By CE Pro, Jason Knott, October 2, 2015

Jessy Crabb, Miranda Grantham and Brent McCall
(From left) Jessy Crabb, Miranda Grantham and Brent McCall head up the Metra Home Theater Group division of Metra Electronics. The company recently doubled the size of its R&D team and separated out the Tech Support into adjacent offices on the huge corporate campus

Driven by a passion for the industry and for its customers, family-owned Metra Electronics, parent company of well-known Metra Home Theater Group, makers of Ethereal HDMI® cable, might be the most unassuming company in the custom electronics business.

Indeed, the 69-year-old company’s stature is something it should be shouting from the mountaintops.

Metra Electronics was founded in Brooklyn in the 1940s when they designed and fabricated a bracket for taxi cabs to be able to hold radios and meters. Soon, Metra Electronics was making brackets for police vehicles and other cars.

But what does all that have to do with Metra Home Theater Group, the division familiar to integrators that makes Ethereal premium cables, Helios retail cables, TV mounts and accessories, EHD Cables with exclusive long-run cables for integrators, and Spyclops surveillance systems? A lot.

The deep company resources make it possible for Metra HTG to engineer, design and assemble all of its products right here in the U.S. Soon, it aims to manufacture all of its HDMI cable stateside. The HTG division is about 15 years old and has a dedicated team, but also uses other parts of Metra collectively.

“That is the beauty of us being a family-owned company,” says Jessy Crabb, general manager. “We are able to turn on a dime for our integrators. Our team is dedicated to Metra. Their world revolves around this business. This is their passion. They will do what the need to do to help their customers.”

Both Crabb and Brent McCall, product manager, were there at the very beginning when Ethereal was first formed with a goal of providing cable, HDMI connectivity and other accessories to custom integrators. Today, the duo, along with Miranda Grantham, national sales manager, head up a division that offers 1200 product SKUs and 14 levels of cables.

“We are here for the custom installation industry. We like the people, the puzzles and the products,” says McCall. “So we created the Metra HTG banner.  Ethereal is everything custom integration, from packaging to products to tech support. Spyclops surveillance falls under Ethereal. Helios is our product line sold at retail. We do have some Spyclops surveillance products that come in a kit and are sold at retail as well. Likewise, some integrators buy Helios products and install them.”

When they say the team is dedicated. They mean it.

“Everyone on the team has installed a system in his or her own home and crawled in a 105-degree attic, cut holes in walls, etc.,” says McCall.

Metra’s sales channels are broad and based on demand. It primarily sells direct to dealers using both a company sales team in the field and independent reps but also sells through distribution.

“It depends on the area of the country and the line,” says McCall. “Some lines are reserved strictly for dealer direct because they require a bit more understanding and training.  We find that works better. If we take on a dealer, I am on the phone with them for two hours before we ever ship them product. We also try to physically visit them at their location when we bring them on as a direct dealer but sometimes that is difficult to do.”

The entire team spends time in the field installing product for the experience, even if it is in their own homes. The company takes orders via email, phone call, via an online portal, fax, in person… every way. Phone calls and emails are the most frequent. Metra is launching a brand new, dealer-friendly website with a purchasing portal for dealers at the CEDIA Expo in October. 

“Dealers can now plug in their customer number and order product at midnight if they want,” says Crabb.

Tech Support Team Growing

In the past year, Metra HTG has doubled its R&D department. McCall heads up the tech support team that is constantly on the phone talking with dealers.

“We have to be [on the phone],” he notes. “We are one of the few products that interconnects all the devices within a system setup.  We just had an integrator send us plans for a huge system with AVRs, splitters, matrix switchers and many different devices. Our product is the one designed to solve all the HDMI problems that might occur with those various components. They send us those plans looking for advice. They trust us to look at the entire system and come up with the solution to make that system work ... from start to finish. We also identify all the shortcuts that dealers try to do that may not work.  Four of us – from sales and tech support—ended up on a conference call with the customer running through the entire system and discussing options.”

