Deep Dive: New Dana Innovations HQ & Training Ctr

Strata-gee Goes Through Dana Innovations 2-Day Training

For some time now, I’ve been picking up a lot of buzz about the new San Clemente, CA headquarters building of Dana Innovations, said to be a major upgrade from their previous digs and outfitted with an optimized, multi-room training center. Dana Innovations, parent company of power CI brands such as Sonance, iPort, and Trufig, is one of the top custom integration solutions providers of in-wall/in-ceiling speakers, multichannel amplifiers, keypads, touch panels, and more. They also are renown for their dealer training program, which the company runs year round.

So when I got an invitation to visit their facility close-up, I jumped at it. I’m not sure I knew what I was getting myself into…

Dana Innovations puts me through their intense 2-day training regime…




After hearing so much talk about the new Dana Innovations (DI) headquarters, I reached out to Jason Sloan, Chief Sales Officer, to see if I could get a tour. Sloan offered me much more than a tour, the opportunity to see their new training center in action, by joining a group of dealers already set up for training. Who could say “no” to that?

So when the day came, I made my way out to sunny and beautiful Southern California. Staying at the gorgeous Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort and Spa was in itself a treat to be experienced.


NOTE: You can click on any image in this story to enlarge it. Also, click here to see even more photos from my visit to the new Dana Innovations Headquarters Building…


Like Something Out Of A Movie

I actually had flown in the night before, so on the appointed morning I exited the hotel to just absolutely beautiful sunny and upper-70s weather. The shuttle bus had arrived, driven by no other than Jeff Brewer, Vice President of Sales for the company. As we came to the end of the Marriott’s driveway, facing us from across the street was the entrance to Doheny State Beach, the beach that made the Beach Boys famous, Brewer told us.

Everywhere I looked were beautiful young ladies in bikinis, and buff young guys all looking to hit the beach for surf, fun, and sun. It all seemed like something out of a movie. But on to our mission for the day, to see DI’s new HQ and learn all about the many offerings from Sonance, iPort, and Trufig. It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it!

Our drive took us to a good sized corporate park in the San Clemente area. As we pulled into the lot of the new DI building, we all stared out of the van’s large windows at an attractive, modern looking 36k sq. ft. office building. We went to an entrance on the side of the building towards the rear, where there was a normal entrance door alongside three large roll-up shipping bay doors, all of which took us to an impressively large, multipurpose room/recreational area set up with long tables and chairs, and outfitted with a full kitchen and even some game tables. There also was a large 3×3 video wall with rotating images of certain company products in use. This room is known as the DI Studio.

This large space is used for everything from a break room, to a training center, to a place to entertain with refreshments. To the immediate right of the camera are large, roll-up shipping bay doors for when this space was likely used for completely different purposes.

A Former Sports Center with Ice Rink Turns into the New Dana Innovations HQ

After our arrival and as we waited for another van to arrive with more of our group, I sat down to chat with Chief Sales Officer Jason Sloan. When I mentioned the attractive exterior of the building and the dramatic entrance into the Studio, he laughed. It didn’t start that way, he said – telling me that in its former life, this building was used as a sports center that featured a full-sized indoor ice rink. All of that had to be removed, and the interior had to be completely rebuilt to what we now see today in order to better serve the purposes of Dana Innovations.

Our main training space. Note the 2×2 video wall near and far left and on the right-hand side a column with a projector on it.

Once the remainder of our group arrived, we ascended a large flight of stairs to the second floor (you can see part of this stairway at the left of the Studio photo above) where we entered a large room, obviously set up for training purposes. A large rectangular room, the space featured several 8-foot tables with two chairs, all running parallel to the long wall which itself featured two 2×2 video walls with space in between them for projection space (projector on the opposite wall). It was all clean, fresh and not unlike a classroom you would find in any one of a number of universities. This training room served as a sort of home base, a place we would return to from time-to-time after presentations in other parts of the building.


