Word On The Street

Word On The Street

Referrals Are Key To Growth For Lewis Sound And Video

A good referral, like winning, isn’t everything: it’s the only thing. Or at least that’s the philosophy behind the success of Lewis Sound and Video Professionals of Waukesha, WI.


The company installed a new system in the Capitol Theater, a complete renovation of downtown Madison’s 1928 movie palace, which is now part of the Overture Center.

“In terms of customer satisfaction, doing the project itself is only about 30 percent of the story,” said CEO Susan Lewis. “We find that if we have an unhappy customer, it’s generally because we didn’t fulfill one of their other expectations, most likely communications, paperwork, or coordination with other trades.”

Lewis does not accept the idea that some people can’t be satisfied. “If a customer has a bad attitude, that tells you you’ve done something wrong,” she explained. “At some point you have to capture their dream. You may need to go back at the end of the project, see where you fell down and what it will cost to shore it up.”

What is it worth to shore up a broken dream? “What’s a referral worth?” she asked. “If I have a $50,000 marketing budget, that’s $50,000 wasted if my name is tarnished. And it’s $50,000 I might not have to spend if I make getting referrals my number one priority in every job I take on.”

Susan and her husband, senior design consultant Henry Lewis, have made good referrals number-one since they started the company in 1985. “We took Henry’s musical and technical background and combined it with my background in management and contracting and started building sound systems in Milwaukee restaurants and night clubs,” Susan said.

A break came when the Midway Hotels hired them to set up 12 dance clubs, each with sound, video, and disco lighting. Referrals from hotel managers led to work in churches, and referrals from churches took them into even larger projects.

In 1994, the company had the opportunity to bid on the sound systems in the Weidner Center, a large performing arts center at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay. “We looked at the job carefully and decided it was within our capabilities. Henry wrote a letter to the general contractor and sent it with our bid. We won the job and never looked back.”

Since that time Lewis Sound and Video has tackled a number of very large projects including the Midwest Express Center, which is Milwaukee’s largest convention center, a major remodeling of the historic Pfister Hotel, and the operational set up and configuration of Miller Park, the home of the Milwaukee Brewers.

According to Susan, “As we continued to expand, our biggest challenge has been to maintain that same level of consistency, so customers can expect the same quality product no matter who they interact with at our company.” She says the company’s success is based partly on careful hiring, partly on the documentation she requires from her employees, and partly on constant training. “At one time we tried pulling in people with AV experience from other companies, but we found it was their attitudes and personalities that made the biggest difference. Now we look for people with the ability to satisfy our customers, and we let our training program take care of any deficiencies in their technical skill sets.”

Today Lewis Sound and Video is the company to beat in universities, hotels, worship, performing arts, and sports centers anywhere in Wisconsin, especially in projects where sound quality is a crucial component. This year they have taken the reputation they built to a startup office in Ohio.

This is a tough year for many AV contractors, but Lewis expects to grow over the record year they had in 2008. “We had a terrible spring, but we have spectacular employees and they’ve more than made up for our earlier losses,” Susan observed.

She would agree with another quote from fellow Wisconsinite Vince Lombardi: “The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.” It’s only through consistent excellence that a program based on referrals can succeed.