How Synovate Technologies Thrives on Opportunity
Synovate Technologies has made a name for itself by reaping the rewards of clothing manufacturer Affliction.
Most people gamble when they go to Las Vegas. Ricky Willis took a gamble when he left. The future CEO of Synovate Technologies held both a solid job and pedigree in the custom installation industry, he was just reaching his mid-20s, and at that time in 2008 there was little indication of the impending economy collapse that would devastate boom markets like Vegas.
But Willis also had a vision for how he felt the vast experience he already possessed could be put toward prosperity elsewhere. Plus, on the side the Southern California native had been returning to the Los Angeles area on weekends to outfit - as a solo effort - a small retail store with electronics. He decided it was a good time to return to Orange County and test the waters.
“It got to a point where I was sick and tired of running back and forth from Las Vegas. One week I talked to my dad about going into [his integration] business with him, taking the state contractors license test, changing his business model a little,” Willis says. “Looking back on it now, it was pretty foolishly blind. When I moved back, I had kind of banked on the fact that the economy was good … we hadn’t seen it start diving in Orange County yet.”
Of course, plans don’t always work out as expected, and Willis’ did not. Joining his father’s business didn’t happen. But his gamble has paid off - not in a Vegas-style jackpot way, but in the persistent, hard-working way that CE pros can emulate.
With his Huntington Beach, Calif.-based Synovate Technologies having brought in more than $1 million in revenues last year, Willis would be a prime candidate for inclusion if CE Pro were to do a sequel to our provocative article about successful young integrators.
Synovate Technologies Inc.
Location: Huntington Beach, Calif.
Principals: Ricky Willis, CEO
Years in Business: 3
Number of Employees: 5
Revenues (for 2010): $1,054,000
Resi/Commercial Split: 90/10
Specialties: A/V, control, security, structured cabling, dedicated theaters
Top Brands: Crestron, Pioneer Elite, LG, Triad, SpeakerCraft, Honeywell, HP Procurve, InnAVate Electronics, Vantage
FYI: Never give the opportunity for your client to not be happy about their low-voltage purchase.
Willis says he started wiring homes when he was 14, working summers with his father’s install crews at Leading Edge Sound and Security. “This was in 1999, when the housing boom was just on the horizon, and I watched how successful my family had become in the low-voltage industry,” he recalls.
“My family had always been in the alarm system install and monitoring industry. I watched my folks gather a few hundred monitoring accounts, which usually came with a free or almost-free system. After a few years of signing monitoring contracts, we would cash out on the equity in the contracts.
“When the audio/video installs really took off in the early 2000s, I watched the progress my family made in their business faster than it had ever happened while only doing alarm systems.”
As the light bulb went off in Willis’ head, he enrolled in a day tech school, continued to work on installations and kept himself up to date on technology trends (“I remember reading how the whole industry was going to change and become controlled by home networks,” he says). In 2005 he took a job at Communication Electronic Systems in Las Vegas, a “gigantic commercial systems integrator,” when the construction boom was hitting its peak. The family-run company had about 120 employees and pulled in $20 million to $30 million in installs a year, Willis says.
The commercial experience struck a chord, and eventually the light bulb went off again, especially as Willis began applying his efforts on the side project back home.
Arlen Schweiger is managing editor of CE Pro, Commercial Integrator and Security Sales & Integration magazines. Arlen contributes installation features, business profiles, manufacturer news and product reviews. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Arlen at [email protected]
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