Matt Scott heads to his first HTSA Conference
A few weeks ago I was invited to attend the HTSA Fall Conference in Dallas Texas to participate in their fall conference. Now they’ve invited me in the past and I haven’t been able to attend but Tim has attended in my place. This year I was pleased to be able to shoehorn it into my schedule, albeit not completely into my schedule as I had to fly out late Wednesday night to make an event in Toronto on Thursday. Nevertheless, I was planning to make the most of this event and hopefully have some great interviews. (Sidenote: For this event, we were experimenting with a new portable travel video rig and unfortunately the audio we captured wasn’t up to our standards here at AVNation.tv so you’re going to get a couple articles from yours truly instead of being forced to watch me on your screen. So it’s really a win for you!)
So, let’s kick it right off with a running timeline of my 30 something hours in Dallas with my new friends, the members of HTSA. I do want to give a minor PSA, I’ve really had very little interaction with HTSA members before this. I believe I’ve met Jon Robbins once, for a brief second. I don’t know of any of my current circle of integrators being members. We, here at AVNation.tv have covered HTSA stories in the past, but that’s it. I’ve never been invited to participate in a buying group meeting, so this was a completely new experience for me. Going into this event I was looking forward to the event, looking forward to seeing how the meetings at a buying group are, what the atmosphere is like, etc. Let me tell you, I wasn’t disappointed.
I arrived in Dallas and hoped in an Uber to get to the event hotel. A Marriott conference centre under the Renaissance brand, that even had a room ready moments after I arrived to allow me to drop my luggage, refresh for a moment and then grab my suit coat as I headed out the door to get to registration. Once I registered, I received my badge and schedule then headed into the Venderfest. If you don’t know about VendorFest, it’s HTSA’s opportunity for their Manufacturer Members to display something in a Tabletop exhibit space. I walked around briefly and took in some of the displays and looked for anything surprising and found a few surprising things like the appearance of the automated umbrella company ShadeCraft, and the ever-expanding outdoor environment company Coastal Source. I also had a great time walking around and seeing so many good friends from Leon Speakers, Crestron, Steward Film screen, etc. Watching the integrators walking around and interfacing with the manufactures in this environment wasn’t unlike any other event tabletop roadshow style event but somehow seemed different. I couldn’t exactly put my finger on it but after a week or so I’d attribute it to the fact that there didn’t seem to be the window shopping that you see at most tabletop events every visit seemed to be about the business of doing business. During Venderfest and the following cocktail hour, there was the expected socializing but always with a business undertone. It was quite refreshing to see and actually quite unexpected.
That evening there was a dinner reception where attendees we able to sit down and mingle, talking among themselves. Jon Robbins, welcomed everyone and spoke a few words to the audience and then dinner was free to begin. At our table, there was a good mix of vendors, integrators, and press. Conversation although it began fairly compartmentalized at the table between people who already knew each other, it quickly evolved into a conversation that revolved around a few different topics but seemed to involve everyone present. Whether it was the World Series, client demographics, new products, CEDIA, or the event itself the conversation just continued to flow. The evening ended with people going their separate ways to take part in other conversations or in my case… bed.
The following morning kicked off the main day of the event with a few general sessions and in my case, interviews with a variety of members. In-between the general sessions, integrator members were scheduled for one-on-one meetings with a variety of vendors to have serious business conversations in a private roundtable situation. The first session began with Jon Robbins giving a talk on Leadership. He reminded everyone present that inspiring leaders lead by example and that great leaders are truly great at simplifying things. It’s always inspiring to me to see, or better hear, people, discuss leadership. Personally, I feel its something that hasn’t be shared enough, especially in our residential side of the industry. The next general session saw Stephen Baker, an analyst with NPD, sharing with the amassed members on the penetration and awareness of Smart Home technology. In particular interest to this group was the expectation that home technology is expected to rise 18% this coming year and that the best growth in the home technology channel is the premium market. But he cautioned that consumers need to see the value proposition, they won’t be intimidated and just back up a truck full of money. Their expectations are high, they want a smart home but it must integrate, it must play nice. He was also very bullish on the health and wellness play but cautioned everyone in the room that we all (as in everyone, not just the HTSA members but the collective global “we”) need to find a way to deliver “healthcare”. The one topic that he dug into that I found very surprising was the concept that the Kitchen will change over the next 10 years. Soon 50% of all dinners with be brought in, because people aren’t cooking the way they have in the past. It was a very interesting discussion and Stephen kept hammering the point that home technology is going to become a MUST HAVE opposed to a Nice To Have but we as integrators need to rise to that occasion and meet the demand.
Alex Capecelatro, took the stage to discuss where Voice stands today as a control interface and gave a quick demo on the Josh.ai platform and how it functions vs the commoditized voice products. I’ve always loved Josh.ai and love listening to Alex talk about voice with a passion that I personally haven’t experienced with anyone else. The last general session was given by Tom Doherty and focused on one of my personal favorite topics, lighting. Last year at their fall conference HTSA announced that it was getting into the lighting business. Now read that last statement carefully, Lighting. Not lighting control, but Lighting! This was met with varied feedback within the press, myself included. At this conference, Tom outlined where this year-old initiative stands and where it’s going. The biggest announcement was that HTSA has partnered with the American Lighting Association (the ALA) to modify the ALA’s Lighting Specialist certification to be a 1-day program that is tailor-made for HTSA member integrators. To date, there are currently 30+ members who now hold that accreditation with another class happening before the end of the year to bring that number up to 55+ members. This certification is, in my opinion, the missing key to this initiative. Asking integrators to jump into lighting as a vertical is going to be pretty far outside their normal area of expertise. Although we know the control aspect of it and usually picked up some of the basic tenants of lighting design though that side of the business. But learning how to properly design and deploy actual lighting designs let alone managing the seemly endless number of vendors and design options seems at first glance to be possibly an insurmountable task. But by partnering with the ALA to properly train their integrators on lighting and then adding Lightology as a vendor partner shows that this isn’t just a passing fade for HTSA, that this lighting initiative is the real deal. I got a chance to sit down with Tom to talk about lighting and everything that he’s involved with, but more on that in another article. As someone who has been designing a lighting system for commercial environments, stage environments and for the last 8 -10 years, residential environments… there wasn’t much that Tom discussed that I disagreed with. I was pleasantly surprised to hear him push integrators to have a lighting showroom that didn’t need to focus on the fixtures peruse but allows integrators to demonstrate lighting temperatures, beam spread, colour rendering indexes, etc. These are the key details that allow integrators to expand into a new vertical successfully and I’m happy to see that HTSA seems to have approached it correctly.
Throughout the rest of the day, I had a couple of one-on-ones that you’re read about another article. I left the event for a late flight back to Canada in the late afternoon and snuck in a quick Chik-fil-la dinner in the Dallas airport and had a few moments to reflect on my first HTSA event. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t have much to compare this event too but will say that years ago when I heard Jon Robbins make the clarification that they aren’t just a buying group but a Trade Consortium I wrote it off to marketing coming up with some fancy wordplay. But after experiencing one of their events and talking to many of their members they seem to have created something bigger than just a buying group. There is a sense of community, a sense of belonging, there is something there that it’s hard to put your finger on. They don’t just come together to buy home technology at a discount. They seem to work hard to ensure that all their members can benefit from the hive’s mind. They encourage mindshare, and collaboration to work through the growing pains that all integrators deal with. They are being progressive with their initiatives and supporting them beyond just lip service. All in all, it was a great experience and I look forward to seeing what they do in the years ahead.
Matt D. Scott
AVNation.tv, Co-Founder OMEGA Audio Video, President