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Boosting Your Bread and Butter

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The Everyday Installs That Bring Home the Bacon

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At Data Projections, current bread and butter installs include infrastructure integration, mobile integration, service contracts, and huddle spaces. After all the sugarcoated holiday fanfare, now’s the time to consider your 2014 bread and butter, those niche installations you count on to help keep your bottom line happy.

But is there really such a thing as an everyday install? More likely, your projects are ever changing, evolving with technology advances and your clients’ growing needs.

For Per Forsberg, president of Audio Architects, the phenomenal growth and increased presence of technology has led him to believe that although there is no such project as an everyday install, there will always be a unique comfort zone for each contractor based on their history in the industry.

“The technologies in which you become expert are a matter of personal strength and passion, but being perceived as average is a recipe for extinction in today’s economy,” Forsberg said. “You can either choose to grow with the new technologies or take your chances with playing it safe. Depending on your market there is no pat answer to this question. There is always a learning curve when adopting new technology, and going to school can be expensive.”

“The increasing complexity of multiple subsystems requires a layer of centralized control,” Forsberg said. “Suddenly, we need to be experts in physics (acoustics), electronics (analog and digital), rigging, computer networking, RS-232, DMX, IR, video cameras, video projection, and any number of different software programming languages.”

What Else is New

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At Data Projections, current bread and butter installs include infrastructure integration, mobile integration, service contracts, and huddle spaces, said Will Birchett, director of emerging technologies. “Companies are starting to realize that conference rooms are underutilized; there may be three to five people in a space designed for 20,” he explained. “This trend has created a great demand for team spaces better known as huddle rooms, designed for the smaller, more collaborative meeting. We are frequently deploying these huddle spaces with video collaboration technology and interactive displays.”

Solutions such as the huddle room enable Data Projections to standardize on specific types of equipment and manufacturers, he noted, making several aspects of project management and installation more efficient which ultimately helps the bottom line.

With the uptick in mobile adoption and BYOD, Data Projections finds itself consistently deploying technologies that allow for easier connections and collaboration from all platforms, including mobile. “In many cases, the demand is for wireless presentation and multi-user functionality,” said Robby Turner, executive vice president. “We have our ‘go to’ products for this space that consistently perform, and, from a technological sense, wow the customer. These solutions include Barco ClickShare, Mersive Solstice, Crestron Air- Media, and AMX Enzo.”

The ability to utilize various devices to easily, and sometimes wirelessly, transmit content from the end user device of their choice is key in continuing to make it intuitive and easy to use, he added. “If our clients can’t get their meetings started quickly, they are losing productivity and that’s lost time and money. It’s very important that we continue to provide solution options to help make their meetings and collaboration environments more efficient.”

The convergence of technology in enterprise is not restricted to room-based devices but can be found in the supporting infrastructure, said Turner. “We have adapted to be not only an AV integrator, but an IT integrator as well. Companies want their multiple solutions to work together. We are integrating unified communication solutions such as Microsoft Lync and Cisco CUCM/Jabber into multi-platform solutions that work together and meet an enterprise where they are, on the tools they have adopted.”

The demand for this infrastructure and the move of the customer from the facilities department to IT has also created an increase in demand for better service agreements— software as a service, platform as a service, and larger preventative maintenance contracts.

Call The Experts

The installation of owner-provided equipment and systems is another regular business driver today, particularly with corporate and education clients but growing in other vertical markets, noted Brad Nelson, president of System Solutions Northwest. “We expect to see this continue in 2014 and onwards. Typically, the client’s IT department will purchase AV equipment from a website or large national discounter, and then contract our company to install the products they now own. It may be just a display, or it may be an assortment of equipment that they believe will do the job for them.”

Advantages include a reduction in cash flow requirements by the elimination of credit extended to the clients on terms that would typically yield a low margin. “It also allows us to gain familiarity with the pros and cons of brands and models we wouldn’t normally install, and thus determine if we want to add it to our system offerings for other clients,” Nelson noted. “We increase our average profit margins, since the profit on services, materials, and accessories is much better than on many big ticket items. And, our company’s reputation for expertise is increased when we can competently install and work with whatever they may throw at us.”

The practice is not without challenges; equipment purchased by clients may not be the right fit for the solution. “However,” Nelson added, “if it can be shown that there are valid reasons for the need to return the gear they’ve just bought, the client usually will be understanding. Sometimes, we need to quickly learn a product that may be outside of the brands or product lines we would normally carry.”

Ultimately, the bread and butter business of any integrator is to provide expertise across many different technological needs as they arise. Specifically, the job at hand is to help make your customer look brilliant, Forsberg emphasized. “Whether the customer is an HOW, school, or business, someone with discretionary power recognizes a need and delegates the job of solving this need to whomever they feel is best qualified to get the job done. Because modern consumers have much higher expectations than those in the 1970s and ’80s, very few of the people entrusted with the task of solving acoustical, public address, automation, video, and other problems have enough time or expertise to succeed without help from an expert.”

Karen Mitchell is a freelance writer living in Boulder, CO.

