Thursday, September 10, 2020 / by Ken Couture
Some Las Vegas businesses are thriving during the pandemic. Because people are home more, they are tackling home improvement projects that they had let slide for too long. Christopher Sterle’s company, Acoustic Design Systems, is one of those that have gotten even busier.
“Mostly, the pandemic created an increased demand for home network, home entertainment and home management equipment,” said Sterle, CEO and owner of Acoustic, a home automation company. “The pandemic created a sense of urgency for customers to make updates since they are staying home, concerned with safety and security, and have time to spend on home improvements.
“But even before the pandemic, our industry had been experiencing tremendous growth. Last year was the largest year-over-year increase in households owning a smart device since 2017, and despite the pandemic, the U.S. smart home industry is predicted to grow by 25% and reach $246 billion in the next five years.”
What is your background and how did you land in the commercial/home automation business?
My career began in Mentor, Ohio, in 1995, when I started selling and installing home electronics for a big box retail store. I had just graduated high school and knew college wasn’t for me, but I was fascinated with audiovisual (AV). I attended training classes for various AV manufacturers, learning all aspects of their products and capabilities.
After realizing my passion for the industry, I decided to pursue home electronic installations full time and joined a local company that specialized in home AV and custom installs. A few years later, I relocated to Nevada to become a field manager for a Las Vegas residential AV company. For two years I worked closely with customers and delved deeper into the custom AV field, learning more about designing tailored systems for residential clients.
In 2000, I joined the production show “EFX” at MGM Grand to learn more about professional AV gear and installations within commercial environments. One year later, I left the show to begin planning and laying the foundation to start my own company, and in 2003 we launched Acoustic Design Systems.
What specific adaptations did you make as a result of the pandemic?
When the quarantine began, we launched virtual sales appointments for home-based businesses or homeowners interested in upgrading their technology. Our clients can connect with our team to schedule repairs, troubleshoot or talk about upgrading their existing wireless network, security systems and audio video systems while practicing social distancing. Then in May, we debuted a monthly service plan for remotely maintaining smart home technology systems.
Operationally, we changed our company practices to follow new guidelines — face masks and social distancing, masks, gloves, and took additional steps to make sure our customers remain safe while we are in their homes.
We stopped conducting company meetings in our conference room and moved them into our warehouse, where we can be well spread out. We stopped allowing employees to ride with each other in our service vans and required everyone to travel in their own company vehicles. We are also having our employees work in separate offices instead of in clusters.
Financially, we put a limit on inventory to eliminate high overhead. We now wait to order the product we’ll need for upcoming jobs to maximize cash flow, and we’re asking vendors to allow 60-day terms instead of 30 for a longer payout on bills. We also took advantage of business grants and payroll protection programs that were offered by government.
How did the pandemic change your outlook on business?
The pandemic reminded me of 2008, and I had to make sure we weren’t doing any wasteful spending because these types of situations can come up any time. Since then, we make sure we always have plenty of money in reserves.
What is the best business advice you’ve received?
My first business coach, Steve First, taught me that it’s OK to say no to a customer. It’s very empowering to feel and know you can turn down a project. As popular as the business phrase “the customer is always right” is, it’s simply not always the case. If you get into a situation where you are asked to do something outside of your comfort zone, it’s better to say no than to say yes and ruin a relationship or experience for a customer.
What has been your most exciting professional project to date?
Overall, our long-term exclusive relationship with Toll Brothers has been one of the most fulfilling partnerships we’ve had, and is one that continues to grow stronger after seven years of working together. We approached them about partnering after discovering a potential revenue stream that we thought could turn into an amazing opportunity for us, and it really paid off.
As the housing market was bouncing back, we recognized there weren’t many other integrators working with production homebuilders. Before the recession, home automation was mainly seen as a luxury that only homeowners of custom builds could afford. Because of this, we saw a niche that could be developed to offer smart home technology to median-priced homeowners, leading us to shift from mostly designing home theaters to specializing in smart home automation integration.
Even as demand for smart home tech continues to flourish, there are still only a handful of homebuilders that are seeing the value in offering smart home technology as buyer options in new production builds. Most still just use electrical contractors for basic wiring, and are missing a golden opportunity, as a home’s value can increase by up to 5% with home automation. In fact, we receive a ton of business from buyers whose builders don’t offer smart home tech, requesting installation as their homes are in the process of being built.
Have you gone out to other businesses since the city began reopening?
Yes, I went to both the Cosmopolitan and the Shops at Crystals. It was an eerie and awkward experience with our wonderful town being so slow right now. I love our city and visit the Strip a lot, and I can’t wait for it to get back to normal and filled with both locals and tourists.
What are you reading right now? Or binge-watching?
I’m binge watching Formula 1 and trying to avoid political ads by watching as much Netflix as possible.
How do you wind down after a long day or busy week?
I work out after being in the office for the day because it clears my mind, and a little bit of bourbon always helps me go to bed. I have a collection of some of the rarest bourbons in the world, and I enjoy seeking out the newest and rarest distillers I can find.
If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would it be and why?
I would live full-time on the beach in Southern California, where I could ride bikes and skateboard every single day.
What is something that people might not know about you?
I started electric skateboarding at 40 years old.
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