How long has your firm been in business?
Before Edison. Seriously, it's been over 35 years. Wow. And I'm only 35, so I don't know how that happened, but there you go.
Amazing! How did you get started?
I started in security. Do you remember the electronic silver tape that went on the windows? If you go around Baltimore city, you can still find that sensor-tape that I put up.
That eventually morphed into low-voltage systems. I had been doing security for a really small security company [one guy and me as his helper]. I worked for him for about 2 years and even sold some system for him. He was still getting the recurring revenue from those systems 15 years after I left.
One day I was showing a client a security alarm that I had worked on for a really long time. It was a difficult system and I was really proud of it -- and he was absolutely ignoring me. His family was all watching the big-screen TV that some AV firm had just installed. This was so long ago it was one of those rear-projection Mitsubishi models, and they were all ooh-ing and aah-ing over it. And I thought, “I am definitely doing the wrong stuff here.” So I expanded the business from security and low voltage to full AV.
What kind of work do you specialize in? I know you won a CEDIA Award last year for your work on a multiple-dwelling unit.
Our focus is absolutely high-end luxury residential. Anything over 10,000 square feet is typical.
That project you mentioned, though, was The Four Seasons at Baltimore harbor. An MDU with 55 units on top of the hotel. Great project born from a great opportunity.
Is there one part of business that really excites you?
Lighting and shading. Unless someone's installed a lighting control system really badly -- which can happen -- most of the time a lighting system is good and functional, right? You’re giving somebody something that they can use every day, day in and day out. For example, every morning your shades raise, every night your shades lower and the lights come on. You're using it every day and it's got value. It's got function.
What’s your work space like – is there a showroom?
Our facility has a warehouse, areas for office work, programming, and engineering and an experience center. We have seven team members.
The experience center is set up to not look like a “techie” place at all. It looks like a high-end residential living room. You can see the touch screens – we’re 98% Crestron; we do some Savant as well. We have some invisible speakers, we have some visible speakers, we have some big, bad boys: Meridian 7200-series speakers in this space. Of course, we have electronic shades, electronic draperies, lighting. It's just a nice warm, comfortable space.
Is there a guiding philosophy or a mission statement that defines SmartTouch?
Our mission is always customer support – that’s first and foremost. And if you have the right processes in place going in for installation and then service, one complements the other. And we are hard-focused on that more than ever right now.
So, since you've been at this for so many decades, do you have any advice for other integrators on how they communicate with interior designers, architects, the builders, the specifier community?
It’s simple: Don't come off like you know everything. And do what you say you're going to do and do it efficiently and on time.
You do some volunteer work for CEDIA, right?
I do. I’m in the Discovery Working Group, I’m on the Tech Council, I and work on the R10 group, which is CTA and CEDIA working together to help establish standards.
How has that work benefitted you?
Volunteering means learning. And I get to hang out with the smartest kids in the classroom: Peter Aylett, Rich Green, Christiaan Beukes, Nathan Holmes, Walt Zerbe, Leslie Shiner, and the list goes on.
What's your favorite part of things like CEDIA Expo or ISE? We see you at every show and I get the sense that you have a real feeling of camaraderie with the other guys and women in this business.
I do. And a lot of that comes from the classes I attend. You’re learning with your peers, you’re being taught by your peers – that’s a bonding experience.
Any final words of wisdom?
Learn, learn, and keep learning. Always be learning. And that's what CEDIA does for you.