an AV integrator with over 60 years of industry experience, based in Allentown, PA
an AV integrator with over 60 years of industry experience, based in Allentown, PA
The year 1954 saw Roger Bannister breaking the 4-minute mile, the first issue of Sports Illustrated, and Texas Instruments launching the transistor radio. It also saw, in October, the birth of Allentown, Pennsylvania’s Vistacom – one of the country’s premier audiovisual integration companies. Founded by Jack Ferlino, the company is now co-owned by his children, Jim Ferlino (Chief Executive Officer) and Angela Nolan (Chief Operating Officer).
Throughout its 66 years, Vistacom has expanded and lived through all the changes in the industry, starting out by installing background music and paging systems, eventually incorporating video into projects, transitioning into the digital revolution, and now embracing four main business units in its day-to-day work.
Vistacom’s Dan Gundry, Director of Sales and Marketing, and Lianna Russell, Marketing Manager, recently sat down with Christie to talk about Vistacom in more detail, its philosophy, and its people. In speaking to them and having taken a comprehensive tour of Vistacom’s website, one sees not only many impressive installations, but also a company where terms like ‘integrity,’ ‘honesty,’ ‘pride in workmanship,’ and ‘engaged employees,’ live not only on their website, but also in each team member. We also talked about funny moments on the job and fed Dan Gundry “20 Questions,” letting him run with it.
Christie: We gave an overview of Vistacom in the introduction but let’s dig a little deeper. How did it all get started with Vistacom way back in 1954?
Lianna Russell: We were founded by my grandfather, Jack Ferlino. He worked in the communications sector in the war, so he had a lot of experience and passion for it and it’s what he wanted to do with his life. He started a company, which was called Daveland at the time, with six other employees and they did primarily audio systems. They did the first and only public air raid system in Allentown. The company grew from there into the four business units we have today and in 1999 when we changed the name to Vistacom.
Jack Ferlino, Jim Ferlino, and Angela Nolan
Christie: Before our interview, you mentioned that control rooms makes up approximately 40 percent of your business and you mentioned four business units, what are those four business units?
LR: Vistacom is organized into 1) traditional AV systems; 2) control room and command center solutions; 3) unified communication and collaboration; and 4) managed services. Even after all these years and growth, we’re still a family company with a family-centric culture.
Christie: Since 40 percent of your work is in control rooms, do you consider that Vistacom’s specialty or does it all tie in together?
Dan Gundry: Out of our four business units, we don’t consider one a specialty over the other as they often can carry over into projects together. Vistacom’s mission is to help our clients achieve their business goals by improving communications through design, integration, and support of the right technology solutions. We pride ourselves on being a full solution provider offering audiovisual and control room design services, as well as helping clients integrate a video conferencing platform, and then actively managing those systems throughout their life cycle, for example.
The Giant Voice air raid siren
Christie: October 2019 marks 65 years in business for Vistacom, which is a long time for any company to be around no matter the industry – and you’re still going strong. What do you attribute that growth, longevity, and success to?
DG: Over the past 66 years, Vistacom’s key to success has remained the same – a steadfast dedication to quality and a focused commitment to our customers. The company has always been interested in organic growth, so we’re not a company that’s going to go out and acquire other companies to increase our top and bottom line.
Christie: How many people work for Vistacom and what challenges has, or still does, the team have to overcome in a fast-moving industry?
DG: Vistacom currently has about 77 employees, and we are on track to hit 80, a record number for us, by the end of this year. As with many integrators in the AV space, Vistacom is also challenged to find qualified candidates for AV positions. We put a large effort into recruiting, and we also work with local colleges and universities on capstone projects and internships. A natural challenge of being in a fast-moving technology related industry is staying up to date with the newest solutions and releases. Vistacom places much importance on employee certification and ongoing training so our team is constantly receiving new certifications and continuous industry training.
Christie: You have a long list of installations, which ones stand out for you and why?
DG: The two projects I’ll mention are both related to control rooms and because that’s where our partnership with Christie has been in the past. Vistacom was intimately involved with the AT&T Global Network Operations Center (GNOC) in Bedminster, New Jersey. This is where Vistacom got the ‘bug’ for doing control rooms. We learned a lot on that project and became very passionate about that (control rooms) space. It has stood the test of time; we did that a long time ago and a photo of the installation hangs in the consultant’s office in New York City. It holds a special place in their hearts and for us also.
Christie: What is the second one?
