NORTH HAVEN, CT-HB Communications' CEO Dana Barron started in his father's shop as a kid, back when it was called HB Educational Systems and the company primarily sold hardware and software for education into various school systems throughout New England. "I started in the warehouse loading and unloading trucks, and then became the credit manager in 1981. I expanded the department, implementing the first computer system to control order entry, inventory, and AR systems."
Dana Barron, CEO of HB Communications
When Barron's father Mackey started the company in 1946 it was called HB Motion Picture Service, which was comprised of 16mm projector sales and service. "My father always was a very hard worker and had a great knack for selling himself. It's no wonder why he became successful so quickly."
Mackey then moved to Connecticut to work with a new business partner named Don Hawthorne. Hawthorne and Barron sold everything from 16mm and 8mm projectors to filmstrip projectors, to educational software, which at the time was becoming common in schools; thus the name change to HB Educational Systems in 1962. Fast forward to 1986 when the company was renamed HB Communications; it naturally began to focus more on integrated solutions. Barron explained, "The market was clearly changing and it was going to be dominated by corporate opportunities." Realizing it was more efficient and cost effective to train with these technologies, companies quickly began installing solutions to train and communicate with their employees and customers more effectively.
"As technology evolved, so did HB," Barron explained. "Our company had to evolve with the newer technologies because it was our responsibility to present these new solutions to our customer base. Our close relationships with vendor partners naturally made us privy to changes coming down the line. Many times we were feeding information back to the manufacturers about features that would better serve our clients. When you provide service to an account on an ongoing basis, you develop a better understanding of how the newer technologies will serve them."
HB has not shied away from emerging technology, such as digital signage and HD video. Barron said, "On the contrary, we've truly embraced all the newest digital technologies such as digital signage, streaming media, and other IP-based solutions. We have what we call our New Media Division that's specifically dedicated to these new technologies."
In HB's warehouse racks are pieced together for jobs before being thoroughly tested by its engineers for quality.
Barron has noticed the change in how systems are sold to clients in recent years. "These days we do a lot more solution selling. We used to go out and market the technology, but now we partner closely with our clients to better understand their challenges. We collaborate and present solutions that incorporate these newer technologies that will solve their problems. It used to be that we could go in and dazzle them with gear, but nowadays it's all about presenting total solutions."
Barron has taken this approach as a standard in the last few years, and it has paid off well. "When I go into an account and have conversations about the technology and solution, I typically come out with a sale much larger than expected because this interaction leads to enterprise-wide deployment of these technologies," he recalled.
Barron associates this with the former box selling mentality that dominated the market a few years ago. "Because of how the AV business has transitioned over the years, AV companies are now very project-oriented," he said. "Before there was a box solution mentality, but the project side of our businesses is now dominant. Typically when you see AV companies going over to new ERP software technology to run their businesses, the focal point is on the project system application, consistent with the SAP implementation that we're currently undertaking."
HB works hard on keeping quality employees, even going into other markets to find the best professionals. Barron explained, "Keeping employees is an art, and we're fortunate that we have very little turnover. People are happy to be here and I think that is because we provide the security inherent in a large company, and also still maintain a family atmosphere. But when you're looking for people, it is always hard to find high-end salesmen, technicians, project managers, or engineers. Sometimes we'll go to adjacent markets like telecomm or IT to find these professionals. Because many of the technologies we're selling are converging, it makes sense for companies like us to look in the IT and telephony world to find professionals that will be a natural fit."