I traveled to Fort Lauderdale, Florida to check out AVAD's "Vend-o-Palooza" training and product showcase event on November 12. It's been a whirlwind year for the Vend-o-Palooza road show of vendor exhibits and training sessions, which was held at 20 of AVAD's 28 branch locations nationwide and in Canada in 2009.
Vend-o-Palooza made its debut in 2008, and in its second year an average of 140 dealers turned up at each regional event for a chance to meet with vendors face to face. AVAD has plans to continue building the event in 2010: "Our target next year is 3,500 dealer attendees," noted Wally Whinna, EVP of marketing for AVAD. "We've seen more people this year. The events are building on themselves."
More vendors are exhibiting in each city, too, and as AVAD expands its offerings to include additional commercial AV products, the mix in the exhibit area is changing. As AVAD's core group of primarily residential installers expands into "light commercial" work, they'll find new technology offerings on display.
"As we add new solutions, it's enhancing the sales for our dealers to go beyond 70-volt audio into video and lighting control," explained Cynthia Menna, senior manager of business development for AVAD. "Our next step is bundling solutions and giving our dealers a bit more direction in terms of up-selling."
AVAD has reinforced the addition of commercial products in its inventory with business and technology training. The company conducted nearly 500 classes in the past year, ranging from product-specific sessions to vertical market overviews, business training, and sales techniques. The courses are offered five days a week, year-round in AVAD's branch locations, in addition to the training at the annual Vend-o-Palooza event.
"We offer a toolbox to our dealers and they get to pick and choose the appropriate tools that apply to their own business," said Jim Annes, VP and GM of AVAD. "It's not just about aggregating the products, it's also about aggregrating training and information. It's beyond just a box."
Harman Professional, which joined the AVAD roster in May of of this year, is one of the companies invited to educate dealers on the nuances of commercial sound. The Harman-led "Introduction to Installing Commercial Systems" course opened the Vend-o-Palooza schedule in Fort Lauderdale, and dealer interest has been high in all the cities where it was offered.
The slowdown in the residential market has prompted many custom integrators to test their 70-volt chops in small projects like doctor and dentist offices, restaurants and bars, and the occasional boardroom. For companies like Harman, which plays in both the light commercial and engineered sound space, there is a distinction between what is offered at Vend-o-Palooza versus traditional AV channels.
"We've very mindful of the line between distributed audio and engineered systems," observed Bill Raimondi, director, sales, U.S. distribution/strategic accounts for Harman Professional. "We are here to provide the training and resources to make sure that the end user has the same experience with our entry-level products as they would with our engineered sound lines. But we draw a line between those two categories, and AVAD is dialed into that."
For other AVAD vendors, product offerings are seamless across the verticals. Middle Atlantic Products frequently sees product crossover between residential and commercial, and its R&D is a fairly steady exchange of information between the two markets. With regard to AVAD's leap into commercial, David Horn, residential sales associate for Middle Atlantic, noted, "It's a natural progression for companies like AVAD. Many dealers do commercial as well as residential. In this market it's hard to survive just doing home systems."
Education is critical to this overlap, however, "and that's where AVAD comes into play," Horn added. "They have centralized locations where dealers can get training. They're not just here to sell a product, they're here to do it right."
On the other side of the fence, vendors whose products are designed for residential applications are finding themselves serving the commercial market more often. "The crossover has become more prominent in the last few years," observed Paul Brownlee, director of operations for Parasound, which has seen its technology used in boardrooms and houses of worship, among other commercial venues. "A lot of our products came out of a need for solutions in small space systems, so they end up as add-ons to commercial systems on occasion."
As a manufacturer of IP-centric products, NetStreams, which was recently acquired by ClearOne, sees a definite blurring of the lines between residential and commercial markets, noted Buzz Goddard, vice president of sales. "Networks are ubiquitous, whether in a home or commercial project," he said. "Our technology can live equally well in either arena. It's only a matter of small differences in the type of connector the installer wants to use."
One dealer who has come to rely on AVAD's commercial offerings is Don Moody, president of DK 5 Technologies in Fort Lauderdale. AVAD sales design assistance has been a great resource for Moody, most of whose projects are in the commercial AV space. Additionally, the ability to pick up product at a local AVAD branch is a perk.
As Moody's second annual trek to Vend-o-Palooza came to a close, he deemed it a success. "I always attend these events," he said. "It gives me a chance to meet people, see new products, talk to manufacturers or reps, and get other dealers' feedback." Even among local competitors, he said, "People will help you out."