The Integrator's Voice
Integrator finds the key to balancing internal operations, outside communications and reputable service
- By Leslie Stevens
- Feb 14, 2008
With the housing market
slowing down and more
competition entering the
industry, integrators can no
longer solely rely on word of mouth to generate
new business. Companies are beginning
to take a proactive approach to inform
customers and win business.
Most small-business owners recognize
the importance of marketing and the need to
manage it on an ongoing basis. However,
most companies are already overtaxed when
it comes to properly servicing current customers
and effectively managing internal
operations, let alone implementing a viable
ForTech Solutions, based in North
Hills, Calif., has successfully accomplished
the fine art of balancing internal
operations and outside communications
while at the same time providing proper
service for its customers. Hovsep
Margaryan of ForTech Solutions shared
insight on how the company has found balance
in all three areas.
Q.How and when did ForTech
Solutions start? Who was
involved with the company?
A.ForTech started in 2001. It was a
couple of us with diverse backgrounds
who had day jobs as vice presidents
of operations and technology and
electrical engineering. We felt that given
our skills and knowledge, we could achieve
more financial freedom, be independent
and, most importantly, do it with joy. We
knew that there were going to be challenges
involved, but we felt very confident
that we could overcome any obstacles.
Initially, we focused on the small-business
sector, doing voice and data installs, service
and consulting. Then we gradually
started to move up into the residential market,
where we saw bigger opportunities.
Q.What were the challenges when
first starting the company, and
how did you overcome them?
A.Finding the customers and selecting
the right products to fit the customer’s
needs were our initial challenges.
However, our biggest challenge started in
2005, when we put all our energy into
expansion and diversification of the business
model. We saw the continued growing
demand on the residential sector and more
complex opportunities on the commercial
side. To take on those opportunities, we
had to get more training and also strengthen
our marketing efforts. There are business
opportunities everywhere, but finding
and capturing them is the challenge. We
also realized the fact that the market is getting
more competitive, and we have to be
the best out there or we will not survive. In
other words, we needed to spend more time
on training, certifications and, most importantly,
on our marketing efforts.
Q.How did you originally go about
generating new customers? What
type of customers were they, and what
were success and failure points marketing
A.Initially, we did not have any
roadmap, only ideas. Our customers
mainly came from word of mouth, and they
were small-business owners and homeowners
with simple needs. This worked for
some time, but it was hard to get a continuous
flow of business. We were small in
size, but we could no longer be small for
the types of projects we were getting. Our
average project went from being $3,000 to
A new and better image had to be created,
and more marketing resources were
necessary to achieve goals. When initially
approaching builders or architects, we did
not have proper marketing information.
Also, the marketing for homeowners was
not detailed and did not clearly communicating
our message. Now, we are much
more confident, as we have developed the
presentation and marketing tools that can
help us better communicate our message
across the board.
Q.How do you allocate resources to
effectively balance running a business?
How do you go about planning and
executing? Do certain individuals manage
only specific areas of the company, or
is everything a shared responsibility?
A.Being a small company, there are
advantages and disadvantages. An
advantage is that everyone is in synch on
everything. A disadvantage is that you can
only do so much with the given resources,
financial or human. As you grow, things
start changing, but they don’t get easier. We
share most of the responsibilities, but one
of us is always in charge of something. We
also use a systematic approach to each and
every issue. I handle most of the operations,
finance and marketing part while
someone else handles most of the product
development, design, implementation and
integration issues. And another person
works on the installation side and quality
control. At the end of the day, we know
exactly where we are at.
Q.What marketing strategies to
date have been most effective, and
how did you measure your return on
A.Word of mouth has and still is the
best advertising method for us, but it
is not enough to foresee future growth. We
also did a local home remodeling show last
year, which played a key role in focusing our
marketing efforts accurately. It helped us
interact with more homeowners and learn
what they like and dislike. It also helped us
learn that there are still large percentages of
builders, contractors and designers who are
not familiar with how to fit technology into
the equation for the homeowner.
On another note, as techs, we tend to
have our own beliefs about what’s cool
home technology . This is not the case with
homeowners, builders and architects. So
we learned how to think like a homeowner,
builder or architect. This is important, as it
helps us develop better marketing materials
and selling approaches. But to do this, we
had to find a company that understood our
needs and could accomplish them effectively,
since we did not have a dedicated,
full-time marketing person.
In regard to measuring the return on
investment, it is very difficult, as some
approaches take time to mature. The key is
to have good documentation and tracking.
And if one thing does not work, make sure
to do a full analysis to find out why.
A lot of our competitors might be looking
to tighten their budgets and resources
as the housing markets slow down. We take
the opposite approach by looking into
expending and diversifying ourselves. We
also have added our own showroom and
Q.How do you effectively manage
day-to-day administrative operations
while juggling customers?
A.This is the hardest part of my job.
Prior to starting my own company, I
worked for a larger distribution company
and managed operations larger than our
current model. What I have learned and
exercised is that no matter how small or
large, you have to have very strict discipline,
policies, training and organizational
control in the company. For this, we have
spent great resources in ensuring we have
all the necessary tools and procedures to
run our company efficiently and profitably.
Q.What associations has ForTech
joined? What technical credentials
has the company earned?
A.We belong to CEDIA and CEA
TechHome associations. Joining
those not only helped us to gain more marketability
and credibility, but also to become
more knowledgeable and educated about our
customers’ needs. We also recently added
more certifications, including THX and ISF.
With the downturned housing market, it
is obvious that things are going to get harder
for companies in our business. More weeding
is going to occur, and those who are the
best and have better credentials and training
will survive the battle.
Plan the work, work the plan, and no
matter what you do, make sure that your
customer knows that they are the No. 1 item
on your list.
This article originally appeared in the February 2008 issue of Security Today.