A Diamond in the Rough

A local company expands to Palm Beach and Dallas and becomes and industry leader in smart home technology

By Samuel Speciale

Jon Elmore

Not many people are fortunate enough to turn their hobby into a legitimate business. It takes years of hard work, countless hours of planning, thousands of dollars — and even then a good deal of luck is needed to be successful. But for James Graley, his interest in audio-visual and smart home technology encouraged him to start diamond design, LLC, nearly 10 years ago. Now, he’s the owner of a rapidly expanding home theater, smart home and home security installation company gaining a reputation as a leader in an industry on the verge of going mainstream with consumers.

“It all started when I wanted to install a home theater in my house,” said Graley, a former lawyer who lives in the Huntington area with his wife and kids. “But no one around here really did that kind of work, so I decided to do it myself.”

But Graley, who is energetic and admittedly passionate about technology, did more than wire up his living room with surround sound speakers and light dimmers.

“When I was a lawyer, I helped form businesses. So, I started thinking, ‘I’ll start my own company. I’m pretty handy. I can get wholesale prices on everything and do the install myself,’” Graley said. So, in 2008, he did the paperwork to establish diamond design, LLC, and immediately got to work.

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“I never intended the company to become anything after that,” Graley said.

After installing his own theater and smart home features, contractor friends, impressed with his work, asked him to take the hobby further and do similar installations for their clients.

“I enjoyed doing it on my home, so I agreed to take on the work if they would refer me to someone,” Graley said. “I said, ‘I don’t golf on Saturdays, so I’ll do it on the weekends.’”

Graley didn’t realize how serious his contractor friends were. Soon, Graley was asked to install smart home technology in a 14,000 square foot house, a job that went on to be a $50,000 project for his still-fledgling company.

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“I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was nervous,” Graley said, who went on to finish the job with the help of his first employee, Cresson Smith, now diamond design’s vice president. “We knocked it out of the park, and they referred us to someone who referred us to someone who referred us to someone.”

Positive word of mouth has led to a steady stream of business for diamond design over the years, Graley said. With each referral, the company has expanded its base of operations. Within a few years of their first job, both Graley and Smith decided to leave their corporate jobs to work full time at diamond design.

They now have four employees with offices in Proctorville, Ohio, Palm Beach, Florida, and Dallas, Texas. Graley and Smith work out of the Proctorville office, which has a 5,000 square foot showroom in what once was a Heck’s department store. The offices in Florida and Dallas were opened to accommodate clients who hired Graley’s team to work on their homes.

Over the years, Graley has worked on homes owned by millionaires, billionaires and professional athletes, and even quoted jobs for foreign dignitaries. The company has done more than $1 million in business and has become a Diamond status dealer of products by Control4, one of the country’s leading home automation system companies.

“We’ve been fortunate over the years,” Graley said. He went on to say diamond design is one of three companies in a market that includes Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and western New York to have the Control4 Diamond status, a badge of honor in an increasingly competitive industry.

Success hasn’t come without difficulty though, Graley admits.

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“Sometimes, when I’m in an attic crawl space and it’s 110 degrees and the sweat is pouring down my face, I can’t help but think ‘This is stupid,’” Graley said. But he said he reminds himself of how far he and diamond design have come and he knows he’s doing what he loves.

“I get to travel around the country and meet some incredible people,” Graley said. “I have the best job in the world.”

Part of diamond design’s success can be attributed to Graley’s roots in the Huntington area. Graley said the company’s modest location affords it the luxury of doing business with people all over the country.

“If you do good work and handle relationships well, you’ll be successful,” Graley said. “And our prices are Ohio prices, not Florida and Texas prices. That’s one of the reasons we’re growing so fast.”

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While diamond design has big-money clients in some of the wealthiest areas in the country, the company’s home market of Huntington and Proctorville is an area where Graley would like to do more business.

“We love it here,” Graley said. “I grew up here. I went to Marshall. I want to raise my kids here. And I want to work here.”

Graley said the Tri-State area is slowly coming around to embrace the smart home technology he sells. He’s worked on several homes between Huntington and Charleston, from modest one-room installs to full house projects.

“Some people think smart home tech isn’t affordable, but there are things you can do for a few thousand dollars,” Graley said. “With things like Amazon’s Alexa and Echo, people are coming around to accept more technology into their homes.”

Tammi Weinsweig, a customer of Graley’s, can attest to that sentiment. Three years ago, she hired Graley to set up a central control room for the televisions, cable boxes and entertainment devices in her home.

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“Once I got it, I realized I wanted more,” Weinsweig said, adding that busy lifestyles are made easier by the convenience of technology. Now, her home is completely controlled with smart technology.

“With James, you can do up the entire house like I did, or you can do one room for hosting parties,” Weinsweig said. “He’s a great guy to work with, and makes sure the job is done right every time.”

For those who remain skeptical of smart home technology, Weinsweig says it’s absolutely worth installing. “I’ll admit, I thought it would be nothing but a problem at first, but it really is easy to use.”

But is it affordable or even something the average consumer is aware of?

According to a 2015 Nielsen survey, more than 60 percent of Americans said they didn’t know much about smart home technology. While that was two years ago – a lifetime in the technology world – Graley says the growing popularity of wireless speakers and smart assistant devices is an indicator the industry will take off soon.

“There’s a lot of potential here in this area,” Graley said, adding that he hopes to take on more clients in the Tri-State. “I want to dispel the myth that smart home technology is too expensive. Once we know a budget, we can make something work. There are so many good products on the market now. It’s surprising how far your dollar can go.”

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