In this new feature of Control the Universe
, well interview a prominent custom installation industry journalist, in the interest of helping you get to know them better beyond their bylines.
This month, we kick off with Julie Jacobson, editor-at-large of CE Pro
and editor of Electronic House
. Julie is a tireless chronicler of (and advocate for) the custom installation industry whose frequent articles and blog posts on CEPro.com stir some great debates. Julie also maintains a frequently hilarious personal blog
. Without further ado, heres our Q&A with Julie!
How did you become a part of the custom installation industry?
I started my professional lifeafter Chuck E. Cheese and allin marketing at Arius, which was then the number-two security distributor after ADI. CEO Ken Moyes and I thought our dealers needed to expand beyond security, so we formed a division called Home Systems Plus. In addition to distributing home control products (Xantech, X10, Leviton), we provided training at about $850 for two days. Dealers ate it up.
Ken stumbled across this cheesy little magazine on the newsstand called Electronic House
and thought it would be a great brand for us. He called the publisher, bought the magazine, and sat on it. When Arius was sold, Ken asked if I wanted to run the magazine with him.
What would I do? I asked.
I guess you would be the editor and I would be the publisher.
What do editors and publishers do?
I dunno, well figure it out.
And we did, eventually. The original EH
editor, Lisa Montgomery, is still with us. We launched CE Pro
(then HA Pro
) shortly after starting EH Publishing in 1994.
What is the biggest challenge you face as a CE Pro editor?
Trying to write meaty stuff without ticking people off. Believe it or not, I really try not to tick people off. If I think something may be too harsh, Ill run it by my colleagues first.
What does your average day look like?
Im a morning person so I get up earlylike 3:30 this particular morning to wrap up this piece and head to the airport.
I check about 40 RSS feeds through iGoogle to catch up on tech news, then get to writing. I hate writing, I truly do.
Then theres interviews, and teleconferences, and EH brand meetings, and editorial planning, and making PowerPoints...
I work closely with our salespeople, after they stop yelling at me for not writing enough about their clients. We do this thing at EH in which anyone who sells somethingbig or smallsends an email to the entire staff. Thats a lot of email but its great for morale and I for one get a huge kick out of it.
I like to post at least a couple stories online every day and promote them on Twitter (@juliejacobson
). Ill check cepro.com and electronichouse.com non-stop for comments. Im also addicted to Google Analytics, checking our site statistics throughout the day. I also check remotecentral.com
several times a day, mostly to see what terrible things theyre saying about us.
And, yes, Im usually still in my pajamas until early afternoon when Ill do the stationary bike or take a jog during the 10 days of Minnesota summer.
I get about 400 emails per day and Im terrible about responding. Sorry guys. If these pesky PR people would just leave me alone...
I often punctuate the day, when Im not traveling, with visits to dealers, and we have a group of CE Pros in the Twin Cities that meets every month. I recommend it.
Today, I head to Chicago for a day to visit with Abt Electronics and M&K.
What was your favorite CE Pro story of all time?
Great question! Of course, I like the ones that get picked up by Slashdot
and deliver tens of thousands of page views, but my favorite of all time was Circuit City Firedog Employees Defy Cargo Pants Rule
, an exclusive investigation into just what makes up cargo pants. To that, Brian commented, Are you serious? This was worthy of an article? Is this what you guys do around there? Get to work.
The most controversial story I ever did, generating 219 comments, was Who Owns the Code? CE Industrys Dirty Little Secret
. It was a strong story that needed to be written. As editor of Electronic House
, I was getting lots of calls from distraught homeowners who learned that their $100k Crestron systems would have to be rebuilt from scratch. I was embarrassed for the industry.
Unfortunately, in the original version of the story, I was completely insensitive to one Chicago integration firm that went out of business (about which I got all those consumer calls). I probably will never forgive myself for that.
What do you like to do in your spare time (assuming you have any spare time)?
Hypothetically, if I had spare time, I would like hikingthe real woodsy stuff. I already hiked coast-to-coast across England and Id love to do the Appalachian Trail.
And, hypothetically, if I werent such an old fart, Id love to play recreational Ultimate Frisbee, which I still did until about five years ago. I was a superstar in my day.
Ive been married 10 years to industry guy Duane Paulson (www.sequeltechnologies.com
) and were still annoyingly in love (we Skype each other all day, OK?) and just like to hang out. Ive got two great stepkids, Nick (24) and Maggie (20) who, whenever we all get together, its a blast.
