Home is where the heart is, and increasingly the brain, too.
Al Garcia’s small business, Al’s WiFi, creates “smart homes” for its clients using a carefully curated set of technologies that improves everyday living. Customers can easily control sound, lighting, temperature, shading, security and more from wherever they are.
Technically Al’s WiFi is a state-certified Limited Energy Contractor. “But we are more than that — we do a lot of IT work,” said Garcia, who started the business in Key Largo in 2016. “What we offer are smart homes, home theater, home audio. We keep your home connected to the internet and we keep your house monitored. We are home automation experts.”
Smart home features are becoming more and more mainstream with the introduction of products like Alexa, Nest and the rest, as well as the accessibility of smart TVs and appliances. “Going forward, my job will become almost like a utility,” Garcia explained. “When you are building a house, I am the guy who comes in and runs wires to all the right locations and makes sure that your house has great wifi and keeps it up to date. It will be just as important as power or water — just see what happens when someone’s internet gets caught cut off for a day or two.”
Garcia is now doing his dream job but it was never his dream to own a small business.
Before founding Al’s Wireless, Garcia spent 22 years in the hospitality business, mainly as a bartender. But that all changed when his son was born seven years ago – he didn’t want to keep working nights and miss those family moments. He needed to change careers.
Garcia had always been techie, and found a job for a company as an entry level tech doing wiring installations. All the while, Garcia studied at night to learn more about the business. He went to school to study digital media and design.
But that company Garcia had joined as an employee hit rocky times about four years ago, and a contractor Garcia who had worked with told him “if you go out on your own we will give you a chance.” He did.
“My wife was six months pregnant (with their second child) so my family thought I was pretty nuts.”
In that first year as a business owner, Garcia was a one-man show. He added a partner and an employee the next year. In year three, he had grown to six employees. The business has doubled its revenues every year, and in his fourth year – 2019 — the business pulled down its first seven-figure year.
A challenge was learning how to run a business on the job, but he took learnings from years of being an employee.
“When I was a bartender … I operated it as my own little business. If you are lazy or don’t treat your customers right, you won’t make money. That applies in every field of business: Take good care of your customers and work hard and they’ll return.”
Taking care of customers means the service has to be delivered perfectly. “The wires have to be perfectly managed, the TV has to be perfectly level. The guys here know it has to be perfect, period, otherwise Al is going to make you redo it.”
But in the first year of business something needed redoing: The company name. Initially it was 3lectronics Networking and Automation or 3NA.
When he first met Margie Smith, now a consultant for Florida SBDC at FIU serving Monroe County small businesses, at a charity event, she immediately gave him some tips on his business, including ditching that wordy name.
“She’s like no, no, no, that is not going to work with this crowd. And she was right. I had clients tell me the same thing — they’d say ‘that’s a mouthful, I just tell people to call Al’.”
At first Garcia resisted putting his name into the business name thinking it sounded too mom and pop. Not so, Smith advised. Look at Craigslist and Angie’s List.
And it definitely seemed like fate when he found an available 305 phone number that spelled out 305-Als-Wifi (305-257-9434) and the website alswifi.com was available too. He changed the name in 2017.
Since then, Smith and the Florida SBDC at FIU team have been instrumental in educating him about opportunities and introducing him to people, which has led to new business. Florida SBDC at FIU, the small business development center within FIU’s College of Business, offers no-cost consulting to small businesses in Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties,
“She educates me about programs out there I could apply to. She has great info always, look into this, here’s a link, check this out, she is always trying to help me make my business better. I am trying to get into the SBA 8(a) program and SBDC offered a seminar in Key West called Doing Business with the Government that was very helpful.”
Smith has also suggested he join the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce and advises him to sponsor events as a way to get his name out there and to join Toastmasters to perfect his speaking and presentation skills. Garcia plans to continue to use the services of the Florida SBDC at FIU.
Garcia would like to hire a couple more people in 2020, but finding quality employees is tough. He’s hoping his progressive benefits will help. Every other week, he allows employees to work a four-day week so they get a 3-day weekend. He hopes to be able to offer four-day weeks every week – but he needs more staff to do that.
For Garcia, it’s about smart growth, not fast growth. He eventually wants to service the entire Florida Keys region, while continuing to be known as a company that goes above and beyond in its customer service.
“It doesn’t really matter what day or time you call, we will respond. We have a personal touch here.”