Last year at CEDIA, less than 24 hours after having landed in Atlanta to attend AiN Group’s annual Live and Learn Convention for the first time, I was posing in front of an Orange County Chopper motorcycle and listening to AiN Group’s own house band, Cat 5 and the Integrators absolutely rock out the Hard Rock Café Atlanta on a Thursday night. Mind you, that was only a few hours after I’d walked out of the afternoon’s annual business luncheon armed with detailed research on the industry that had been presented alongside cutting-edge strategies, best business practices and new opportunities for attendees. I quickly learned that the staff at AiN Group and its dealers rival any group in the industry for simultaneously working outrageously hard and enjoying the ride.
If you haven’t heard of the AiN Group, you most definitely have heard of many of its 175 dealers (including companies in the SDM 100 — companies such as Guardian Protection Services, Mountain Alarm, EMC Security, Crime Prevention Security Systems, Post Alarm, Custom Alarm, SSA and others). You’ve certainly also heard of many its 24 strategic partners — most notably, The General Electric Corporation. The AiN Group is the GE Home Technologies Managing Partner, and AiN Group dealers have access to GE Appliances energy management solutions and GE lighting solutions.
“Working with a name like GE opens doors — that is a powerful name to connect to my business,” states Bruce Scott, president, Scott Alarm, Jackson, Fla.
Filling a Void
Nine years ago, Stan Matysiak saw a hole in the industry, and started working to fill it.
“Based on feedback from a number of industry-leading integrators, I recognized there was not a national entity that existed that could provide all the electronic, low-voltage solutions for production, semi-custom and custom builders and, more importantly, for consumers,” Matysiak explains. “When we launched AiN Group, it was designed to provide complete and comprehensive solutions from the integrator to the consumer.
“In addition to structured wiring and security systems, consumers can choose distributed audio/video systems, lighting control, energy management, home automation products and even healthier homes via central vacuum systems — all installed by a best-in-class, low-voltage contractor who would then deliver ongoing service and monitoring,” Matysiak describes.
Randi Elrad, vice president of sales and co-founder of Crime Prevention Security Systems/Custom Home Entertainment, Gainesville, Fla., one of the founding members of the AiN Group, says, “Stan produced one of the most innovated business models. He got moral, ethical integration leaders together to establish rules of engagement, invited industry giants to let them represent their products, and then pursued other integrators to develop a national footprint (Elrad and her husband, John Pastore, are both featured on this month’s cover. They were photographed at On Top of the World community, a housing development in Ocala, Florida scheduled to attain 30,000 homes upon completion. The AiN Group directly helped facilitate the installation relationship between On Top of the World and Crime Prevention Security Systems. Read details of the multiple RMR opportunities Crime Prevention is capitalizing on at the development in this month’s cover story, “Changing the View of RMR” on page 52).
Matysiak also focused on giving dealers a strong voice, which quickly resonated with dealers considering joining the group.
“AiN Group is driven by a board of directors who advise about, assist with and strategize collectively over all future developments. Whatever we do is because a group of peers in this industry has a unified opinion of what we and they need to incorporate. Our general membership has a tremendously high level of trust and confidence in that leadership,” Matysiak says.
John Pastore, president and co-founder of Crime Prevention with Elrad, and a current board member of the AiN Group, was no stranger to industry groups when Stan Matysiak pitched the idea of the AiN Group to him.
“At Crime Prevention, we have been involved with multiple industry organizations for a long time, but when Stan approached us with this idea for a new group, the key difference was that this group was not going to be run by the manufacturers. Instead, we, the dealers, were going to form the rules and we would have some control over the direction of the group and how we were going to get things done,” Pastore recounts.
Bill Graham, vice president of sales and marketing for Guardian Protection Services, Warrendale, Pa., says his company had the same reaction.
“Most of the AiN dealers traditionally have their backgrounds in the security industry. The security world has a lot of successful dealer programs, and some not so successful, but most of them are run by the manufacturers. This group isn’t product specific or manufacturer specific. Instead it was formed by a collection of like-minded companies with the means to better business through best practices and collective market share. We saw immediate value in that,” Graham says.
Dealers are selected carefully, with close attention paid to their business philosophies and geographic location. Dealers are required to have been in business a minimum of 10 years and also have to attend training sessions and annual meetings throughout the year. The resulting shared-business philosophies and matching execution are critical to enhance the group’s national presence and reputation with builders.
“National and regional builders want to work with an organization that can execute a performance agreement using highly skilled, qualified providers. We provide all of this on a local, regional or national scale. When a builder or a consumer works with one of our providers, they know the provider is licensed, bonded and insured. They know the provider’s employees are fingerprinted and have no felony convictions. There are industry-leading standards that must be adhered to in order to become an authorized GE Home Technologies dealer,” Matysiak says.
The standards-based format lets end users work with a group that has companies across the country (creating a national footprint), but still experience the exceptional service you expect from a local service provider.
“AiN dealers have an advantage over other national competitors because companies that work with AiN dealers get locally owned and operated companies that will give them impeccable service — basically the white glove treatment,” says Elrad. “This provides every dealer in our network, regardless of size, the opportunity to compete with the biggest integrators and retailers in our industry, thereby building a reputation for service for the group.”
AiN Group pays close attention to the market sectors its dealers operate in.
“We have consciously limited the number of dealers per market segment,” explains Larry Wright, executive vice president. “Most small markets have only one authorized dealer. Larger markets, like Chicago, have only three or four dealers. This lessens competition and leads to an open dialogue between dealers,” Wright says.
Open dialogue and the sharing of best practices is a leading benefit of the group, dealers say.
