000 50” TV to a wall. At that stage, I named the business Just For Kicks Audio Visual to best use the JFK branding, which just so happens to be my birth initials.

Eventually, Sony management thought it was a conflict of interest that I was freelance installing, so they asked me to stop doing work on the side. It was at this point that I decided to leave and go into business full time. I already had a customer base who trusted my services, so I built on those relationships to continue to grow my business.

Not long after leaving Sony, they realized that they didn't have anyone competent enough to do the heavy duty or complex installations, so eventually they passed on all of those customers to me.

In 2004, I landed my first big project at a house in Killara. I remember receiving the deposit by mail — it was about $10,000 which was huge for me at the time as the most I had ever invoiced prior to that was under $5,000. I still have that customer to this day. I have watched their children grow up and get married. Whenever they move to a new house, JFK looks after their needs.

I became very busy and hired my first employee, Matt Furnell, about 13 years ago when he was apprenticed to me, and he is still working for the company as head technician and custom installation manager. In about 2012, I met Mark Nettleton, who is now the general manager and is driving the business into the future along with our team of six.

Ever since I was focused on the business full time, we have strived to deliver great solutions to our customers. We spend an incredible amount of un-billable time off-site testing hardware and software to ensure that we deliver a working and reliable system.

What’s your favorite project and why?

This would have to be a project we did about five years ago for a customer who wanted us to do all sorts of fun stuff. We had virtually no limit on the budget and were suggesting all sorts of things and he wanted all of it! We sold a Savant video tiling system, so he could have four TV sources on at the same time, as well as custom motorized artwork to hide his TV. However, the kicker was when he asked me to give him a way of controlling the “smells” in the home. I told him that we hadn’t done that before but would work out a way of doing it. We developed an aroma system that would allow him to choose any one of four aromas that would emit through the air conditioning system. Using the iPad, he would press the aroma, and it would mist an oil aroma into the AC system.

Which home technology do you consider the most important today and why?

I have mixed feelings about this. I think in the current technology climate, it is all about the user interface. This can be many things — touch, voice, occupancy sensors, and so on. I believe that in the next 10 to 20 years, this will change dramatically and will move towards the unthinkable, or rather, “The Thinkable:” Are we headed towards mind control

What’s the biggest issue for home technology businesses today, and how can they deal with it?

I can identify a few issues. The first would be that it is very difficult (almost impossible) to find staff, and it takes years to either find the right kind of people who are excited to work in this industry. It’s a reality that you have to invest years into an employee to train them in the hope that they will stay with the company.

The second issue for us is having a level playing field with our competitors. We find that we are coming up against more competitors who offer a cheaper price but not nearly the same level of service, experience, or reliability. The companies with only one or two employees definitely have lower overheads, however, the customer only tends to see the bottom-line price. We have worked hard to differentiate ourselves from those types of companies, and our customers really see the difference. We offer a full design service, install, project management, and after-sales service with a focus on good design and practical design principles. Solutions rather than a product shopping list.

One other challenge is products — reliable products that can be integrated properly and seamlessly are few and far between. A lot of suppliers are working hard to better themselves and their product offerings, which we really appreciate, but if we didn't do the stringent testing that we do, we would fail on every project. We tend to discover faults with products and then work hard to get those issues resolved with the manufacturer prior to using their products.

How long have you been a CEDIA member?

We have been a CEDIA member for 15 years.

Why did you become a CEDIA member?

I wanted to be part of the wider AV community and to be able to give back to the industry.

Which CEDIA benefits have you/do you plan on taking advantage of, and why?

We make use of the education of offer, the member events, including the CEDIA Expo, as well as the careers page — these are all appreciated services.

What does the next year hold for your company?

We are constantly working on our systems and processes, so that we continue to evolve. We are carefully and slowly growing the business and always looking for the best way to offer our clients the most reliable and easy-to-use systems, a challenge that we enjoy conquering. The team at JFK is working on expanding the business and in the next year, will be all about growth — new staff, bigger projects, and hopefully, bigger rewards.

What do you consider your biggest achievement as a CEDIA member?

I would consider the biggest achievement to have been in business for more than 17 years in a tough financial climate and also to have been a CEDIA member for 15 of those years.