The Stimson Report Sep 08

Summer may be over, but business seems to be heating up across North America. Judging by the mood at InfoComm and the July Rental & Staging Roadshow, life is still good in the AV Events world. In this issue we'll share the word on the street and introduce some cool finds that are worth some of your brain time. Read more in The Stimson Report.

News and Thoughts:

Rental & Staging Roadshow - Yonkers, NY
It felt like an institution. We had 225 attendees plus the representatives of over twenty sponsors and exhibitors - more than 50% growth from last year's New York show. We saw a lot of new attendees, but more importantly companies that were there last year sent new people this year. A recurring comment was how much the free event was appreciated by the many folks who would not otherwise get to attend InfoComm or LDI. The exhibitors seem to have found an untapped channel of users and influencers for their products and a means to get some quality time with prospects who might be drowned out at one of the big shows. Next stop: CHICAGO!

Economic Outlook
I always enjoy meeting new folks and hearing about their businesses. A recurring theme this summer has been how surprised most everyone is that their business has not suffered significantly with the economy. While July was still a dead month for most folks, I am hearing a lot of good news about busier than usual Augusts and killer Septembers. Also manufacturers seem to be getting the orders they were so concerned would dry up just a few months ago. I still hear a little concern about "the other shoe will drop" - an economic backlash that will negate the gains of the past two or three years. But, more and more folks seem to be optimistic about weathering what they expect to be a slight decline running the first half of 2009. Given that most (but not all) AV Staging companies earn 60-70% of their income from January to July - early '09 may still be a crisis for some unprepared companies.

Switch to Digital NOW
I have had a sobering revelation over the past few months: Too many Rental & Stagers do not understand how to optimize their video signal paths. And by video I mean all signals going to a visual display device. Here's what concerns me: We are promoting high end projectors and flat panel displays to our customers on the basis of their image clarity, brightness, and contrast, etc. We are also encouraging them to upgrade their computer graphics, produce digital video for playback, or use higher resolution HD devices. Then we route these signals to the display via ANALOG scaling switchers. That's right, there are still a lot of analog switchers out there that folks feel compelled to rent because they are part of the inventory. Are we not training our sales folks to sell the right thing? Are our owners and financial folks thinking we can compete with these old doorstops?

Here's what I think. Old-school rental mentality says keep something working until it drops dead. Traditional sales thinking says that if the customer doesn't know the difference, we can keep renting this old stuff to them. In a world where consumer electronics looks better for half the price of professional gear, I don't think anyone can afford to hold on to these old ways of doing things. Here's what I suggest. Do a side-by-side comparison of digital and analog sources on identical digital projectors. Once you have experienced the difference, you won't forget how much better the picture looks. Well, neither will your customer. And while you may be able to shield your customer from seeing good images on your events, they will see better pictures somewhere - maybe in their living room. And if your argument is that digital costs too much, then I don't think you have done your homework. Dump those old analog devices now because no one ever became great by settling for good enough. Oh, and don't forget the fiber optics for long runs!


Reverse Auctions?

Reverse auctions may be part of our service business future one day. Consider this example of "intention economy": A bank in The Netherlands "lets clients make an offer on houses that aren't on the market, but that they'd love to own." The bank acts as intermediary to bring a credit-worthy buyer and offer to the homeowner. The idea is that many homeowners would sell if they could avoid the hassle and stress of marketing their homes and screening offers.

This makes me wonder how the idea might work in the AV Staging industry. Could an event producer setup a reverse auction? That is, describe the event (defined by a scope of work) and set the price that they would award the project for. Sellers could bid whatever price they want and hope they are the lowest or simply agree to the buyer's price (or less) and take the job. It would be a great tool for buyers and sellers in the busiest and slowest times of the year. In slow periods the AV Company could accept the incremental income of a low margin event. In busy months, the event might fit nicely between other jobs and represent a high margin opportunity. Obviously not every event would be suited to this kind of transaction. But, if the Staging industry is becoming more commoditized, as some folks believe, this may be the wave of the future.

Simple 3D Tool
As a manager I often got requests from sales folks that felt they needed a full version of AutoCAD or Vectorworks to do better proposals. Their reasoning was sound: show the client a picture of their project and they'd have to buy it. However, the economics of the idea almost always killed it. These are expensive and computer-hungry applications with pretty steep (by salesman standards) learning curves. It would be hard to devote the capital and the training time. It's still a good idea- so I was excited to learn about Sketchup by Google. This is a FREE 3D design software with easy to follow tutorials. It won't fulfill all your design needs, but it will satisfy the self-motivated learner that wants to round out their repertoire. Did I mention that it's FREE? Also, it comes in Windows and OS X flavors - so no excuses. You want 3D? Go teach it to yourself and we'll talk. There's also a Sketchup Pro version (only $495) once you've mastered the free version of Sketchup. Learn more at: