Connected Design: Your business was founded in 2012 in Scottsdale, Arizona, and your background since the late ’90s has been all about integration of technology into customers’ lifestyles. Talk about how you got interested in doing this work – and as you gained experience, what it was that you felt you were able to offer clients that was unique in the field?
Joe Valcik: I always had a passion for sound. Even when I was a kid, I would take hand-me-downs, or garage sale stereos, and set them up in room. When I was still in my teens, I got a job working for a security company. This was right around the time when surround sound and multi-room audio started reaching the mid-priced home market through tract home builders as options to each home. Since then, I’ve worked with security contractors doing jobs for the federal and state governments, and then with a large custom integration firm doing mostly high-end installations. I had always planned on working for myself, but wanted to learn as much as I could by working with other companies. By the time I was in my mid-20s, I started my first solo venture, and that eventually evolved into what is today Innovative Integrations.
CD: The custom installation field has changed over the years at a rapid pace. Talk about how the business has evolved – and how you’ve successfully kept up with all the changes.
Valcik: Being on the cusp of being a Millennial had its advantages. People my age were born into technology. Not nearly what it is today, but most kids were into Atari or Nintendo products and always intrigued by new tech that was constantly evolving through the ’80s. This, coupled with a natural mechanical inclination, inspired me to try and figure everything out, from old TVs to broken appliances. I would take things apart, study them and try and repair them. Sometimes, I would succeed, but most times I would not. But I always had a better understanding after the fact. Also, the love for technology itself is a big part of that. Wanting to know about products or solutions is more than just a fascination – it’s another way to stay ahead of your completion.
CD: With your experience in the business, you have interacted with the architect, builder and interior designer communities since before it became more of a natural outreach for custom integrators. What did it take for you to learn to navigate those relationships so well in your outreach to these disciplines? And what has been most effective for you in extending your business with the help of these partners?
Valcik: The dynamics of the design build process are radically different from when I started doing system designs. I remember when the interior designers and architects didn’t know what a Low-Voltage Contractor was. Now, most of the architects and designers I work with are very accommodating and sometimes even come to me looking for input on how much room I need in an equipment room or how to conceal a motorized window treatment – things like that. My relationship with the builders and designers is vital, as the majority of my business is still referral-based, and being tied in with builders is key to getting the job done right, just the way I want it, from concept to completion. I’ve outfitted one of my best builder’s showrooms with all the amenities, just because of the exposure it gives me to his potential clients.
CD: What is it about you and your way of doing business at Innovative Integrations that has helped to enrich and inform your abilities as a technology integrator?
Valcik: I try to utilize what I’ve learned from other companies I’ve worked with over the years and implement the best philosophies into my business. I’ve had the privilege of working with a multitude of different products, system and manufacturers. This has allowed me to carefully choose the products that I see best fit for each job, whether it’s for pure reliability, installation ease or profitability. Being an installer for the majority of my career can be a blessing and a curse simultaneously; most installers know nothing about business and most business entrepreneurs know nothing about field installations or system design. It’s taken a while to get better at merging the two to best suit Innovative Integrations, but there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t try and learn something new, or try a different approach.
CD: Talk about your physical presentation – your showroom or design center, and how that has evolved to keep up with technology and with clients’ requirements in the age of connected homes and their proper harmonization with design and aesthetic principles. Why do you think it is effective in conveying the accessibility and possibilities of connected-home technology built into a home?
Valcik: Being a small operation and having a home-based showroom has had a ton of influence on not only the way I present these items to potential clients, but in the way I implement system designs. Having a state-of-the-art commercial showroom is great in all, but I don’t think it has the same effect as being in someone’s home and describing all the features that can make your life easier, safer and just outright better. Showing clients the one-button touch by the door that you press when you leave, or the “Good Night” button by the nightstand that does essentially everything for you is great, and the idea that you get to live with the tech, tweak it just the way you want and try to implement an idea and live with it in your own home is extremely helpful.
CD: Have relationships with other disciplines such as builders, architects and designers gotten easier over the years, as technology has more deeply infused consumers’ lifestyles? What are some of the best workarounds you have discovered to smooth these inter-discipline relationships to the benefit of all parties?
Valcik: I’d say the best way to work with other trades is to not work with them at all. I’m joking, of course! It really has gotten better from a standpoint of respect and working together. Nowadays, systems integrators need to work with several trades hand in hand. I’ve discovered the best way to create rapport is to try and communicate exactly what it is you need and expect from others. Also, throwing some humor in that conversation can lighten the mood so you don’t seem overly demanding.
CD: What else would you like to say about the evolution of the custom installation industry – and where is it heading, do you think?
Valcik: I believe there will always a need for professionals in this industry, regardless of how the tech changes the landscape. And regardless of however many garbage DIY products come out, there will always be a client that wants the tech but doesn’t want to deal with it. Meaning most affluent customers love technology, and are also very good at delegation; they just want it to work. Every time, all the time! With the products that we have today, like network monitoring, power control and the concepts that are coming in the future, this reliability will only increase, and that makes our jobs easier. There will never be a time that technology is perpetual; it will always need maintenance, updates or hardware upgrades. The great thing about this industry is its unpredictability – and that unpredictability applies to all aspects because we all know sometimes that technology doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do. Luckily, if you’re in this industry and have any field experience, you are probably pretty good at adapting to these issues and finding a solution.
First Appeared in Connected Design Summer Issue, 2018