We recently had the chance to chat with George Wasilewski, President of Apollo Electric, on the intersection of technology and electrical, and the importance of reputation in growing a successful business.
How long have you been an electrician?
I’ve been an electrician for over 25 years. I started working all the way at the bottom, as a helper. Then I became an electrician, then a foreman, then I opened up my own company… I have worked in every position in the company within some point.
So, what do you think the secret to building a successful business is? It seems a lot of guys never get beyond the one-man show.
You know, the secret really is persistence and hard work. As a business owner I believe in showing up daily to run the show. Secondly, it’s all about the kind of people that work with you. This is major because I’m only as good as my people. What results from the people that work for us is the company’s reputation. This whole business is built on word of mouth.
Who usually brings you into projects?
Our main source of business, ninety-some percent, comes from general contractors. The rest is through architects, designers, as well individual owners.
And, what’s the secret to keeping the GC’s happy?
Consistency on all levels: Production, estimating, accounting, paperwork… The contractor has to deal with quite a few different groups of people when it comes to their projects, so they heavily rely on us to be consistent. Comically my biggest compliment is actually silence. When we don’t hear back after the completion of a job it means that everything was done correctly with no issues.
Yeah. If you do everything right, no one really thinks about it.
Yes. Because the role of a subcontractor is to do everything seamlessly. You come in, you do it, and it’s just kind of like you were never there. The Project Manager needs to rely on you for that. Those guys, they have so much on their plate.
You’re working with a lot of the other subcontractors too, right?
Yes, there are lighting control systems, AV integration, HVAC, security, CCTV… As an electrician, my role is to make sure that all the wiring for all those subs are done correctly. So, the trick with this is: You need to know a little bit about everything, and that little bit has to be enough to ask the right questions. One of the first things we do is call a meeting for all the subs to be in the same room, to discuss how everything will be integrated together. From that point on the work is so much easier because we started working as a team rather than just working as separate components. This way we can avoid a lot of finger pointing forbidding something goes haywire.
You guys partnered with Lutron, right?
Yes. We are Lutron-certified installers, dealers and programmers. The reason for my guys to go through that training was to be able to work better with guys like you, so they understand what they’re dealing with.
What other technologies have you had your eye on? I saw power management on your website. Is Tesla roof in your radar?
We’ve done solar panels, but they’re just not that efficient in New York City. And, 90% of my work is in the city. Plus, you’re taking away from a living space; usually a roof deck. Voice control seems to be coming up more and more, and I think that’s the way of the future. LED technology, which is huge, is still unfolding. Most people don’t realize how complicated LED lighting can be. Of course there are BMS systems, the controls, humidification, cooling, and heating in townhouses. There’s definitely something new all the time, but that innovation mostly comes through AV guys like you. Our role is to observe it and learn quickly.
What’s uniquely challenging about doing electrical work in New York City?
This line of business is a little bit of a mine field. You need to have a consistent way of going through it. It cannot be made up for each individual job, by each particular person. There are so many moving pieces, and those pieces are edited on a daily basis. Changes upon changes upon changes. The only way to make this manageable is by having a procedure for almost every event.
That makes a lot of sense. For every botched job, it costs you about 10 good ones in terms of your reputation, right?
Yes. Once you lose your reputation… This is a very small world, everyone knows each other and everyone talks. All those GC’s, they’re like one family. It all goes back to consistency. With us it’s easier because we follow your lead. That’s why I never want to do AV, because people don’t understand how involved it is if you do it right.
Yeah, and doing it right is standardizing, like you guys do. We have to see what’s coming out, like the voice control stuff. It’s not ready yet. And people might not understand, we could put Amazon Echos all throughout your home, but you’re going to hate it. It’s not going to work right until we have used our office and our homes as test beds and developed a standardized approach that works perfectly.
And when you guys try and sell your product to the customer, you constantly have to monitor if you’re selling them something which will become obsolete in a year or two. Because then you’re going to lose a customer.
Overselling and under-delivering is a big problem in AV. I see people being oversold on stuff which they don’t understand, they will never use, and they don’t need. And they would like to get rid of it if they could, but it’s too late.
And, that person’s not recommending the AV firm.
Exactly. You might have made a killing out of this one particular job, but this is not a follow-up client. It’s not a happy client. I think that is a self-defeating business model.
Yeah. I also get the sense that the pendulum is swinging away from opulence and towards minimalism a little bit.
Yes. I agree. The simplicity and ease of use, I think, is the wave of the future.