Keeping up with CEDIA: Group’s new boss shares successes, challenges

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The locally based Certified Electronics Designers & Installers Association recently selected Don Gilpin as its new executive director. Gilpin, 42, is an eightyear veteran of the trade group and had served as executive vice president.

The Minnesota native and Franklin College graduate spoke with IBJ about his appointment and the issues facing the organization.

IBJ: As executive director of CEDIA, what is your role?

GILPIN: CEDIA has different departments within it, and they range from expo to marketing to legislative issues. As executive director, I have my hands in all eight different operational departments, that being from a 30,000-foot level. The departments are actually doing the nitty-gritty work. But as executive director I have to be familiar with a little bit of everything.

Although I’ve been executive director for just a little over three months now, I’ve been gearing up for this role for three years as executive vice president. And that’s really as a spokesperson for the association globally. So as executive director I’m almost like an evangelist for the CEDIA member.

IBJ: How many members does CEDIA have and how has membership grown in recent years?

GILPIN: When I started eight years ago, we probably had a little more than 1,200 members globally, and we closed out 2005 with 3,200 companies globally. Those companies are in 28 different countries.

CEDIA has been holding its retention rate around 90 percent each of the eight years I’ve been with the organization. Plus, we’re adding [300 to 500] new companies every year to the rolls. I think that’s a testament to the products and services that our organization provides.

Our expo is another really exciting success story. When I first came on board, there were about 12,000 attendees that came to Expo, and last year we were close to 28,000 people. The exhibits are everywhere.

IBJ: CEDIA Expo left Indianapolis for Denver this year because it had outgrown the Indiana Convention Center. Do you still expect to return here in 2010, after the center’s expansion is complete?

GILPIN: We had difficulties with not only the space, but also the [number of] hotel rooms. It was a really, really tough decision for us because Indianapolis is our home, and I truly believe that the city of Indianapolis helped CEDIA grow to what it is today.

We have a letter of intent with the city that includes the convention center space, Lucas Oil Stadium, and ‘x’ number of downtown hotel rooms that need to be added to the package.

We will stay in Denver for a three-year period, and then after that we’re going to Atlanta, and then we’re going to look at Indianapolis under a microscope. By August of 2008, we need to find out if things are going to fall into place for 2010 before we actually flip that switch.

IBJ: Ovation, a locally-based retailer of high-end electronics, recently reorganized under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. How big of a threat are big-box retailers such as Best Buy to your members?

GILPIN: We refer to them as mass merchants, not really big-box retailers. The way we look at it is that we’re really dealing with two different target markets. We actually have members who are mass merchandisers, and we welcome that because we want everyone to take advantage of CEDIA education.

What we want to prevent is a whole bunch of technicians that work for a particular mass merchandiser that go into a home and botch a job, because that’s a reflection on all of us. So No. 1, we look at it as two different markets we’re serving. The CEDIA member is a mass merchandiser. The CEDIA member is a boutique.

Now one thing that’s interesting is that the mass merchandiser is actually helping the industry, because they have so much more marketing dollars than a smaller CEDIA company. Their marketing dollars are actually creating brand awareness of the electronics lifestyle.

IBJ: Some in the industry say Ovation and others will need to stress installation and service to set themselves apart. Do you agree, and why or why not?

GILPIN: What traditional CEDIA members have to do is continue to differentiate themselves from the mass merchandisers, and the way they do that is through the type of systems they represent. They are much more sophisticated and they’re much more expensive than what you find at a mass merchandiser. And furthermore, the customer service, the consultation, is going to be much more personal than walking into a mass merchandiser.

It’s operating at a different level of customer service and representing a different level of equipment and systems. But I want to make it really clear that we are not in competition with the mass merchandiser and we don’t have any heartburn about them getting into the marketplace.

It’s all positive in our eyes. It would be great to see little CEDIA logos in all those mass-merchandise retail outlets.

IBJ: What are some of the other issues that affect your membership?

GILPIN: In the last two years, we have had our tentacles out in all of the 50 statehouses on the legislative front. What we’re finding is, as our industry becomes more knowledgeable and profitable, some industries that traditionally stayed in the electrical world are saying, “If it has a wire, we should be the people doing it.”

So I guess what I’m trying to say is we are counteracting a very concerted effort by the [International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers] nationwide to restrict the electronic systems contractor from operating in the build environment.

They feel entitled that if it involves a wire they’re the only people that should be qualified to touch it. But quite honestly, I think that they have seen the profitability of the electronic components that are more and more being put into the higher-end homes.

IBJ: What can CEDIA do to ensure its members remain in business?

GILPIN: The certification is key, because the certification is what’s going to allow CEDIA members to differentiate themselves from non-members. It’s going to help them play on an even playing field with an electrician.

IBJ: How many international trade shows does CEDIA host and where are they?

GILPIN: We have two events in Canada, and we have a conference and small trade show in Mexico. We’re producing CEDIA education in Brazil, Venezuela and we’re about to go to Chile in a couple of weeks.

On the European front, CEDIA has a sister organization called CEDIA UK. And we also have one in Western Europe that goes between Brussels and Amsterdam. There are plans to do a new show in Dubai.

We have a CEDIA Expo Australia that is held at the Gold Coast. We have an Integrated Systems China show that goes between Beijing and Shanghai, and lastly, we have Integrated Systems Asia that goes between Singapore and other places in Asia.

I’m a frequent flier as you can imagine. For the fiscal year 2006, I’m on the road [for] close to 60 different events. Those are trade shows, conferences, board meetings, press conferences and things like that. I have a very understanding wife.

IBJ: How does a customer electronics designer or installer earn certification from the association?

GILPIN: The boot camp is when the newbies come into this industry and are learning the fundamentals of the residential electronics systems industry. We have a whole college set up called the Electronics Systems Technician College.

We have different levels of certifications. We have an entry-level certification, which is called Installer 1 and it will soon be rebranded as a Certified Electronic Systems Technician.

There’s another college called the Electronics Systems Designer; there’s a third college called the Electronics Systems Project Manager; there’s a fourth college called Electronics Systems Business Administration. And the last college is Electronics Systems Customer Relations. So as you can see, we have our curriculum and our certification exam finished for that first college.

IBJ: As executive director, what changes might you introduce to the organization?

GILPIN: My goal would be in the next three years, that our training facility has something going on every week. That it’s catering to a different target market each week.

I would like to see all the colleges completed and that curriculum delivered all over the U.S. We have a framework of organizations right now where we are able to offer CEDIA education at 64 different locations around the U.S., as well as electronically. I’d like to see that doubled.

The other thing I really wanted to hone in on-if I can do anything as my tenure as executive director-that is to make CEDIA relevant to the new generation of people coming into this industry. My big kick is relevance. I want to attract and make that young generation that’s entering our work force look to CEDIA and no one else.

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