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198: What Does 2024 Have in Store for Custom Integrators?

Written by Rob Stott

January 23, 2024

Entering its first full calendar year as Oasys Residential Technology Group, there’s plenty of momentum that will carry this group into the new year. Hank Alexander, director of Oasys, recaps a roller coaster 2023 and looks ahead to the opportunities coming down the pike for custom integrators.


 

Rob Stott: All right, we are back on the Independent Thinking Podcast. An independent thinker of his own, Mr. Hank Alexander joining us this week. Our director of Oasys Residential Technology Group. Hank, appreciate you coming on, man. Appreciate you having a poinsettia in the background as well. I like the décor you got going on.

Hank Alexander: That’s the extent of Christmas in the Hank Alexander office. Now if we turn the camera around, it’s a whole Christmas Oasys out there. It’s a big village of Christmas. My wife is a big fan of Christmas. That was my …

Rob Stott: I love it. No, that’s fantastic. Also, it lets people know as they’re watching this when we recorded. So truly an end of year podcast.

Hank Alexander: It is.

Rob Stott: To get ready to look back at ’23 and head to ’24. Man, we have a lot to catch up on from this year, on just what went down in the world of custom integration within Nationwide Marketing Group. Let’s try to do it. Let’s recap what it was and then we’ll dive into the future, what the future holds for this group.

I know we had a podcast a few weeks, maybe a month ago at this point, talked about the rebrand. You’re coming out of a year where you didn’t have the name Oasys.

Hank Alexander: Oh, no. I didn’t have … It’s funny, when you think back to January of ’23, there was no field team. We were HTSN. We were 210 members, 36 or so vendors. Yeah. You think back of all the changes. We rebranded, we hired four field people. We’re 67-ish brand, 68. We weren’t in lighting, we are now. We had our first ever Oasys Summit. You think about all the things that we’ve … We’re almost 300 members today, as of this morning. We’re right on that very edge of 300. So big growth in vendors, big growth in members. Big growth in human resources headcount. It’s been a fun year. Looking back it’s like wow, we did a whole lot in 12 months.

Rob Stott: Not even! If you think about it, the rebrand didn’t really happen … Let’s be fair. The work was going on probably the end of ’22 into ’23. But from the kickoff of, I want to say, well we officially announced it at Primetime in Dallas.

Hank Alexander: Yeah.

Rob Stott: That was March, late March. From that moment on, that’s when everything seemed to happen and come together fast. You talk about the Summit was only a month-and-a-half later. I’m sure our events team had some thoughts on you trying to rebrand your Summit in a short period of time.

Hank Alexander: They were real pleased with that. It’s funny because I still find HTSN Easter eggs on things sometimes. I’m like, “Oh, erase, erase, erase.”

Rob Stott: Well, it’s crazy to see how quickly, to your point, it all came together. If you had to bundle this past year up in one word that isn’t Oasys, you can’t use the word Oasys. If you had to bundle it up, what would it be and why?

Hank Alexander: Growth. We grew physically with vendors and members, we grew the team. I think we grew the mindset inside of the industry, and I’d even say inside a little bit of Nationwide, the custom integration, what it really is and there’s a lot of opportunity in it. I think there’s more opportunity than we even really thought. If you look back a week or so ago to the CEDIA 2023 market analysis that they did, the last one they did, I think they said there was 11,000 integrators. Through some partnerships that they have with D-Tools, and Portal and stuff. There’s 20,000 integrators in the market so it’s a lot bigger. And I’m not even sure that that’s accurate, I think that might even be a little low. I would say growth is the word for ’23. We just grew everything.

Rob Stott: Yeah. How about from an industry standpoint? Obviously, Oasys, a lot of growth. The industry too, seeing what CEDIA’s reporting out of that research. But how for members? What would you think about what was this past year like for members, from a business standpoint?

Hank Alexander: Mild challenges come to mind. If you think back to early ’23, there was a word everybody was throwing around. Recession. The word recession. It got to the point that it was so used, people were like, “Are we in a recession? Is it ever coming? When is it happening? We don’t know what a recession looks like.” And it just never really, in my mind, never really materialized into a recession.

I was even watching something the other day on some business show and they’re talking about a recession next year.

Rob Stott: They keep kicking the can down the road.

Hank Alexander: I would say interesting challenges. The recession never materialized. From the standpoint of product availability, things got much easier. I think projects may have gotten a little tighter or a little harder to nail down.

But when I talk to our members and I ask them, “What’s your 30, 60, 90 and 120-day pipeline look like?” Of course, everybody’s 30-day is right in front of … This is holidays, right?

