110: HTSN is Putting an Emphasis on Education

Written by Rob Stott

March 15, 2022

Whether it’s new partnerships like that with Snap One, or upcoming programming with CEDIA Tech Summits and the HTSN CI Summit, education is at the heart of everything Hank Alexander is doing for Nationwide Marketing Group’s network of custom integration dealers.

Here are the links to the two events discussed during this week’s episode:


Rob Stott: All right. We’re back on the Independent Thinking Podcast. And we were just saying literally just moments ago that it has been a while. I think the last time we podcasted, we had done it back to back and they were close to each other. Maybe that I just, something in my head was like, we need to not for a bit, but then it turned into, it’s been almost a year Hank.

Hank Alexander: It’s good to be back with you. And it has been a while.

Rob Stott: I know.

Hank Alexander: HTSN, the report we did. Yeah. A survey. Yeah.

Rob Stott: Yeah. So sometime around like April or May ‘21 was the last time we had you on and here we are March ‘22. Yeah. Thanks for coming on. Our director of HTSN ready to dive into, we got a lot to talk about today. So I’m excited to have you catch up on how things are going in the world of custom integration for our nationwide dealers and let’s start. We’re coming off of not too long ago, PrimeTime, where you had quite the show, very busy show for the HTSN group. Part of which included a pretty big announcement with Snap One coming on board and bringing their full line. Obviously we had some relationships already with some of their brands, but now we get the whole kit and caboodle.

Hank Alexander: We got all of it.

Rob Stott: So, talk about that a little bit. What does that mean for our dealers and what you’re trying to build here with HTSN?

Hank Alexander: Yeah, absolutely. So yeah, we’ve had a longstanding relationship with Control4 and when they were acquired by SnapAV, which became Snap One, it kind of made sense to start that conversation with snap One. And as I started to work with Greg Simmons and their team over there, it really became very apparent all the categories and brands that they’re in, whether that’s SunBrite or Araknis  or MantelMount, whatever it is, that there was a lot of real opportunity there for us. And so we went all in all the Snap categories and brands.

Rob Stott: And now what does that… Oh, go for it.

Hank Alexander: No, go ahead.

Rob Stott: What does that do for, I obviously it opens up a lot of product opportunities and things like that for our dealers. But so that’s one major area that they’ll have to look forward to. What else excites you about the partnership and what Snap One brings to the table?

Hank Alexander: Well, yeah, absolutely. So unlike some of the programs that are out there, this being all the brands and all the categories, is it kind as a force multiplier with our program and the Snap One rewards program where some of the other programs that are out there with other groups, or just other things that are out there it’s certain categories or whatever. And so it becomes hard to multiply, “Hey, I’ve got a VIR from the group from my business and the rewards program.” Because it’s hard to tell how that all plays together with us having all of the categories, all of the brands, everything under the Snap portfolio, it really does become a force multiplier with your outdoor TV business and your Control4 business and your networking and all the different things that you’ve got out there. So Triad speakers is part of it, all of it.

Rob Stott: Now, are there any new areas that maybe haven’t been — not necessarily haven’t been a focus, but that this partnership brings new categories to the table for some of our dealers?

Hank Alexander: Yeah. The Triad speaker part of it is a really high end dedicated home theater speaker line. I don’t know if you’ve listened to any of the Triad stuff, if you’ve auditioned any of it, I had an opportunity need to listen to some of it, and it’s mind boggling. It’s just some of the cleanest, some of the best audio you’ll hear and they’ll custom do things, custom boxes. And I mean, it’s really a great line. And so that for me was really exciting. There’s probably other parts of it that I’m missing, but the speaker side of it was from Triad was a big thing for me.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. And I know Greg was with us in Phoenix and he talked a little bit too about the education side of things. I know that’s going to be a big focus for them. Talk about that a little bit and what they plan on doing there.

Hank Alexander: Greg, actually he started that education program himself and going into trades and bringing people from high school and trades into the AV business. And so, as guys are going through, or guys and girls are going through things like IT or some of the trades, they’re thinking about going right in into a corporate environment, they’re not even looking at the AV business, the residential and consumer AV business. When they start to look at that business, it really starts to become very attractive to them. And so they started to take that onto a corporate level and are starting a partner with some local trade schools and high schools in the Charlotte area and some other around the country. And when you think about what we’re doing, and we’re trying to recruit and bring new people into the AV business on our side, it’s a really cool thing.

