Q&A: HTSA’s Jon Robbins on New Member Benefits, Education Programs

Hear from Jon Robbins, executive director, HTSA about the buying group’s evolution, new benefits and the No. 1 problem facing integrators right now.


As the CE pro market evolved more towards custom integration, so did HTSA — with more members heavily entrenched in the custom installation business. But the group still has a significant contingency of large dealers that it considers hybrids — custom and retail — that have some of the most compelling and interactive showrooms in the world.

“We have been recognized nationally by our vendors and others for how HTSA members display and demonstrate high-performance residential technologies and products,” says Jon Robbins, executive director, HTSA.

“Because we are a very tight group with abundant and open best-practices sharing, a lot of our more pure-play CI guys have learned about and adopted the display concepts of our large hybrid members and created very compelling design centers that allow their clients to experience the absolute best of what is possible with technology today,” he adds.”

Catch up with Robbins and HTSA in the following CE Pro Q&A.

In general, why should an integrator consider joining a buying group?

There are many reasons, both in terms of tangible, direct benefits — and intangible, indirect benefits.

The tangible reasons tend to center around program and financial benefits. The group has negotiated strong programs with its leading technology vendor partners that can add a substantial amount of profit to the member’s bottom line. In addition to that, the group has an unsurpassed package of business services and marketing initiatives that help to either lower the dealer’s cost of business, or drive top-line growth, often at little or no cost.

In many cases, an individual dealer wouldn’t be substantial enough to even have access to these services, but thanks to the group relationship, these platinum-grade services are both available and affordable — or free.

But an argument could be made that the most powerful reason to join a group are the intangible benefits. Dealers joining HTSA have the opportunity to join an organization placing them on par with the finest high-performance dealers in the world.

We host two offsite member conferences every year where the joining dealer rubs shoulders with this incredible member brain trust. And thanks to our tradition of copious best-practices sharing, the dealer joining HTSA gets a quick PhD in business success.

In addition to that, more than any other group, HTSA conducts a series of educational programs that train both the dealer and his team on key technologies, products, business practices and more. This educational aspect of HTSA, we believe, is world class, and priceless.

For example, we just recently signed a new member and in his very first week as part of HTSA, he was engaging with a service provider who offered them the opportunity to have personality profile testing of applicants to help select better employees. What’s the value of having better employees and managers? Priceless. How much did this program cost the member? Nothing.

Based on an analysis of your membership, on average by how much does being a member of HTSA improve their bottom line with the buying power, improved operational efficiency and marketing guidance?

I’ll answer that question this way: the fact that our members attend our conferences at a rate of well over 90 percent tells us that they obviously see a huge value in the group to fully participate.

And we aren’t just getting the principals; many bring one or more members of their team to participate in the training and information sharing initiatives. They want to come. We get the same incredible participation rates at our training events — events that are designed to maximize their payoff from this new knowledge.

What are some key member benefits HTSA has introduced in the past year?

Far and away our greatest initiative over the last 18 months, based on my assessment when I took over as executive director that we needed to shake complacency out of the group, is a dramatically ramped-up series of educational programs we call our Masterclass sessions. I cannot overstate the impact of these initiatives on driving our members’ success.

We took a couple of important steps to make this happen. First, we partnered with one of the finest training institutes in the country — Maverick Technical Institute in Nashua, N.H. — to create our technical Masterclass Bootcamp training for Level 1 and Level 2 techs. The curriculum of this training not only teaches the technical aspects of how to install products, it goes well beyond that to, for example, teach HTSA techs correct methods on safety issues, such as how to properly climb and operate a ladder; or even how to properly communicate with the client.

This program has had two major results: first, our members are experiencing reduced injuries and greater up-time for their install teams; second, our members who have sent their techs for this training report that they come back more committed to their job and their employer — perhaps in appreciation for receiving such a professional education. In other words, our members are enjoying a greater employee retention rate, in part because of this program.

We believe that we have been successful in raising the bar by unleashing an army of the most knowledgeable and most professional installation techs in the industry, bar none.

The second thing we did to re-invent our educational programs, is we partnered with all subject matter experts to modify their programs — or their methods — specifically for HTSA. This has turned every training event into special HTSA opportunities.

We have also dramatically expanded our educational initiatives to include business management training. We just recently wrapped up our EOS Masterclass, which helps entrepreneurial operations be more effective in achieving their goals.

Finally, we are about to announce an all-new, totally progressive online marketing program  that will turbo-charge the marketing prowess of our members in conjunction with HTSA vendors. I can’t say much about it now, but it will be another element to drive our members continued growth.

What is the most pressing problem integrators face currently and how is HTSA helping its members address that problem?

In a word: people. Finding, hiring and keeping qualified people is an industry-wide problem and our members face it too. HTSA addresses the issue by applying all of the elements we’ve already discussed. Our training programs help improve the knowledge of our members’ staff — both for their own benefit, and potentially for the benefit of others as they may go on to train other employees.

Additionally, we’re actively taking steps to help make our principals much better at driving their entrepreneurial businesses. Our EOS Masterclass exists exactly for that purpose, but we have other training programs to address that goal as well.

Finally, HTSA initiatives include helping members make sure they have the right people in the right seats … and further aid in employee retention. Our educational programs designed to drive our members’ business growth help to provide new career paths and increased opportunities for their employees. Couple this with our skill-based educational initiatives to improve their employees’ knowledge and grow their skills, resulting in improved job satisfaction and retention … and you have a best-in-class suite of programs to address the people issue.