Rob Stott: Yeah.

Hank Alexander: They’re finishing off jobs and people can be in their home for Christmas, and New Years, and all the parties and everything. When you look at their 90-day pipeline, it’s good, it’s healthy.

Rob Stott: That’s awesome.

Hank Alexander: It’s not what it was a couple years ago, mind you, but it’s really, really healthy.

I guess that leads to what does ’24 look like? I think there’s going to be some challenges, certainly. It depends a little bit on what happens with interest rates. That’s closely watched by everybody. But I think we have just a little bit of headwinds in the first part of the year, and then I think it eases up a lot in the back half of the year.

Rob Stott: What does that do from an opportunity standpoint for integrators? Obviously, pipelines, you like to see it full. You like to have obviously business coming in and things to do, it’s why you’re around. You’re an integrator to do these jobs, to have these projects.

Hank Alexander: Yeah.

Rob Stott: What kind of opportunities exist for them, business-wise right now? Or, maybe another way to ask it. What are the successful integrators doing right now for their businesses?

Hank Alexander: Yeah, a couple of things. New verticals. Power and lighting fixtures. We’ve always been in lighting control. I was an integrator and even did lighting control, I’m dating myself here, back in the ’90s. But we did lighting control so lighting has always been there, but now we’ve got lighting fixtures. We’ve got a really good partner with American Lighting, we’ve got a lighting designer.

I think looking at power is the next thing, and I don’t mean just as in just a surge protector. I mean whole home, looking at footprint on the grid, all of those kinds I think that are a next frontier that we need to be looking at as well. We’ll be at Lightapalooza in February, out in Phoenix. That show is growing by leaps and bounds. I think it just shows that that’s a big thing for us.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. How about, outside of product category, are there things successful integrators are doing? From a marketing, or on the business. Work on it, not in it.

Hank Alexander: Yeah. If you look at some of real successful, and I’m going to pick on Lawrence and Andrea up in Michigan, very successful at integrating social media into what they do, into their business. I don’t know if you follow them. If you don’t, everybody should go and follow.

Rob Stott: AV Imagined, baby.

Hank Alexander: AV Imagined. You should probably follow them. Find them on YouTube and LinkedIn. I think they’re on Facebook, I have to double check. I know they’re on TikTok. I think they’re on every platform. They use different platforms to promote different things. LinkedIn is one side of things, Instagram is a side, YouTube is a side. They’re using the different platforms to go after different types of business. Whether that’s maybe builder business in one side of social media, and clients on another one. There’s a whole strategy around that and I think that they’ve done a phenomenal job of working on their business by integrating that into things.

I always think that process management … We’ve got an education series that we’re going to launch in 2024 for our members, with Jason Sayen. We just had Jason in our office in Atlanta doing some videos and some things. We’re going to launch an education series with Jason. Jason will be at the Oasys Summit in April. So I think process management, refining things. Making sure that you have all the jobs, everybody’s jobs lined out, and that they’re staying in their runway. It just improves the workflow so much.

I think that those are two things that people should embrace much more in this industry.

Rob Stott: I’m glad you mentioned the Summit. We’ll circle back to that. But I want to take the chance to … You mentioned some of those opportunity areas and different things you can go about attacking.

I know we’re both close followers of CEDIA and CE Pro. Great coverage of the industry and whatnot. They mentioned something, too. Obviously, integrators looking to fill those pipelines. Interest rates are high, so homeowners not really looking to move right now which means they are staying in place. Which also means renters are staying in place. I don’t know if you saw the research about smart home technology and multifamily dwelling units? An interesting point was brought up about how renters, they are happier, almost 25% happier in their units when they have smart home technology than when they don’t. It was pretty high. 80-something percent versus 60-whatever it was.

The idea of going after the rental properties and things like that. Or, apartment buildings. You talk about opportunities. Thoughts of just different ways of going about finding projects that integrators can tackle?

Hank Alexander: MDUs. MDUs are a great place, yeah. Rental units, multi-dwelling units, those kinds of things are phenomenal.

Look, we’ve all experienced little slowdowns in our businesses. When I was an integrator, we always, when we sensed a slowdown coming, we went back and looked at the projects we did. What were our 24-month projects, what were our 36-month-old projects? What were maybe older than that? And then, we started going back and … Boy, I’m really dating myself now. We sent postcards because we didn’t have email. Yeah.

Rob Stott: You picked up a phone and called someone, what? Did you send carrier pigeons? Is this Game of Thrones, you had the owls, the ravens?

Hank Alexander: It wasn’t that long ago. It wasn’t that long ago.

Rob Stott: No.

