Ellipsys Commercial Technology Group, a new network of commercial integration businesses and vendor partners within Nationwide, will make its debut this week at a major industry trade show. Ahead of that event, we sat down with Chris Whitley, who’s been charged with leading and growing that group. He shares his vision and mission for Ellipsys with us, and we dive into the world of commercial integration.
Rob Stott: We are back on the Independent Thinking Podcast and real excited, why… I say that all the time and I feel like I say that all the time, but it’s not often we have a situation where we can almost break news on a podcast and that’s what we get to do at Nationwide Marketing Group here on our Independent Thinking Podcast this week. And it’s with Chris Whitley, our Executive Director for Commercial Integration here at Nationwide. And if that doesn’t give it away, I don’t know what does. Chris, first of all, thanks for joining. How you doing?
Chris Whitley: I’m doing great, Rob. Thanks for having me. Really looking forward to this, although full transparency, a little nervous; first podcast I’ve done in a while.
Rob Stott: Oh, man. You don’t know how many times that’s been said on this podcast too, so don’t worry. You’re not the first and you won’t be the last.
Chris Whitley: I figured. Thanks.
Rob Stott: No, we’re going to have some fun. We got to dive into your background, but before we do that, I want to start right up front with the news and anyone reading the headline, it gives it away, but let’s share this news, the launch of Ellipsys, which is our new commercial integration brand here at Nationwide Marketing Group. Tell us about it, man. It’s a big deal. A lot going on for you, so tell us a little bit about the brand, the path to getting here and what we have to look forward to.
Chris Whitley: Sure. Okay, cool. Great. Yeah, as you mentioned, Rob, we finally have come up with our name for this initiative. We’ve been working on it for a while. Ellipsys Commercial Technology Group. The group is built for members, similar to our sister organizations, Azione and Oasys, and it’s built to provide a platform for our members to connect, collaborate and transform their businesses.
Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. It’s a unique moment, because, like you said, it joins a group of custom integration brands here at Nationwide that, alongside Azione and the recently rebranded Oasys. So we’re getting into this branding game. It’s a lot of fun to be able to play in this space and you started a couple months ago, so you got to see everything, go down with Oasys and then watch it play out for your brand. That had to be a really cool experience for you.
Chris Whitley: It was a cool experience. One of the things that’s exciting about our mission and being part of this organization is the resources and power and the investment behind that and watching the Oasys brand come to life, in previous life when I did that, I didn’t really have those resources. So it’s nice to tie that back in and, yeah, the Oasys brand really come into life and watching Hank embrace that, it is been fun to watch. It’s been a real pleasure.
Rob Stott: Oh, that’s awesome. Well a lot to unpack with the brand itself and what the plan is, but before we do that; you. Tell us a little bit about you, and I know Andy was real excited to get you on board. What’s your background? Why were you tabbed to be the head of this commercial group here at Nationwide?
Chris Whitley: Sure. Why was I the lucky pick?
Rob Stott: Yeah, right. I don’t know. Lucky or unlucky, depending on your point of view. What is it?
Chris Whitley: We’ll see a year from now. No, no, it’s totally love it. Yeah. Little background about myself, originally CPA by trade, did a lot of work in mergers and acquisition and construction, and came into the industry back in 2000 and started a buying group, similar to what we’re doing now, back then, and ran that for 20 some something years and transitioned from that, sat in an integrator for a little while and ran their sales department, so have some integration background as well.
And back in that time when we were operating that group, Andy Orozco, who is leading our entire CI team as you know, he was with an organization and we tried to bring this resimercial, commercial, residential groups together. The one that I had and he had. It didn’t quite work out so well. Timing I think was a little early. Andy reached out to me a few months ago and said, “We’re building this. Your name has come up, would you be interested?”. And two months of hard work and a lot of information back and forth and we’ve come up with a plan and I think we have a great platform and a good niche just to serve emerging growing members and really looking forward to it.
