- SCN: What is your position, and what does it entail? What are your responsibilities?
Mark Loftus: Operations Manager – I’m responsible for our customer service team and data integrity team: those six staff members report directly to me, and I also manage our project development along with our development manager, Ryan Robinson. In addition, I’m responsible for the overall operations of our Minneapolis office.
SCN: What are your short- and long-term goals?
ML: I’ve been with AV-iQ now for just over 12 years, and we’ve had a very good, stable group of core customers throughout. We’ve steadily grown and have made improvements to our solutions each and every year, but I believe we’re close to turning the corner on getting a much larger percentage of the market participating in our program. My short-term goal is to reach our potential in the pro-AV space and to see our website as an industry standard for people to research all of their product needs and connect with the companies in the industry that can help them with their businesses.
Our goal has always been to create efficiencies in the marketplace, to be seen as the website to go to when you have any AV need. Whether it’s to look up a spec for a single product or research hundreds of products for a major AV project. If you’re in the AV industry or your business is in need of AV services, we want you to think of av-iq.com as the first place to go to find your solution. I believe we’ve had the foundation to offer that solution for many years, but with NewBay’s resources, we’ve been able to make significant improvements in a very short period of time, and we’ll be able to utilize its market reach to make sure the industry knows we’re here. Beyond that, I think we’ve built something that can be a solution for almost any industry. We’ve built a database structure that is capable of housing detailed product information and connecting that information to the companies that manufacture, distribute, sell, and install those products. We started in the AV space, but this format could be easily implemented in other vertical markets, and NewBay’s channels give us an avenue to reach some of those verticals that I believe could benefit from a solution like the one we offer.
SCN: What is the greatest challenge that you face?
ML: The greatest challenge is always in the collection of product data. And not only collecting it, but also getting it into a common format that everyone can understand. So again, it’s important to grow the participation of the manufacturers and distributors in the industry. The more they can work with us, the easier it will be to provide complete and up-to-date product information. We’re constantly striving to make it easier for them to communicate not only their product information, but also the value of what they have to offer. We can provide to every manufacturer an efficient method of communicating to their dealers, not only product information, news, and videos but also their pricing information along with value added messaging. Making sure everyone knows these benefits are available to them, and continually creating tools to make it easy for them to use our network is a challenge but also an exciting opportunity.
SCN: What are some of the new initiatives that have recently been rolled out by AV-iQ, and what are we likely to see from AV-iQ in the coming months?
ML: We’ve spent the last few years building a robust database of nearly a half a million products, but our website and user interface needed some work. At the end of 2014, we began work on a redesign to upgrade this area, and we’ve been pleased to be able to roll out the first phase of that as 2014 was closing out. However, there’s a lot of depth to our website and our tools, so we’re not finished yet; there are some internal pages that are undergoing a redesign, and we’ll continue to make those improvement throughout 2015.
We’ll also be taking on a complete rebuild of our administrative tool. Again, we want to make it easy for our customers to manage their AV-iQ solution, and we want to be able to report to them what it’s doing for them. We’re looking forward to providing an enhanced management tool later this year. We are also well aware that the resellers, manufacturers, and distributors that participate in our program are all looking for sales leads, and we’ll be creating as many opportunities as we can for our end users to inquire about products and services. This is a central focus of an upcoming phase of our redesign that is sure to grow those connections by a significant number.
SCN: How can systems contractors better position themselves to profit from the services you have to offer? What about AV consultants, end users, resellers, and distributors?
ML: If you’re a systems contractor or reseller, AV-iQ can build you a custom portal of the brands you work with, and it can be a great resource for not only your customers but also a business tool for your staff to be able to research products, create project lists, and can even be a source for them to look up pricing behind a staff login. These resources are also listed on av-iq.com as a way to direct end users to the companies that sell or install the products they are interested in. Most buyers start out by looking up a product they need, but that simple exercise can often turn into an installation of a major project. Everyone’s looking for information, and we feel like we do a really good job of presenting information and tying it to other relevant information. You can go to our site and look for a specific product or product type, find a manufacturer, locate a reseller or any other type of AV service provider. You can find the latest news or browse through case studies. There’s something for every link in the chain.