Hank Alexander: Don’t pick on the process.

Rob Stott: Hey, you brought it up.

Hank Alexander: Yes, I did.

We’d go back and look at marketing. “Oh, it’s been three years since we installed a projector, or we installed a lighting control. How about this new thing?” Or whatever it was. So going back and remarketing to all of those people. I always joked with our team. People didn’t invest in their home just to invest in their home. They want to continue it, and keep going, and make sure that it’s always updated, and the best, and the latest and greatest, and those kinds of things.

Yeah, it’s a good opportunity to go back and remarket. I think the MBU business is definitely an interesting one.

Rob Stott: Well, the remarketing, too. You think about … I think we get caught up in the space because we’re so intimately attached to it. But you think about just one CES to the next, and the innovations that get introduced in a single year. I think, three years ago, the idea of 8K might have been a faint, distant future type of technology, and now here it is. It’s at the forefront in a lot of the top line TVs. 8K didn’t exist. Just the way technology advances, the idea three years might not seem like a long period of time to go back and talk to some of those clients that you did business with, but things are drastically different.

Hank Alexander: Massively different. You think about just the change in the last three years, 8K is a big one. You think back to smart home.

Rob Stott: Right.

Hank Alexander: Just how it’s all … Whether it’s a do-it-yourself platform, like a Google, or a Ring, or Nest, or some of those types of things. Or, what Control4, and Crestron, and RTI and some of those guys are innovating and doing on that side, how much it changes year-over-year.

It’s actually why I like the consumer electronics business. I love change. I like things to change and move in my life. It’s why I think I enjoy the consumer electronics business so much is because every day, it’s evolving, it’s changing, there’s something new. We’ll be at CES in what feels like a few short weeks, but it’s really a few short days. We’ll see a bunch of new stuff there. Meetings with all of our top vendors, we’ve had some hints of what we’re going to see and it’s going to be pretty exciting for ’24.

Rob Stott: I don’t know how we’ll edit this to make it be able to talk about it. I know I saw somewhere, LG was already expecting a ton of innovation awards ahead of time. CES does all their judging … For those that haven’t been there, they release all their innovation awards and they have this awesome showroom in the Venetian, if I remember right, where all the product that is recognized in this program is there on display. The funny thing about consumer tech is this event is a space where a lot of those things are introduced and announced. So when you hear a lot of innovation awards are coming, you don’t know what for. It’s hard to tell. But the fact that LG’s getting, I think, over a dozen if I remember right. It calls out specifically for their OLED technology. There’s a lot of things happening that we don’t know about yet, that maybe you’re getting hints about, that they’d have to off you before this podcast publishes if we say anything.

Hank Alexander: I got a few hints at some things coming. Both from Samsung, LG.

Rob Stott: Yeah.

Hank Alexander: Like I said, all the top guys. But yeah, you’re exactly right. They have to enter those things for those innovation awards … I’ve never won an innovation award, but I’ve got to think yeah, in November, early December, those things have to be there because, you’re exactly right, they have to be judged and the technology understood.

Rob Stott: A lot of NDAs signed, I imagine.

Hank Alexander: A lot of stuff that goes on. I believe in those innovation awards, that there’s a timeline that the product has to be actually be going out. I don’t know if it’s a 12-month or 24-month, but I think that there’s a timeline in some of those innovation awards.

Rob Stott: Yeah, absolutely.

Hank Alexander: That they have things going out with. Yeah, ’24, I think we’ll see some new tech and I think we’ll see certainly 8K making a big push. Sizes of TVs have gotten ridiculous. Think about a 100-inch TV. I’ve been at Nationwide, in February ’24, I will have been here nine years. When I first started, it was, I don’t know probably four years ago, maybe five, Sony had 100-inch TV that was $45,000.

Rob Stott: Yeah.

Hank Alexander: One of our dealers in Denver sold one to a high end client in the penthouse of the Four Seasons in downtown Denver. They used a helicopter because it wouldn’t fit into an elevator. They used a helicopter to put it up there. It was a $45,000 100-inch TV.

Rob Stott: Flying through the air.

Hank Alexander: Flying through the air. I wish I had the video of that. You think about now, the technology, that TV is a lot better TV, it’s a lot thinner TV. Retail, it sells for $5000. I think the Sony sells for $7000 or $8000. It’s shocking what we’re seeing, 100-inch TVs. I was at a Costco the other day, there was 100-inch TVs on display at Costco.

Rob Stott: It’s wild.

Hank Alexander: I don’t know how they’re getting them home. I envision it’s like buying a mattress at a Costco, they strap it to the top of the car or whatever. They always hold onto it with one hand, going down the road. Hold on in case the rope breaks.

