69: CEDIA Co-CEO Giles Sutton Talks HTSN Partnership

Written by Rob Stott

May 11, 2021

cedia htsn giles sutton

Giles Sutton, interim co-CEO of global custom integration association CEDIA, jumped into our latest podcast to talk about the massive potential of the HTSN-CEDIA partnership, trends in the CI industry, and more.

Rob Stott: All right. We are back on the Independent Thinking Podcast and real excited for this opportunity. Someone that we’ve met in the past, our paths have crossed a couple of times here and there in this industry, this tiny consumer tech industry that we operate in, but Mr. Giles Sutton, Co-CEO of CEDIA. I appreciate you taking the time and calling in and taking some time out of your first day at your headquarters there in Indy. Not taking the office tour, but actually taking time to come on the Independent Thinking Podcast.

Giles Sutton: Exactly. Well, thanks Rob, I really appreciate you inviting me along. And you’re right, it’s really interesting first day back at CEDIA’s HQ since January in 2020. So it’s yeah. As I’ve mentioned, it’s getting a few things sort of set up, has taken a bit of time, but yeah, very excited to catch up with you on this exciting day.

Rob Stott: Crack the headphones out and decided to just jump on a podcast and here we go.

Giles Sutton: Exactly.

Rob Stott: Awesome. So tell us for the Nationwide members out there that don’t know you, tell us a little bit about yourself and your background and path to CEDIA.

Giles Sutton: Sure. Thank you. Well, I’ve always been a very technical since a young age and I actually trained in sound technology. So my real sort of background is pro-audio. So life sound, theater sound and music production. But soon after graduating from college, I really found a passion for designing systems. I found that through designing theater systems for education establishments and universities, and that really led on to me getting a job in the very early stages of this industry, which was in sort of 2003, 2004 time. I say early, I mean, really, CEDIA’s been around for 30 years, but it really has ramped up in the past 10 years. And then sort of worked for a couple of custom integrators that were really sort of departments that were bolted onto Hi-Fi stores at that time. And then, went out alone, really, basically a project landed in my lap and had the opportunity to really set up a company from that. I then at that time was volunteering for CEDIA a little bit.

I was on the membership committee for CEDIA in the UK, then more recently was on the board of directors for CEDIA. Helped take CDR through global alignment, which is where we merged with the organization in the UK. And then was offered a job to join CEDIA as a SVP of industry engagement, which has since changed into a member success role. And now I’ve taken over as interim Co-CEO with Kory Dickerson as well. So just steadying the ship as the organization goes through a search for the long-term CEO.

Rob Stott: Now, that’s awesome. I mean, you’ve been very involved in hands-on with CEDIA for a number of years now and kind of see where how it’s progressed is it’s impressive and been fun to watch. But for those that don’t know what CEDIA is. I mean, you talk about your background kind of hint at all the custom integration focus here, but, what can you tell us about this organization that you’re currently interimly at the head of right now and the membership and sort of the direction and vision for CEDIA?

Giles Sutton: Sure. Well, as I mentioned, CEDIA is a 30-year-old member association. When I talked to a lot of our technology partners, that is often quite surprising, because a lot of people think of smart home and integrated home technology as being something fairly new, but CEDIA’s been around for 30 years. So really, back 30 years ago, it was founded by those that have had a passion for sound and video, and really were craftsmen, I think at that point, because it was so difficult to integrate technology, when you think about how it is now, it’s a lot easier now. We take a lot of things for granted, everything being an IP-controllable, back then that wasn’t so. So, CEDIA really is based upon the foundations of learning, of professionalism, of advancing the profession, building awareness and really driving success to our members, whether they’re integrators and we have the majority of our members are integrators, but also driving success to our trade supplier members as well. So we have members around the world as well. That’s something that, again, people don’t often realize about CEDIA, we are global. We actually have staff that’s in Australia.