NOTE: You can click on any image in this story to enlarge it. Also, click here to see even more photos from my visit to the new Dana Innovations Headquarters Building…


The Dana Innovations Training Program




On each table in front of each seat, was a piece of paper showing the full agenda of the day’s events. The DI training program, which goes over all of their brands, takes place over two days. The cleverly designed curriculum includes plenty of overview, with a few deep dives on certain specific – and important – topics or products. It’s a lot to take in and many of us showed signs of input overload, but the program – which DI folks have obviously conducted hundreds of times – never crossed over the line to become counter-productive.

First up, after a brief review of the agenda, Jason Sloan took the group out into the hall outside of this training room to a space out in the hall where there was an awards area featuring a display of some of the many awards the company has received over the years. It was here we were to get our first foundational message that would be over-arching all of the training we received.

Who We Are and Where We Came From

Sloan gave the group a folksy, and often humorous, review of the company’s history – starting with how Scott Struthers and Geoff Spencer launched the company (Sonance) back in 1983, thanks to a $5,000 loan from Scott’s dad, Dana Struthers (the “Dana” in Dana Innovations). It was a simple idea, customers were looking to put speakers in a wall, and Sonance produced the Sonance 1 that did just exactly that. Sloan noted with a touch of pride, that during the 80’s (and even the early 90’s), if you found any speaker in any wall it was a Sonance.

Chief Sales Officer Jason Sloan shows dealers attending a training event an early Sonance model from the 1980’s. Unfortunately, they don’t have their very first model – the Sonance One, but this model is close.

But Sloan’s review of the company’s life story was not a hagiography. For example, he noted that upon the arrival of many competitors – the company that had started as a design company, had became an audio company that forgot about design. Enter Ari Supran to help guide the company onto a new path.

The Cultural Precepts of What Makes Sonance…Sonance

Sloan’s talk does more than simply review history – it lays the foundation for their dealers on the cultural precepts of what makes Sonance…Sonance. His discussion, all done off the top of his head – without notes or PowerPoint slides – was more about the company’s founding philosophy, thought process, goals and brand identity. This kind of information is sorely missing from most company’s typically boring…model/features/price PowerPoint presentations. The dealers began to understand NOT just the products and technologies, but the culture and the values of the company. In fact, this deeper understanding of what makes the company tick – and the dealers’ own role in the company – began to make them feel like a part of the company themselves.

Here we see some of the attending dealers standing in the Gallery where informative panels are hung like precious paintings by art masters. These panels covered key product categories.

The Gallery, With Fine Works of Art on the Wall

From there Sloan led us to the Gallery room. The Gallery room, much like its name signifies, is set up almost like an art museum gallery. Large panels of graphics on the wall line the room showing different categories and key product line segments. It is here where Sloan offered Sonance’s suggestion on how to sell systems to end users.

“A question we like to ask is: ‘How do you want your sound to look,'” Sloan told the group. Sonance suggests that what dealers recommend to the client…should look like it belongs in the space.

“You might ask,” Sloan posed to the group, “What kind of light fixtures have been specified.” The reason to ask this question is because Sonance products can visually match many light fixture designs.

By having clients visualize sound waves as similar to cones of light, you can show them how two speakers alone are not enough to cover a space. Shown in the center image is just two circles of sound to cover a whole kitchen space. However, the lower graphic shows how more speakers can give a better overall coverage, no matter where you are in the space.

Help Clients Visualize Sound Waves Like Cones of Light

Sonance recommends dealers help clients visualize sound waves by comparing them to light fixtures. Here he pointed to a graphic showing both light fixtures with conical light patterns…and speakers with downward firing sound cones graphically represented. Sonance believes this helps clients better understand why, when looking at adding sound to a room, two speakers is just not going to be enough in most cases. Better to immerse the room with multiple speakers that can be run at lower sound level but provide better overall coverage.

Also in the Gallery, Sloan showed the dealers some representative examples of Trufig installations. Trufig presents lower visual impact installations where their items almost disappear into the home’s design. We recently had one integrator tell us the Trufig closes more deals for him, because spouses appreciate how the Trufig AC outlets virtually disappear.

These four panels in the Gallery show examples of Trufig installations. Note how the AC outlets and keypads almost disappear into the design. That’s by design, of course.

