Last week’s HTSA Spring Conference provided the group’s membership with a wealth of networking opportunities – plus a chance to hear its leadership opine on future direction. And the vector-setting for all that is to come relies heavily on education – determined most recently in late 2017 and then, this year, after two SWOT (strengths, weaknesses. opportunities, threats) meetings. “Those generally take place over two intense days, notes up on all the walls, and we end up narrowing down issues and how to fix them,” Executive Director Jon Robbins told us.
One result of this pow-wowing was the start 18 months ago of a strategy designed to school members on the ins and outs of lighting fixtures – resulting in the hiring of Tom Doherty for his expertise in the field.
“Lots of guys were doing major lighting control numbers – but not fixtures,” explained Robbins. “It isn’t just about creating incremental lighting business. It’s about getting to the lighting conversation earlier with trade partners like builders, architects and designers they’d worked with for years. Tom was the right guy to put us in that business, because he understood the CI channel, too. And a year and half later, we’re having incredible success.”
Doherty brought his A/V specialty and installation background, along with a cumulative 10 years of experience in lighting, to the members, whose clients usually do not find lighting a natural consideration when asking an integrator to design their connected home. His mission was to drive home its importance as more than a throwaway category. “Lighting is an area that hadn’t evolved in 20 or 30 years along with other technology categories,” Doherty told us. “It’s not usually high on homeowners’ lists. It’s an awareness issue. The builder creates allowances for cabinets, flooring, etc., and might direct clients to places to pick sconces and chandeliers, but thought usually does not go into recessed lighting or to art highlighting. That type of lighting is usually decided by the electrician or builder.” His goal – and it has worked like a charm to date – is to help members “lead with lighting” – in effect, changing the narrative with clients, and getting them jazzed. The goal has been for integrators to raise lighting design to the same level of consciousness with clients as interior design – and the momentum is such that Doherty is involved in designing courses in partnership with the American Lighting Association (ALA) that have thus far resulted in 55 HTSA members receiving certification as ALA specialists.
Fast forward to 2019, and membership was introduced at this April’s meeting to yet another upshot of SWOT strategizing: this time, addressing the lost art of selling. There, the group formally met ex-Walmart executive Keith Esterly, who just signed on as the Chief Learning Architect, tasked with getting members back in touch with their roots as sales experts and helping them meld those skills with their smarts as custom installation specifiers.
What Esterly brings, said Robbins, is “all about the psychographics – not about products. It’s about consumer attitudes and feelings – that’s what sales really is. It’s cracking the code of human science. And we want to make it cultural with the group, not just a one and done… He’s putting 8,000 concepts out there, and it’s bound to elevate our members’ performance, even if they only take in five percent of them.” The plan is for members to either experience Esterly’s motivational instruction through HTSA Master Classes, which are a benefit of membership (14 are scheduled for the year), or through customized, immersive sessions where he will visit the member. The first immersive session has already been conducted, and another 18 members have signed on. He is even in demand by some vendors.
Esterly brought high-touch experience from his days at A/V specialty retailer Tweeter to behemoth retailer Walmart – and even though the change “took some getting used to,” he said, the way the learning happens is really seamlessly transferable.
“To me, the thing that’s true is the scalability. I went from a big, high-touch custom integrator and I knew every manager and salesperson by name. At Walmart, there are 400,000 people… and I sat in my interview and thought, what am I going to do? Well, there are different groups at Walmart. There are 400 store managers and then 40 district people - about the number of everyone I had at Tweeter…
“My whole career has been pattern recognition – about where I can find the familiar and make something happen with it. The scale took getting used to at Walmart, but you can still make an impact when you have the partnership of the leaders.
“And that’s what we have here at HTSA,” Esterly said. “Getting the members’ buy-in was really important here, and I think we’ve succeeded.”