We have a team that looks after Latin America as well. So we are a global association, very much focused on education, advancing and professionalism and just driving awareness as well, and equipping our members with the tools that they need to be more successful in this field, knowing there’s still a lot of work to be done to be driving awareness. We originally were an industry for the super-wealthy, let’s be honest, but now increasingly one of the exciting things about this industry is it has exploded. It’s now something that the middle classes can start to afford and as the next generation are coming through, it’s something that people are going to just instinctively know how to operate technology from a young age. So it’s a very exciting time.

Rob Stott: Absolutely. And you talk about that evolution. I mean, you think about those early days, it was people that had the ability to invest in those massive home theaters and giant speakers and everything they need to build those home theaters in their homes to today where it is that very easy to get involved in at the lower end, not to the point where you see all the smart home technology that people can go and pick off the shelf and that’s not a CEDIA-level-type home, but that at least brings the awareness down to a more accessible level for consumers to where they’d become interested to want to learn how, what else they can do to smarten up their homes.

Giles Sutton: You’re absolutely right. I actually think this is one of the most exciting times in that regard, because a lot of the history of this profession previously, the real kind of the IP, if you will, or the specialism that you’re paying for is the knowledge of being able to connect things together and make something work. Now where you’ve got, where you’ve come to a place where actually, if you take sort of the baseline that everything kind of works together pretty well, you can actually be more focused on the client needs. So actually I think responding more towards actually crafting a system that really highlights what a client needs for their family. And that’s why with sort of areas like lighting and all these sort of emerging trends within the space. I think that’s where there’s so much opportunity for integrators right now.

Rob Stott: Absolutely. It kind of shows too, how education has had to, with that being such a big focus. You think about how education in this space has had to change over the years. So many different tentacles to this market nowadays than you used to be in the past. So I know you guys are obviously doing a lot to stay on top of that and it’s just, it’s crazy. It’s a fascinating industry I think to just follow the tech trends, technology in general is a fascinating industry, but now when you get into this kind of specialized area and see what the possibilities are in the integration space, it’s cool to see.

Giles Sutton: I completely agree. And the integrator, I think, will be central to the homeowner’s decision-making when it comes to those different trends. You’re right. The perception previously has been very much the high-end home theater, the distributed audio video, but more so, the savvy integrators are having conversations around these wellness topics, and actually asking homeowners questions like, how often do you have to travel for work? Could we help with your sleep patterns for example, or those kinds of things, and actually starting to dive into more of these sort of emerging trends. So you’re right. It’s a really fascinating time for the space.

Rob Stott: For sure. And someone that hears the name CEDIA, obviously the big side-on education, got the association and all the work you’re doing. Talk to us a little bit, because there’s also CEDIA the trade show. So talk to us a little bit about that and explain the difference there to our members.

Giles Sutton: So, I mean, it’s a great question. So there’s CEDIA the Trade Association and CEDIA Expo. So CEDIA the Trade Association, we sold Expo back in 2017. That was when previous leadership really determined that a lot of what the CEDIA staff were doing was just spending time organizing a trade show essentially. And the previous leadership said they would much rather the teams were investing time in those things that we spoke about just a minute ago, driving better awareness, investing in member programs, investing in education and basically determined that splitting the show from the organization was the best move. So now CEDIA Expo is now owned by Emerald Expositions. They’re huge exposition company. They also operate [KBIS 00:09:39], I should mention as well. They don’t own it, but KBIS which is in the design and build space as well. So there’s been some interesting sort of crossovers between the work on KBIS and CEDIA Expo as well.

But yeah, that’s a good sort of a way to sort of summarize it differentiation between the two. So we’re very much focused on the core activity of a member association, which is driving value to our members and those other pieces that I mentioned.

Rob Stott: For sure. And that’s not to say you guys are completely out of the event space either. You guys still do a little bit getting around, maybe not so much during this past year and kind of everything this industry and world has been through, but you guys do still have your get togethers, the Tech and Business Summit-

Giles Sutton: The Tech Summit Event, exactly. So yeah, we do host some regional events that are a good place for integrators to gather, we have education hosted there. And also, it’s something that’s was typically a manufacturer’s rep hosted. So it’s a great place for integrators to come and learn about new products on a regional basis. And they’re free to attend, smaller scale events that are not the scale of Expo, but really trying to get education to integrators on a local level as well.