Rob Stott: Yeah. Well the funny thing, you mentioned that timing. I’m just now thinking about all of the things in the industry that have gone on just the last year or so and how the timing, it is perfect now if you think about it. CEDIA Expo, just last year, announced that they were going to be having a commercial portion of their show that we’ll see this September, co-locating there and we’re on the heels… Well I say on the heels, we’re a few days ahead of, as we’re sitting here talking and when this episode drops, of Infocom, which I know is a big event in this space, and just so the… We’ll get into it in a little bit, but the proliferation of the resimercial term and what that’s done in this industry and space, I think you hit the nail on the head. Go figure, but the timing is right, right now with all of what we’ve heard of in the industry around commercial business.
Chris Whitley: Yeah, I agree. One of the things you mentioned, what’s happened over the past year, let’s say four, because we had COVID and then that seems to continue to keep lasting and then supply challenges and everything. So all those things still exist obviously, but the thing that’s most exciting to me about the industry is during that time, we had wide adoption of our technology and not only between individual, remote work, but just corporations as well. I tell a funny story, I’ve been doing this stuff for 25 years. It wasn’t until COVID that my daughter came in and said, “Hey, have you ever seen this Zoom technology?”. I’m like, “Yeah, go figure.”.
Rob Stott: Go figure.
Chris Whitley: Yeah, seen it a lot. So what’s exciting is, is now people have embraced it. Many did before, but it’s mainstay. It’s like commonplace to do. You ask for a meeting, are there remote workers? So the embrace of the technology and growing the emerging market of the industry itself and our members, it’s really exciting times, I think. It’s challenging of course, but I like to say I’m not the one who said it. It was a great leader at one point in time, but there’s always opportunity in chaos
Rob Stott: For sure. No, it makes a lot of sense and unique to see how businesses in commercial real estate, where a lot of this technology that you’re soon to become members will play, what they’re doing to upgrade those spaces and make it better. And in some cases, whether it’s to be able to collaborate with those remote workers or even entice people to come back to the office. I’m sure that has a lot to do with it right now for sure too, because people over these last few years have really upgraded their own home offices. So trying to get them to come back is a different story
Chris Whitley: For sure. For sure. If I could just to go on the collaboration piece that you mentioned. One of the things that’s interesting, we’re in the business of providing collaboration technology for people, but we provide that for all of our customers and then we think about it internally and that’s one of the differentiators for us in that pillar and philosophy of our brand, the connect, collaborate, transform. We’ll connect your people within our industry to other people that are doing like things. It’s always best to learn and experience things from your peers that have the same pain points. And then also that deep collaboration. We’re providing you the opportunity to collaborate, but on your business also, not just necessarily use the tools to collaborate. So I like to take everything that we’re doing and trying to sell, well, we ought to translate that back into our own business and principles.
Rob Stott: No, and it meshes perfectly and it’s unique to see and you’ve built a really cool story, and it’s one that I know that’s a little bit different. I want to give you the chance too, you mentioned in talking about your own background, how you have experience, you’ve done this before. So what about Ellipsys is going to be different? Or how’s the approach different to what you’re doing in setting up this commercial group from past experience?
Chris Whitley: Sure, sure. Well, I started this originally wanting to give back and build a community. So some things may not be that much different, Rob, than before, because the magic is bringing the people together. However, there are some differences. Obviously our focus is on growing and emerging companies, so maybe aren’t as large or have been around as long that have all their processes and business services in place. So for me, that’s the exciting differentiator. It’s the larger organization and ecosystem that we have, with the sister entities of Oasys and Azione, as well as then the Nationwide umbrella. I have resources, investment and there’s some fabulous business services that the organization can provide. So I think it’s, we’re providing a larger ecosystem, not only that, the experience of the group, if you look at our CI team alone, collectively we’ve got over probably 200 years of experience when you look at the whole team.
Rob Stott: Well, to be fair, there’s more members, so we’re not breaking this down by three people. Y’all don’t have 60 years of experience.
Chris Whitley: No, no, no.
Rob Stott: It’s a large team though.
Chris Whitley: 25 by six, seven people.
