“You should learn about business end of the business, not just the technical skill side” When I graduated from Columbia, I had a great vast knowledge of sound systems and acoustics, but I really had no idea on how to run a business. The early years were wrought with financial problems, employee problems, and the lack of any sort of formal paperwork. These things are critical to the success of a company and need to be done right. I had no understanding of how all this worked or should work, just kind of winged it, which ended up creating messes to be cleaned up and debts to be paid. I would have really benefited from some basic classes just to have an idea of what I needed to do, and how to do it right.
I had the pleasure to interview Timothy Pickett. Timothy graduated from Columbia College Chicago with a major in Architectural Acoustics in 2000. He started Sound & Lighting Designs a year before graduation in 1999. In 2013 as the business grew, SLD became Encompass Audio Visual, in order to incorporate all the technologies and services the company provided. Encompass (SLD) started working for Gibson’s Restaurant Group in 2008, with the first complete and new build out for the company in 2010 at their Oakbrook location.
Thank you for joining us Timothy! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I was a teenager, I used to DJ weddings for extra money on the weekends. I got tired of coming home at 3 am, not having time for a personal life, no girlfriend, and the only friends I had were other DJ’s. There was no glamour getting yelled at by a bride at 1230 am because I didn’t play the Metallica song that she loved. (and everyone else hated). I thought to myself, why am I really in this business, it was because I really like the larger scale sound equipment. So, when I graduated, I decided to go to Columbia College of Chicago. They had many options as far as sound and acoustics. I ended up majoring in the acoustics of room design, and I was one of the few students who enjoyed the math. When I was one year away from graduating, I had an option to take a full-time position for an AV company that I was working for currently for decent money, or I could go off and start my own thing. I took option two and in 1999, a year before graduation, I started Sound & Lighting Designs, and started doing commercial sound and lighting installation pretty much for night clubs and bars.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
In 2016 I ran into a former client at Starbucks that I had not seen in years. He asked me if I knew what he was up to, I said no. He said he was the Senior Vice President at Hickory Street Capitol work directly for Tom Ricketts (the Ricketts family owns the Chicago Cubs). He said he was essentially in charge of all the development going on in Wrigleyville and that he would like me to come into a meeting to go over some plans and see if we could do the audio visual for some spots they were opening. One thing led to another and two years later we had done seven major jobs for them, including Brickhouse Tavern, Hotel Zachary, Dutch and Doc’s, and others. That guy was Eric Nordness, and because we always treated him right, gave him great customer service years ago when he had his own place, he felt good bringing us into such a major project. So always treat every client well.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
In 2000, doing our first ground up night club called Groovy, in Rockford IL, ownership wanted a waterfall. Fortunately, this was not really our mistake, but we played a small part. The waterfall was to go behind the DJ booth, and I think they envisioned a large sheet of water that they could light up as it fell and they could have a real cool effect. What really happened, is that this project was budget engineered and the contractor had no idea how to make this happen. We provided the die for the water that would supposedly light up orange in the black light, also provided by us. So opening night, they turn the water fall on for the very first time, the water splashes everywhere. There was no smooth sheet of water, just water falling from a high place and essentially creating a died mist which sprayed over all the DJ equipment, the bars and people’s drinks, many girls dressed became fluorescent orange, it was a giant mess!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Service. In 2017 we built the Brickhouse Tavern for Four Corners Tavern Group (Owned by Sterling Bay), and Hickory Street Capitol (Owned by the Ricketts family), and one night, around midnight they called our emergency service line for help. The manager was not able to select a sound source they wanted in the first-floor bar. I saw the service request come through via text, as many of many of my staff get notifications. I personally happened to be across the street at a different client’s bar, so I walked over, showed the client what they were doing wrong, issue solved, and went back to my group across the street.
The next day we received big compliments from ownership at how fast we were to come look at an issue and how impressed they were that the owner of the company would personally leave his function to help a client. But that’s just always what we we’ve done in the business. The client has always come first, any time of day.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We have many projects in the works which will be intelligent buildings and offer technology that helps with energy savings, wellness and life safety. Take for example PoE lighting. This new data driven and PoE powered lighting can save clients’ money in cap ex and in ROI, really creating a win win economically and environmentally. The main features of PoE lighting is that data can be captured by the light fixtures and sent back for analysis on how bright a light should be, whether or not it should even be on, and finally powering the lights over Cat 6 cable with no AC (120V) needing to be provided to each fixture. These fixtures can also adjust color temperature, to make office spaces more environmentally pleasing and be good for employee wellness.