Tour of the Building

From the Gallery, Sloan turned us over to Vice President of Sales Jeff Brewer who took the group on a tour around the new building. You could tell the building was still very new, as there were certain items set up against the wall, waiting to be hung, or just waiting for a place to be found for it.

Dana Innovations’ headquarter building incorporates an open office design, with many low-walled cubicles grouped to create departments Our first stop was a reasonably active Customer Service department where, to my eyes, everyone seemed unexpectedly cheery on their phone calls.

Dana Innovations Headquarters Tour

Jeff Brewer (far left) takes dealers on a tour of Dana Innovations new headquarters building. Here they are observing the customer service department which was reasonably active.

Following this, Brewer took the group to visit with Barbara Glaab, head of the company’s credit department. I didn’t know if this was supposed to represent some kind of subliminal message to some of the dealers in our group or not, but Glaab seemed way nicer than I would normally expect a leg breaker to be.

Dana Innovations Headquarters Tour

This is the IT or information technology department. Hey, wait a minute, what’s that red thing over in the corner?


NOTE: You can click on any image in this story to enlarge it. Also, click here to see even more photos from my visit to the new Dana Innovations Headquarters Building…


Some Areas of the New HQ Were Still Under Construction

The headquarters building at 36,000 sq.ft. was quite large with offices and training facilities filling up two separate floors. Interestingly, during our training sessions we could hear some banging and sawing sounds. Yep, it’s still under construction in some parts of the building.

This is what I saw in the corner of the IT department…a large NERF gun.

After a while, I began to notice brightly colored NERF weapons spread around the building. What the heck is that all about?? As soon as I recognized one, I found them everywhere. What could the explanation of this phenomenon possibly be? (More on that later…)

After our facility tour ended, we headed over to the Distributed Audio room to learn all about…well…distributed audio options from Sonance. Here, now back with Jason Sloan, we learned all about the Sonance line and the many applications it directly addresses. Sloan walked us through the line, not necessarily model by model, but certainly category by category.

Jason Sloan walked dealers through the Visual Performance Series, Specialty Applications, Architectural Series, Subwoofers, and Invisible Series. It was a lot of information.

Started With Visual Performance Series, Ended With Invisible Series

Starting with their Visual Performance Series, Sloan walked dealers through the standard models, then moved to specialty models, then to Architectural Series, Subwoofers, and Invisible Series. Whew! That was a lot of stuff – but little did we know, the fun was about to begin.

After walking us through the line, Sloan treated attendees to a demo, comparing Sonance speakers with some other very popular brands. In some cases, Sloan modestly claimed, “We’d like to think we’re at least competitive…” with brands like Bowers & Wilkins and others. Truth be told, the Sonance models typically did  sound noticeably better.

Jason Sloan is finishing up his presentation on their Invisible Series, and is about to turn to the white demo wall behind him to his left. We were about to get some very dynamic demonstrations against competitive products.

“We take the engineering of our products very seriously,” Sloan told the group.

‘How Much is This Going to Cost Me?’




But he wasn’t done yet. Sloan asked everyone to look up, where we realized the ceiling didn’t just have several lighting fixtures, it had several speakers mounted in there as well. We were about to get a demo of the difference between a two-channel installation versus a full immersion in sound from multiple speakers, just as they suggest dealers should recommend to their clients.

In this demo, Sloan played a very nice sounding music segment through two 8″ speakers in a stereo configuration. The sound was very good, but if you moved around the room (and this was not an overly large room) you could hear variations in the performance – loud when in proximity with the speakers…softer in other parts of the room. Then he switched to multiple Visual Performance Series small aperture models. There was no question about it…the performance was much more consistent across the space.

Sloan noted that sometimes when you give this demonstration to a client, they might look up at the multiple VPS speakers and say something like, “How much is this going to cost me?” “In that situation, I would answer, ‘About the same as you’re paying for a light fixture, but you need less of them.'”That usually satisfies them.”

