|Ira Friedman is the CEO of Bay Audio, a|
manufacturer of custom speaker solutions.
He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School.
Savvy clients demand pricing transparency,
as they should. To the client, the practice
of estimating projects using a combination
of market pricing and hourly labor rates
seems confusing. Most products listed on a
proposal are foreign to the buyer, can’t be
easily shopped online, and make the client
question the product’s value. Then again,
labor rates charged by many integrators are
higher than rates that clients pay to their
CPA, physical therapist, and their kid’s violin
instructor. Therefore, the value proposition
Your penchant for choosing obscure
products and creating additional labor
categories frustrate the client even more.
Which begs the question, “Why not
increase pricing transparency, refocusing
the client on the overall project and away
from the price of the TV?”
The cost-plus pricing method will become, in my opinion, the de
facto pricing strategy in the near future. Used by network providers and
interior designers, cost-plus satisfies the demand for pricing transparency and
shifts the focus to engineering, installation, and service.
The AV industry has enjoyed outsized product
margins for years, and has used these margins
to offset (and ignore) labor inefficiencies. Most
integrators earn slim profits on labor, relying on
product margins to float the business.
Clients demand low product margins. And the
market demands efficient use of labor. Surely, costplus
pricing satisfies the client, but it puts pressure
on labor profits, forcing management to get a
grasp on labor costs, capacity, and inefficiencies.
|Cost-plus pricing puts the power of the purchase back in the client’s hand, resulting in larger projects with higher quality gear.|
The networking industry has figured how to
pay its personnel well, earn slim product margins,
provide high end-user value, and post a nice yearend
profit. You can do it, too. By standardizing
your systems, creating repeatable in-house
processes, and billing for each labor hour.
A Cost-Plus Strategy
With cost-plus, you price products based on landed
cost, plus a reasonable mark-up–typically 17
percent. For example, with MSRP pricing, a speaker sells for $300, with a
$125 landed cost. That’s close to 58 points of margin. A TV sells for $3,000,
with a $2,800 landed cost. That’s a seven-point margin. A system with a TV
and five speakers sells for $4,500, with a net margin to the dealer of $1,085.
With a 17-percent cost-plus model, the integrator would sell the
speakers for $246 each, and the TV for $3,264, a combined selling price of
$4,000, and a net margin of $584.
“But he makes less money!” you scream derisively, “this is stupid.”
And you would be right. However, the smart integrator doesn’t sell $300
speakers with the cost-plus model. Instead, he improves performance by
selling $500 MSRP speakers, at $245 each. The improved package sells for
$4,500, which is the client’s original budget. And the integrator earns $654.
Of course this is a 40-percent drop in gross margin, and that drop
needs to be made up somewhere. This is where additional product and
labor charges come in.
1. Products require transportation, so each item includes a delivery
cost, including the cost of getting the item from the vendor, and the
cost of delivering it to the job site. Delivery may add $200 in our
2. Cost-plus pricing means just that: every item is invoiced with a
17-percent markup, including the Apple TV, the wireless hub, and
3. Cost-plus pricing is based on gross dealer cost. Count rebates,
freight allowances, and spiffs as “gravy.”
4. Cost-plus pricing puts the power of the purchase back in the
client’s hand, resulting in larger projects with higher quality gear.
High-quality products tend to require less follow-up and warranty
service–areas of the business that tend to rob profits.
How And When To Present Cost-Plus Pricing
As a client, I like to hear about pricing policies at the start of a discussion. It’s
on my mind, and I want the question settled before focusing on performance.
I went to an interesting mid-priced restaurant/wine bar last week.
The waiter told our four-person table that the restaurant was, in reality, a
discount wine store with a high-end kitchen. He encouraged us to walk to
the wine racks and choose a bottle. (The restaurant has sommeliers on staff.)
We chose a $35 Riesling–a bottle selling for
$70 in other restaurants. We felt we got a great
deal, which meant we had no compunction having
extra appetizers and dessert. When we were done,
we happily walked out, having paid $200 for
dinner–more than one would expect to pay at a
Knowing a pricing policy gives a client
confidence. Offering cost-plus sounds great: “We
sell products at wholesale plus a nominal 17-percent
mark-up to cover purchasing, warehousing, and
service. Plus, our labor rates are the same as every
high-quality integrator in town.”
After this declaration, you can focus your
presentation on the things you do best–system
design, engineering, programming, installation,
and service. Focusing on the labor side of your
business reduces client uneasiness, and allows
you to compete with something you can defend: