This week’s Q&A sees CE Pro Eu visit New York-based install company, Southtown Audio Video, which is owned and run by CEDIA International Membership Committee member, Heather L. Sidorowicz.
The company grew from a one-man operation – started by Thomas Laski – into a custom shop installing large satellite dishes, to small satellite dishes, to technology in client’s homes. His daughter, Heather came into the company in 2002, purchasing it in 2014.
What are you up to today?
I live on coffee and post-it notes. Each day I come to work attempting to cross things off my post-it note and then the phone rings and the day starts.
Before I know it, the day is over and there are still tasks to be completed. Maybe tomorrow I’ll catch up…
A typical day may start with an estimate at the client’s business or home and then back for a webinar or training.
Somewhere during my day I’ll work on quoting and designing a system for a new restaurant, home, or banquet centre. I do this while answering emails, phone calls and the occasional walk-in.
I then run home and cook something up for my two girls and husband, put them to bed, watch an hour of TV and I’m off to bed. Before the sun comes up, I’m at it again!
How and why did you pursue a career in the AV/install industry?
My father started the company in 1984; I had absolutely no interest in the business growing up.
He started as a Hi-Fi shop and grew into a satellite install company. Later in life, while at a home show, when I was in my early 20’s I saw a presentation by another company showing off the latest surround sound system.
It was The Matrix; that big shoot up scene in a bus terminal. Great sound, but then I looked to my left and saw a wide-eyed child not understanding the death of everyone in the scene.
I walked out of that room, turned to my husband and said: “I think I can do this, and I think I can do it better.” So began my career.
What project are you most proud of in your career?
My proudest moments are those we deemed impossible at the time. As your company grows and you take on larger clients, at some point you wonder how you will complete the job.
Last year we designed and installed our first church system for a business that purchased the building complete with a Crestron system, motorised screen, iPad control and stellar audio.
We did this by contacting experts to help us with the design to make sure we were utilising the right products.
I think in this business, so many are afraid to ask for help (like asking for directions) and this is what separates our company from the bunch.
What is the worst thing (outside of your control) that has ever gone wrong on a project?
On the same project I just mentioned, we lost an installer three days before the install.
In a panic I called everyone I knew locally begging for help to make sure the job happened. Eventually I was introduced to someone and made a connection.
Turns out he was so great; we’ve hired him for many projects since.
It is always darkest before the dawn.
Working in the install sector, what is one thing you’re tired of hearing either on the job, or about your job?
I’m not an installer, but as a sales person, on a project I’ve become sensitive to: ‘you’re making too much money/profit.’
This happens once in a while on the residential side of business. I do not think most people understand the cost of doing business: insurance, vans, gas, tools, utilities and payroll.
They have become so use to the Internet and big box stores they forget what it entails to design and install a properly working system.
Do you find that you have any additional challenges being a female in this industry?
I’ve never looked at being a female as a disadvantage. Sure, there are those who do not believe I know what I’m talking about until I prove it.
However, once that happens, they are pleasantly surprised and tend to become life-long customers.
There are still a few that exist that only want to speak/deal with another man, and I am fine with making the decision from behind a curtain. It is their issue, not mine.
The whole ‘man verses woman’ issue drives me crazy. We are all on the same side, just different sides of the same coin.
Men tend to be driven by ego and woman by emotion. Neither is wrong, and it is silly to pretend these human traits don’t exist.
What advice would you give to women breaking into the industry?
Do it! This is an exciting business that will never be boring.
A hard working, willing-to-learn female will easily find a job. At my company out of the six of us, half are female.
What advice would you give new installers breaking into the industry?
Do great work and you will always have more business.
Do not be afraid to say no. Not every job is yours and should be taken. A friend of mine recently said ‘sometime the most profitable job you can take is the one you say no to’.
With the IoT increasing day by day, where would you like to see the industry in 5 years?
In five years I would like to see systems with better interfaces and less requesting of information.
There is no reason for someone to walk into a dark house anymore. I should not need to request the weather. Systems need to learn habits.
My daughter needs to remember to take her violin to school twice a week. Sure, the ability exists to solve these issues today, but not cohesively.
If I have a task I have to complete tomorrow, my best bet is to write it on that post-it note mentioned earlier, even in this technology-rich age.
Why? Because, unless I tell the ‘system’ that I completed it, it is not ‘in front of me,’ unless written on that bright piece of yellow paper. The IoT has the ability to change that.
You have a magic wand; what are the first three things you would change about technology?
1. An ‘out of office or offline’ option for texting
2. Mobile phone-free places (like yoga studios and movie theatres)
3. The ability for technology to play better with each other
What is your favourite piece of AV kit on the market right now?
I often joke about putting in a tag in my arm for my health care. What we have the ability to do in that market fascinates me, and yet, I’ve still been to offices where everything is on paper.
If we can link information, we could all live a longer, healthier life.
What product/s or concepts do you think will be the next big thing in the industry?
I believe we are only at the beginning of the wearable age. As this technology grows and can be connected, we can save on everything, from doctor’s visits to medication.
Your backache might be caused by sitting too long, so a device could tell you this instead of covering the pain with medication. Think of the possibilities.
Best reaction from a client?
There is no better reaction than the first time you play a movie demonstration in their brand new home theatre.
The possibilities; success of fail, I am in charge of my own destiny.
Tell us about CEDIA’s International Membership Committee
I speak passion; passion for the industry and for what CEDIA stands for.
I have been volunteering for CEDIA for a few years and am honoured to be working with such a great team during, what I believe to be, one of the greatest times in CEDIA history.
With the new branding and energy we have the ability to make a difference in the industry.
You can invite three people living or dead out for a pint or over for dinner (not including family and friends!) Who are they and why?
1. Steve Jobs, because I would love to know what he envisioned the future as.
2. Julia Child for great food and comic relief.
3. Tara Stiles, who has changed the face of yoga
You can only listen to one album and watch one film for the rest of your life, what are they?
If it was a series it would be Sex in the City, is that cheating? Since I’m cheating anyway – I would choose a Pandora station instead of an album and it would be Andrew Bird.
What’s a common pet peeve during a project?
Delays in the payment process.
Do you have any hidden talents?
I’m a decent cook and can stand on my head (big fan of yoga!)
Click here for more on Southtown Audio Video.