Rob Stott: A little different with 100-inch TV strapped to … You got to rent a U-Haul.

Hank Alexander: Yeah. It won’t fit in the back of a truck.

Rob Stott: No.

Hank Alexander: But I think the place where you’re going to see some prices in ’24 on some of those things that are going to be just crazy. You’re like, “Wow.”

Rob Stott: Right.

Hank Alexander: For the Superbowl, there’s rumored to be a Hisense that retail at two grand. I think integrators need to understand that the guy buying the 100-inch TV for $2000 isn’t their client.

Rob Stott: Right. That’s the thing. This industry has always been about-

Hank Alexander: Yeah, the industry’s always been eating their young, always, so don’t get caught up in that.

Rob Stott: But also, especially for integrators, I’m sure they deal a lot more with those early adopters that are like us, that get excited about this.

Hank Alexander: Yeah.

Rob Stott: The guy that will go out and get that 45 … It’s highly probable that they understand that, a few years down the road, that TV that they just bought for 45,000 is going to be a tenth of the price.

Hank Alexander: Yeah.

Rob Stott: But they want it now.

Hank Alexander: They don’t care.

Rob Stott: They want it now, they need it. They get a thrill out of being one of those first people to have that technology in their homes. That’s the client that you want. That’s the client that you need to find, that they’re probably in that collection of old projects you’ve completed over the years that you can go back to.

Hank Alexander: If you think about, if your client’s next door neighbor bought 100-inch TV, and now everybody has 100-inch … Not everybody, but 100-inch TV is just a thing. That high net worth client that you did a project for, what do they want now?

Rob Stott: They need to differentiate.

Hank Alexander: “If my neighbor has 100-inch, well, I need something bigger.” So now we’re talking video walls.

Rob Stott: Yeah.

Hank Alexander: Those are those evolutions. That’s that part of that going back to your customers, “Hey, I sold them a 75-inch TV.” Well, 75-inch TVs today are just everywhere, really. That’s just a norm. I hate to say it, but it is. It’s going back and going, “Hey, it’s a great TV. Why don’t you trade it, or we’ll do something else with it, and let’s look at 100-inch. Or let’s look at a video wall, or projection system,” or all of those things.

Rob Stott: Yeah. It’s crazy. One more thing I want to ask you about before we dive into your Summit is the other things that came out of that CEDIA report. You mentioned the 20,000 roughly, the integrators in this space. Anything else that, as you’re looking through that, that caught your eye or think is important to call out ahead of this new year?

Hank Alexander: Yeah. Median size dealer, so just the mid-point of dealers, is 900,000 a year in revenue. We talked about it on this podcast. It’s in a lot of our marketing stuff, we talk about it openly. Really, where we want to start talking to dealers is when they’re about that $750,000 to $800,000 a year revenue. Which tells me we’re really in that sweet spot, in Oasys. We have dealers that are in that category and all the way up to $5 or $6 million plus. CE Pro 100 Type, we’ve got a couple of those guys in the group. We run a wide gamut. But what it really tells us is when we talk about that 750 to 800, we’re right in that sweet spot and we can provide a lot of value, and a lot of help for those guys. Mentoring, a lot of business coaching, best practices in accounting, hiring. We pay their CEDIA dues, education. We’re going to up the ante a little bit in ’24 with CEDIA. We got some cool things we’re working on with CEDIA for ’24 for education.

I think that, when you look at that report and you look at the average size project, the average size dealer, there’s a lot of really interesting information in there. They did a whole rundown of brand categories and vendors, there’s a lot of stuff. If you haven’t seen that, again if you’re an Oasys member, we pay your CEDIA dues, you have free access to that. If you’re not a member of CEDIA, you have to pay $1000 to get that report. If you’re not a member of CEDIA, it’s probably easier to join Oasys.

Rob Stott: I was going to say join Oasys, save the $1000 to buy a 100-inch TV down the road.

Hank Alexander: The whole thing is …

Rob Stott: It’s full circle. Well, I love that you brought that up because it’s the perfect segue about the size of dealer that is a part of this group and bringing them all together for a summit. We got to experience back at Nashville in May of last year. We’ll get to do it again in Austin in April, end of April, beginning of May this year.

I know it’s a truly unique experience to see those guys all get in a room together and share best practices. The best part, and I’m probably stealing a quote from you, is when you actually see … Obviously, the newer dealers are going to learn a lot at these events. But it’s those moments where the $5 million deal, here’s something that the $750,000 to $900,000 dealer is doing and they learn. It’s definitely a two-way street.