The Green Room

Next Sloan moved the group to what they call the Green Room. I would call it the Construction Room, because it is here where they show you proper mounting techniques in a room that is stripped to studs, except for demo areas where they show a proper installation. Sloan went to great lengths to explain proper techniques for installing the Invisible Series (essentially, like installing drywall) and the more unique Trufig installation, which calls for flush mounting. Sloan offered tips on installing Trufig in drywall, wood, stone, and finally in tile. He also showed an overhead installation of subwoofers.

Here in the “Green Room,” Jason Sloan showed proper installation techniques for the Invisible Series (behind him) and here he’s pointing to a Trufig installation. Shortly after this, he explained an in-ceiling subwoofer installation overhead.

This “Green Room” was, for me, a fascinating and smart addition to their training program. Not only did Sloan share some really smart – and not obvious – installation tricks to make your life easier and your installations quicker…but he showed some of the business owners a part of their installations that some of them may not typically pay attention to (leaving it to their installation techs.) The room had the feel of a new construction project and you could be hands on with various brackets and tools.


NOTE: You can click on any image in this story to enlarge it. Also, click here to see even more photos from my visit to the new Dana Innovations Headquarters Building…


Cocktail Party at the CEO’s House

By now, it was early evening and we had been at it for hours. It had been a long, tiring but interesting day. We all boarded our buses to head out to a cocktail party at Ari Supran’s home…say what?!?! Yes, we were headed to the home of the Dana Innovations CEO. Unfortunately, Supran was on the road, but we had his house to ourselves.

This is the entrance to Ari Supran’s impressive home with tastefully included distributed audio, home theater, and outdoor audio system. It’s a perfect place for a cocktail party as this home embodies the unique and wonderful indoor/outdoor California lifestyle.

You would probably expect the CEO of Dana Innovations to have a gorgeous home in the hills overlooking San Clemente (and beyond), with a rockin’ home theater, cool distributed audio, and awesome landscape system. Well, you would be correct…it has all that and more. After a couple of hours checking it out, we were back on the buses heading toward the company’s favorite local Italian restaurant for good food and drinks…and tremendous company. It was good to relax, laugh, and talk about what we learned.

OK, maybe I couldn’t see all the way to New Jersey, but it was an impressive vista off of the veranda behind Supran’s home. The weather was gorgeous and it was great to have an adult beverage and chat with some of the other participants, enjoying the outdoor California lifestyle.

After the dinner, we headed back to the hotel for a reasonably early evening. Brewer recommended we hit the sack early, because tomorrow would be starting at 6:30am(!) for a group breakfast at the hotel, and then off for Day 2 at 7:15am. (Naturally, many headed for the very active Marriott bar.) Fortunately for me, I had time on my side…as I was still on Eastern time making this “early” call an easy one. Those from the western part of the country were not so lucky.

This picture’s a little dark, but Jeff Brewer (standing center-right in the photo) proposed a toast in which everyone was happy to participate.

Day 2 Amp’d Things Up Back in the Main Training Room

Day 2 started, after everyone had collected their coffee, back in the main training room with a startlingly chipper Brian McCullough (Technical Services Manager) taking us through the Sonance amplifier line. There was a lot to digest there and the enthusiastic McCullough helped to disperse the clouds over our heads and get our brains in gear. I have to say McCullough did a good job of discussing the main strengths of Sonance’s amp line without getting too heavy-handed. Yet we did cover a lot of ground, reviewing topics such as digital DSP, looping inputs, looping voltage triggers, bus inputs, Sonamp, SonArc, digital input module, 70-volt solutions, outdoor audio, and more.

One of the dealers there admitted to me privately during a break that this presentation convinced him that he had not paid enough attention to Sonance electronics. After this training session was completed he was going home to discuss with his team utilizing more of Sonance’s amps in their system designs.

A Free Dealer Design Service

We also learned that Sonance offers dealers a free design service. McCullough said that they go out of their way to make it easy on the dealer – just send them your plans – or even just a drawing, identify any key items that must be included, what zones you’d like (or leave it to Sonance engineers to suggest), and you will receive back what constitutes a full proposal with recommended equipment lists, color-coded zones, and all the documentation you need to buy and install that system.

