7 Big Mistakes Every Integrator Makes (updated with comments)

From hiring relatives to overpaying employees, two veteran integrators offer sage advice of what to avoid.


Everybody makes mistakes. It is unavoidable. How you learn from those mistakes is the key so you don’t repeat them.

Two battle-worn industry veterans — Dennis Jaques of Maverick Integration in New Hampshire and Kim Michels of Electronic Environments in New York City — offered some advice to others based on their own experiences at this year's Azione Unlimited. Combined they have nearly 50 years of experience in the industry.

1. Hiring Family, Relatives and Friends – As Jaques says, “There is 100 percent chance that at some point you will have to fire one of your relatives. That makes Thanksgiving difficult.” So, he advises, never hire them unless you are prepared to fire them. He told the story of hiring his brother-in-law years ago, only to find out that he was colorblind. That’s a problem when he has been terminating cable in the field for a year.

2. Beta Testing Products in Clients’ Homes – It sounds like a great idea. You have an early adopter client who is OK with you testing out a new system in their home, often at a discount. Michels says his company has “suffered great harm” from this policy in the past. Today, he engineers everything in his office before deployment. “You have to make sure it works,” he adds.

3. Taking Unprofitable Jobs – It sounds like common sense to only take on jobs that make profit, but the duo said they learned the lesson of taking a project on a thin margin thinking they could squeeze out more profit with efficiency. In most cases, it just doesn’t happen.

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4. Overpaying for an Employee – Jaques goes so far as to advise integrator to pay every employee in like job positions the exact same amount. Not doing that creates two problems, he says. First, usually the employee is not worth the extra money. “I was too busy making money to realize that I was losing money on an overpaid employee. It took me a year to figure it out,” he says. Second, employees talk “when they find out that one of their peers is making more than everyone else, it demoralizes everyone. Pay equally, but pay well,” says Jaques.

5. Keeping Employees Who are a Pain in the Butt – The dreaded PITA employee is a problem everyone faces at some point. “Without realizing it, when an employee is a pain, you end up favoring him. You make excuses for him. All the other techs see it,” says Jaques. In his case, often the troublesome employee is also a very skilled employee. “When we are all struggling to find good technicians, it makes it harder to let a great technician go. It was hard to do, but one of the best decisions I have made,” he says. Michels says the tell-tale signal to recognize when an employee is a pain in the ass is when you are spending too much of your time managing him. “It is better in the long run. When we are all struggling to find good technicians, it makes it harder to let a great technician go, but you have to get rid of him,” says Michels.

6. Not Walking Away from a Bad Sale – This is not the retail business … not all sales are good sales. Michels deadpans, “If a client sounds crazy and demanding, believe him!” Jaques adds, “If you are the fourth integrator on a project, it is unlikely that all three of the previous guys were terrible. The common denominator is the client. Listen to the bird in your head,” he advises.

7. Thinking your Systems Are Bulletproof – Michels says, “First of all, it is a terrible sales pitch to make to a customer that your systems are bulletproof because all systems need to be maintained.” He cited one particular cross-country project that Electronic Environments did that needed someone out to the home once per week on average. Moreover, that “no maintenance-needed” attitude also means you are less likely to try to sell a service agreement.

Any other big mistakes you want to share? Please comment.

About the Author

Jason Knott
Jason Knott:

Jason Knott is Chief Content Officer for Emerald's 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.