What’s Their Secret? Mixing Custom Install Business & Family
Run by Beatles namesake George Harrison with wife Kassa, Harrison Home Systems is making sweet music -- plus video, lighting, shades and more -- for clients as business booms in Colorado.
September 21, 2015
Far from the Fab Four’s origins in Liverpool, George Harrison and his wife Kassa are emerging as a dynamic duo in Denver. Their company, Harrison Home Systems, is enjoying a huge growth spurt. Projected 2015 revenues look to be up by almost a million dollars over last year’s and the integrator, who shares the name of the beloved Beatles guitarist, has to admit it’s getting better, it’s getting better all the time.
Since launching in 2000, Harrison Home Systems has evolved from a small, A/V-focused firm to a substantial player in the Denver market and now also offers home automation, lighting and shade control, among other systems. This past year has been game-changing for the Harrisons, who bid on a condo project and beat out two much larger local competitors to provide the infrastructure upgrades to 71 residences in Denver’s prestigious Cherry Creek neighborhood.
It’s a bit of an anomaly in Denver right now, as there are very few condo projects in the works due to a construction-defects lawsuit climate. This one, the 250 Columbine project, ranks as Denver’s largest and most high-end, for which Harrison Home Systems is installing span audio, video, lighting control and motorized shading.
While this particular project has facilitated swift and significant growth for Harrison Home Systems, it’s a natural progression on the road to the firm’s success. It’s achieved steady growth over the years, focusing on mid- to high-end automation projects and specializing in single-family, high-end custom installs, both large-scale remodels and new-construction projects.
“Our projects are various sizes, but we tend to focus on large whole-home automation projects,” George explains. “A typical large project for us is in the $250,000 to $300,000 range.”
Carry That Weight
As co-owners of the business, George serves as GM and head of sales, while Kassa handles financials, HR and marketing. The small company shoulders the load in seeing all projects through from sale to design to completion. The staff of eight includes: an assistant manager (who also oversees all lighting and shade design), business development director, project coordinator/office admin, system designer/warehouse manager, field project manager, lead technician, and two installation techs.
“At our size, we all still wear at least a couple of hats,” George says.
Managing several jobs can be tricky from a timing and staffing standpoint, he admits, so they intentionally keep a relatively lean full-time staff and have a reliable and reputable group of subcontractors and strategic partners with bigger horsepower available to help offset staff availability during the ebbs and flows.
“We use our strategic partners and some contract labor for pre-wire and entry-level installation, so we can keep our full-time staff focused on the finer points of our trade and keep our overhead low,” says George.
Do You Want to Know a Secret?
A significant secret to their success, the Harrisons admit they’ve never had to dip into their line of credit or take any short-term loans. Rather, they keep their deposits in a separate bank account and transfer them to the operating account on a monthly basis as income is earned on each project. “That way, we never spend tomorrow’s dollars on yesterday’s project.”
Company: Harrison Home Systems
Location: Golden, Colo.
Revenues (for 2014): $1.6 million
Revenues (projected for 2015): $2.5 million
Years in Business: 13
Number of Employees: 10
Specialty: Home Automation, AV, Lighting Control and Shades
Top 5 Brands: Lutron, Savant, James Loudspeaker, Integra, Revel
FYI (One piece of advice to another dealer): “Work on developing strategic partnerships with other trades in your market.”
Invoicing adheres to pretty much the same financial philosophy. For larger projects, the company invoices for a 20 percent deposit, an equipment deposit, a progress payment upon installation and a final payment upon punch list/programming completion. Smaller projects vary a little more but come in somewhere around a 70 percent deposit, 20 percent upon installation and remainder upon completion schedule. To keep things moving along on time and on budget, the company relies on its suppliers to get the basics to them quickly with free shipping.
“We have certain items that we stock, so we can pull them immediately for service or a fast-paced job,” George notes. “But, we still actively try to keep inventory low. We also have a very good relationship with Best Buy for Business for securing TV models and storing them until we need to install them.”