Regarding life safety, we are working with Verkada, a new camera company. These cameras are different in the fact that they have no main NVR and all data is recorded directly to each camera. The real power of these cameras is how they can search and distribute data. If a client has an issue say at school, the client can literally give access to via email and text, live camera feeds or recorded incidents directly to first responders. We are currently doing large corporations and entire school districts with this technology.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My family. My family has helped support this business both financially and emotionally to get through the toughest times and the toughest problems. Also, my business partner and Executive Vice President Mark Higgason. He truly helps create the vision for future technologies we will be using and implementing, while going through what has sometimes been a very tough path for us for the last twenty years.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I try to donate and give time to multiple organizations. I’m always good invite to Charity functions because I do like to give back. For the last four years I have headed up the Community Meals program at my church, where once a month from May through September we open are doors to the public and feed whoever shows up.
Recently I was named to the board of directors at The Art of Giving Foundation. TAGF, brings art and more to under serviced and underprivileged communities throughout the local Chicago area, and even as far away as Nicaragua. The founder, Autumn Pippenburg, just helped fund and fix a water supply issue down there in order to resume her ability to teach art to the kids of the village.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
“You’re going need to capital”
Starting a business on family credit cards is rough for everyone involved. There’s no story here, just the lack of understanding on how to fund a grow a business properly.
“You should learn about business end of the business, not just the technical skill side”
When I graduated from Columbia, I had a great vast knowledge of sound systems and acoustics, but I really had no idea on how to run a business. The early years were wrought with financial problems, employee problems, and the lack of any sort of formal paperwork. These things are critical to the success of a company and need to be done right. I had no understanding of how all this worked or should work, just kind of winged it, which ended up creating messes to be cleaned up and debts to be paid. I would have really benefited from some basic classes just to have an idea of what I needed to do, and how to do it right.
“Sales are critical and having a salesperson should be one of your first employees.”
I’m not a salesperson by heart. I am very good at communicating with a potential client if they come to us looking for a service from us, but I do not have the character it takes to go out and approach people and sell my company or my product. This is a very specific type of individual, and one that every successful company needs.
“You need to be ready for how much work this is going to be”
Twenty years in this business and it’s still a struggle, now my quality of life has also improved tremendously, I have the ability to travel where I want, I have a nice home and nice cars, but if you want to grow your business you’re going to be uncomfortable. That uncomfortable feeling will drive you to success if you harness it right. But get used to it, because if you want to get to the next level, you’ll need to embrace that feeling over and over again. Now there’s some Tony Robbins in there so I’m not taking credit for coming up with that thought on my own.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I think in this society we need to re learn compassion. People do not want to really understand what other people’s experiences have been and listen to what they have been through in life. We have a government and a press that functions on division. Social media makes money on this division. If I could start a movement it would be one of understanding and real education for people, teaching people life skills and independence. We rob are children of any financial education in this country and we rob them of any type of critical thinking. We need to do better, what that movement is exactly, I don’t know, but if we want to progress as a society, we need to be brought back to each other, we need to see each other as neighbors, friends and family, not dangers to our ways of lives.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Only those who have learned the power of sincere and selfless contribution experience life’s deepest joy: true fulfillment.” — Tony Robbins
I really do enjoy giving back. It gives me self-worth and is more important to me then a pile of money in a bank. It’s an amazing feeling to truly help someone who needs a break, who needs a hand up. The gratitude you receive is worth so much more then what it costs you to the thing.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Elon Musk. First, he creates some of the coolest tech on the planet. He was the first to create a reusable rocket, which NASA has failed to ever do with all its resources. He sees a much bigger picture and future than most people can grasp. He took up Tesla against the auto industry which is an incredible feat. He does waiver when he is challenged, he forges through with what he believes in and often comes out on top. I think what he is doing for the world is important, he has a vision that is like no other and the energy and where-withal to execute plans and make the vision into reality.