There is an intriguing paradox unfolding in the AV world at the moment. As the business becomes less about the hardware, it's all about the hardware.
That products can make or break an installation was a fact highlighted last week in the Commercial Market training session at AVAD's Vendopalooza in the Dallas, Texas area. Citing growth in the percentage of system sales versus standalone product transactions as reported by InfoComm, AVAD system design specialist Phillip Parrish, CTS-D emphasized one truth: "What's most important is the selection of products."
Speaking to an audience of Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex-based residential installers who were taking the plunge into light commercial work, this was a pertinent message. Too often, consumer video displays are inappropriately integrated into sports bars, dentist offices, and countless other commercial venues, but Parrish pointed out that customers can be convinced to invest in more robust equipment if they understand that commercial displays are purpose-built for long-term use.
"Commercial displays have built-in fans and are rated for 24/7 use," Parrish noted, "as opposed to a consumer display, which might be used just four or five hours a day in a home."
AVAD, which built its distribution business initially in the residential channel and began adding commercial lines and business three years ago, has helped dealers from both sides break into new business. In addition to training offered at Vendopalooza events and AVAD Opportunity Tour sessions, the distributor continues to expand its System Design Group with talent culled from the integration world, offering assistance from pre-construction walk-throughs and CAD drawings to ongoing technical support.
"We're providing training to help our customers think differently about where the opportunity is," explained Parrish, pointing to the recurring revenue offered by service contracts as just one example. His practical advice for dealers was to have customers sign up for yearly maintenance contracts. "That way, you have a relationship with the client, and if another dealer tries to sell them repair services, they'll call you instead of changing to a new vendor."
The crossover between residential and commercial work is still a significant trend as dealers seek new sources of revenue while the home market is less vibrant in these challenging times. AVAD's advice to residential dealers is to network among existing clients and discover whether they own a bar or restaurant, work in a law firm, or run a car dealership. A home theater customer might just have a commercial AV opportunity waiting in the wings.
The perfect bridge between these markets might be digital signage, an area upon which AVAD is placing increasing emphasis. It introduced its own brand of digital signage players this year, and will add content creation soon. New hands-on training will be offered in this area as well.
"We've added more digital signage to our showrooms," indicated Seth Evenson, district manager for AVAD's midwest region. "The idea is to provide a hands-on resource for our customers and our customers' customers. They can bring clients here to look at our video wall setup and talk about solutions that fit their needs."
"Digital signage is growing because it's effective," Parrish emphasized. "We need to sell the experience, not the specs. How does seeing the image of a cold beer affect people at the point of sale?"
This is an especially apt question, given that the presentation which preceded Parrish's was "HD Sells Beer." Taught by ZeeVee sales manager Roy Bertalotto, the course was borne from a study that indicated "you're losing customers if you don't have HDTVs in a bar."
Bertalotto explained that what previously prevented sales in the hospitality market was high cost and the lack of an easy way to make the upgrade to HD. So ZeeVee produced its HDbridge to enable HD MPEG-2 encoding and QAM modulation for broadcast over existing coax, and voila, HD sells beer!
So the truth remains that if you choose the right hardware, the system will solve a customer's problem and potentially generate recurring revenue through a service contract. So, ultimately, the hardware is still the thing, even if it's not really the thing anymore.