An electrical job at the Orlando International Airport inspired one electrical contractor to launch his own home networking business.

Garry White, a project manager for Orlando, Fla.-based Kelly Electric, founded his own integration company, Total Home Automation Inc., after his team successfully moved the airport's communications center across the hallway while it was still in operation.

“It was the nerve center of the airport, so we couldn't take anything off line,” White said. “It had to move seamlessly and was a very tough job. It took us two years to do it, but we pulled it off.”

White, who worked as a commercial electrical contractor for 25 years including six years for NASA, said the home networking market offers contractors the opportunity to expand their business or start a new one.

“Electrical is static and hasn't changed in 20 years,” he said. “This is an all-new emerging technology. It's exciting and fast-paced, which is why I want to be a part of it, diversify and be a one-stop shop.”

Attention contractors: Do you know a contractor who does home networking? E-mail Amy Fischbach at amy_fischbach@intertec.com.

Q&A with Garry White

Q: How did you get interested in starting up your own company?

A: Our company, like many other contractors, outsourced its voice/data work and fiber-optic systems. Being a project manager, the systems company always became the weak link in my project. I wanted to do the job right and get it done on time, but my systems guys often made me look bad. I wanted to learn the systems trade so I could understand the language and thus know when I was being fed incorrect information. While studying the various systems involved in a typical project, I became so fascinated with the industry, I decided to pursue a career as a systems contractor.

Q: You've been a commercial contractor for 25 years. Why do you want to break into the residential arena for your systems company?

A: I've dealt with commercial my whole life. In commercial, the owners hire engineering firms to monitor the installation and review changes to keep costs down. I feel as though the engineering firms are becoming increasingly difficult to deal with and unreasonable. Even if you do a good job, they fight you on every change and try to pick your work apart to justify the high fees they are charging the owner. After all, if the engineer is not out there making waves, the owner will begin to wonder why they are paying them in the first place. I have found residential to be based more on a close relationship with the customers. If you are professional and fair and do a good job, your work is appreciated and you are invited to do more work with them.

Q: What is it like for an electrical contractor to break into the business?

A: I find it very confusing and intimidating. Everybody has a different plan and is moving in different directions. There are no real established standards for many of the systems. You don't know who to align yourself with and who to keep away from. There is just a mosh pit of information out there.

Q: What tips would you give to other electrical contractors trying to start their own home networking company?

A: You need to be careful. Make sure that you get the right information and provide a very definite, professional face to your customers. Don't try to come in with just enough information to be dangerous. It's going to hurt the industry as a whole and give you a bad reputation. A couple of bad reps will take you years to overcome — if you can ever overcome them. My advice would be to make sure you know what you're talking about. Get the education first and go into it with a strong background. You need to understand your product and what you're giving your customer so you don't undersell or oversell your abilities.

Q: How do you drum up business?

A: I basically try to sell the builders. There's not a large cost difference between what they're putting in as standard now and what they should be putting in to “future proof” their homes. It's worth the value.

Q: What is the structured wiring market like in your community?

A: It's quickly emerging in central Florida. Many builders are already aware of the growing demand and are beginning to respond by incorporating structured cabling systems into their designs. Developers are also realizing the potential benefits of incorporating fiber infrastructures and intranets into their planned communities. Right now I am looking at a brand new community with a potential to build 4,800 homes. It's coming out of the ground soon and the developer is interested in a fiber-to-the-curb infrastructure that includes a structured cabling system within each home connected to it. We have partnered with a company that will provide the fiber infrastructure while we do all the inside house wiring. I'm really pumped about it.