So, there’s a lot of tie in on that partnership that we’re working with Greg and Snap One. So that, to me, shows somebody’s commitment to the business more than just cool products and a great program and good margin. And it’s clean on the internet, nobody’s selling it on Amazon or whatever it is, right. So from that side they have this commitment in the industry to bring new people in and help grow the business and are looking at putting your hand out and bringing that next generation up into the business. And I think that to me is probably one of the coolest things that they do.

Rob Stott: Yeah. And well, it kind of speaks to more broadly if anyone’s been paying any attention to what you’ve been doing with HTSN is the importance of education. And yeah, this might be a spoiler because we’re, by the time this publishes, it’ll be before the articles out. But you just wrote about education for an upcoming trade publication. So I talk about why is this such an important topic for you to focus on and put an emphasis on?

Hank Alexander: Well, as labor has over the last couple of years gotten more difficult for our integrators to find and retain, it becomes more and more of a focus of ours. Like where is that next generation? And how do I hang onto the guy that’s already there? And the guy it’s there is maybe also looking for, “Hey, I everything’s going up. I need a raise.” Well, that’s great, but you’re doing exactly what you did 24 months ago. Like what have you done? And so I look at education is that thing that you can hold out there and go like here’s CEDIA education. And that goes to our CEDIA partnership or, here’s some of these things start to add new value and that education side of it is very, very important to us. So we made last year, the 200 HTSN members, CEDIA members and gave them credit towards education.

Several of them have taken advantage of it, more taking advantage of it as we speak. And I look at that as really how you start to, they’ve got a great course on new hires. They’ve got courses for guys like you and I, or whatever that have been in the business for a long time. I actually am signed up for a couple of CEDIA classes because they do some things that are really neat, and who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. And so it’s like just a refresher and new things that are coming up through the pipeline.

Rob Stott: Well, and it’s kind of, there’s the two sides to that stone or that coin, whatever way you want to look at it. But the fact that as you’re training the individual, right? If someone’s becoming educated, they’re helping themselves as a professional in this space and improve, reduce the possibility of mistakes on a job which then in turn benefits your business, right. Because then you’re becoming less mistakes means you’re more profit not having to pay for those mistakes. So more profitable, you get to market yourself around that education maybe. So there’s really a lot of benefits to not just HTSN but the dealer themselves making the investment in education for them as a business owner and then also their team.

Hank Alexander: There’s some great business classes that CEDIA puts on for business owners. You really should, like when was the last time as an integrator, you sat down and you figured out like, “Okay, so my top line, I did X. But what was my bottom-line number?” Especially now that everything is going up, fuel costs and labor costs and equipment costs, like what’s my real bottom line number and how to calculate those kinds of things is something that a lot of people don’t… They get lost in that and they’re not watching that. They go, “Oh, we had a great week. We did $60,000 or we did 20…”

Whatever that number is, but they’re not looking at what was that bottom line margin number, and am I really making the same margin I was making a year ago, two years ago, five years ago, do I need to adjust? Am I making more money? Am I making less money? All those… So, there’s some great business classes in there that I think are just great. Touch ups for people who’ve been in the business for a long time and just need a new way to look at some things.

Rob Stott: Obviously you’re in touch with, and regularly talk to HTSN dealers. What’s your sense on how, where do they rank education? Like, is it something that you have to convince them to put an emphasis on or do they get it? Like what’s sort of the level of understanding around the side of the business?

Hank Alexander: That’s a great question. Most of them get it. In fact, the CEDIA thing wasn’t entirely our idea, it came out of our dealer advisory board. Dealers saying, “Hey, how do I get education for a new integrator, people I’m hiring? How do I get more education for the guy I have had on staff?” Those kinds of things. So it really kind of came out of our advisory board wanting more education. So yeah, I would say better than 50% of them it’s high on their agenda and on their list of things. Some of them, you got to kind of lead them to it. But most of them are looking at that and going, “No, we’ve got to do more.”