“A major positive of the group is the networking with other dealers. You get a huge opportunity to discuss what they are doing or why something works or doesn’t work. Because we are spread all across the United States we don’t have to worry about fueling our competition or worrying about the information hurting business. Instead, you are helping your entire group grow,” says Judy Franklin, vice president and customer service manager at SmartCom Home Technologies Inc., Fredericksburg, Va.
Those conversations have valuable results, Pastore says. “Two things happen when we get together; you either learn something new from another dealer or you are reminded about something you may have stopped doing,” he recounts.
In addition to carefully selecting its dealers, AiN also carefully selects it manufacturing partners (See “AiN Group’s Strategic Partners” below). The manufacturing partners AiN Group works with provide another key benefit to its dealers.
When describing the AiN Group’s philosophy for manufacturing partners, Matysiak says, “To maintain the standards we have set for our dealer network, we partner strategically with the No. 1 or No. 2 brands within their industry segment..”
The partnerships benefit dealers both large and small, according to Graham.
“Because of the group’s size and collective power, the AiN Group has been able to align itself with the best-of-the-best. It is a two-way street. Manufacturers obtain access to a high number of quality integrators, while installers — both big and small — have access to manufacturers with brand recognition that adds value to their offering,” he says.
Scott says, “Everything the AiN Group offers us and does for us isn’t costing us anything. You don’t have to go into your pocket to be a part of it, but they strike deals with manufacturers that I could never strike on my own. Through the synergy of the AiN Group I am direct with everybody.”
Tommy Franklin, president of SmartCom Home Technologies and his wife, Judy Franklin, both serve on AiN’s board of directors. They also emphasize the relationships AiN Group offers its dealers with leading providers in the industry.
“One of the biggest opportunities for us was the manufacturers AiN brings with it. The group buying power puts us at a huge advantage in our market and additionally we get to go to market with the best brands in our industry and be more profitable,” the Franklins say.
In addition, AiN Group offers a wide range of group-premium business services including insurance through Wood Gutmann & Bogart; extended warranties via Warrantech; commercial fleet leasing from GE; consolidated bidding software solutions through BidMagic; consumer financing through GE; and social media marketing through a partnership with the social media experts at Single Throw Internet Marketing. Single Throw is an expert in helping dealers optimize Web and search engine techniques and serves as a recurring monthly revenue (RMR) service provider.
“The ultimate goal through the multitude of business services we offer is to lower our dealers’ overall costs of doing business so they can turn a quicker, larger profit,” Matysiak says.
AiN Group also sets up its dealers to succeed by informing its members of industry trends long before they are mainstream, positioning the dealers on the fast track for success.
“Being a part of a larger group helps local independents get national data and market feedback. As large companies launch new products in specific markets, even in markets where we are not located, we hear about it immediately and are often provided data by AiN on marketing strategies, price points and product mix. They are always keeping us ahead of our competitors,” says Josh Roane, chief executive officer, HomePro Inc., Carrollton, Texas.
Marketing to the MAX
John Begeny, vice president of marketing, describes meeting with Matysiak in 2004 to layout plans of the AiN Group’s marketing program to work with its dealers on a one-to-one basis to help them move more products and increase their RMR.
“Unlike other programs that offer a generic marketing platform, AIN offers bundled and customized marketing materials which emphasize the individual dealer and the brands that specific dealer can provide. The dealer builds his brand through association with his attachment with and to these leading national and international brands. Materials include brochures, e-mail blasts, van and truck graphics, pop-up banners, Facebook and Twitter ads, print ads, direct mail, trade show booth displays, and many more options through AiN’s dealer-focused, sales-driven marketing and communications catalog,” Begeny explains.
“On the front end, our advisory board sub-committees are constantly piloting marketing programs and mining focus groups to determine which marketing materials assist them to sell the most. We even help market products and services for our dealers that are outside of our core competencies. It’s like having your own marketing and advertising agency at your disposal for a significantly lower fee than you will find anywhere else,” Matysiak adds.
Tommy Franklin points out that working through AiN’s marketing department saves his company both time and money.
“To begin with, AiN puts marketing materials together that are specifically geared towards our industry. We don’t have to explain it to them. While the upfront design cost we save is one thing, the amount we would have to produce to absorb the design cost is also removed and we save time as well. The AiN Group’s marketing is exceptionally unique and the content they [use] is really inventive and attention-getting. Every local market has their little book of coupons and those traditional mass mailers. You scan them and they all look the same — not the AiN Group’s,” Franklin says.
Revving up for More
A key focus for the AiN Group this year is diversification. “Our members demand and need it,” Matysiak says. “We are diligently working on strengthening our national PERS dealer network, the American Emergency Monitoring Association (AEMA) that promotes proprietary life control products. We are also focused on a new bundled commercial initiative: AiN Commercial Solutions, launching at ASIS in September.”
Matysiak says the AiN Group is also committed to “keeping our standards high first, looking at revenue and sales second; staying patient in selecting the right partners; and achieving consistent growth in dealers and manufacturers year over year, even though the industry is off approximately 60 percent from its height in 2006. We will continuously seek out key integrator partners throughout the United States, particularly in markets where we do not currently have coverage. We depend on our board of directors to lead us to new, leading-edge manufacturers who have the capabilities to produce and provide revolutionary products. In addition, we will continue to work with the GE Appliance and Lighting groups, and other groups such as UTC’s Carrier HVAC unit, all in an effort to deliver more profitable business to our constituency of dealers.”
In short, Matysiak and all the dealers of the AiN Group will continue to rev up the burglar alarm past a single system into a whole home solution and beyond — and they will be enjoying the ride the whole time.
To learn more about the AiN Group or to inquire how you can become a member of the network, please contact Tracy Wypij, executive director of business development, by calling 866.323.8000 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.