Rob Stott: I just don’t want you to feel like you’re dating yourself, you’re aging yourself.
Chris Whitley: People know my age. It’s okay, Rob. But it’s that overall power in, we’ve got a larger organization and with resimercial, that more guys going to commercial and quite honestly some commercial guys have ventured to the residential, as they try to diversify their business and grow. So I think having all that under one roof and the power of the management team and the expertise, cross pollination, you can always learn more with a larger base. We’re much more powerful as a group, so I think the size and nature of our organization being larger with all the other components, a huge value for us and I think will be a differentiator moving forward.
Rob Stott: Oh, that’s awesome. A lot of terms… We’re sitting here talking, we both know what we’re talking about here in this commercial CI space and what’s going on. I want to give you the chance, step back a little bit to the other listeners of the podcast that, they aren’t familiar with commercial integration and what that means. Set the stage for what a typical Ellipsys member; what kind of business are they doing? If anyone’s familiar with what HTSN, now Oasys, is and continues to support from that member side, it’s the guys that go in their homes and build the home theaters, that sort of thing. How is it different on the commercial side and paint a broad picture of what a commercial CI integrator does.
Chris Whitley: Sure. Okay. So first of all, commercial, many different verticals. There’s retail, hospitality, healthcare, but in large, from a traditional AV integration perspective, most of those integrators are putting in conference room technologies for people to collaborate, just like we are today. So a typical integrator would be… The difference is you’re doing B2B, it’s a business to business transaction versus a business to a homeowner. But in terms of the system, some ways they’re not that different. You’re connecting a home, you’re sending signals, you’re trying to tie in multiple devices, same sort of thing with commercial. Those guys are bringing in a sub-network that creates a video conferencing capability or other things to tie into a business’s overall communication strategy and platform.
So our traditional integrators are identifying needs for people, where they need to have remote workers or generally conference technology. There’s larger things too, you have K-12 education, large scale arenas, multi-purpose rooms, training rooms, but a lot of this, what the world’s adopting, are we need conference technology in every little room that we have, that’s more than three people, and that’s the majority of the business, is providing that technology for people to expand.
Rob Stott: Yeah. And it gets to, I think what the next question was, is that we’ve heard a lot of the blending of this commercial and… We hear the term resimercial that’s come out of this. So the blending of commercial and residential, visible through the things that CD has done to launch a concurrent show in this fall and things like that. And so how does that, I guess, factor into what you guys are doing or what you’ll be doing with this group or I guess even just the industry in general, is there a lot more of that, like you mentioned, blending from residential to commercial, commercial to residential, that sort of thing?
Chris Whitley: Yeah. I don’t have all the statistics, marketing, but I would assume there’s probably more from residential to commercial than the other way. But I certainly do know of some large commercial guys that have migrated. I think it’s more the groups that are now the 50/50, 60/40 or have done some commercial work to begin with that are now saying, “Hey, I’ve got some capability skill sets in-house. I’d like to develop that as a core competency of my own.”. So I think that that was one of the things that excite me. I can help people, those integrators do that, but also focus on… Our pure goal is not necessarily to bring all those guys along, it’s to help them and obviously provide benefit back to our larger organization. But it’s really to build that practice for true commercial guys, purposely to help them bring in all these business services and go down the river and learn from people that have experienced things they maybe haven’t, that they’re experiencing now.
Rob Stott: It makes a lot of sense.
Chris Whitley: I’ve got this thing I’m struggling with; what have you done? “Oh, I went through that three years ago. Let me tell you, let me save you some time.”. So building it for that, but there is some natural benefit and why the appeal of the large organization, for those guys that have a core competency already, but aren’t focusing on that, because right now they’re living on primarily a residential side where they started.
Rob Stott: Right. Gotcha. I don’t know if it’s even a single thing that you could put a finger on, but is there… You talk about traditional commercial and traditional residential. Is there a distinction or one thing you could put your finger on that’s like; this is why they’re different? Or is it just really where they play and that percentage split to you?