Rob Stott: No, I mean, that’s awesome. And encouraging to hear, right. It’s like one of those, I’m sure it’s like anyone, everyone wants to continue to educate themselves. It’s the finding time, right? Especially when demand has been so high in this space for projects and whatnot that it’s, maybe it’s tough to find education. So it’s one of those things that’s not, there are no immediate benefits necessarily. It takes time away from your everyday job and what you’re trying to get done. So it gets put on that back burner, but still good. I think to hear that they care about it, right.

Hank Alexander: And look, a lot of their education, CEDIA education is all online right now. They are going out live more and more. CEDIA’s got a partnership with the Powerhouse Alliance of distributors. So they’re starting to spin up their boot camps live in the field more, which we’re looking at partnering with some of those folks with. So there’s going to be more live things, but it being online, you can take a Saturday afternoon and do a quick last and stop it and start it. And you don’t have to sit down and spend eight hours. It’s something you could do in some spare time. And it’s like anything. You got to have some goals in life. And that goal of better more education is just, it’s got to be one of the things that you got to preach to integrators.

Rob Stott: Yeah. And I mean, encouraging to your point that they care about it. So I think it’s just the finding time and making the effort to get there. So absolutely. But hey, the tools are being put in front of them and they have access to the opportunity, which is awesome. And to your point, the getting back on the road, not to transition away, because I think we could still have the education talk around it because finally getting back on the road, right. There’s a couple events coming up that you’re excited about. I know we’ll start, I’m going to bury the lead on the one that you’re most excited about because you’re also taking part in some of these CEDIA Tech Summits. So they are getting back on the road, they’re going around and they’re getting up and moving with the Tech Summits in person. We saw a couple in the fall, but really the full slate it’s been a while. The full slate is up and moving here over the next and they’re making stops all over coast to coast and-

Hank Alexander: Yeah, they’re going to Canada. I think there’s 12 on the agenda and we’re doing 11 of them. So the only one we’re not doing is Canada. They added Denver, they got some great stops, it’s going to be in your neck of the woods, right?

Rob Stott: Yeah.

Hank Alexander: We’ve got Long Island and Newark coming up right away, DC, Philly. We’ve got some great ones coming up and so it’s great to be back out, PrimeTime was really, really good. So great attendance at PrimeTime. It was good to see everybody. That was our second one, and now getting back out to the CEDIA Tech Summits. Last week, we were in Los Angeles with Samsung at their national sales meeting. And frankly, that was 500 or 600 people at that. That was really kind of a great coming out for a lot of people. And so, yeah, it’s really good to get out and see people and start to hit the road again.

Rob Stott: Well, talk about these Tech Summits that CEDIA does. I’ll be with you when you’re in Philly for that one. I’m excited about that. What kind of goes down at these and for an attendee, what do they have to look forward to?

Hank Alexander: Yeah. So it’s really a great time to reconnect with maybe some reps in your market, see vendors, new products, there’s some education that goes around this. They usually have, I don’t want to call it a dark room, but an area set up a dark area with projectors, from Sony and Epson and Samsung and Snap One’s there, we’re obviously there great vendors. It’s a great way to see new products and reconnect with people and be out and look a lot of our integrators, they never stopped, right. They were 24/7. They were always out there in the customers home, but they maybe weren’t meeting with some of the vendors and some of the reps and some of the different folks. And so this is just a great way to get out there and get some additional education opportunities. We’re going to do some classes at a few of them the first couple coming up. We’re not doing classes at, but we are going to be doing some at some of these around the country.

Rob Stott: Have the conversations changed at all at these shows like pre-pandemic versus what’s happening now? And if so, I see you shaking your head. How have the conversations changed? What’s being discussed now?

Hank Alexander: Yeah, it’s interesting because integrators are looking at different verticals now than they maybe were before. Right? There’s obviously some clean air, clean home, health and those kinds of things that are coming up. But yeah, some of the conversations have changed around like how can you help me with inventory that’s been tight? I can’t find, a supply chains been really, really messed up the last 12 to 18 months. We’re hearing rumors. Some things are going to get better. Some things aren’t like, how does a group help me? And that’s a place where, frankly with our distribution relationships where you’ve got eight distribution relationships that you can lean in on versus maybe one local one, you’ve got some national players trying to find product and inventory in receivers or TVs or whatever it might be.

