A quarter century in business today should be measured in equivalent "post-microchip years" to delineate the rapidity of change that occurred over that period of time. Advanced AV of West Chester, PA, is celebrating 25 years of business, and the firm has grown its expertise in tandem with the evolution of technology over the course of its history.
As many in our business will admit, some past years presented challenges, and few of those were as grim as the most recent recession. But those same business people will always use a bit of historical hindsight to predict that things are going to turn around.
In the spirit of an industry which always looks forward in good times and bad, Advanced AV founder and CEO Paul Grafinger said in a recent press release, “After a recent rough patch, we’ve gone through a management change over the past two years that has renewed our focus and that prepares us for what’s to come.”
The company set the foundation for growth early in its history, when it created separate divisions for Advanced AV, Advanced Staging Productions, and MC3 creative services. The changes were a reflection of the times. "At one point in time the market wanted a one-stop shop," recalled Advanced AV president Michael Boettcher. "Then the market started to change, and the client side started to separate into different entities, with meeting planners in a separate group from those who required integration services."
Boettcher, who has been with Advanced AV for a decade and ran the service department before taking the helm almost a year ago, concurs that weathering the storms over the years provides the experience required to regain stability in the face of a crisis. "You certainly could panic, if you didn't know better, or if you weren't concentrating on what's going on," he noted. But a long company history provides reassurance that the business will come back.
Cultivating a loyal client base of repeat customers, including several who have been loyal from the start, Advanced AV has firmly established itself in the corporate, pharmaceutical, financial services, and education markets. The latter of these in particular is showing signs of life, Boettcher said. "The early part of the spring has been a little slow, but the summer is ready to crank up," he elaborated. "We have loads of business booked, and we're gearing up to hammer some projects out during the summer."
The pattern is typical, he said, for a company with higher education business that typically spikes each summer. But right now in particular, "there's a lot of grant money floating around, and schools need to spend it."
Advanced AV has personnel at the ready for the boost in work, and keeping their workload steady has been a challenge at some points, but as Boettcher notes, "there's certain times where we've been used to running 100 miles an hour, so when you're only going 80, people tend to worry."
Long-term client relationships have kept the business rolling, and growing. "That's how we've developed as a company," Boettcher said. "We're about a relationship. We build the trust through our knowledge, experience, and capabilities, and build from there. Then you develop the referrals, and there's nothing better than the referral."
To keep in touch with the client, surveys are sent out upon job completion, and in terms of maintenance, the company's services group is another strong point. While the company expected growth in the services group when clients stopped spending money on new equipment last year, in the end there wasn't a significant boost. But, Boettcher notes, "now you're hearing about more and more layoffs from large companies, which now have less staff to handle what they have—those opportunities might be resurfacing."
Advanced AV is an InfoComm CAVSP Diamond Certified firm and is licensed by InfoComm to teach CTS Prep courses to the industry. To date, Advanced AV has 55 CTS certified AV professionals on staff.
Training is done in house. The first group of personnel who went through CTS prep internally appreciated the experience. "It was received extremely well by the people who took the class. It seems like you get a little bit more out of it when you've got your own group your own people, and your own experience."
Boettcher also points out that members of the company have achieved network certifications, with others on the way. "We're trying to be ready, so when we have those conversations with clients, we know what their concerns are," he said, adding, "they've gone from the begrudging conversation to the accepted conversation. It used to be you had ot get ready for a fight if you were going in for some type of networking project. Now we're at a point where both sides are starting to understand each other a little bit better."
Boettcher credits the company's success to the employees, a core group of whom have worked at Advanced AV for more than a decade. Last year's management changes made by CEO Grafinger were very well received, and recent changes also strengthened the leadership of Advanced AV, including the appointment of Greg Gardner as VP of operations and John Greene to VP of sales and marketing.
Overall, the continued evolution of a quarter-century-old company has created "good morale, especially in a difficult time," Boettcher concluded. "We put some pep back into everyone's step. We are poised here for the market to recover, and we'll be ready for whatever's down the road."