Taking extra precautions to keep attendees safe from potential COVID-19 exposure, Azione Unlimited held its “Nikhedonia in Nashville” fall conference hosting 230 attendees. The event was proof that a conference can be conducted safely, and as much a celebration of meeting physically in-person as it was a recognition of the record-setting sales the group’s members continue to have in 2021.
“Business is great,” succinctly said Richard Glikes, president of the buying group. Collectively, members of Azione Unlimited have had record sales in every month in 2021. Azione now has 257 dealer members, including 31 in Canada. In June 2021 alone, sales for members were up more than 50%. Glikes says the sales are not just in staple categories of audio, video and control, but energy, voice, lighting fixtures and other emerging categories.
All that sales growth is happening while the market is still facing supply chain pressures, which several vendors noted are likely not to ease until 2023. In the meantime, Glikes advised dealers to adjust their contracts with customers to reduce the 10% holdbacks due for full completion of the project.
“How can you finish the job when you don’t have all the parts?” he asked rhetorically. He recommended integrators possibly change proposals to read the holdback in due upon “substantial completion” instead of “full completion.” In the meantime, he advised dealers to carefully analyze their inventory.
“Just in time ordering of equipment does not work anymore,” he noted.
At the event, both sponsors and dealers truly relished the face-to-face communication even while other groups have opted to cancel their meetings. All attendees at the conference had to either have a negative COVID test immediately prior to the event or show their proof of vaccination. Each morning, every attendee had a temperature check. Masks were required for any unvaccinated attendees.
“We only lost 30 attendees who refused to come, mainly due to travel restrictions,” Glikes told CE Pro. Fewer than five companies decided not to attend due to the mandatory testing or vaccine proof requirements. In all, only four vendors cancelled, three due to their companies’ COVID travel restrictions: Sony, Sonos and Samsung.
Azione Key Initiatives, Idea Sharing
Among the key initiatives Azione is working on are special classes for members to achieve American Lighting Association Lighting Specialist designations. The group is also continuing to enhance its new website for workforce development: smarthomehire.com. To date, the site has garnered nearly 20,000 pageviews and 1,300 unique visitors. Another initiative in the works is the Azione Architect and Designer Alliance (AADA), which is a website aimed at outreach to members of the AIA, ASID and CRAN associations in the design and architectural space. Lastly, Azione is looking at hiring a full-time, in-house lighting design professional who can work with members on their project layouts.
The event included lots of idea-sharing. In one session, integrators shared the most important change they had made in their business during the pandemic. Among the advice offered was how to structure your company, how to adopt lighting fixtures successfully, how to provide meaningful gifts to employees and clients, and ways to build team culture in the business.
Randy Stearns, CEO of D-Tools, spoke to the group about creative ways to solve the labor shortage. Stearns advised integrators to not necessarily leap to hiring new people, but instead work on establishing best practices that can improve efficiency.
“Hiring more people is the easy way to put a Band-Aid on a wound,” he noted. Stearns relayed how he made one small change years ago in his organization that resulted in jumping the employee utilization rate from 63% to 87%.
“I minimized the office time for the technicians. I sent them straight to the jobsite with the company vehicles. They only had to come to the office occasionally for training,” he recalls.
One other highlight from the event was the return of Sam Runco, who relayed his rags-to-riches story to the group. Chad Russell of Josh.ai reviewed the future of interfaces, noting that voice control will be the dominant interface in the future, not the touchpanel. Lastly, Ari Supran, CEO of Sonance, discussed how to effectively build company culture. He outlined the three attributes of a team player as: humble, hungry and smart. Sonance uses that criteria for its hiring and it has elevated the company’s culture tremendously, he says.