SCN: What can AV-iQ offer the AV newbie or novice? Conversely, for the AV veteran with decades of field experience?
ML: For me, seeing how AV is implemented into real world applications is impactful. Walking into any building or venue and seeing what a good audiovisual experience can do for a business gives meaning to the products in the market. When you really start paying attention to how these things are built into a space, it gives you a greater appreciation for the industry as a whole. Our case study library is full of amazing AV projects from all over the world. We’ve also built a way for the case study to link to the product detail pages of the products that are specifically used in the case study. For people that don’t know exactly what they are looking for, this can be a great way to start their browsing in AV-iQ.
For the AV professionals that know exactly what they want, we’ve worked on enhancing the ability to do keyword searching and bringing better results forward. We’ve also created a better way to browse by manufacturer, by new products or into our product categories. Once they’ve reached a product listing, our users can filter down by some very specific parameters and then compare products in a comparison view, and ultimately add those products to a project list. They’ll find that AV-iQ can be a real business tool that saves them time and effort they’d often spend going from site to site. AV-iQ has all the brands they are looking for in one location.
SCN: With ease of instantly Googling products on phones, tablets, and laptops, what is AV-iQ’s unique advantage in terms of product research?
ML: You can’t compete with Google for what it does, and we hope that we have enough great content on our site that when someone searches an AV term or company, you’ll find a link to AV-iQ in the Google results. But Google will return with its results dozens of sites, and many of them to a specific manufacturer or company. AV-iQ has all of these companies on one site. You can Google “projectors” and get all kinds of relevant sites, but we want you to come to our site where “projectors” can easily lead you to projection screens, then audio equipment, then conferencing equipment and on and on. Google is a great place to start, but AV-iQ is a great place to finish.
SCN: What kind of data can AV-iQ provide on sales trends, e.g., popular flat-panel display types in 2014 Q2?
ML: I think this is a real growth area for AV-iQ in the coming months. We have a lot of useful user data that we previously hadn’t been able to take advantage of, and we hope to share this more with the marketplace over the next year. We have a category structure that is tracked, as well as important specification data that can be calculated and used to show trends in the industry. If you go to av-iq.com and see all the different ways you can search, you can imagine what those clicks can tell us. The data is there, and we’ll be working in the near future on ways to report it.
SCN: What unique benefits does site membership provide to site users?
ML: We’re not trying to build a site that hides a lot of pertinent data from our users. At the same time, the more we know about our users, the better job we can do in helping them find what they need. So having registered users can help us build a better site in the future. With that said, we have some great benefits available now. First, once you’ve registered you can choose which brands you’d like to receive push notifications about, and what sort of content from them you want to see: news, videos, new products, discontinued products, etc. So the communication element to it is extremely helpful in catering to your needs. But I think the biggest advantage is that as you research information, you can save any piece of it to a project list. You can then go to your dashboard and manage those lists, and that information is then available to you every time you come back and log into AV-iQ. These lists can also be shared with colleagues or clients, and then your list creation functionality can have a real effect on your day-to-day business activity.
SCN: How do we know that the AV-iQ specs are totally legitimate & up to date?
ML: We have a team of data integrity specialists whose entire focus is on collecting data and verifying that it is accurate and complete. We work directly with many manufacturers to ensure the data’s accuracy, and we work with a network of distributors and resellers to confirm data for any brands that we do not work with directly.
SCN: Is there integration with automatic bid/quote software? What about integration with system design software, such as D-Tools?
ML: We’ve been in discussion with several companies over the last year or more, and while we’ve provided a couple of them with their own online resource, we haven’t truly integrated our data within their software. With that said, with the right partners, we can provide key elements of the data we collect to supplement their tools, allowing users to spend less time filling it in. Again, we’re always looking to create efficiencies in the marketplace, and these relationships provide that.
Lindsey M. Adler is editor of SCN.
If you have feedback about how AV-iQ can help you more, email Mark Loftus at firstname.lastname@example.org.