Rob Stott: Yeah. I’m sure excited to get back on the road for those eventually here soon, like we all are, right?

Giles Sutton: Oh, absolutely. And we’re really hoping we’ll be able to host some later this year. So we’re already, we’re signing contracts as we speak literally, about an hour ago. So we’ve going to be releasing the calendar for those, for the last quarter of this year very soon.

Rob Stott: Awesome. Look forward to that, for sure. So pivoting a little bit, obviously having you on the Independent Thinking Podcast, CEDIA and HTSN are our custom integration group here within Nationwide announced a partnership not long ago, focused around, as we’ve been talking a lot about here during this podcast, education. So talk to me about what excites you the most about this partnership with HTSN and our dealers here at Nationwide?

Giles Sutton: Well, it’s a thrilling partnership for me, because well, firstly, Nationwide being the North America’s largest buying group for independent retailers, but also, HTSN within that, the focus on the custom integrator as well, and really HTSN really showing a focus and a commitment to delivering education and increasing professionalism to their members and really seeing that HTSN aligned with our goals as well are really on some of those pieces we spoke about earlier. The pieces to the partnership match our strategic goals as well. And I can dive into a little bit more about those in a bit, but it being focused on driving more opportunities to HTSN members through learning, through opportunities to perhaps engage with the design and build community as well. But fundamentally for us, it’s a really bold statement with HTSN making the investment in CEDIA membership and actually buying membership for all of the HTSN members for us that that shows a great commitment and partnership. And I couldn’t be more excited about it.

Rob Stott: It’s awesome. One of the favorite quotes comes to mind of this industry and that’s, “The whole high tide raises all ships,” is that I’m saying that correctly?

Giles Sutton: Absolutely. Yeah. “A tide raises all ships, a rising tide raises all ships.” Absolutely. Yeah.

Rob Stott: I know that, that’s a big part of this and you think about the education, of course, it all comes back to that and that being a major pillar of this partnership. And you talked a lot about already about kind of what you guys are doing, but diving into some of the specifics, what can these HTSN members that are now CEDIA members expect from an educational standpoint when they come to CEDIA? What are some of those offerings and opportunities that are available to them?

Giles Sutton: Well, there’s a lot. Firstly, just by being a member of CEDIA, you get access to a load of member benefits that comes with it. And that’s first of all, being part of the CEDIA community. And also, you get access to sort of member offers sort of member to member offers including insurance savings, but really with the HTSN package, I call it like a airline kind of choice benefits kind of approach, which is you get three options essentially with the membership, which is above what you would get by being kind of a quote unquote normal CEDIA member. So one of those choice benefits that you could select is a full a license to the CEDIA designer, TCD tool, which is our home theater design tool. And that’s for the full version of that. The second option is that you can attend our certified outreach instructor training, which enables you to deliver AIA ASID-approved courses to design professionals, which is one that’s very, very dear to my heart, I should say, because I built a business essentially through fostering those kinds of relationships. So that’s a really good one.

And then the other is you get a $200 voucher that you can then apply to business and technical courses on the CEDIA Academy, which is our online LMS, where there’s a huge amount of courses. They’re in a whole range of different subjects from business to technical, to marketing, as well as our CIT, Certified Infrastructure Technician pathway that leads to CEDIA certification, which is the only brand agnostic certification in the residential industry. So there’s a whole bunch of really great stuff that you have available. So I would encourage HTSN members to take a look at that and determine which one really works for them.

Rob Stott: Yeah. And a lot of great opportunities there and offerings available to HTSN members now. One, I don’t want to gloss over it all, and that you were clearly excited about it too, is that outreach program. Talk about that a little bit more and why that… Obviously, there’s the educational opportunity there. So the members essentially learning to how to teach a course so that they can… I mean, it’s about sharing that education, but there’s another layer to that, that I think is really important that you can dive into.