At my request, Brian McCullough, Dana Innovations Technical Services Manager, showed us a recently completed plan he had done. This service is offered to all Dana Innovations dealers at no charge. Send them your plans or drawings and you will get back a full proposal for that project.

You DO NOT have to exclusively use Sonance equipment, they will design the plan with your other gear if necessary. McCullough put up an example system that they had just completed a couple of days earlier. Sonance does this a lot…around 60 projects a month, McCullough told me. And again, there is no charge for this service! Turnaround time on projects can often be just a day or two.


NOTE: You can click on any image in this story to enlarge it. Also, click here to see even more photos from my visit to the new Dana Innovations Headquarters Building…


Surround Sound Room

After we finished learning all about amplifiers and DI’s design services, Mike Cleary (West Coast Sales Director) and Jay Lazzaro (International Sales) came to escort us to the next segment. Little did we know it, but we were once again in for a treat. Cleary and Lazzaro took us into their dedicated theater area known as the Surround Sound Room.

It was in the Surround Sound room where we had a dramatic demo that surprised just about everyone in the room. We were scheduled for two demos: First, was a large video screen with a soundbar under it; and, Second, a full blown theater for a knock your socks off Atmos demonstration.

Senior Speaker Engineer Todd Ryan tells the group about a new soundbar design. Sitting in this theater, I think many were surprised we were here for a soundbar demo.

As Dana Innovations superstar engineer Todd Ryan (Senior Speaker Engineer) began discussing the sound bar…I watched the integrators’ eyes. You could almost see them rolling their eyes…a soundbar? Really? We came to this cool theater to demo a soundbar? Ryan spoke a little more about the technology behind the soundbar, but then quickly got to the demo.

BEFORE: Look at this group. They just learned that we came into this special theater to hear a soundbar. Crossed arms, skeptical looks. They didn’t expect to have to endure a soundbar demo…but wait…

We Came to this Dedicated Theater to Hear a Soundbar? Oh Yeah…

The demo blew the group away. What we heard was perhaps not the best home theater experience you ever heard…but it was pretty damn amazing – especially when you consider it was a soundbar. I read the faces again after the demo…a lot of smiles, wide eyes, looking at each other as if to say, ‘Can you believe that?’

Part of the magic is that the demo included subwoofers, but still, the sound was pretty amazing. Sonance is offering two soundbars, one for $1,950, and another for $1,750. Subwoofers to augment them are priced at $750 each. There were four subwoofers in our system…the sound quality was truly impressive.

AFTER: The soundbar demo was surprisingly good. In this after picture you can almost see there was a total change in the room atmosphere with more smiles, more open body language, and looks of surprise. Some minds were changed in that room that day.

Dolby Atmos Demo was Also Impressive, But the Soundbar was the Buzz

As we changed positions to hear the Dolby Atmos presentation, no one knew what to expect. It was, of course, jaw-dropping good…that no one could deny. But it was hard to get over the surprise factor of that first soundbar demo. It almost made the Atmos experience a little anti-climatic. As we left the theater, the buzz among the group was mostly about that… Minds got changed in that Surround Sound Room that day.

After that mind altering experience, the group moved back into the Gallery room for a brief but meaningful presentation on iPort from Chase Waterhouse, DI’s iPort Technical Marketing Specialist. Waterhouse used a presentation on the screen as well as walking around to some of the physical iPort, Surface Mount, and xPRESS models in the room. It was pretty clear that there were many iPort fans in the room, with dealers spontaneously sharing some of their iPort experiences with the group.

Taking a Break and Heading Outdoors for More Fun

After iPort, it was time for a break (no-kidding!). We grabbed some refreshments and moved outdoors into the now warmer day for a presentation and demonstration of Sonance outdoor audio products. The company had placed several arrays of different models, both regular 8 ohm residential models and 70-volt commercial models into the surrounding landscape.

Jeff Brewer presents Sonance’s outdoor audio products. It’s an extensive line of both residential focused models and 70-volt models for commercial installations. But what really got the group going was when Brewer cranked up the system and demonstrated various models and combinations of subwoofers and satellites.

