This Year’s New Model

August 3, 2011

Be an Engineering Expert, Not an AV Supermarket Salesperson


Anthony Grimani (agrimani@pmiltd.com) is president of Performance Media Industries, with offices in Novato and San Anselmo, California.

There’s a new trend in home cinema projects on the horizon. This isn’t a technology trend, and it isn’t a branding exercise. This is, instead, a whole new way of looking at the process of delivering quality private cinemas to clients. It’s a new school of thought that will drive you to more profits generated by your skills of designing, engineering, and coordinating installations rather than wasting a whole bunch of time on sales and installation debugging–none of which clients are interested in paying for.

Clients are into paying for valueadded propositions. When they go to a high-end restaurant and pay $35 for a fine plate of food, they know that they are paying for the value added by a great chef, friendly and efficient waitstaff, a pleasant décor, comfortable seating, elegant lighting, good music, and all the other ancillary services that come with a fine dining experience.

The same goes for a fine cinematic experience. You and your team make up the fine cuisine and efficient service staff, and your job is to deliver the goods cleanly, deliciously, and with a smile.


Figure 1: The Old Model. Lots of sales effort, lots of installation effort, and very little design/engineering/project management results in poor profit margins and lots of client haggling.

In the old model of business shown in Figure 1, you would put a lot of effort into selling yourself to the client, during which time you can’t make any money. You would then put a bit of time into very basic design functions, but not be able to charge enough to justify thorough engineering, documentation, project management, prewiring, pre-testing, and pre-programming. Then you pack all the gear into the van, rush over to the site, and hassle for days to make it all work. Installation would be fraught with problems such as HDMI incompatibilities, hum loops, noisy gain structures, defective gear, shipping damage, wiring errors, etc. So installation would take about twice as long as you planned. There goes all of that slim margin you had counted on.

In the new model shown in Figure 2, you cut to the chase and get into a contract as soon as possible using your charm and poise and a simple letter of intent in which you ask for a small amount of money to properly engineer a proposal. You actually get paid to generate a set of usage and performance specifications, along with a bid document. Your work scope emphasizes your design, engineering, and project management skills, and places the equipment costs on a backseat since that’s not really the issue in a successful home cinema project.

There is a lot of very good equipment today, and your client needs to understand that. Much like a top chef, you will pick the best ingredients for your final product. You will get paid to spend considerable time to carefully engineer the system, not just pick products from a price sheet.


Figure 2: The New Model. Quick and convincing sales effort, quick installation time, and heavy emphasis on design/engineering/ project management result in good profit margins and reduced client haggling.

You will spend even more time building up the Gant charts and process sheets to keep everything on track. You will produce thorough construction documentation for the room acoustical and optical characteristics, and you will create clear and detailed wiring diagrams from which all the technicians on the project can do a consistent job.

All of the system racks will be pre-assembled and tested in your office, including the wiring, the speakers, the automation control, and the electrical system isolation and regulation. This last piece is a more-thanfrequent source of problems in these complex systems.

You will employ or contract the engineering skill to design and test all the gear both in your facilities and at the client’s location. The installation will be a quick process because it will all be pre-assembled ahead of time, and it’s now just a case of final hook-ups with pre-made wiring harnesses. Final commissioning and calibration of audio and video will be conducted by formally trained engineering personnel or contractors, and the final performance will be certified as meeting all industry standards. The client will be remitted the certificate of conformance along with the final billing for the system. What’s left to argue?

The reason this new model works well is that you will emphasize your added value as experts in engineering and management, not just as salespeople in a supermarket of AV gear. Clients know not to haggle with lawyers, doctors, and even auto mechanic fees. You are every bit as professional, and you deserve their respect just as much.

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