Giles Sutton: Absolutely. I mean, Rob, I could spend an hour just talking about this with you, because I think it’s such an important benefit. I mean, and it is often rated as one of the most important to our members as well, when they’ve taken it, and the reason being is that really this positions integrators as a thought leader when it comes to how they approach design professionals. So instead of let’s just say going to an architect or a designer and just pitching what you do, which is what they hear every day of the week. They have people pitching all sorts of products off the tubs, anything, a whole range of different things, roofing tiles, whatever. There’s a whole bunch of stuff. It allows integrators to really approach them and educate them.

So for architects and designers, most designers to be members of that industry associations like the AIA and ASID, they have to do something called continuing education. So in order to maintain their membership, they have to take education. So what the COI does is it enables an integrator to go through a course, which trains them up on how to be a great speaker, a great presenter, which anyway is really useful, because it means better at pitching for projects and those kinds of things, how to read an audience, loads of really, really high-value content, but ultimately on completing it, you’re then able to present a whole range of different courses from, very basic kind of foundation courses on introducing basically the concept of integrated technology through to outdoor sound. There’s a lighting one, there’s a whole range of different courses that you can then go to an architectural designer in your local market, and actually suggest that you come and give a lunch and learn, and actually most architects will know exactly what you’re talking about when you contact them, that you’re there to, you’re offering this particular course.

And because we still know that architects and designers still don’t know that our kind of members exist, there’s still an education piece, but they’re being asked about technology by homeowners. It’s a fantastic opportunity for HTSN members to get their foot in the door of these firms, not be seen as like someone who’s trying to sell them something… It’s like the car salesman. It’s just like launching on you, right? It makes you retreat. Whereas it gets you in the door. They realize that you actually, you’re not just the AV guy. You’re not just someone who’s just going to be told, “Put a TV there, put some speakers up there, put a soundbar there.” They see the value that an integrator adds is more than just installing technology. It’s understanding how a client’s going to live their home. Are they a movie lover? Are they a music lover? Is lighting important to them? Is security important to them? And actually working holistically through a set of homeowners requirements. And then the architects almost, you can see the coin drop. They see you more on their level as opposed to a trades-person.

It’s that you are someone that also has conversations with homeowners to actually reach a desired technical outcome. So it’s a really, really important program.

Rob Stott: Yeah. And it’s one where, I mean, it’s something this space, if you’re an integrator or even pay any attention to this space at all, you know that it’s long been a challenge for the integrator to get in with those communities, because you put it perfectly, the designers and architects are kind of up here and they’ve always, viewed the AV guy as that AV guy down as a trades-person that it kind of clashes the idea of tech melding with design and architecture, just it never, they clash in their minds. So they just see it as these black boxes that are going up on walls, or they have to cut into walls to hide these speakers and things like that. And it just it’s kind of circling back to the top of the conversation. This industry has changed a lot, and it’s not even just from the technology perspective, but the design and aesthetic perspective of the space and how kind of cheesy and corny maybe sounding, but how beautiful technology has become in these products and what they do and how they blend into the environment nowadays.

Giles Sutton: Absolutely. And so, there are different markets, right? So not all markets are going to be going to be led by the architect. There are metro areas that are more led by the architect than others, but these courses are also relevant. If you work, for example, with general contractors or home builders, if you’re working with a very large general contractor, there’s nothing to stop you presenting this course to them as well. And if you are in one of those areas where architects are really pivotal to the client purchasing decision, I would say you only need six relationships with architects, six to 10. I mean, six is fine and you have a strong relationship with six architects or six designers. And that is all you need to build a very sustainable business, because they will bring you every single one of their projects.

And if you think, I always said with my business, you don’t even have to be targeting those top architects. It’s the mid-range ones that I think are actually the ones that are almost like the better-positioned ones, because they’ll be working on faster, smaller projects and you are more likely to get a closer relationship with the partner or the principal that’s in that firm than the really large architect practices where he’s too busy out, or she meeting with homeowners or potential clients to be too worried about technology. Whereas I found really good relationships could be formed with the smaller scale architects or designers.

