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Mark van den Broek went from climbing the corporate ladder to literally climbing a ladder when he ditched his executive marketing job with a Fortune 100 company.

He had been with Premier Industrial Corp., a Cleveland-based electronic component firm. “One day it hit me,” says van den Broek, “that corporate life just wasn't me.”

So in 1997 van den Broek launched SmartHouse Integration, a firm that wires homes and businesses for audio, sound, lights and everything else technical. That's how he found himself climbing steel ladders in suburban Cleveland, where he wired homes. The entrepreneurial move liberated van den Broek, though he quips “my wife wasn't thrilled with my pay cut.”

Still, the epiphany that launched SmartHouse Integration, now based in the Rosemary District, just north of downtown Sarasota, was certainly a sound move.

The firm, for example, is on a big growth spurt. Annual sales recently surpassed $1 million, says van den Broek, and revenues have increased 30% a year for the past few years.

Van den Broek further intends to hire at least four more people in the next month or so, which would bring the total payroll to seven employees. He's also expanding the space: The company plans to move two storefronts down in March, from a cramped 1,000-square-foot office to a 2,500-square-foot space that will also be a design/experience center equipped with a full kitchen and bar. It's a $100,000 expansion project. “It's not a showroom,” says van den Broek. “It's going to be awesome.”

SmartHouse Integration's niche is in going into a house, already built or new construction, and giving it what van den Broek calls a technical brain. That means connecting all the parts that do something with power and energy, from audio and sound to lighting and security to the air conditioning. The idea, says van den Broek, is to give homeowners something that ages well. “We will first and foremost future-proof your home,” he says.

The company, mostly through word-of-mouth and referrals, has done that work for homeowners in the Sarasota-Bradenton region and in other areas. Clients in Europe and the Caribbean have hired SmartHouse Integration, and the company recently completed a project in a $40 million condo in Central Park West in New York City.

Van den Broek moved the company from Ohio to Sarasota in 2006, mostly to escape the winter weather. His goal since then has been to run a business with manageable growth — a priority that stems from a lesson learned up north.

It was there, in northeast Ohio, where business flew in after a slow startup period. Van den Broek, ecstatic to see the company doing well, never turned down a job. “We oversold, and it nearly put us out of business,” van den Broek says. “I couldn't handle all the work. It was a horrible place to be. I will never be in that place again.”

That's why van den Broek says the biggest challenge the firm faces now is to find the right employees to meet the growth potential. That includes projects for homes and businesses — the latter being an area van den Broek says is ripe for growth.

Van den Broek also seeks employees who can handle what he calls the “moment of truth” with clients, when something invariably changes on a project. “I want people who will make it right,” van den Broek says, “not cut corners.”

Awards Season
SmartHouse Integration, a custom audio and sound installation firm, has picked up some national recognition going up against significantly bigger competitors.

The triumphs: The firm has won a Mark of Excellence Award four years in a row from the Consumer Electronics Association. Mark van den Broek, founder and president, calls the awards the Oscars for his industry.

The firm won its latest award in January, at the 2013 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The award was for a backyard home theater project in Sarasota. “The Mark of Excellence means more than any other award because it represents the best of the best in the electronics industry,” van den Broek says in a statement. “We are at the pinnacle of our industry.”


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