Chris Whitley: I would say two distinctions if you want to really get… One is really the life cycle of a project. So it’s real. The life cycle of a residential project, once the consumer decides to buy, is probably very quick. They’ve decided, they do some research, they contract and then they probably want it done yesterday. So do commercial customers, once they decide on something, but the lead that the life cycle of a project can be sometimes a year, two years.
Rob Stott: Wow.
Chris Whitley: It’s a longer development cycle, so you need different sales process and different project management process. It’s not necessarily that it’s more complex, but imagine a commercial job that might have 500 rooms. They might all be in the same room, but it’s 500 rooms. You need process people, project management to accomplish that goal, to execute on that deployment. It’s not necessarily a different skillset, but it’s just a different marketplace and a different end user experience that makes the worlds different. From a technology standpoint, I think technicians from both sides, programmers are magical all the way around. I think they can cross over. Seems like a-
Rob Stott: No. It, I think, brings an appreciation to… I have to imagine it, and I don’t want to throw Michael Jordan’s name around there, but you think about the transition he tried to make from basketball to baseball and how difficult it was. I feel like it’s probably similar; a residential or commercial guy that tries to flip and go the other way and knowing that there’s some that have been successful, a good number that have been able to operate in both the commercial and residential world, but it brings a certain level of appreciation to those that have been able to realize that.
Chris Whitley: So you hit the nail on the head this time, Rob. There is. Having experience on the commercial side, we generally didn’t want to do residential work and so we had residential partners. Doesn’t mean there’s not a handful of people that want to do both. Again, I think that’s the power of our group. If you are a purely commercial guy, but you come across some residential people, we all want to help each other out, so there’s resources now in the organization to go both ways on that. So I think it’s huge, huge power.
Rob Stott: Yeah, it’s all… Well, last question, it has permeated the whole discussion and you’ve mentioned the term excitement a number of times, but if you narrow it down to a thing or two that you can think of, just what excites you about the opportunity to launch this Ellipsys brand within the Nationwide Group? And it could be from the member side, the vendor side, everything you’ll be working on. What’s it boil down to for you?
Chris Whitley: Yeah, I guess I’m going to go personal, I share a little bit, just so you know, because a lot of people that know me, know this. I came from a really small family. I’m an only child and so are both my parents.
Rob Stott: Oh, wow.
Chris Whitley: So community and family, which is what we’re also creating here, we’re creating a culture and a community, that’s what I have the most passion about, because it’s what our philosophy is, our purpose for our members. And I like to be part of a larger community and give back and it ties in also to just our corporate; give back to the community. Those are what excite me, because if we do all the things right, we’re going to accomplish that and really create a powerful community here. So that’s the excitement and passion for me.
Rob Stott: Oh, that’s awesome man. It’s cool to hear. And I know you’re barely a few months, one quarter of a year into doing this thing and to see that excitement is pretty cool.
Chris Whitley: Little less.
Rob Stott: Yeah, you’re getting there. It’s happening. But no, it’s cool to see that passion play through. I know we all recognize it and we’re excited to see where you can take it. And like I said, we’re only talking ahead of Infocom. I’m excited to see what comes out of it. And we’ve got a few weeks and really it is a few weeks, I almost wanted to say a few months, but it feels like just a few weeks until CEDIA rolls around and another big coming out party for the group. So lots to be excited about with Ellipsys and it’s a story obviously we’ll continue to follow, but appreciate you sharing that story here on the podcast.
Chris Whitley: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. As you said, we’re on the heels of Infocom. We’ll be there, have a lot of vendor meetings and looking forward to that. Yeah, thanks for having me. I appreciate it. It wasn’t too bad.
Rob Stott: Yeah, see that. I’m easygoing. What can I tell you? No, we’ll be sure to follow up too, man, because like I said, it’s a story. We’ll want to continue to shout from the rooftop of commercial buildings about, as we continue to follow your work and success. So looking forward to it.
Chris Whitley: Cool. Thank you Rob. Appreciate it.