Tech support has become even more vital in the HDMI world.

“Even the smartest integrator in the world does not know everything that is happening in HDMI. As a standard, it really isn’t a complete one. And we all know that … everyone is going to run into compatibility issues between brands,” says McCall.

Metra HTG has four people fielding incoming tech support calls seven days a week. Each person has a specialty.

“Brent mostly handles everything related to advanced HDMI, Stewart mostly handles Spyclops surveillance, and the rest of the team handles mounts, electronics, connectors, and first level HDMI questions,” says Crabb.

The skillset for the team is custom integration background with strong emphasis on IT and customer service skills. But the best attribute is patience; they have to have extreme patience and the ability to “talk people down from the ledge,” comments Crabb.

McCall says problems with extenders are the most common calls these days. But most of the time installation error is the problem with poor terminations. Believe it or not, to reduce dealer error in the early days of Ethereal the company was actually terminating custom lengths of Cat 5 cable for integrators to assure quality terminations.

“EDID is the next biggest problem,” McCall continues. “It is a matter of Brands A, B and C not being in sync with each other. They might all be certified, but the HDMI roadway is big and wide with four lanes heading north and four lanes heading south. So even with certified brands there is a chance that they can miss each other on this big highway.”

“We stay on the line until the problem is resolved if we need to,” says McCall, who personally answers calls from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days per week. Often, he calls dealers back in 20 minutes to verify the solution. “We get lots of calls from consumers too, many coming from those who bought the company’s Helios brand of surge protectors that are sold direct to consumer.”

“We always ask if the caller is a consumer or a dealer, and we try to find out if their dealer was one of our integrators. Consumers can be very enlightening to speak with.  Integrators and manufacturers have their own language, but a consumer does not know that lingo. So the viewpoints and direction they take to resolve a problem is usually entirely different from an integrator. That direction can be quite enlightening for us. It has happened before that a consumer has a better idea for a solution than I had,” admits McCall.

Meet CI Source Mascot

The dedication to tech support led to the creation of CI Source, Metra’s new tech support mascot that helps personify the team.
C.I. (Custom Integrator) Source is “an adorable, approachable, tech-savvy, and slightly frazzled-looking, home theater enthusiast created to provide brand recognition for Metra Home Theater and serve as a tool to educate and provide solutions to the Metra customer base.”

“C. I. Source looks forward to sharing a wide range of content and actively communicating with our Custom Integrator audience,” says Crabb.  “Knowledge is power and C. I. Source, and the entire Metra team, are committed to assisting CIs on their journeys to success. By creating C.I. Source, we hope our customers past, present and future will find him an accessible, fun way to get the guidance and support so many crave in setting up and operating their home theater and automation systems exactly to their specifications, needs and wants.”

The mascot has a “real” history too:

“C.I. always had a passion for technology dating back to the days of turntables and loudspeakers. While selling Hi-Fi in his college days, C.I. decided to turn his passion into his life’s work. After an illustrious career in the car audio business, he expanded into other areas including home automation. C.I. was right in the middle of the mix when digital came along and changed the home entertainment industry forevermore. Instead of boxes going out the door, customers wanted video and audio in every room, with custom functions ranging from automatic draperies to home monitoring. This meant new electronics – distribution amplifiers, projectors, switchers –- and it all had to be designed to work seamlessly in the home. C.I. was thrilled to take on this challenge, which would be the first of many as he was faced with wider bandwidths, fascinating new delivery systems and extreme home theater advances. C.I. – who is married to his high school sweetheart, Sandy Tereo aka S.Tereo (now hyphenated Stereo-Source.) They have one son, Di’Gital. C.I. is passionate about making home theater and home automation accessible to all.”

But the Metra HTG is not the only side of the business where the company is dedicated to support. Indeed, it has created its Metra Installer Institute serving the automotive installation community that consists of 15 different training DVDs for technicians to learn various techniques. Those DVDs are offered free on the company’s website for download.

Click here to read original article.