Back when I was a golf pro, I went out one night after work for a 9-hole round with a college player that carried only a single club called a chipper. For you non-golfers, a chipper is designed to let high-handicap players—ie: people that aren’t very good—more easily chip a ball up onto the green when they are just off. It basically resembles a putter with an angled head and has a putter grip. (Any decent player would just use an 8-iron…)
So, “College” had found this club in our lost and found and as a joke wanted to see how low a round he could shoot using nothing but this chipper from tee to green. Tee shot, he played the ball back in his stance, hooded the chipper down, and blasted it out about 220 yards. Approach shot, he played the ball up in his stance, opened the face up a bit, and lofted the ball high and soft onto the green. Around the green, the chipper was, well, just a chipper, but surprisingly deadly-accurate with his scratch-level skills. And to putt, he just bladed the ball with the chipper. I, on the other hand, had my full set of 14 clubs.
At the end of the 9 holes, I carded a respectable two-over, 38, while College fired a one-over, 37, beating me to his great delight.
Conversely, I can’t tell you how many golfers I have beaten—soundly—who carried far better equipment than I did; the latest graphite-shafted irons, composite drivers, and Teryllium-faced putters. In fact, it was kind of a running gag in the pro shop that the bigger, more gaudy the bag, the more of a hack the player. (And if you ever see any golfer with covers on their irons, I guarantee that they suck. Walk up to that guy and get him into a $20 Nassau with automatic presses at two-down. You’ll thank me in the clubhouse later.)
The point is, appearances can be deceiving, and ultimately, it isn’t about the tools or the look, but about the skill of the person using them.
We can apply this to our businesses in a variety of ways.
Hiring — Especially among installers, the sharpest, slickest looking guy might not be the best choice. We’ve hired people over the years that dressed the part and seemed to talk the talk, but when the chips were down in the field, they couldn’t make the grade. Obviously, appearance and professionalism are important, but the “look” of an employee on paper and in person doesn’t always translate to their real-world value. For instance, our current lead installer, Tom, had no audio skills in his background. When we hired him, he was rebuilding car rack and pinions. He had also been an airplane mechanic and done flooring. But when I saw a custom projector mount he fabricated for a function at our church, I knew that he had the skills we were looking for. Turns out he has a Rain Man-level gift with construction problem solving, and has proven his value over and over.
Competition — Sometimes new competition comes to town which can really stir up the waters. Whether it is a Best Buy opening up near you, the cable or phone company rolling out some new service, or a new firm that suddenly seems to be everywhere. What I’ve found is that any new competition in town only helps raise the level of awareness of technology and custom integration and helps to lift all the boats on the rising tide. If the new competitor carries a product you don’t—be it Crestron, Control4, Savant, URC, etc.—then you are likely to be asked a lot about it and should be ready and able to defend why you offer your product instead of theirs. But remember, quality always wins out. In our neck of the woods, a new company opened that seemed to be spending a fortune on advertising. It seemed like whenever we would turn on the radio, we would hear their ads, and people seemed to constantly be talking about them; it seemed like they had vans everywhere. However, after several months, we started getting the inevitable calls of, “I hired so-and-so, but they never finished, and now they won’t return my calls. Will you come out and finish my system?”
Technology — This is an industry that thrives on constantly churning out cool new products. And while we definitely need to stay on top of evolving market conditions and new technologies, getting caught up and becoming a “speaker/amp of the month club,” where you are constantly switching to the newest, latest thing isn’t the best for business either. For one, it makes it really difficult to develop any kind of vendor relationship. For another, customers don’t want to come in and see the product that you so whole-heartedly recommended to them is no longer something you support. Even more importantly, however: just because something looks all shiny and new on the outside doesn’t mean that it will be proven, tested and around for the long haul. Most of the people/companies that have become truly successful in this industry have done it by relying on products that are tried-and-true in the trenches.
Customers — We’ve probably all learned that the guy that drives up in the six-figure car is just as likely to want an entry-level TV with a sound bar, as the guy in the modest sedan is to be the nut who goes all out on tech. My first serious home theater customer—dedicated room, Runco CRT, Lexicon processor, and 7-channel audio—was a guy that pulled up in a beat-up truck that looked like that thing Eastwood drove in Bridges of Madison County. Lucky for me, he wasn’t a car guy; he was a movie guy. Assume that everyone that you encounter is interested in the best that you have to offer and you might end up being surprised.
Our Appearance — One appearance that truly matters is that of our company. Our staff’s uniforms should be clean and free of rips and holes. Does their appearance/grooming look like someone that the security system we are installing is designed to keep out of their home? Are our vehicles clean? Are they dripping oil or other fluids in customer’s driveways? Is our work area on the job site orderly and tidy or does it look like a mini hurricane has blown through? These are impressions that will likely linger long after we’ve left the job. Not to mention, it might be the only impression that we make on any neighbors that happen to see us.
John Sciacca is principal of Custom Theater and Audio in Myrtle Beach, SC.