Duane and I love our Sundays. He picks up the NYT
. We sit on the couch or outside and read, read, read. I work on the crossword puzzle literally all day. I really suck at it but it keeps me off the streets.
Tell us about your personal blog.
The subtitle of JulieJacobson.com is: That Julie ... Something's definitely wrong with her. Does that say enough? It is irreverent, sometimes dirty, and nasty to people and policies I dont like.
Oh yes, its funny and features some great industry caricatures
you have to see to believe.
What is the biggest threat to the custom installation industry, and how do we confront it?
Arrogance is a biggie. Many pros cant fathom doing anything except uber-custom theaters and automation systems.
I know dealers making great money on products like Sonos, and I know several very high-end integrators who have started divisions around more cookie-cutter systems.
Our industry needs to move beyond the old business models and explore new opportunities, which was the theme of EHX Spring
in March and going forward. After EHX, Ive heard from many dealers who now want to learn more about home health technology, digital content, retrofit and more. Thats good.
And to me, this is one of the biggest threats of all: the inability to set consumer expectations. They have to know that custom electronics require upkeep, and that they will have to pay to maintain their systems, in most cases. So many customers blow their wad on a fancy system and dont realize how much effort may be required to maintain it. The result? They get ticked off, stop using the system, tell all their friends, and never do it again.
Also, our industry must figure out this recurring revenue thing. Integration businesses are worth nothing if they cannot prove to have an engaged customer base.
Finally, we really need to learn how to sell services when theres no such thing as margin anymore.
In what ways must the custom installation industry improve?
Stop whining, already. There is no such thing as protected brands anymore. If dealers spent as much time on their business as they did complaining about their vendors, wed all be better for itexcept cepro.com, which gets a lot of traffic from the disgruntled.
And, of course, read cepro.com at least twice a day and you will be blessed with riches.
Weve got a great future. Ive said for 16 years that plug-and-play would never undermine our business. More and more devices can be integrated today, and that makes things much more confusing and complicated, regardless of how easy they may be to install.
Whats your opinion of URC?
Obviously, Im a huge fan and I like the shorter name, which is so easy to spell. The name change is even more dramatic than when X-10 changed to X10.
I wont comment about the products, which are great. URC simply has one of the best dealer support programs in the industry, with online tools, training and more.
URC has been a great friend to me personally and to EH Publishing, always helping us out in a pinch.
Plus, you guys are fun, and good sports when I crush you at bowling.
What is the most compelling current URC product?
Im a handheld, hard-button kind of girl so the MX-5000 is my favorite. The new KP-4000 definitely fills a gap in the URC line... keep em coming. Finally, whatever you do with Autonomic Controls
, like two-way Apple TV, is good for me!
I do think URC needs a software solution that works with iPhone, iPad, whatever. Certainly you could build the hardware to get from the device to the TV.
How can URC dealers get involved with CE Pro?
Thanks for asking. We editors love talking to dealers. Everything we know comes from CE pros. We might not get back to you quickly, but please just pick up the phone and call, or shoot us an email. And if we dont respond the first time, do it again. Theres no such thing as too much nagging. Just ask Jon Sienkiewicz.
We hope youll visit cepro.com often. It might be easy to miss, but there is a comment section after every article and it can get pretty controversial.
You can subscribe to our RSS feeds and email newsletters. Also, please join our Facebook group (bit.ly/ceprofacebook
), follow us on Twitter (@ce_pro
) and join the CE Pro LinkedIn group. We dont spam to those groups, but well use them to solicit input for stories were working on.
Also, remember that we publish Electronic House
magazine and the related Web site
, so we can get you some good consumer exposure. Were always looking for good installs, especially ones that have professional photography.
We live for dealers. Dont be a stranger.
Whats new at CE Pro?
Im most excited for the industrys first virtual trade show, CE Pro Live
, June 17. Ive seen the demos and I think its one of the coolest things EH Publishing has ever done. Dont miss it!
While other publications seem to be cutting back on editorial resources, were hanging tough. We just hired a chief technology editor (cool title, huh?), Stephen Hopkins, who comes from the DIY world. Hes a young guy, an engineer, and a geek, just the way we like em.
Other than that, were working hard to dig out of the recession and so far 2010 is looking good for us... as I hope it is for URC and its many faithful dealers.
Thanks for this great opportunity.
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