What is the first step an AV integrator needs to take to add standing desks to their offerings?

Pete Segar, President of Nortek Display Mount Solutions Group:
The health issues related to spending prolonged periods sitting at a desk have been widely publicized, but they are not only problems in offices, but also in conference rooms, classrooms, and training facilities. Sit to Stand desks are becoming increasingly popular for a wide range of applications.

When engaging a corporate or education customer in a new AV project, asking the question of whether they have considered a sit to stand desk as part of the solution is one way to get a happier client, and expand your revenue. A conference room table can be replaced with multiple individual sit to stand desks, such as the WorkFit-D sold by Ergotron. If a custom work surface is required, the WorkFit-B has a fluid sit to stand lift mechanism that can be bolted onto a custom work surface. Adjustable desks can make a public area more dynamic and engaging, in addition to creating a healthier environment.

What is the first step an AV integrator needs to take to add sound masking to their offerings?

Jonathan Leonard, Principal, Lencore Acoustics:
The first step an AV Integrator needs to take to add sound masking to their offering is to research the available options and determine the best fit for the types of solutions they provide to their clients. There is no doubt that sound masking effects every employee within a facility by changing the environment that they work in. However, competitive modeling positions different sound masking companies within the market. There are price players. There are proprietary systems. There are networked systems. Some companies offer full lines and other companies piece parts together in an attempt to meet all of the criteria of the client. What service does the AV Integrator want to provide to their client? By understanding who the AV Integrator is or wants to be can determine the type of sound masking system they add to their portfolio of products.

After determining who they are and what masking company they want to work with, the AV Integrator merely needs to extend a hand and ask. Most sound masking companies are thrilled to work with AV Integrators and get them on board as an extension of their business. As mentioned before, sound masking is not overly complex. However, great masking companies provide a range of services including training, design, and technical support. What do their resources look like online and over-the-phone?

What is the first step an AV integrator needs to take to add shades or lighting to their offerings?

Claudia Barbiero, Marketing Manager for Lighting Controls & Energy Management Solutions, Crestron:
It’s all about talking to your client/potential client. When a project is proposed, take a look at the project schematics, talk to them about what they are doing and what their needs are, and learn more about their pain points. Usually the customer is working with our integrators on the AV portion of their job, but there typically is a separate budget or plan for lighting and environmental systems. Talk to them about the entire project and discuss how you can provide the AV infrastructure, as well as the environmental/lighting control solutions for building-wide integration.

It is very simple to add lighting and shading control to a project once the AV solution is installed. The processor is the brain of the system and offers the flexibility to add systems at any time. When an integrator walks into a boardroom to do control, he should ask the customer about the rest of the building. Why walk away after completing one room? Ask questions and bring awareness to what else is possible.

The first step to get started on these new offerings is to work with manufacturer partners like Crestron that offer extensive professional development classes and tools to make it easier for integrators to get started in these new areas. Topics such as “Understanding the Basics of Lighting Controls,” “Lighting Commissioning and Programming,” and “Shade Installations” will help the integrator become familiar with the systems and opportunities available to them by offering these solutions to their customer as an add on.

Wayne Ortner, Director of Sales, Energy Squad:

With the exploding popularity of LED lighting, the lighting category has become a hot one! Every business embraces the idea of saving money, and moving your customers from incandescent to LED lighting can do a bunch of that. Think about being able to offer your customers 80 percent savings over incandescent lighting—not too shabby.

Job number one is to get comfortable with what you’re selling. Learning what the parameters are that define bulb performance will do that for you. In other words, a little education and a little common sense will help you to understand why you’d never put a narrow spot in a place that requires a wide flood. The fact is that due to the rapidly growing range of LEDs on the market, something as simple as needing to replace a 60-watt bulb has led to an era in which the specs have a high degree of precision. There is just enough confusion when it comes to a customer trying to buy a product off the shelf, that makes the demand for a lighting specialist more popular—and that specialist could be you. The good news is that it’s not hard—it’s just different. A good recommendation would be to invest in a range of LED lighting samples, different brands, bulb sizes, color temperatures, etc.

As you get more familiar with LED lighting, you’ll also find that LED upgrades give the client a chance to do a little bit of a facelift. Colors can look better, floor surfaces can be better lit, and shadows from the use of the wrong kinds of bulbs can be eliminated. And guess what, your clients will be stunned at the difference it can make.

There are suppliers who can help with the educational process (I speak from experience) and that’s the kick-start you’ll need to add this cool new revenue stream. With all the other disciplines that you provide to improve the environments you are working in, this one that’s been right in front of you may be the easiest to add.

Margin Builder

The K-12 market is still essential to everyday business. “For starters, those customers are mesmerized by technology,” noted Per Forsberg of Audio Architects. “The IT department, while hard to talk to, initially commands a budget that would surprise the old AV technology specialist. When these very capable network certified IT gurus encounter a need for audio, video, and control capability they quickly recognize that they don’t have time to become equally expert in these areas, and they readily look for AV experts to augment their skill sets.”

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