Rob Stott: And think about who, as you mentioned. They’re getting constantly bombarded by not just technology, but different industries as well, trying to reach out to them about the product and pitching them on things. So who are they more likely to develop that relationship with than someone that was able to educate them on their industry and what they’re good at? So they know they learned it from you. They’re more likely to trust you and you become their tech guy essentially for their projects moving forward.

Giles Sutton: Absolutely. And it’s lifting us up the food chain a little bit, right? I think often we, as an industry, we’re right down to the bottom and I think it’s like a lot of integrators, they will contract with the electrical contractor that then contracts with the general contractor that and it’s like all the way down. I mean, that’s a long way down, but that is often the case or what this does is it really shows the value that you can bring above more than just being told what to do as an integrator, “That’s where the speakers go, that’s where the lighting keypad should be.” It’s positioning yourself as having that really understanding that’s the key that you’re a professional, you design systems and that also will result in more design fees that you can charge, because that’s what architects are used to consulting fees upfront.

I always think that’s when the client has a full bank account, it’s at the start of the project, right? That’s when the homeowner’s bank balance is swelling and they will be writing out checks to consultants left, right and center. There’ll be writing, everywhere. That is when you can come in and say, you can charge a design fee for designing a project that later you can either offset against the project or, but this is a really good time to get your foot in the door as a consultant or a designer.

Rob Stott: Right. Rather than as an afterthought, when things are dried up and all of a sudden you’re making sacrifices, whether it’s on the design or the products that they can end up going with and-

Giles Sutton: You can drive the budget for the AV, for the technology. You can drive it or you can have to work to it later on. So it’s a really strong program.

Rob Stott: Oh, that’s awesome. And like you said, just one of the offerings and one definitely could spend an hour talking about, so I will try not to do that. So very quickly, moving on before we go any further. There are so many things that we’ve talked about from an education perspective that is available to CEDIA members and obviously HTSN members now. What’s the best way for our HTSN members to learn more about these offerings and to really dive in and approach them?

Giles Sutton: So, outside of the education, I mean, I would encourage the HTSN members to really, to dive into the academy, see what’s available there, as well as look at some of the member benefits that they get through the website. So there are those other offers and things that we can provide. We also have a program called Member of Excellence and Advanced Member program, which is, well, if an HTSN member that really wants to go a step further, that is a program that really recognizes integrators for their professionalism in the market. And it’s almost like a certification, a next level up. So that’s something that we offer as well, but really checking out our member page pages, or even email member@cedia.org. And someone from our member services team will be able to provide any guidance on that. We obviously had the HTSN CEDIA webinar as well. And I think we’ll probably be offering more of those as well, to do some deeper dives into some of these subjects as well.

Rob Stott: Hey, not to put you on the spot, but we got prime time coming up in August. And I know we are hellbent on making sure we’re in-person one way or the other with all these vaccines going out now. And of course, if it’s safe to do so, we’ll be there. But I’m sure we’ll expect quite the presence or a presence from CEDIA there that we very much look forward to having you guys and it being the first event back in-person, I can only imagine it might be a pretty fun one to be at.

Giles Sutton: That sounds awesome. Actually, I have to say, it’s not the first time I’ve heard it spoken at CEDIA that you were hosting this event and yes, we’d love to be there. You don’t have to worry about putting us on the spot. I think we’ve already got it on our radar. So for an important partner like Nationwide and HTSN, it’s something that we wouldn’t miss.

Rob Stott: Oh, that’s awesome. Well, Giles, this has been a lot of fun and certainly something I hope we can do more on the regular too. So be nice to check back in with you guys at CEDIA and see what’s going on, but hey, for now, I appreciate you taking the time. I should let you go and get reacquainted with your digs there in Indy.

Giles Sutton: Thanks, Rob. I really appreciate you taking the time. Yeah. Really enjoyed our conversation. Yeah. Happy to join anytime in the future and thank you again to HTSN and Nationwide for your commitment. We really look forward to working with your members over the coming months and year.

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