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Electrician Conquers Low-Voltage World

Ric Johnson took his three-man electrical outfit to a million-dollar business.


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Ric Johnson (center) accepts the Leadership Award from CEA TechHome Division chair Ian Hendler (left) of Leviton, and Roland Graham of HDHomes.net, chair of the Mark of Excellence committee at EHX Spring 2010.

If you want to make it big in the world of custom electronics, you have to learn to adapt. New technologies, new standards, new tools and new clients. The chameleon is typically king.

Just ask Ric Johnson, who provides a variety of services under a trio of companies: Ric's Electric, Elite Systems Solutions and Ohio Home Theater.

Ric's Electric was founded as a three-man operation in 1968. Johnson himself has been a master electrician since 1969. Having electrical experience certainly helped the company move into more markets. But as business grew, Ric's Electric started getting a bit of pushback and competition from some of the local audio/video houses.

"Builders and contractors decided that they didn't want an electrician doing the work versus a specialist like a security company or a low-voltage company," says Johnson. "They wanted this automation stuff done by somebody that really understands it."

Johnson did understand it, quite well, in fact. So in the mid-'90s, he decided to branch out beyond the electrical shop. Today, Elite Systems Solutions operates as a separate entity. Johnson admits that it can be confusing for someone looking for multiple disciplines. But it also has its advantages.

"We no longer get the questions about, 'Do you know what you're doing?'" he says. "We can tell the client that certain portions can be handled by different areas of the business."

The operation features five different practices: residential, light commercial, medical tele-healthcare, and of course, electrical. The commercial focus has gotten so busy, Johnson is in the process of moving all of the residential projects Ohio Home Theater, a business name that he's owned for over 15 years.

Right now, about 90 percent of the company's work comes through a general contractor or developer. When it comes to the residential side, Johnson says the company is currently working in homes that sell between $250,000 and $400,000. An average installation involves structured wiring, with 40 percent of those homes looking for central vac, and another 20 percent seeking out multiroom audio.

Even though many of his clients want entertainment, Johnson says they also want variety. "We aren't building any dedicated home theaters, but we're building a lot of theater spaces and great rooms," he adds.

The typical install will have Cat 5 for control and phones and Cat 6 for streaming Netflix, gaming and other entertainment. "We do a lot of HDMI runs to a central cabinet, so we can multi-source different things back to that flat panel as well as the streaming audio/video."

Because of all of the web-based entertainment out there, networking has become a huge part of the average install. Some homes are looking for hardwired systems, some want wireless, and many want a combination of the two.

"Copper is the best source for non-interference, but we're not against wireless. We just advise people that if they want wireless, that we hide it," Johnson says. "We put security systems in to keep people from stealing our valuables, but if we don't secure our networks, a guy can get in and steal your identity in about 30 seconds."

Suggestions like that drive Johnson and his company to be active in as many areas of a project as possible. He says it's not uncommon for Elite to question the builder, the client, and the electrician, assuming it's not Ric's Electric. "We talk to their plumbing contractor, since plumbing is becoming more technology driven," he says. "The HVAC contractor deals with us, since we're normally going to put in a networked thermostat. We touch quite a few of the other trades, and because of our background, we don't get a lot of pushback. They know we know what we're talking about."

Although that background is still very prominent in the company, Johnson says it's not really the bread and butter anymore. "The downturn of the economy has closed a lot of electrical contractors, so there are electricians in the field basically giving away their services," he says. "We probably won't do $200,000 in electrical this year. Elite is somewhere close to $1 million."

Still, it's an important part of the company's tradition - and also helps to set his entire outfit apart from the competition, even in a very competitive marketplace. "When you look at our company, we kind of give them a complete package," Johnson says. "But if you only want parts of it, we have no problem with that."




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4 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by Peter Hoagland  on  06/20  at  11:39 AM

Well deserved. Ric is one of the best citizens and a tireless volunteer in the CE community.

Posted by pcompton  on  06/20  at  04:47 PM

That article makes me hate elctricians a little less now.  Just kidding. 

Nice article for a guy whom has obviously paid his dues. 

Kudos to you Mr. Johnson.

Posted by jhamill1  on  06/21  at  07:22 AM

The rare exception to the “Oh, yeah, I do that audio-visual stuff, too. Now, let me tromp over to that local distributor so the counter guy can teach me how to do cheap and terrible AV” rule about electricians and security guys.

Posted by Fred Harding  on  06/21  at  07:49 AM

Ric was one of the guys that helped write comptia standards for technicians.

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