For integrators, one of the best elements of attending CEDIA 2016 is the unexpected business-related gems you learn from commiserating with your fellow custom integrators.
I am not talking about product discoveries, but tidbits related to running your business effectively that are often overheard in the aisles or in the educational sessions.
For the past several years, industry consultant Leslie Shiner has conducted the “Work Smarter, Not Harder” workshop designed to encourage integrators to share efficiency tips.
This year, her panel included CE Pro 100 integrator Dennis Jaques of Maverick Integration in Nashua, N.h., CE Pro 100 integrator Shawn Hansson of Logic Integration in Lone Tree, Colo., Mark DiPietro of SoundVision in Mooresville, N.C., and Randy Stearns, president of D-Tools and a long-time integrator.
Here are 26 great tips from the panel and the audience that you might be able to implement today.
1. Keep Craigslist Ads Year-round
Finding employees is like fishing: the bait (your ad) has to be seen by the fish (your potential employee) exactly at the time he or she is swimming past (or seeking a new job in the case of an employee).
If you cast your line out just 30 seconds before or after that fish swims by, he never sees it. For integrators who use Craigslist to find employees, Mark DiPietro of SoundVision maintains his ad year round. The employment ads are only $25 per month.
Also, whenever you place a Craigslist ad, there is a barrage of applications. Then if falls off. By renewing the ad monthly, it bubbles back up to the top of the queue and more applications come in, he says. On the flip side, many integrators do not like Craigslist because they are bombarded with resumes and often the candidates are not well qualified.
2. Ask Distributors for Employees
One great source of potential employees are distributors. They are in discussion with integrators every day, so they know who is busy and who is not. They also hear from technicians who might be seeking new employment. It’s a good idea to put the word out with your local distributor whenever you are seeking employees.
On the flip side, some integrators don’t want to send their technicians to pick up equipment at the local distributor for the same reason … they will likely be solicited for employment elsewhere.
The best way to prevent that from happening is to breed a strong company culture whereby a technician is not going to jump ship for 25 cents more per hour from another company.
3. Shadow Employees
DiPietro says the best way to rapidly onboard a new technician is to “shadow” him with a more experienced technician. That can be difficult if you are a very small operation, however.
4. Create a ‘Process Book’
Dennis Jaques of Maverick Integration is so process-driven that he created a 500-page book that documents every process the company does, from pre-wire to trimout to final.
“Every employee is set to that standard and have to pass the test in the book. They don’t get the next book until they pass the test on the first section,” he says.
To create the book, Maverick started by spending $500 to purchase the ESPA training curriculum, then added to it. Today, the company has spun off a separate training group called the Maverick Technical Institute that trains dealers not just how to install a system, but even how to ring the doorbell when they arrive at the home, how far to stand away from the doorbell and how to greet the customer.
5. Put a Ceiling on Wages for Every Position
If you keep employees for a long time because your company is such a great place to work, eventually you will run into a situation where a long-term employee has reached the limit of what you can pay him or her and still earn a profit.
At Maverick, Jaques has a chart that shows employees how much the company can charge customers for certain tasks. The chart also shows the wages that each position in the company tops out at.
“At some point, I cannot afford to give an employee a raise every year if he stays in the same position for years and years,” admits Jaques.
By being so transparent with his staff, it encourages them to seek to learn new skills and to grow so they can elevate into other positions in the company. When hitting ceiling compensation and maximizing payroll, one way to retain those employees is to give them commissionable opportunities that do not steal from the sales team.
6. Use Subcontractors for Prewires
At Logic Integration, the company uses subcontractors for all its prewires.
“They must wear our company logo shirts, and they have to come to our office first so we can see what they look like before they head to the site,” notes Shawn Hansson, president. The company regularly uses 10 to 12 subcontractors.
7. Offer Lifetime Warranty on your Craftsmanship
At Logic Integration, clients’ product warranties are activated using a “Final Completion Date” in the contract. The company warranties the individual products based on their manufacturer warranty, but for their own installation expertise, Logic offers a “lifetime warranty on its craftsmanship.”
In other words, if an in-ceiling speaker ever starts to slip or a mount starts to tilt, the company will fix that for the life of the system.
“Customers love it,” says Hansson. “It speaks to the quality of our team and our sales team uses it.”
It is vital for the company to have a clearly defined scope of work for that lifetime warranty to work well. Logic has a specific scope of work that includes certain “assumptions,” such as the company is going to have access to your house, and certain “exclusions,” such as they are not liable for damage from acts of God, do not run conduit, cannot assure that the Internet will be working 100 percent of the time because of the ISP provider, etc.
8. Load Trucks the Night Before
It’s a simple idea, but one that can save lots of time in the morning and help beat morning rush hour sometimes.
9. Have All Suppliers Email Receipts
Even Home Depot will email receipts. Never have a lost receipt again.
10. Use Only Digital Contracts
In today’s paperless world, using pdf contracts with digital signatures eliminates bulky paperwork.
11. Drive Time Labor
If you are based in a high traffic area, customers can balk at paying labor for drive time. One integrator uses a compromise plan where he pays technicians and charges clients for the drive time to the job, but not on the way back to the office.
12. Hold Only Stand-up Meetings
Studies show that if you hold your internal meetings standing up and do not allow your team to sit down, the meetings will go much faster and be more productive.