Not so long ago, technology integrators were an afterthought in the home build, design, or decorate process. But Joe Barrett, president, Brian Perreault, COO, and the rest of the crew at Chicagoland’s Barrett’s Technology Solutions have succeeded in upending that trend. Barrett’s stands as a textbook example of how a home technology professional that has put the time and care into cultivating the builder, architect and designer communities can make that investment pay off for them all.
Barrett’s began life as a family-owned specialty electronics retailer just over 50 years ago, and took a turn towards custom before many of its peers did. “We made a decision that we weren’t going to make a living through our front door, and that we wanted to be more aggressive about growing our destiny,” Barrett says.
One of the earliest proactive moves was to join PowerHouse SMART, an invitation-only networking- and education-minded group for the luxury design-build community, a decision he says “was about dedicating the time to business development – a strategy that today, is paying dividends.”
Barrett says that time he apportions to this type of outreach has been made possible because he is able to rely on the expertise of a staff whose average tenure is 17 years. “It enables me to concentrate on business development,” he says.
Adds Perreault, “persistence, patience, and grassroots efforts” that sometimes even included driving around neighborhoods on a Saturday, looking at the yard signs of contractor and making a target list, were some of the dues that were paid, early on. “Every time Joe is at a meeting with a prospective builder, designer or other partner, he’ll ask who else we should be talking to.” Next comes deeper levels of networking. “Not pushing the business agenda, but getting to know Joe as a person has really translated into many of our opportunities.”
The Right Tools
Once the foothold for relationships is established, Barrett’s will often start the business conversation aided by an oversized company portfolio it has developed, in 16×9 full-color “widescreen format,” as something tangible to show architects and designers.
It’s available to the whole staff, and lays out the company’s story and capabilities in images and words. “It’s a beautiful portfolio we’ve just finshed updating. A picture is worth a thousand words. But we also spend time in the book talking process, and very, very little time talking about the widgets, because our process is what will guarantee a positive outcome. The book also gives people ideas and possibilities – and we present them room by room – because an interior designer likes to talk about spaces – and for us, those are rooms.” The book also feature drawings that speak to architects.
“It shows how we can layer our plans on top of theirs – and makes the case for why it’s a good idea to get us involved early in the process. This is what has catapulted us to the front side of projects, versus the early days, where we’d be frustrated because we were having builders calling us the week before the drywall was going up.”
This book is a great preamble to a visit to the Barrett’s Design Center. Located in the Chicago suburb of Naperville, it’s outfitted with full tech representations in a kitchen, an outdoor landscape, a bar area and a bathroom. There are also areas showing lighting control and shading, and a conference area that is more like a specifier’s room in a designer’s office, replete with fabric, shading and leather samples and door styles and cabinets.
Additional space is allotted to a home theater, a media room and a section solely devoted to different ways of integrating TVs into home décor. “It is an integral part of business development,” says Perreault. “We will invite partners for a tour, lunch and provide transportation to and from their offices. They can really ‘see’ our business – that we’re not just two guys in a van. Part of the tour includes our back office and a pre-build rack room, and also a staging area. It’s a peek behind the curtain, and they see the structure, and that there’s a whole team to support the project.”
The NextHaus Alliance Membership
As Barrett’s continues in its pro-active mode, it is always looking to push the envelope in expanding horizons within the builder/designer/architect disciplines. One such initiative is its membership in the NextHaus Alliance, a Chicago-area group founded by architect Nathan Kipnis, whose specialty is designing sustainable and resilient luxury-home housing.
The group includes Kipnis, Barrett’s, a landscape architect, and a luxury general contractor/developer. “We got involved because we always try to be a leader in new projects – have at least one thing stirring that’s outside our comfort level, and that’s something we might want to learn something from,” Barrett says. It was a logical extension, because “when you look at how luxury dollars are being spent, the next step is resilient and sustainable homes.
“We’ve done creative things – such as presenting the NextHaus Alliance to clients at a BMW dealership – and it was all clients who’d bought electric cars! We’re working on the same thing with Tesla at this point, at the largest Tesla dealer in Chicago. We’ll have a night where we present and have a beautiful event for these targeted luxury clients” who are already predisposed to sustainability. He will also be speaking on the topic to a group of 200 luxury real estate brokers.
“Trends usually start up on the coasts and come in, but we’re trying to reinvent that and start one in the middle,” says Barrett. “You can already see how city governments in California are putting restrictions on new development. So we’re going to be that experienced guy, when the market flourishes in the Greater Chicago area. The interest levels are through the roof.”
That’s just another example of the instinct at Barrett’s to anticipate and stay ahead of trends in its field as a partner to all those related disciplines. “We think we’ve earned the right to be called the trusted expert in our industry,” says Barrett. “And we’re always going to do what’s right for the customer.”