Those are the kinds of conversations that people are looking at to where frankly, in 2018 and 2019, those weren’t conversations people were having. Receivers weren’t a problem, right? Speakers weren’t a problem. Some of those things were problems. How do I find more speakers? How do I find more soundbars? How do I find this? How can you help me? And those are the kinds of things that a group can really lean in and help with. And so, yeah, the conversations have changed.

Rob Stott: Interesting. And obviously, they’re happening at places like Tech Summit, but I imagine we’ll be here in a lot of it and really diving into it an event two years in the making my friend. How excited are you to get the Dallas for the HTSN CI Summit?

Hank Alexander: Get into wonder if we’re ever going to get it. There should have been our fifth or sixth. And it’s really our third. We had obviously, because of the pandemic had to kind of cancel a few, but yeah, we’ve got the HTSN CI Summit coming up in Dallas, April 6th, 7th and 8th. A lot of great vendors, some phenomenal content. We’re going to go to the Samsung experience center in Dallas. We’ve got great vendor partners. We’ve got lunch and learns, which lunch and learns have been around for a while. But we’re also going to have breakfast meetings. So we’re calling those breakfast brainwashes. So we’re going to have some breakfast brainwashing. Really, really great content. We’re going to have some fun, we’ve got some really cool things planned. We’re going to have a gift back event, a casino night. So, and giving back is a big part of what we are at Nationwide.

We did No Child Hungry and we do some really great things at HTSN Summit. We’ve packed kits for veterans in the past and those kinds of things, but this one casino night, not only is it going to give locally to a really great charity veteran’s charity in the Dallas area, but half of the winnings from the winner of the poker night, we’re going to also take that and a charity of their choice and their local community. So it’s always great to help somebody out, but then be able to take that home to your local community and go, “You weren’t part of charity night, you weren’t part of casino night here’s.” And so we’re going to, it’s going to be a really cool event and it’s a hundred percent charitable donation.

Rob Stott: Oh, that’s awesome. I excited to see how jazzed you are because I know we’ve talked a lot, not on camera, about the things you got going on and what it’s been like to plan this. But I mean, I don’t know if you could boil it down to one thing, but like what is most exciting to you about this opportunity to finally after two years of buildup and trying to reschedule and move it around. What are you most looking forward to about those three days together?

Hank Alexander: Getting the dealers and the vendors? We do a speed dating a one-on-one thing with them and getting everybody at a table. And frankly, the Samsung experience center just going to be, I’ve been there. A lot of our dealers haven’t. Samsung’s got the wall in there, they’ve got some 22 product. We’ve seen some teases of some of their ‘22 product. I don’t want to let out what might be there. But they’ve got some great things that they’re going to show us. And so I think number one, getting everybody back together in a room and celebrating that and number two, the Samsung Experience Center.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. And I know, I mean, you think about it really it’s two months removed from Prime Time, but for those that were there in Phoenix, I mean, obviously way different scale, but talk about just how the vibe will be different at an HTSN summit as opposed kind of what we experience at Prime Time.

Hank Alexander: Yeah. Prime Time, I don’t want to say there’s not going to be energy. There’s going to be a lot of energy at Prime Time. There’s a ton of energy, right? Because it’s buying and there’s all kinds of offers and there’s going to be offers and things going on at the HTSN summit, but it really is a great time for you to connect with your vendor partners, Klipsch, Metra, PowerShades, Sony, Samsung — know the list is long.

It’s a great time to connect with them about what they’re offering, what their program is, what’s new, why they should be doing business with them if they’re not, we just… Funny thing is RowOne just registered yesterday. They weren’t at PrimeTime. So there’s some vendors that are going to be there. Sony wasn’t at PrimeTime. Sony will be there. So there’s vendors that you don’t normally meet with at PrimeTime that are going to be at the HTSN Summit. So, it’s a great time to connect with those folks and bring up opportunities or concerns or what’s going on in the market or new product, whatever it might be.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. And it kind of, I mean, brings it full circle too, right. We started to talking about education and everything. How that’s a passion area for you. And there’s that there too. I mean, whether it’s in the networking and talking with your colleagues about challenges they’re facing and sort of having that level of education, but then also classes and stuff like that. And hearing from vendors and a little bit of training here and there. So it kind of again, it’s that theme of education and that being a big sort of pillar for you.

