Audio Video Electronics Grows From Humble Beginnings Into An Industry Force
Stefan Svard first found out he loved working with audio at the age of 13 within the confines of his church youth group. Years later, he graduated high school and his first instinct was to go to Ridgewater College for an audio degree. During his freshman year, in 1994, he took an internship with a company called Audio Video Electronics (AVE). Little did he know, AVE would soon be under his name.
At the time Svard interned for AVE, it was just one guy in the back of a music store repairing TVs and VCRs, along with all the instruments. Svard explained, “There wasn’t much of an income possibility there, and I had a bigger passion for doing sound. After I finished school that year, I kept with the company and began trying to sell audio systems. The first big sale I had was for a ski resort called Boots and Mountains. It was about a five-hour drive from the office, so the owner thought it was too far and he told me not to bother. But I wanted the opportunity, so I made the drive. The client needed lights, sound, and TVs, so I put together
AVE integrated a new system into the Basilica of St. Mary Church in Minneapolis, MN.
a proposal that was four times bigger than anything we’d done to date, and ended up winning the job.”
Several years later, Svard would begin his own company, working on and selling computers. Svard expanded, “I did that for awhile but I didn’t have the passion for it. Around that time, the owner of AVE decided to shut things down and go to work at a local radio station. At that point I had an opportunity to pursue my real passion, so I bought the company from him in 1999. I did okay by myself, but in the next year I brought on a sales guy, Kevin Crow, my current vice president of sales and marketing, someone I had known for a while. We ended up doubling our sales, and we’ve been going up from there.”
To keep with the changing technological landscape, it helped that Crow and Svard has different backgrounds. “I had my degree in audio, and Kevin is an expert in video, so it worked out well,” Svard said. “Ever since, we’ve been going to tradeshows and doing research to expand our offerings, and we’re now doing teleconferencing and acoustics on top of AV. We’ve developed to be able to do the design work on the front end, as well as all the installation work. The construction and renewal of buildings is our expertise. If you plant yourself into a market, you’ll blossom from there.”
Working in different markets reveals similarities and differences in the skill sets required for projects, as Svard explained. The similarities present themselves regularly. “Our biggest market is with houses of worship, and next would be the corporate market. Another that’s been popular lately is the casino market. Last quarter we did a big installation at the Treasure Island casino [in Welch, MN]. There’s been a lot of growth in that sector. There are different dynamics within those markets. But with today’s churches, if you took the religious aspect out of them, it’s really just a performing arts space. Same with a casino, while it’s primarily a gaming space, its other function is being a performance space.”
AVE also has found success in putting together training events for its current and future clients. “We do onsite training, the ins and outs, how to run it, and then every year we do a ‘Sight and Sound Showcase’ that’s a two day mini-tradeshow, scaled way down. We do them at a church where we’ve done a system, so people can see the whole environment that we bring in. We’ll bring in reps and all the products, and do a small-scale product showcase, and then we’ll do training sessions for each day. We’ve done that every year for five years. Now we’ve started doing quarterly in-house seminars as well. Recently, we had a session on digital consoles, and we invited people to come for free to learn, and we had a number of churches come.”
Seeing as how AVE has grown significantly since Svard took over in 1999, expanding to 16-18 full-time employees, it appears as though the company’s outreach and learning efforts have certainly been rewarded.