Hank Alexander: The peer-to-peer side of that is, you’re exactly right. It’s why we do these things. We get everybody into a room. We got some great keynote speakers. Obviously, great vendors. We’re going to have demo rooms, some audio and video demo rooms for some vendors this go-round. That was something that was requested last year so we listened to that and implemented that.

I was just in Austin a couple of weeks ago for a CEDIA Tech Summit, and went and visited the Hotel Van Zandt downtown. Cool property, a lot of fun. Really, really neat place. A, it’ll be a good time because Austin’s a fun … If you’re not having fun in Austin, you’re not doing something right.

Rob Stott: You don’t know what’s going on.

Hank Alexander: But, having all the new members in that membership growth that we’ve had in ’23, having all those people in a room, and all of our new vendors, and all of that. It’s going to be a packed house, it’s going to be a lot of fun.

You’re exactly right. It’s funny when you do, you see that guy that’s more established, he’s been in business for 15, 20 years, and have grown his business. And he hears something there that some new guy that’s 750,000, 800,000, whatever it is, and something they’re doing in their business and he’s like, “Oh, that’s a great idea.”

Rob Stott: Yeah.

Hank Alexander: “I’m going to go do that.”

Rob Stott: What that tells me is there’s no egos in this group.

Hank Alexander: No.

Rob Stott: Everyone checks it at the door and they’re willing to learn. No one’s walking around like, “I know everything.” They don’t come to these events if they feel that way. They’re there to learn and network. Whether it’s learn from vendors, learn from the keynotes that you have there that’ll be speaking to them, or from one another, almost more importantly. It’s a cool experience.

Completely off-topic but related to the Summit. Van Zandt, I wonder if any relation to Steve in the E Street Band?

Hank Alexander: I knew you were going to go there. You’re not the first person, but somehow or another, I knew you would be the one that would go, “Would this be an relationship to Stevie?”

Rob Stott: You know, get a little Sopranos action going on, get Bruce down there. Any free preview?

Hank Alexander: You just let the cat out of the bag. We’re all going to go to Bada Bing!.

Rob Stott: Yes! No.

Hank Alexander: You might edit that out. Ms Kelly, I’m sorry. I just saw our head of HR, Ms Kelly, I just saw her head moving no.

Rob Stott: Well, you set some serious expectations for what’s going to go on in Austin. Hey, if Tom signed off on a scavenger hunt in downtown Nashville, what could we say?

Hank Alexander: Yeah. No kidding.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. Well, I know that I’m excited to be out there and see what’s going on, so I can only imagine the excitement already building within the membership to get there and be part of that second Oasys Summit. A lot of big things planned for that. I know you all have a lot more coming out, over the coming weeks too, as we get the word out about that. Registration is up and open.

Hank Alexander: It is.

Rob Stott: Members can start signing up for that. Hey, first full year as Oasys. I know you got a lot to look forward to and a lot of exciting things ahead of you.

Hank Alexander: It’s been fun. It’s a lot of fun. I wake up every day and have fun doing this, and helping people grow their business, and solve problems and just being there for people. It’s been a great year, and looking forward to ’24 and looking forward to having everybody in Austin.

Rob Stott: Heck, yeah. Looking forward to it, man. Well, appreciate the time and-

Hank Alexander: Happy holidays.

Rob Stott: Yeah, happy holidays and look forward to getting together with all those members, and getting all their stories. Plenty of podcasts, I’m sure, coming out of that show.

Hank Alexander: I would think there’s a few people that are going to sit down with you at that show. Yes.

Rob Stott: It should be a good time, man.

Hank Alexander: Yeah, absolutely. We’ll get you a podcast booth down there.

Rob Stott: Oh, I’m sold. You didn’t need that. I was already sold and now you really, you’re upping the game for me.

Hank Alexander: Not to give too much away about the hotel, but I don’t know if it’s a corporate sponsor or something they do corporately, with Marshall Amplifiers.

Rob Stott: Oh!

Hank Alexander: So when you check in, there’s a refrigerator behind check in that looks like the Marshall Amplifier.

Rob Stott: Yeah.

Hank Alexander: It looks just like … You open it up and they give you a bottle of water or a beer, or whatever, when you check in. But there’s Marshall Amplifiers all over and guitars. It’s a really, really cool place.

Rob Stott: I’m going to geek out, I can’t wait. Flights are booked, we’ll see you there.

Hank Alexander: Awesome.

Rob Stott: Awesome.

Hank Alexander: Thanks, Rob.

Rob Stott: Yeah. We’ll talk soon.

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