The Azione Unlimited 2019 Fall Conference this week in Seattle provided a whole new approach to how the smart home association (formerly known as a buying group) conducts education during its annual gathering. The group focused on three elements – lighting, HR/operations, and process – and made them into college-style courses.
“We take them from freshman year of college to senior year of college to grad school,” explained Azione Chairman Richard Glikes. “We have a 70-minute segment in each of those tracks – a 70-minute 101 track, a 70-minute 201 track, and a two-hour 501 track. Then we open up the afternoon if they want to continue working during 3-5 p.m. when they can ask even more questions.”
Typically buying group meetings like Azione have featured more small-group discussions with a specific topic, such as “How to Increase Labor Efficiency” or “How Do You Compensate Your Project Managers?” Instead of stacking up several of those through the three-day event, Azione chose this new deep-dive approach, and only offered two small-group classes on the last day of the event. The rest of subjects go deep.
“We have Paul Starkey and Steven Firszt, co-founders of VITAL MGMT, covering Process, as well as Brian Righetti, founder of Northstar Operations Management,” Glikes continued. “We have lighting designer Joe Pineda, president of Breakthrough Lighting, doing a 101 segment on lighting. Then we have Greg Barrett from USAI doing the second segment and USAI and a lighting designer Anne Kustner, principal from AKLD Lighting Design, doing the third class. Kathleen Brenk, VP of human resources at The Marvin Companies, is handling our HR courses. She’s really fabulous.”
Each instructor’s slides were printed and placed in a book for attendees to use as their textbook and take-home materials.
“We want them to take it back and live it,” Glikes said. “It’s one thing to touch lightly on a subject. It’s another thing to go into depth.”
During the conference, Azione also distributed its first Marking Playbook, which is a collection best practices in a category that most integrators agree is one of their biggest weakness as business owners. “Most of these companies live on referrals, so if business gets tough, referrals slow down,” Glikes said. “Last meeting we were told that this was the number-one priority. Laura Koster is our director of marketing. She and Ron Callis [One Firefly] and Tim Bigoness [D-Tools] drove the project. We have 82 pages, with 13 different contributors from digital marketing to how to host an event.”
“We have 29 different topics with the marketing playbook, digital to content strategy to social media,” Koster added. “Having the 13 different vendor and member contributors really made the Marketing Playbook stronger because we pulled from their various strengths. Some members are really excellent at social media, for instance so we called on them for that to author those specific pages.”
To help members follow through with their marketing efforts after the conference, Azione will break up the various segments and have webinars on each of them. The group will then have key-leaders meetings, where 60 dealers and six vendors come together in a location and to cover the various topics, in person, much like they have focused on areas such as System Design, Operations, and Sales.
The goal, Glikes said, is to help each of his dealer member companies to grow. “A lot of our rebates in the group are based on growth,” he explained. “So, we’re going to try to ensure, without a doubt, that they’re more profitable and they grow. There are about 34 dealers signed up for our Process course here, and if they come out of the conference improving their efficiency by 10 or 15 percent, what does that mean in dollars? What if they have a regiment, instead of doing everything as a one-off? What does that mean to their business? What if instead of having to pay unemployment compensation, they learn how to better handle HR situations? What if you want to be in the lighting business, but you don’t really know where to start? It’s all about keeping this channel healthy.”