Once again, Brewer’s presentation gave us all the important information that we needed to know. But what really influenced the group was when he demo’d several of the systems in a real outdoors environment. It reminded me of how important it is for integrators to find ways to demonstrate their systems…the experience is worth a thousand words.

Outdoor Audio Demo Kits for Dealers

Sonance has created specially priced demonstration kits of their outdoor systems to facilitate dealers’ presentation of Sonance’s outdoor audio line to clients. The idea is a simple but powerful one. Take a system to the clients home, set it up in their outdoor living space, and let them experience it for themselves. Dealers that have taken that approach report a very high “close” rate…where they close the deal on the spot. This reinforces something I’ve talked about for years – clients have no idea what’s even available for them in technology today. And they also have no idea what kind of experience we can create for them…until they hear it for themselves when you demo it for them.

Sonance offers dealers specially priced demo kits on their outdoor audio products. You can literally take this to a client’s home, set it up in their outdoor living space, and let them experience it for themselves. It is an impactful experience of which I can attest.

With the two-days of training now complete, the group moved back into the DI Studio space for a wrap-up by Sloan and Brewer. The wrap-up reviewed some of the over-arching principles of Dana Innovations.

Then they turned the tables on the attendees, asking each one of them what they thought about the last two days. As you might suspect, there was a variety of responses – a couple of dealers mentioned how much they enjoyed the demos, “Maybe have more of those,” one suggested. Others talked about liking the “Green Room” or some other element.

How Dana Innovations Drives the Impact of Their Training Program

Only one concept was mentioned over and over by multiple attendees – they really enjoyed learning more about the company culture. In fact, that culture resonates with them and they feel as though they are a part of it. More than one attendee said it changed their opinion of the company…in a good way.

As I reflect on the experience, there were several elements of this program that I believe helped to drive the impact of it. First – the fact that the company has invested, via this new facility – in multiple rooms constructed in such a way as it is optimized for presenting a certain concept is amazing. Second – the fact that when you go to Dana Innovations for training, you are not just shuttled off to some junior-level “trainer” to read PowerPoint slides for hours a day…but in fact you have the top management, including the Chief Sales Officer and Vice President of Sales actively participating for the entire two days kind of blows my mind. That is an amazing level of commitment to training by the company’s management that helps to hammer home the point that this is important to them…and by extension to the dealer.

Something That I’ve Never Seen Before; But Beware the Purge

This is the first time, I have experienced a manufacturer’s training program where the building is a key operative element for that training…NOT just a classroom…many do that. But the Gallery, the Green Room, the Studio, the Distributed Audio room, The Surround Sound Room…each optimized for the presentation of a key element of the company’s products. That…I’ve NEVER seen before.

Oh, one last thing. Remember I mentioned that during our tour, we kept noticing NERF guns in various nooks and crannies? In my final debrief after the event, I asked Jeff Brewer what that was all about? He told me that Dana Innovations has a Friday ritual that they call…the purge. At a certain hour, an announcement goes over the P.A. system, and everyone drops what they are doing and gets their NERF guns out blaring as they shoot NERF balls at each other. After a certain number of minutes, it’s over – the guns get put away, and the employees have blown off some steam. Nice to see that even a company as big as Dana Innovations…makes time for fun.

Jeff Brewer is ready for the next “Purge”!

To learn more about Sonance, see: www.sonance.com. You can find more on Trufig by visiting: www.trufig.com. And for all about iPort products, see: www.iportproducts.com.

You can also find your way to these companies by visiting: www.danainnovations.com.


NOTE: You can click on any image in this story to enlarge it. Also, click here to see even more photos from my visit to the new Dana Innovations Headquarters Building…





About Ted

A sales and marketing specialist - primarily in the technology industry - I've experienced a sort of "circle of life" in business. I've been a mass merchant retailer, a specialty retailer, a specialty manufacturer, a large volume manufacturer, a distributor, and even represented sales representatives. Now the owner of a marketing company that works with a variety of businesses on improving their strategic marketing and business development - I analyze issues from all angles to develop holistic solutions.

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