Integrating the Integrators: So Far, So Good for VIA International
After successfully melding company cultures and establishing best practices, VIA International touts 22 locations in 8 states with $69.8 million in revenue for 2013.
Jason Knott · June 13, 2014 With that combination has also come greater resources that allow them to do things that individually members could not have done.
“I don’t say the plight of the CI business is a seat-of-the-pants business,” notes Thies. “We all thought we had great processes and procedures, but we have come to realize that our processes and procedures aren’t really where they needed to be.”
For example, VIA brought in an outside sales consulting company to analyze its sales process, “flip it on its head” and set up VIA’s 40 salespeople with the same messaging about technology and the same in-the-field tools.
“We are all getting on a very common sales process and messaging approach,” says Thies. “That would have never happened had we not come together. I think we would be running the way we did for a very long time and limiting ourselves in a lot of ways.”
One key element of that sales process is getting everyone hooked into a common D-Tools database.
“Though it is not fully implemented yet, we will have one common design package. So a plan set in L.A. will look the same as a plan set in Aspen, for example. That unites the brands, but it also adds efficiency,” explains Whitehead.
REDUCING VENDORS, ANALYZING METRICS
In unison, VIA became a member of the Home Technology Specialists of America (HTSA) buying group, which helped reduce some of the conflicting brands being carried by the various VIA members. According to Whitehead, they have streamlined those vendor relationships, going deeper in terms of product lines with particular vendors.
He says a lot of progress has been made in that area. The group is still working with certain legacy vendors due to ongoing projects that were in the pipeline. In terms of categories, some districts have been very successful in certain technologies that others have not touched — but now at least the sales and installation model is there for consideration in those other districts.
For example, “motorized shading is a big smash success in San Francisco,” says Thies. “They have a showroom dedicated to motorized shading and have done really well with it. Seeing that, we basically want to copy and paste that into all of the other districts where it makes sense. There is a little more resistance and markets are a little bit different, but we will deploy that in most of our districts.”
Security is another example. It has been done very well in Arizona and Utah, and it’s on the upswing in Texas and Colorado, but some of the other districts are not doing it. As part of the information-sharing process, VIA has also set up a series of key business metrics to guide the group.
“We are always looking at revenue per employee as a metric. That’s a constant, especially as we evaluate further,” says Thies. “We are in a unique position because we are adding on corporate staff, but we still have to maintain enough staff at the different locations to deploy our projects. So that is a bit of a sensitive balance.”
Integrating the Integrators
VIA International merged six custom integration firms that individually were no strangers to the CE Pro 100:
- Cyber Sound of Scottsdale, Ariz.
- DSI Entertainment of Los Angeles
- Engineered Environments of San Francisco (with offices in Hawaii and Houston DBA as Forefront Innovations)
- Paragon Technology of Aspen, Colo.
- S3 Aurant of Park City, Utah
- Studio AV of Bozeman, Mont. (with offices in Missoula, Mont.; and Jackson, Wyo.)
Another key metric is focusing on earning more profit from labor.
“Margins are eroding in all major product categories, and now home control is moving more toward becoming a commodity product. So we realize that we need to really focus on labor as a profit center. We’ve all been consciously devoted to making sure we are charging the appropriate amount for our project management time, our design time, and not relying on product margins to sustain the company,” notes Thies.
Lastly, service agreements is another priority of the group.
“We are trying to unify a single service program as a product offering,” says Whitehead. “We are clearly developing recurring revenue models with security or system maintenance agreements or monitored solutions. We have a product called VIA Home Manager (myviahome.com) that enables connectivity into estate properties that we work with. We are picking up information about these properties all the time, which is useful for the management of the properties and that creates a longer term sticky revenue model for us.”
At the corporate level, the company has hired, promoted and/or transferred a number of employees and full-time consultants into corporate roles, many of which have been offset by departures or terminations at the district level. These include a CEO, COO, CFO, director of human resources, director of sales, director of marketing, director of technical services, director of operational alignment, IT manager, buyer, production facility manager, software development specialist, (central) warehouse manager, corporate controller, payroll specialist, two A/P clerks, and a handful of rack assembly technicians. The corporate headquarters remain virtual, so the team is spread across multiple locations, mostly in the western
Jason Knott is Chief Content Officer for Emerald Expositions Connected Brands. Jason has covered low-voltage electronics as an editor since 1990, serving as editor and publisher of Security Sales & Integration. He joined CE Pro in 2000 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of that brand. He served as chairman of the Security Industry Association’s Education Committee from 2000-2004 and sat on the board of that association from 1998-2002. He is also a former board member of the Alarm Industry Research and Educational Foundation. He has been a member of the CEDIA Business Working Group since 2010. Jason graduated from the University of Southern California. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Jason at firstname.lastname@example.org
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