Describing themselves as “obsessive” about their processes, the couple documents everything and uses Google Drive to manage projects.
“We leverage technology in the field. Our technicians update project info onsite in real-time to Google Drive. They use Skype and FaceTime to allow more daily visibility across projects to management,” says Kassa. “These strategies, among many others, allow us to operate like a much larger company at our relatively smaller size. It provides our customers with the best of both worlds.”
From Me to You
Being both life partners and business partners has its rewards, and its drawbacks, the couple concedes. The perks they point to include being able to spend a lot of their days together.
“We work as a team to shape our future and our existence instead of having to accommodate the interests of shareholders or corporate pressure,” George says. “We make financial decisions that are beneficial to us and our employees as if the business were a big family, which, in essence, it is. We have a lot of flexibility in our day-today schedules which helps us tend to and spend a lot of time with our young children, which is one of our top priorities in life.”
There are also challenges. Those include a difficulty unplugging during “personal/ family” hours as well as the inability for both to completely leave work behind while on vacation, for instance.
“This has improved though, as we continue to grow our talented team,” Kassa notes.
A key strategy the couple has relied upon to help manage working together is having very differently defined roles in the business. They deliberately carve out some space from work in the evenings and on the weekends and have a code word (which they won’t reveal) that either person can say to stop a business conversation at any time outside of work. The agreement is the other person can’t get mad or argue about it.
“It acts as a personal safety function to protect both of us when we need space from work,” she Kassa adds. “Our very observant and savvy 5-year-old knows this word and uses it to her advantage, often.”
United in work and life goals, the couple wants the company to continue to grow both in expertise and level of service they provide, but remain small enough to touch and feel every project.
“We have a 5-year-old girl and a 3-year-old boy and that’s probably going to be all for us,” George says. “We share in our duties, and since we had our daughter in 2009, Kassa has worked parttime. Kassa is more of the default parent so to speak and I am more the default business owner when either needs special attention.”
The couple offers up this advice to other husband-and-wife business teams: “Clearly delineated responsibilities and a sense of humor are key if you’re going to work with your spouse. It’s going to be messy at times and anyone who says it’s not isn’t really being honest. Give each other a break; nobody is perfect and there will be lots of ups and downs. In the end, the business you create together makes your relationship that much more meaningful.”
And, as an added safety net, George and Kassa have a longstanding pact that their marital relationship and family come first.
“If we ever get in a situation where the business is straining that relationship beyond what is acceptable to us, we will go our separate ways in business,” they concur. “Knowing that helps us feel less stuck when times get rough.”
Magical Mystery Tour
Touring the training circuit has been instrumental for Harrison Home Systems’ success. Keeping on top of emerging technologies has long been a priority and, over the past two-plus decades, George has earned just about every major manufacturer training certification available. All of the company’s technicians are CEDIA certified and hold certifications from Savant and Lutron, among many others.
“We have always invested heavily in staff training” George notes. “We participate in the CEDIA Expo as a company. We offer paid training time and costs. We also encourage our staff to study and read up in their spare time to help themselves continue to develop their career paths.”
Last year, the company initiated an internal training program based on needs in the field and new trends. These monthly training topics range from system troubleshooting to motorized shade installation and include manufacturer/rep training, peer-to-peer and/or management instructions. A CE Pro 100 honoree in 2014, Harrison Home Systems also earned the Champions of Change award in recognition for improvements made in employee retention efforts from ideas gained at the CE Pro Summit in November 2014. They put together a plan to retain employees and make their company a place people want to work long-term.
“We improved our benefits package, added supplemental insurance, and have 100 percent participation,” Kassa says. “The staff is glad to have the opportunity to have a 401(k) profit sharing plan and the opportunity to leverage our training program. The more we can empower our staff to tackle changing industry trends and challenges in the field, the more they feel they can enhance their careers.”
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