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A New Plan

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AV TechSource Grows R apidly As An O utsource Service Company F or AV Integrators

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Tom Harm (pictured), Gary Harling, and Ben Barry launched AV TechSource in 2006.

There’s more than one way to start an AV integration company.

Though fully capable of engineering their own AV systems, partners Gary Harling, Tom Harm, and Ben Barry decided to go in another direction. When they founded AV Tech- Source in January 2006, they chose instead to work on an outsource basis for other integrators.

“We looked at the market carefully and thought, why would we want to do the same thing in the same way as everyone else?” Harling recalled. “It was really a matter of focusing on what we do best, which is programming, service, and support, and let others do what they do best, which may include building the customer relationship and some—but perhaps not all—phases of the design and installation process.”

The three partners all came from a service background, averaging over 18 years in the AV industry. Harling was the service manager for Midwest Visual in Chicago, IL; Harm worked for him as the senior technician, and Barry as a programmer and project coordinator. All three left when MCSi, which had purchased Midwest Visual, began to unravel. The three started up a service department for another Chicago-area integrator in 2003, and after two years left to start AV TechSource.

“One of the problems we saw after we left MCSi,” Harling explained, “is that many smaller AV integrators, including the one we now worked for, just couldn’t afford the high-end service and support infrastructure we were hoping to build. So at the end of 2005, we approached our employer, told him what we were thinking about, and asked if he’d be interested in using us on an outsource basis.”

That idea worked well for both sides, and AV TechSource was launched. “We tried to make the transition as seamless as possible,” Harling said. “I’m not sure if our clients’ clients are even aware that they’re dealing with an independent company. They call their dealer, he calls us, and a technician shows up at their door.”

The partners began approaching other AV and sound contractors for installation work. “Finding the optimal staffing level is a challenge for any service business,” Harling said. “Most companies try to hire enough staff to cover their average workload, but then they get behind during peak periods. They can offer better service if they hire to cover the peaks, but then they have people sitting around when it’s not so busy.”

With a resource like AV TechSource, an integrator can hold staff to a level that makes sense even when business is slow but bring in extra engineers and technicians for the busiest times. “It’s true we charge more per hour than our clients pay their employees,” Harling remarked, “but that’s more than made up for by the fact that they don’t have to pay for slack time, vacation time, or benefits.”

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AV TechSource focuses on programming, service, and support for its clients.

A nice boost to the new business came from manufacturers’ rep Visitec Marketing Associates. “I asked Frank Weese [now retired] what he thought of our idea in starting this company,” Harling said. “He not only encouraged us, but began to hire us for the installations that Visitec and Tandberg provide when a dealer requests their help.”

Visitec was also instrumental in helping Harling and his partners secure Valued Independent Programmer status from AMX, which has proven a valuable source of new business for the company. “Programming is a real growth area for us,” Harling noted. “It’s something we can do efficiently for literally anyone anywhere in the world.”

The partners have also built relationships with a number of out-ofstate integrators who need to provide warranty service for Chicago-area installations. For example, when BlueWater Technologies finished an installation in Chicago for Michigan- based Steelcase, they needed a better way to provide service than to send a crew out from Grand Rapids. “Our client needed a response time of less than four hours should a system go down,” said BlueWater Director of Sales Mack Truax. “AV TechSource was the obvious choice to provide that.”

According to Harling, the final phase of an installation, when the testing, fine tuning, and client training takes place, can be almost as difficult for an out of state contractor as covering warranty repairs. “We created our commissioning and training services specifically so that our clients could avoid having to send their most highly skilled people to far away locations. We can take a lot of the burden off an AV or sound contractor while raising the level of his service.”

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