Hank Alexander: Yeah. We’re really, the very first one, which was in Chicago, five or six years ago now. One of our larger members stood up like we were going around the room, what are your concern? And he started, I’m having problems with this brand of TV, with this networking and it’s jamming up a network. And my only solution right now is I’ve got high net worth clients in my market that are having to reboot routers. And that’s not a good experience. And one of our really small vendors or small members goes, “Oh yeah, had that exact same problem him. Here’s what it is.” And you fast forward three or four days to the end of the summit. And that same member stood up and he goes, we implemented that and I fixed it.

Hank Alexander: And that was when everybody in the room just kind of went, it’s not, yeah, vendors consult things. It’s really about the voice of member and that these guys start to connect and they connect outside of the summit. Like there’s guys that have got relationships that they’ve had since the very first one that they call on each other and I’m having a problem, or this is what’s going on. What are you doing? Are you seeing this? It’s a great way to learn from each other and you don’t do it unless you’re in the same room.

Rob Stott: Yeah. And we’ll get to do it down at the Gaylord Texan there in Dallas. So I mean, yes-

Hank Alexander: April 6th, 7th and 8th.

Rob Stott: Yeah. We’ll be there. So I’m looking forward to it, man. And-

Hank Alexander: I really am.

Rob Stott: Yeah. You talk about energy. I think you get this channel, this segment of custom integrators. I mean, I could venture to guess they could pack as much energy into a room as the 5,000 or so but we get to its end of Prime Time and it’ll be just as [inaudible 00:24:00] and I assure you, so-

Hank Alexander: It will be. I guarantee you, actually, knowing the group. Yeah.

Rob Stott: It’s a special group. So we’ll have some fun, but we’re looking forward to it. And well, one more question for you. And that’s if it’s within arm’s reach one of your puppies, because we haven’t had a puppy here on the Independent Thinking Podcast. And if you’re watching the video version, you have a treat right now, possibly that we get the face of a new Alexander household doggie on camera. Possibly, if you don’t hurt yourself.

Hank Alexander: I’m not worried about hurting myself. I’m worried about hurting whoever’s right under my chair. And I didn’t want to roll over an eight week old puppy.

Rob Stott: There you go.

Hank Alexander: Eight week old. His name is Rye, which is very fitting with if you’re on the video version and then there’s another one running around here. I’m not sure where he’s at, but we adopted brothers and just picked him up. And so that’s the cuteness side of it.

Rob Stott: That’s awesome. That’s the cutest the Independent Thinking Podcast has ever been. So I appreciate you doing that.

Hank Alexander: HTSN mascot.

Rob Stott: I love it, man.

Hank Alexander: Little HTSN jacket on him. I’m just kidding.

Rob Stott: I wouldn’t put it past you here eventually. No, but that’s so cool. And man, Hank, we’re looking forward to seeing you soon, man.

Hank Alexander: Looking forward to seeing you.

Rob Stott: I know you’re hard at work and got a lot planned, so it’s going to be exciting to be down there in Philly too. I get to see you closer right after that. Actually I was going to say-

Hank Alexander: Right the week after the Summit. So yeah.

Rob Stott: Maybe we’ll do another quick regroup so we don’t have to wait a year between podcasts, so it’s while you’re out here.

Hank Alexander: And look, if you’re not sure where the Tech Summits are at, give us a buzz, reach out to CEDIA, reach out to myself, we’ll be there.

Rob Stott: We’ll, we’ll drop some links below too. So if you’re watching the video version of this, we’ll have the links to the summit, both the HTSN CI summit and the CEDIA text on it. So check right below. And even if you’re on our website or whatever platform. Check out nationwidegroup.org/podcasts, and we’ll get you all that information on there as well. But Hank appreciate it, man. This has been a lot of fun. Looking forward to seeing you soon.

Hank Alexander: Thanks for everything. Thanks Rob.

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