DG: The second is a more recent project we finished up with Todd Alan Green and Maz Zaeefjou and the Christie team in Dallas. It was with American Airlines at their control center at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. The cool thing about that project was that oftentimes you hear about airports and airlines having their tower where they can see the airplanes, the runways, and everything that's going on there. However, all the growth at DFW American Airlines realized that they did not have line of sight from their tower to everywhere they need to see. The American Airlines tower was between Terminals B and D so they could not see parts of the other ones or the Jetway, but they used a video management system.
Christie: And that’s one of America’s, if not the world’s, largest and busiest airports with planes taking off and landing on numerous runways at the same time.
DG: Yes, and when you pair that with the proliferation of costly cameras and other expenses, the costs are huge, and it eventually became counterproductive. American Airlines decided to vacate their tower and instead put in a virtual control room using Christie flat panels in a video wall configuration along with Christie Phoenix. Vistacom did the integration and they now use surveillance cameras in order to create this virtual control room environment. They are rolling this out to their other hubs across America and it’s pretty neat stuff because now their eyes at their signature hub in America are in the basement of the airport.
Christie: I understand you’ve also worked with both Christie’s Jon Litt and coolux, which is now under the Christie umbrella.
DG: We have. Jon and I sat down at a tradeshow and wondered why we didn’t do more business together. It’s a newer relationship and we’re integrating Christie back into everything. Another signature project, involving Pandoras Box (formerly coolux)and Christie projectors, is a couple of Penn National Gaming casinos – one in Indiana and one in Chicago – that provides a domelike projected image inside the casino’s nightclub.
Christie: What makes working for Vistacom a positive experience for you? Lianna mentioned the family-centric culture. Can you expand on that?
DG: I’ve been with Vistacom 16 years and one of the best parts about working for Vistacom is definitely the family-centric culture, which I noticed from the time I first walked in the door. I remember sitting in the front lobby waiting for my job interview and they had photo albums filled with Christmas parties, company picnics, and things like that. I got a sense of family right there and so do others who walk in the door. That same sense of family is as evident as ever today - from open door offices in the executive corner to celebrating big wins together. Even after 16 years, I still feel like a kid in some way because you have people who have been at Vistacom for 25 or 30 years. What’s more, the close-knit family environment means never sacrificing the quality of work we do. It does mean that our teamwork is strong, and we thrive with a challenge. We make sure we do the right thing at all times for the clients because we know it benefits everyone in the end and it pays dividends.
Christie: You obviously have a dedicated team that delivers what’s best for the customer every time but let’s switch gears a bit. Over the years, what are some funny moments that happened on the job?
DG: The big one that comes to mind is Angela Nolan wearing her pink hardhat on the job site.
Christie: Okay, let’s hear more about the pink hardhat story.
DG: I’m sure Lianna could share a photo with you and, if not, I have one as my personal blackmail photo. When Angela moved from front office roles and had taken on her current role as chief operating officer, I got her a pink hardhat. She was all for it so the funniest moment I had is Angela wearing her pink hardhat proud out on a project site and the photos that followed are almost photo shoot worthy.
Christie: Do any other stories come to mind?
DG: Another one is that a couple years ago at InfoComm in Las Vegas. Lianna was supposed to join Jon Litt, Angela, and me at a club but she wasn’t allowed in because she got carded and didn’t have her ID with her. She had left it back at the trade show. I’ll say this about Lianna: Before she worked for Vistacom, she worked for another manufacturer and kudos to her for going out and beyond what the family is doing, cutting her chops and path, and then bringing a different perspective to Vistacom that those of us who have been here a while don’t necessarily have. As I often say in her presence: I’m her boss but I’m training my next boss because I look forward to the day that she takes over the company. Editorial Note: Lianna Russell earned a Bachelor of Science, Business Management and Marketing degree from Penn State University in 2014.
Christie: You’ve both provided us with a look behind the scenes and have been an engaging interview with several laughs along the way. Did we miss anything you want to add before we get to “20 Questions”?
Angela Nolan and her famous pink hard hat
DG: I’m very thankful with our relationship with Christie. I built my business and my personal brand on good working relationships and I am very thankful for the relationship with Christie. I love doing work with people that I love, which includes not only the people at Christie but also its great products - and I can’t say that about many, if any, other manufacturers. Christie holds a very near and dear place in my heart and my special thanks goes out to Jon Litt, Todd Alan Green, and Dave Barletta, for that.
LR: I definitely concur with what Dan said and in my two and a half years working for Vistacom, Christie has been one of the manufacturers that I’ve also enjoyed working closely with. We definitely enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship with Christie in many ways, and it’s exciting to think about more ways we can work with each other in the future.